I'm Robert, and I've been working on a game called Partial: An Audiovisual Odyssey for almost a year now, with 3 or 4 design overhauls since then. Having some design tips for visually-impaired players would help the project go a long way, and I need your help with clarifying some design decisions. So what is the game about?
Partial is an audiovisual, vertically-scrolling, action-platforming game. Your goal is to rescue small creatures by moving the segmented ground beneath them, all the way into the skies where they're safe before the ground crumbles beneath them. And that's the gist of the game! And what even is an audiovisual game? It's an audio game and video game in one, and the game is designed around those restrictions. This means that the game is blind-friendly, hearing-impaired friendly, and can be played by anyone with both visual and hearing senses.
Partial has a strong focus in solid and enjoyable mechanics as opposed to narrative, but a backstory does exist. The goal for development is to make a great game that can stand on its own, just like many great games in the market.
Over the past year, I've read different articles and posts regarding the blind gaming community and what they're looking for in a modern game. Among the many things blind players want, and please correct me if I'm wrong or if you have something to add, I found that two things are certain:
(1) Blind players want a game that's mechanically designed well, so as to provide exciting gameplay and replayability, and
(2) blind players want to be able to play and talk about video games with their sighted friends.
When it comes to game design, there are a lot of solutions available for having a player play the game in the way the developer intends for the game to be played. For example, if a player needs to collect items, the developer adds an inventory system so the player can see what items they currently own. Or if a player needs a new weapon to progress, the developer puts a weapon somewhere in the level so the player eventually comes across it without any confusion.
Unfortunately, and like most of you already know, most of the existing video game designs just don't work for blind play. It's not impossible for a blind player to use these mechanics, but its much more difficult to do so. What is normally easy for a visual player to just open up their inventory and select the item they're looking for, a blind player has to go through the more tedious act of going through each item to find what they're looking for. And if you're playing a shooter, the genre is heavily reliant on pinpoint accuracy-- visual accuracy. Ask a player with eyesight to find a painted dot on a wall, and they'll point to it; ask a player without eyesight to find the painted dot on a wall, and they'll gesture at the entire wall. These design obstacles are usually what prevents big-budget companies (or even small-budget indies) to not design for blind players-- its difficult and requires us to think in a mindset that most of us are completely unaware of.
Partial solves many of these issues, but the game design can always be improved, even with the blind-friendly mechanics that are already incorporated into it. So here are the three topics that I want to ask all of you who have experience with playing audio games:
(1) On The Topic of Quantifiable Objects: How are changes in numbers conveyed to a blind player? For example, if a game has a currency system where you collect coins, how do you know how many coins you own at any instance? If you go to a shop and want to spend your coins, how do you know how much an item costs, and how many coins you'll have left over? Can this information even be conveyed at all? If not, in what ways can a blind player be rewarded and the player can be perfectly aware of what they earned?
(2) On The Topic of Attributes: How does a blind player understand their character's atrributes? Attributes include examples like the attack stat which represents how hard you hit an enemy, the speed stat which represents how fast you move, and so on. Moreover, how do you know what the enemy's strengths and weaknesses are? Is this not possible without rote trial and error on the blind player's part? Are there any alternatives?
(3) On The Topic of General Shenanigans: I can't confirm that I'll be able to fulfill any concerns, but are there any specific mechanics you'd want to see in a game like this?
I'm certain that I'll have more questions like these in the future, but these are all that I can think of for now. If you know of any game design solutions that are specific to audio games, or know of a video game's design that allows blind players to even be marginally aware of their surroundings, please let me know! The more solutions we're aware of, the better it is for all of us. :)
Robert Desrosiers (if you're using a voice-reading app, I probably just broke it and I apologize. We break apps all the time.) #gamedev #PartialTheGame
Indie Game Developer