I changed my game design a lot in the final design to make sighted players experience the same things as blind players. All the visual text dialogs were replaced with audio dialogs.
The supporting character and background were removed, only important elements remain. The mouse pointer that represents character actions was replaced with a movable dot.
And the most important change is that this game will bring sighted people into the blind world by slowly blind their vision.
After I took out most of the visual elements, I add two systems that will help players navigate through this game.
Adding 2 Audio systems
Story’s navigator system: The narrator is the most important component in this game since there will be almost no visual components. The narrator doesn’t only tell the story but he also tells you what is happening and what you should do next. The narrator sound is generated by the text to speech.
Abby’s voice: text to speech ‘Alto’ Game Narrator’s voice: text to speech ‘Tenor’ Tuna(cat)’s voice: text to speech ‘Squeak’ and ‘Kitten’
Movement’s navigator system: When there are no visual components, you need to get sound feedback on what you are doing. Movement’s navigator is providing the feedback sound on each time you move so you know that you are moving.
I would suggest you to try to play this game by yourself for the best experience but here are some game screenshot and flow chart;
Scratch is a block-based visual programming language and online community targeted primarily at children. Users of the site can create online projects using a block interface. The service is developed by the MIT Media Lab and has been translated into 70+ languages.
With Scratch, people can program their own interactive stories, games, and animations – and share their creations with others in the online community. Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively – essential skills for life in the 21st century. And the best part is that It is provided free of charge.
After I first introduced to Scratch, I start to progress my game production. On Scratch, even someone who never learns how to code can code a simple game without a problem. There are also many tutorials available on site that I can watch it step by step while building my own project. I can also copy codes from other projects that I like to use in my project with an option ‘see inside’ which very helpful.
Meow Detective on Scratch
Meow Detective is a mystery RPG and a hidden object game that blind and sighted people can enjoy. The game plot is simple; you just move into this new apartment but there is a cat in your room – after catching the cat, he asks you to find his owner so you have to go in different rooms to look for clues. There are 3 main actions in this game; talking, finding, and catching.
In my first prototype, I use a lot of visual elements to help me simulate what happens in the game such as background, characters, and text dialogs. The first interaction is a visual-based clickable game. The target will randomly appear on the screen, in this case, a dog (I use free assets from this site so I don’t have many choices). The player needs to use a mouse to click on the target. When the target was clicked, it will disappear but only for a second, it will come back again in different places. Every time the target was clicked, it will make a higher pitch sound.
I use this prototype as the mini-game #1 in Meow Detective. I also created some dialogs to introduce players to the game and drive the story after they finished the game as well. Here are some sample dialogs;
Abby: Hey, welcome new roommate! Let me show you around… (cat sound) aah! Did you hear that? Show yourself! (a cat appears) How did you get in here? ‘Player name’, help me catch it! (Game#1 starts).
Because this game is not fully built, I didn’t make it public on Scratch but here are some of the game screenshot;
After I created the visual-based game that is playable, I then tried to add audio to these visual elements and expect blind players to understand it.
Playtesting and Feedback
To gain an insight into whether or not the build is achieving blind players experience goals, I asked my blind friend to playtest the first audio prototype. The aim of play-testing is to gain useful feedback from him to improve the overall experience of the next prototype.
From observing his interaction with the game and interviewing after he plays, this is what I found;
He can understand the dialogs and story clearly even it is made from text to speech.
He can use a keyboard to type an answer without any problem.
He cannot play the mini-game #1 because he doesn’t know where is the mouse pointer.
He comments that even if he knows where is the mouse pointer, the game won’t be fun for him to play because he won’t want to move around the screen randomly without any clues where the target is. Just like when you can’t find your phone in a dark room if the phone ring, it would be easier for you to find it.
He suggests that if there are some kind of audio clues of which direction he should go, it might be better for blind players. For example, the closer he moves to the target, the louder the sound will be.
Conclusion; I still need a lot of work to make this game playable for blind players. But as a playable game, there are two systems that working well in this prototype;
Relationship system: This system is not important but it adds value to your action. Relationship system will calculate your answers and add or deduct points from your relationship status. For example; if you are willing to help the cat, you will earn one point but if you are not willing to help, your point will be deducted.
