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Audyssey;
Computer Games Accessible to the Blind
Edited by Michael feir
Issue 5: March/April, 1997

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Welcome

Welcome to Spring, everyone, and welcome to the fifth issue of
Audyssey. In keeping with the season, this issue will focus on the
creation of games. Thanks to a timely suggestion by one of my
readers on Compuserve, we will start a section for game developers.
We'll also have the latest developments from Pcs.     

This magazine is published on a bi-monthly basis, each issue
appearing no earlier than the twentieth of every other month.  All
submissions must be sent to me in standard Ascii format either on
a 3.5-inch floppy disk, or via e-mail to my Compuserve address. I
will give my home address and my Compuserve address at the end of
the magazine. There are now several ways of obtaining Audyssey. To
subscribe to the distribution list so that you receive all future
issues, send a subscription request to J.J. Meddaugh. As he is
running several lists, be sure to specifically ask to join the
Audyssey list. His address is:
[email protected]
You can find all issues of Audyssey on the Internet on Paul
Henrichsen's web site at:
ftp.thesocket.com/pub/henrich
All issues are also available in the disability forum on
Compuserve, and also in the gamers forum.

For those of you who have trouble finding some of the software
discussed in this magazine, or if you know someone who doesn't have
access to the Internet, but would be interested in the magazine,
this magazine is now available on disk. PCS has agreed to
distribute Audyssey, as well as selected shareware or freeware
software on disk for ten dollars US per year. To subscribe to
Audyssey on disk, contact them at:
Personal Computer Systems
551 Compton Ave.
Perth Amboy N.J.
08861
Phone (908)-826-1917
E-mail: [email protected]

  Please write articles and letters about games or game-related
topics which interest you. They will likely interest me, and your
fellow readers. They will also make my job as editor a lot more
interesting and true to the meaning of the word. This magazine
should and can be a highly interesting and qualitative look at
accessible computer gaming. To insure
that high quality is maintained, I'll need your written
contributions. I'm not asking for money here, and won't accept any.
This magazine is free in its electronic form, and will always
remain so. PCS needs to charge a subscription cost to cover the
disks and shipping costs that it incurs by making the magazine
available on disk. I'm writing this
magazine as much for my own interest as for everyone else's. Your
articles, reviews, and letters, as well as any games you might care
to send me, are what I'm after. Send any games, articles, letters,
or reviews on a 3.5-inch disk in a self-addressed mailer
so that I can return your disk or disks to you once I have copied
their contents onto my hard drive. Please only send shareware or
freeware games. It is illegal to send commercial games. By sending
me games, you will do several things: first, and most obviously,
you will earn my gratitude. You will also insure that the games
you send me are made available to my readership as a whole. As a
further incentive, I will fill any disks you send me with games
from my collection. No disk will be returned empty. If you want
specific games, or specific types of games, send a message in Ascii
format along. *Never* *ever* send your original disks of *anything*
to *anyone* through the mail. *Always* send *copies!* This
principle may seem like it shouldn't even have to be stated, but
when it comes to just about anything related to computers, there's
always some poor soul who will act before applying common sense.
Disks are *not* indestructible. Things *do* get lost or damaged in
the mail, and disks are not immune to these misfortunes. If you
have a particular game that you need help with, and you are sending
your questions on a disk anyhow, include the game so that I can try
and get past your difficulty. If you can, I recommend that you send
e-mail. I have acquired a copy of the UUencode software, and can
send and/or receive files which are encoded via this means. This
way,
no money will be wasted sending me a game I already have, and
you'll get my reply more quickly. You are responsible for shipping
costs. That means, either use a disk mailer which has your address
on it, and is either free matter for the blind, or is properly
stamped. I can and will gladly spare time to share games and my
knowledge of them, but cannot currently spare money above what I
spend hunting for new games. I encourage all my
readers to give my magazine to whoever they think will appreciate
it. Up-load it onto web pages and bulletin board systems. Copy it
on disk for people, or print it out for sighted people who may find
it of value. The larger our community gets, the more self-
sustaining it will become.

