Thursday, October 4, 2012

Episode 48: Designing for the Visually Impaired

Welcome to Roguelike Radio episode 48. This week we talk about designing for the blind and visually impaired. Talking this ep are Andrew Doull, Darren Grey, Jonathan Pikalek and Niall Hartnett. You can download the mp3 of the podcast, play it in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.



Topics discussed in this episode include:
- How to play a roguelike with a screen reader when blind, especially Niall's experiences with ADOM and DCSS using the Jaws screen reader
- Design considerations in both interface and gameplay, including useful features like visible monsters list, auto-pathing, location marking
- Colour blindness and how to consider it in design, and Jonathan's experiences with playing games with red/green colour blindness
- Thoughts on screen readers with non-console games, especially libtcod - any idea on whether or not NotEye could help would be appreciated
- Use of sound in games
- Kerkerkruip, a roguelike / interactive fiction hybrid
- Entombed, a pure audio RPG game
- Some thoughts on games which might work well with screen readers, such as DoomRL, AliensRL, ADOM Sage, PrincessRL and Cataclysm (though testing afterwards has shown that Cataclysm was not so optimal)

Some useful links:
- AudioGames.net thread of blind roguelikes players discussing some design elements
- Gaming Accessibility Guidelines
- Cardinal Quest 2 blog post on colour blindness
- Red Light: The Accessible Collection on Steam Greenlight

Special thanks to Niall for going out of the way to record an example playsession with his screen reader.

16 comments:

  1. I must say I was on Skype with Niall for a while after the recording trying to get him to play Cataclysm and Toby the Trapper. It revealed a huge amount of flaws and oversights in design with respect to blind players. Simple things like text colour highlighting the current menu selection makes simple navigation almost impossible. How the hell he has the tenacity to play ADOM or DCSS with a screen reader is just beyond me!

    I'm going to have a look some time at redesigning Gruesome and Trapper with VI players in mind... Would be cool to make something that is equally fun for all communities.

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  2. > any idea on whether or not NotEye could help would be appreciated

    Indeed, NotEye can be used to display libtcod roguelikes on a console. It is not reliable, though (it won't work if the game uses a wrong libtcod version).

    On the other hand, I would love to make NotEye a tool to help visually impaired people to play roguelikes (just as it currently makes them accessible on laptops, or for those who do not want to learn the VI keys). But this would require lots of work, including research and design with help from the potential users. Features such as speaking things like "red capital D appears at N 5 E 2", "health 10/50", searching for specific characters on the map, intelligent zoom (for those with poor sight), changing colors with Alt (for color blind), etc. These look like things which would be possible to implement in NotEye. For now, I cannot understand what the screenreader says :)

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  3. Wow that screen reader talks fast, I didn't catch anything it said! Impressive that some people are able to play that way!

    I know a blind programmer, who's been more into MUDs. Since you don't need the same spatial awareness (you move between rooms instead of between cells on a grid), I guess it might be slightly easier on the screenreader? MUDs also has more meaty text-descriptions per room, so that you get a certain feel for what room you're in...

    I've been thinking about the idea of doing a mix between the two, where you'd display one room at the time, so you'd essentially move between rooms (n,e,s,w,u,d), but each room would be divided into a grid or hex-map, that gives the game a bit more RL flavor. The rooms could then have a title and a short description like a MUD would... not sure if that could make the mental map be easier to memorize for blind players.

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  5. I've never been diagnosed as dyslexic, but for most of my life I have suspected I may be. I have never had a problem confusing letters like p q d b in a game context. Likewise, I've never had a problem moving a character in the direction I'm looking, as long as the controls are physically mapped in a similar orientation (eg. arrow keys, d-pad). In a real-life situation, dyslexia wouldn't cause me to step into path of danger if I needed to avoid something. It seem like the eye-hand connection and literalness of the controls is close enough to avoid confusion.

    It's when language or abstraction becomes involved that things begin to go wrong. I might describe left as right or east as west. In gaming situations that are less literal, such as a twisty first-person environment, I might have difficulty keeping compass directions straight.

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    1. Thinking some more about this, it occurred to me that time pressure is sometimes a factor when I confuse directions or orientations. In turn-based games, there is no such pressure.

      In falling block puzzle games, where orientation is important and there is a strong time pressure, I regularly get confused. I may be certain red is on the left and blue is on the right, but when I drop the piece where I want it, I can see I had it backwards, usually causing me a severe setback in those games.

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    2. Likewise, games like Dance Dance Revolution, where I have to input directions matching a continual stream of on-screen prompts are virtually impossible for me to play. Even Wii Fit's simple step aerobics game is very difficult for me.

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  6. The online zombie game that maintains state may be Urban Dead. Simple, but I had months of fun with some mates on this about ten years ago, including running around performing short comedy routines so that people would come back to their account and read a scene play out.

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    1. Yeah, that's the one I was thinking of.