Game count system: This system will calculate how many time you clear the game to provide you different dialog lines. For example; if you already clear the first game and want to repeat it, the character might say “oh, it’s you again” instead of “hey who are you?”. Or when a cat asks you to follow him if you answer ‘maybe later’ for the first time, the cat will say ‘I said, now!’ but if you answer the same for the second time, the cat will eat the ‘maybe later’ button and you cannot choose this option anymore.
From “Modelling and Prototyping Lecture Notes” in Digital games course, I try to answer these questions to have a better understanding of my game design ideas. After I finish answering these questions, I realize that my game is more complicated than I thought.
Turning ‘Meow Detective’ ideas into a game;
key questions to ask my self are:
What is the conflict in my game?
When I make a personal game design, the conflict in my game is; a cat was missing. Players will get a mission from the cat’s owner then they have to find and return the cat.
But when I develop this game, I want to make a searching area smaller so I change from a cat is missing to a cat is lost (cat point of view). Players will get a mission from the cat then they need to help the cat find its owner and bring it home.
What are the rules and procedures?
Players need to play some kind of mini-games to get clues and find out who is the owner of this cat.
What actions do the players take and when?
Finding and/or catching – when the cat runs away, players need to take this action. When players walk into a different room, players might also need to find clues in that room.
Talking – when players interact with other characters, they need to take this action and answer questions.
Are there turns? How do they work?
There are no turns in this game.
How many players can play?
Only one player can play this game but I also want to make it possible for a co-op between sighted and blind people in the future as well.
How long does a game take to resolve?
The player would take less than a minute to resolve one mini-game but for the actual gameplay, it would take longer depending on the dialogs.
What is the working title?
Who is the target audience?
I would say that my target group might be a cat lover for this cat theme game but I would like to explore the possibility of making this game for blind people as well.
What platform will the game run on?
When I work on Unity, my idea is to create a touch base game that runs on mobile phones but after I change to work on Scratch, this game will be run on PC.
What restrictions or opportunities does that environment have?
There is a possibility that sighted players will experience like blind players. Players can also make chooses to change the outcome when answering questions.
After I answer all those questions, I realize that Meow Detective is a game that contains 3-4 mini-games. So when I map out the game structure, I should separate them from each other. I would say that the first game is the most important one so I will be;
Fleshing out ‘Mini-game #1’ structure;
Key questions to ask my self are;
Define each player’s goal?
The players’ goal is to catch the cat.
What does a player need to do to win?
Players need to find and locate the cat then catch it.
Write down the single most important type of player action in the game?
Finding the cat.
Describe how this functions.
For sighted players, they can find the cat by finding the cat image on their screen.
For blind players, they can find the cat by following the cat sound.
Write down the procedures and rules in outline format.
Step 1 – A cat will randomly appear on the screen.
Step 2 – Players have to locate the cat to catch it.
Step 3 – The cat will disappear when the players catch it.
Step 4 – Repeat step 1, five times.
Step 5 – Cut scene, end of mini-game #1.
Only focus on the most critical rules.
Step 2 – Players have to locate the cat to catch it is the most critical action that I need to find out how can I deliver it in a way that includes blind players.
The first idea is using a mouse pointer to point at a cat, then the cat will give audio feedback to the players. I will write about this in detail in the next post.
The game flowchart is the most effective way to visualize this.
If you don’t want a spoiler, try to play this game before reading this post.
Who would have thought that my first digital game design that other people can actually interact with is made with PowerPoint? Without any knowledge of coding or game making, I created a clickable game using the slide link system to bring players from one scene to the other and this is how.
Before we start, let’s take a look at the main plot of this game. A girl cries for help because her cat is missing, players need to find the cat on the map, catch it and bring it home. There will be clues and support character that players can interact to get more information on where the cat located. I also want the cat to move around in the map as well but I end up didn’t apply this idea to the finished game.
On the first attempt, I try to make my game in Unity because I have a chance to learn this program in class. Unity is a cross-platform real-time engine developed by Unity Technologies, first announced and released in June 2005 at Apple Inc.’s Worldwide Developers Conference as an OS X-exclusive game engine. As of 2018, the engine has been extended to support 27 platforms. The engine can be used to create both three-dimensional and two-dimensional games as well as simulations for its many platforms.
A 2D game is what I try first in Unity. But after I finished building the first 2D map from free assets that I can find, I feel that something is not right. When a player moves on a 2D map, it is easy to see everything around him. Therefore, if I want to hide a cat in the 2D map, I need to build the map big enough to hide it. So I tried again in a different way.