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contents:
From the Editor
Letters
Prerequisites for Sightless Fun
The Latest finds
News from PCS
Contacting Me

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From the Editor:

Hello, everyone. You might notice that this issue is particularly
short. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, I
have received no articles at all for this issue. This shortage of
material, combined with the heaviest load of academic work I've
ever faced within two months, has contributed largely to the
substandard length and quality of this issue. Remember, everyone,
that it is vital that you send me articles, letters, and reviews to
put in this magazine. I simply can't come up with everything
myself, especially during a university term. This magazine is
supposed to be a forum for the exchange of information, ideas and
concerns about accessible games, not simply a vehicle for me to
voice my own thoughts which I'm already quite familiar with. Give
me your thoughts, and I'll be happy to add my own, and organize
everything into a diverse and qualitative magazine. Without your
articles, I cannot continue with Audyssey indefinitely. Also, there
have been no submissions of episode ideas for Adam, the Immortal
Gamer, and ideas are running low. This month, there will be no
episode at all, since I haven't had the time to put one together.
We're now reaching into at least eleven countries, according to
J.J. Meddaugh, our excellent internet expert. That's only counting
the people who actually subscribe directly, and don't just down-
load the magazine off of bbs's and the various sites that it can be
found on. With all of you out there, I find it hard to believe that
none of you have views, concerns, or opinions you'd like to share
with the rest of us. If I continue to receive little or no
material, I'll be forced to turn this magazine into a quarterly one
in order to insure that enough news occurs to build the magazine
out of. I would very much prefer not to do this. There is plenty of
material out there waiting to be discussed and commented on. the
experience which a game can offer depends as much on the outlook of
its players as on the game itself.

Another event which has taken a good deal of my time is the arrival
of a new computer. I am now the proud owner of a Toshiba laptop.
This computer is proving most excellent, but learning to use it
effectively has meant hours of training and reading manuals. I have
Jaws for Windows, which is a very good tool to make Windows
accessible to blind people. if anyone out there knows of a speech-
friendly game which is written for Windows, please let me know
about it. I see no reason why this operating system might not
produce high-quality speech-friendly games.

Because of my constantly having to use both of my computers, and of
a lot of experimentation with various communications packages, I
have misplaced at least two messages that I received. To those who
sent them, you have my sincere apologies. Now that everything is
back onto one computer, no more losses are likely. The idea for
starting a section for game developers grew out of one such
message. Eventually, I hope to turn what develops in this section
into a guide for developers seeking to make their games accessible
for blind players. My input will be from the perspective of a user.
If programmers have suggestions to offer, I would be very grateful
for them. Also, if players have thoughts on what would make games
more accessible, I welcome your submissions as well. Hopefully,
together, we can build a guide which will make a difference and
expand the scope of the game universe currently open to us.   

Well, everyone, that's about all I have to say for now outside of
the articles in this issue. Please send in your articles, letters,
and reviews. I have enjoyed making this magazine, and hope to
continue it indefinitely. I can only do that with your help.

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Letters:

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From J.J. Meddaugh:

In case you didn't hear, WSBB, the World Series Baseball Game and
Information
System has a web site now.
http://users.deltanet.com/
tdb/wsbb/wsbb.htm
The page was started by Tom Baccanti who incidentally does not
subscribe to
Audyssey.
J.J. Meddaugh

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Nice timing, J.J. Great way to celebrate the start of the Baseball
season. I've seen one early version of the World Series Baseball
game, and although I'm not a big fan of the game, I can appreciate
how it was done. I trust that those of you out there who are more
familiar with the intricacies of the game than I am can furnish us
with a review or two about the latest version. As you'll see in the
update from PCS, one of their projects is an update to this program
set complete with sounds.

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One of my lost messages was an inquiry into the origins of the
magazine, and why it was started. I'll offer a small response to
this inquiry now, and will ask all of you who are curious about
this to wait until the June/July issue, where I will offer a more
in-depth answer. Back in July of last year, I decided to act on an
idea I had thought about for a number of years. I wanted to start
a forum for the exchange of information and thought regarding games
which were accessible to the blind. Being an avid game player for
at least ten years, I had a lot of knowledge that I wanted to share
and expand on through discussion. I chose the name Audyssey because
of its pun on words, and because it sums up my philosophy about
games rather nicely. Games are journeys of discovery about oneself,
the subject of the game, and one's fellow players. Again, I will
offer a more in-depth answer in an up-coming issue.