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  7. I'm not vision impaired but I often get disoriented by DCSS' autoexploring. I often completely lose the sense of the size of the level or where interesting level objects are. But of course considering the size of those levels, you do want to have autoexploring.

    Regarding the indistinguishable of certain only color-differentiated monsters with some forms of color blindness, I think nobody mentioned the possibility to use Unicode letters to make them distinguishable by diacritics.

    o, ó, ò, ô, and ö are quite easily recognized. If you are using a terminal as output for your roguelike this unfortunately only works well for letters that have their own Unicode codepoint. The support for combining characters in current terminals is really bad. If you have real graphical output it's still a matter of font availability (but that's a smaller issue).

    Having said that, here's the commercial coming: UnNetHack has autoexploring and some support for extending its output with Unicode letters (only on unixoid terminals).

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    1. Yamamushi's 16 megapixel, 65536 characters unicode font might be a good start for that:
      http://doryen.eptalys.net/2012/07/the-font-from-outer-spaaaaace/

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  8. Hi guys, thanks for discussing Kerkerkruip. I never thought about visually impaired players when I started making it -- I just tried to combine my love of interactive fiction with my love of roguelikes -- but I'm glad to hear that the has been a minor hit on Audiogames. I'll certainly ask around in the near future whether there are things in the game that can be improved from a visually impaired perspective.

    Couple of comments about what you said about the game. First, one of you had performance problems. This is probably due to the interpreter you were using. I recommend gargoyle; it runs Kerkerkruip well on an Asus EEE PC, so any non-ancient laptop should be fine as well.

    About the game's simplicity: I was somewhat surprised by the idea that Kerkerkruip lacks tactical depth because it doesn't have spatial representation within rooms. That is indeed a source of tactical depth in many roguelikes, so to compensate, I've tried to design Kerkerkruip so that it emphasises time instead of space. There is the central combat mechanic of concentration (which you didn't talk about), which raises the question on every combat turn whether it is better to attack now, or whether you can risk concentrating one more turn. There is the tension mechanic. On a larger scale, there is the question of when to kill which of the -- strictly limited supply of -- monsters, a question that is of major importance given the way that the accumulation of powers and the gaining of health works.

    So your comments left me wondering a bit how long and at what difficulty level you played the game? For instance, one of you said that you should just kill a level 1 monster, then a level 2 monster, then a level 3 monster, and then a level 4 monster -- but while that might work on Easy difficulty, the game has been designed to make this a dangerous and non-optimal strategy on higher difficulty levels.

    Anyway, thanks for mentioning the game, and I hope to make it an even more appealing option for visually impaired gamers in the future!

    (Those who'd like to see what we're currently developing could take a look at: http://www.intfiction.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=5697 )

    -- Victor Gijsbers

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Victor. I'm sure we didn't do Kerkerkruip justice by any means. I didn't play it past level 4 or so myself (though I'm sure I wasn't on Easy). The concentration mechanic was interesting, but to me not that deep compared with traditional tactical placement. It could be played upon more over long fights perhaps, building combos or patterns for extra effects. Something akin to the Brawler class in ToME4. Also it felt like there wasn't enough choice of actions in combat, I guess in part because I don't like using unided items. Good to see development is ongoing though - it is a cool and unique game, and I failed to mention many of its nice interface features.

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    2. Thanks for your comments, Victor. I'm sure we didn't do Kerkerkruip justice by any means. I didn't play it past level 4 or so myself (though I'm sure I wasn't on Easy). The concentration mechanic was interesting, but to me not that deep compared with traditional tactical placement. It could be played upon more over long fights perhaps, building combos or patterns for extra effects. Something akin to the Brawler class in ToME4. Also it felt like there wasn't enough choice of actions in combat, I guess in part because I don't like using unided items. Good to see development is ongoing though - it is a cool and unique game, and I failed to mention many of its nice interface features.

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    3. Sure, the concentration mechanic by itself is not enough to replace all the nuances of tactical placement that more traditional roguelikes have -- though, of course, just having a map is not enough to get nuanced tactical decisions about placement either. You also need melee and ranged weapons, spells with different areas of effect, hostile and friendly monsters, fast and slow monsters, and so on. In the same way, I hope that the attack/concentrate decisions get more nuanced because of tension, temporary effects (ment, being stuned), timed events (the Nomos prayer), ways of breaking your opponent's concentration (fragmentation grenade, lash power), ways of escaping from particularly powerful attacks (portals, scrolls of teleportation, reaping power, scrolls of protection), the initiative bonus conferred by high concentration, the different AIs of the different monsters, and so on.

      But, that said, I agree with you about there not always being enough choice of actions in combat. It's something I hope to address in the upcoming release 6, where all the powers you gain from monsters have been completely redesigned, most with the aim of giving you powerful new combat abilities (that you must carefully decide when to use; no "this is just a better attack, so use it all the time" abilities, of course).

      I've never played more than a few minutes of ToME4, so that brawler might be something I want to check out; thanks for the reference!

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    4. I, for one, love Kerkerkruip. I just had to weigh in on that :)

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