Search for sounds in video games without vision

Allison Walker poses for a photo in Melbourne, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022. (AAP Image/Diego Fedele) NO FILE

Game developer Allison Walker in Melbourne (AAP Image/Diego Fedele)

A Melbourne video game developer has created an audio-only game for the visually impaired, with some specifically Australian sounds.

Sounds, Hidden to be Found, created by Allison Walker and Rebecca Dilella, allows players to catch cicadas, explore drains and talk to birds, feeling their way through the game using sound alone.

“It’s about exploring your neighborhood and hearing things, finding new places and hearing how the sound changes,” Walker told the AAP.

She recorded the sound effects herself and included bird sounds from Cornell University’s Macaulay Library, a comprehensive online collection of the noises of the natural world.

Unusually for an audio-only game, players can move around and explore the landscape in three dimensions, with no limitations on their movement.

Walker, who is clairvoyant, found it difficult to play the game herself and sees it as a prototype from which more complex narrative games could be developed in the future.

Audio games began to be produced in the 1980s, primarily by coders who were blind and found visual games inaccessible.

But things are changing fast, according to US-based video game industry accessibility consultant Brandon Cole, with mainstream games incorporating the needs of vision-impaired gamers and a range of audio-only games in the market.

For starters, there’s Blind Drive, which Cole describes as hilarious, The Vale: Shadow of the Crown, and Manamon, which he believes is the visually impaired’s answer to Pokemon.

Cole, who is totally blind, told the AAP that video game accessibility is important to many people with disabilities.

“Video games are one of the best mediums for escapism, because not only do they allow you to experience a story in the same way that a book or a movie would … you can play those characters and interact with that world,” he said. he told the AAP.

Cole tests different games to assess how easy they are to use, and says players with vision problems need all the information needed to play the game to be provided entirely through audio cues.

While Cole grew up patiently playing through core games that weren’t designed with his needs in mind, he said some younger blind gamers have grown up with just audio, though whether these are truly better is a matter of taste.

He said that major developers listen more when you talk about the accessibility of games, and audio-only games are one branch of a growing number of options.

“There’s a lot on the horizon, the future is bright for accessible gaming, it really is,” he said.

Sounds, Hidden to be Found was funded by a grant from Film Victoria.

© AAP 2022

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