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Prerequisites for Sightless Fun
By Michael Feir

When games are made commercially, the objective is naturally to
satisfy the desires of as many people as possible. Most of these
people are visually oriented for the most part. They like
everything shown to them in eye-catching ways. This explains why
the Windows operating system was made. People found it bothersome
and alienating to remember Dos commands. They found it much easier
to simply point a cursor at a pictorial representation of what they
wanted to do. Conversely, blind people find graphics to be a
nuisance, if not downright troublesome. Since most games are made
to please sighted people, most of them are largely inaccessible to
blind people without sighted assistance.

To make games accessible to blind people, their needs must either
come first, or be dealt with by means of a special interface. This
is because graphics cannot be interpreted by speech packages or by
Braille displays. Sometimes, enough textual information is
available to make a game which contains graphics playable without
them, but this is rare. Even when a game could be played without
seeing the graphics in it, chances are that the text of the game is
written in a manner which cannot be understood by access devices.

To illustrate this, let us examine a game which was not designed to
be accessible at all to blind people. The game Begin2 has been
discussed before in this magazine. It is a simulator of combat
between two fleets of starships from the Star Trek universe. If
played in its ordinary way, it provides its players with a
graphical representation of the action taking place. Symbols show
the positions of ships, the directions of torpedoes, the strengths
of various shields, and a lot more. Speech synthesizers cannot read
the information which is sent to the screen because it is written
directly. In effect, the characters are drawn, like graphical
symbols, onto the screen. if one runs the game and adds the word
"text" on the command line, one can play the game in an entirely
different interface. The text mode of Begin is completely
accessible to the blind. There are still limited graphics, but
these are of a kind which do not interfere much with the text, and
don't screw up speech output. Less information is available for
players using this interface. There is no way of telling which
direction torpedoes are travelling. When ships are being boarded
while the game is in graphics mode, the number of surviving crew
and the number of boarding invaders are both shown. This
information is not provided while in text mode. The game is still
playable without this information, but blind players are clearly at
a decisive disadvantage.

The game of Nethack was also not designed for blind people. the
only reason it is accessible at all is because it is possible to
change the symbols which represent elements of the game into text
characters. Also, the text which the game writes to the screen is
written using the bios method instead of drawn directly to the
screen. The game is not dependant on graphics, although they are
available for sighted players who might wish to see them. It should
also be noted that Nethack is not time-based, but turn-based.

As PCS has demonstrated with its Bowling and Shoot games, it is
possible to have a time-based game which is compatible with
speech. In the two games mentioned, textual information is never
presented during time-critical moments in the game. One does not
need to absorb a lot of information and make a decision based on a
lot of variables in seconds. this aspect should be more fully
explored. It is quite conceivable that trivia or word-games, and
possibly even adventure games could have time-based elements. It is
only necessary for designers to bare in mind that accessing
information on a screen can be time-consuming for players.

the last issue that I will discuss in this article is that of menu
interfaces. During the past five years, a few games have surfaced
which would have been much more speech-friendly without menu
interfaces which depended on a highlighting system to choose
options. Many speech synthesizers cannot cope with systems such as
this, and will not inform the player which option he or she is
selecting. the option to use letters or numbers to select options
can go a long way to making a game accessible. PCS provides for
this in its games, and also designs their arrow-interface menus so
that they are speech-friendly. I have never had a problem using
their menus.

Hopefully, I have managed to raise some of the larger issues in
developing accessible games. In the months to come, I hope to
receive input from all of you on ways to make games more
accessible. I also hope that you who are developers out there will
share your experiences with those who might be considering making
accessible games.

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The Latest Finds:

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Perdition's Flames

this piece of interactive fiction is freeware. It is written using
the Tads system by the creator of that system, and makes good use
of the power of the development system. Basically, you have died,
and find yourself on a boat which eventually arrives in Hell. this
hell is nothing like it is depicted in various religious
literature. It has found itself in a position where it must compete
for your soul with Heaven in a free and open system. Accordingly,
it has been modernized and made a lot less unpleasant. You must
become a member of an adventurers' club by collecting certain
treasures and accomplishing certain tasks. All in all, the game is
fairly easy to play in terms of its ability to understand ordinary
sentences. You won't have to think of obscure ways of phrasing your
commands or anything like that. The puzzles are logical, if not
instantly solvable. The atmosphere is very well done. the level of
humour is exactly right, enough to keep the game amusing without
ruining it entirely. Perdition's flames can be found at:
ftp.gmd.de
It is located in the tads section of the if-archive. The solution
is also available on the same site.

