Search for sounds in vision-free videogame

August 30, 2022 10:57 pm in by

Allison Walker poses for a photograph in Melbourne, Monday, August 29, 2022. (AAP Image/Diego Fedele) NO ARCHIVING

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

A Melbourne videogame developer has made an audio-only game for vision impaired people, featuring some specifically Australian sounds.

Sounds, Hidden to be Found, made by Allison Walker and Rebecca Dilella, enables players to catch cicadas, explore drains, and talk to birds, feeling their way in the game using sound only.

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“It’s about exploring your neighbourhood and listening to things, finding new places and hearing how the sound changes,” Walker told 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 and explore the landscape in three dimensions, with no limitations on their movement.

Walker, who is sighted, found it challenging to play the game herself, and considers it a prototype from which more complex narrative games could be developed in future.

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

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But things are changing rapidly, according to US-based video game industry accessibility consultant Brandon Cole, with mainstream games that incorporate the needs of vision impaired players, and a range of audio-only games on 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 vision impaired person’s answer to Pokemon.

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

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

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Cole tests out different games to advise on how user friendly they are, and says vision impaired gamers need all information necessary to play the game to be provided entirely through audio cues.

While Cole grew up patiently playing his way through mainstream games that weren’t designed with his needs in mind, he said some younger blind gamers have grown up with audio-only, although whether these are in fact better is a question of taste.

He said mainstream developers are listening more when he talks about game accessibility, and audio-only games are one branch of a burgeoning 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 with a Film Victoria grant.

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© AAP 2022


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