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Frobozz Magic Support

This is another excellent game written with the Tads system. It
takes place in Infocom's Enchanter universe. You play the role of
a magic support clerk assigned to solve the various problems people
get into while using magic. You are joined by an animated burin [a
kind of magical equivalent to a pencil], in your quest to set
things right. The game is quite humorous, and comes complete with
a built-in walkthrough and hints. Novice players might find the
game a bit frustrating, but certainly not impossible. Descriptions
are quite good, although the game doesn't really lend itself to
developing a rich atmosphere since each task you must perform takes
you into different regions of the Enchanter world. The game can be
found in the same place that Perdition's flames can be found, at
the ftp.gmd.de site.

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News from PCS
Sent by Phillip Vlasak

NEW GAMES BY PCS

PANZERS IN NORTH AFRICA. $30
Did you ever wonder what the difference was between the nation's
armories were in World War Two, and if you had to be supplied and
fight with one of the great powers. Which would it be?
Command a World War Two tank, and fight your way to victory. this
game allows you to battle enemy tanks from the great desert
campaigns fought in the north African theater. In this game you
will move your tank into battle, choose to fire smoke to obscure a
more powerful tank, or blast away with armor piercing rounds. The
game will worn you of trouble, such as being in range of your
enemy's main gun, running low on ammo, or if enemy forces are
moving beyond your visibility. you can be in a tank of four
nations. German and Italians are the Axis powers, and the Americans
and British are the Allied powers. this game enables a blind person
to use their ear and hand skills to aim at an enemy tank and fire
a cannon. it has over 60 multi media sounds.

CAR RACING CIRCUIT. $30
Feel the sweat run down your back wile you try to control your
super charged computer down the straight away towards the next
critical turn. Will you make it or will it be curtains?
you can race your car against opponents on five different tracks.
two races are two lap qualifiers. One is an oval and the other is
a figure eight. three long races are two ten lappers of the oval
and figure eight, and a road race course twelve and one half miles
long. The up and down arrow keys are used to control your speed.
the right and left arrow keys will allow you to turn right or left.
The space bar is the break, and will slow you up quickly. you use
your hear and hand skills to successfully navigate a turn. You can
use the function keys as a dash board to find out how fast you are
going, what lap you are on, your race clock, how far you have
travelled in the race, and gives the time difference between you
and
your nearest opponent. You are being challenged by 25 of the
world's best drivers and if you beat the record score, your name is
saved.  Now you have the tools. Go out there and make them smell
your exhaust and let them hear your tires squeal.

WORLD SERIES BASEBALL SPECIAL EDITION.
Hear the ball come off the bat, and the crowd roar when your teem
rallies from behind. Even the organist gets into the game.
In collaboration with Harry Hollingsworth, PCS has added real
sounds to his World Series Baseball Game. it comes with 160 teams,
including the 1996 pennant winning Yankees and Braves and the 1996
all star teams. you will feel even more like you are really at the
baseball game. The sounds include ball meeting bat, ball hitting
glove, vendors in stands, and music, including Star Spangled
Banner, Oh Canada, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and charge music.
For those who already own Version 11 of World Series Baseball,
the Special Edition Update is only $10.

PCS DISTRIBUTES MICHAEL FEIR'S  MAGAZINE AUDYSSEY;

a magazine on Computer Games Accessible to the Blind.
It is a bi-monthly released on Compuserve that we will make
available on 3.5 inch IBM format disk for ten dollars per year.
Each issue will contain the full text of the electronic edition
plus share ware or free ware games to fill out the disk.

Demos of our games are available from PCS for fifty cents each,
plus two  dollars shipping per order.

Contact PCS in any format at:
Personal Computer Systems
551 Compton ave.
Perth Amboy NJ  08861
Phone (908) 826-1917.
Email [email protected]

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Contacting Me

I can be reached in two ways. The easiest is through Compuserve. My
e-mail address is as follows:
[email protected]

alternatively, you may correspond with me on 3.5-inch disks,
provided you be sure to send them in returnable disk-mailers. I
don't have the money to pay for postage. My mailing address is:
5787 Montevideo Road
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Postal code: L5N 2L5

I have recently acquired a copy of UUencode and UUdecode for dos,
so you may send files to me via this means.       

* Internet in a Macro V2.60 Alpha


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