On the second attempt, I try to make a 3D game on the same platform, Unity. Just like the first attempt, I start by looking for free assets and build up a 3D map. This time I can easily hide a cat in one corner and force players to walk around to find it.
The problem is, I have no idea how to code. On the Unity website, there are many tutorials that teach you how to make your character move in 3D space but I cannot find any tutorial that teaches me how to make clickable objects. I was sure that they should have something that I can use but since I don’t know what is the keyword that I should look for, it is impossible for me to learn to code in Unity in a short prior of time.
In the end, I give up on Unity platform but, I didn’t give up on making a game yet. I ask myself, what do I need if I want to make a clickable game? An answer is a clickable object that when you click it, something will change. This reminds me of the slide link system in the Powerpoint program that when you click on it, the slide will change into the slide that you set the link to. So I give it a try.
Luckily I already have a map that I can use in Unity so what I did is print screen the game view and paste it into my Powerpoint game. By the end of this game building, I have 62 slides and about 120 clickable objects. There are 4 types of clickable objects;
Navigating arrow – this is the most common clickable part that players will interact within this game. Its function is navigating players from one place to the other, just like the street view on the Google map.
Talking balloon – players can click this to interact with other characters.
Catching command – players can click this to make a catch action.
Item box – players can click this to use items at a certain point of the game.
There are 2 ways to bet this game;
1. Normal root – players have to walk to the top left corner of the map to find a cat. Catch the cat by using a toy item from the item box. If players don’t use an item before trying to catch it, the cat will run away.
2. Thief root – if players go to the bottom left corner of the map, they will find one character. By talking to this character repeatedly and use a toy item, a cat will appear for players to catch it.
When people talk about indie game developers, the first person that comes to my mind is Toby Fox. Not only because I played his game but also because of his unique ideas about the fighting system in his game as well.
Toby Fox is an American video game developer and composer who is the creator of two famous indie games, Undertale and Deltarune. He is born on October 11, 1991, which make him only one month older than me. To see someone who has the same age as me, success in his life is inspiring so I would like to dig down a little bit deeper.
Toby is first active in 2008 but he starts to make his name after the release of his first official game, Undertale. At the start of his career, he works as a composer and composing a variety of music for games such as Homestuck and Hiveswap, developed by Andrew Hussie (2009).
On September 15, 2015, Undertale was release after a long wait for his fans. It is a role-playing game (RPG) with a single player mode. Toby is the developer, publisher, writer and composer of his game. We can say that he did almost everything by himself. The game engine that he used is GameMaker Studio. Today, there are available on six difference platform which is; Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and the latest platform, Nintendo Switch
Undertale was inspired by another game called EarthBound, a Japanese role-playing video game co-developed by Ape Inc. in 1994. Toby said in his interview that he likes how EarthBound is a funny and weird game but at the same time, it is also serious and sincere. “I write all that 40 – 50 funny lines just to make 1 heartbreaking line,” he said.
So what is so special about Undertale? As I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this game has unique ideas about the fighting system. For normal RPG, if players want to past enemies to the next stage, they have to fight and kill their enemies. This is not necessary for this game because Undertale is a traditional role-playing game where no one has to get hurt.
“Thinking about all the enemies that you don’t care about and just push them to the side instead of killing them if that makes you think you are a good person, what if I make all the enemies nice with personality and you have to feel bad when you hurt them?” said Toby. This idea gives players a choice that they do not have to defeat the enemy and they can be friends with them.
Another interesting fact about Undertale is that this game is made with the crowdfunding on Kickstarter. Not only that, the funding was close at 10 times more than the goal that he set in the beginning. And even after his game succeeds, the demo is still available for new players to try out on the Undertale website.
Little details in this game are the best extra things that I like about this game. It shows that your action can make a difference. For example; if you didn’t kill any monster in this game, you will find them drinking in the bar or if you pet a dog enemy when you fight him, there will be a funny statue in the scene.
For his new game, Deltarune was just released last year (2018), and because of that I will not make any comment yet but if you like Undertale, you might like this game as well.
How hard should it be to make a game? When I first start the digital game design course, I believe that design a game shouldn’t be that hard. But the more I learn, the harder it gets. In this series of blog posts, you will find my journey of making my first digital game, Meow Detective.
Meow Detective was inspired by a missing cat that I found on the street one night when I got back from work. He was a white fluffy and friendly cat with a red collar. I cannot recall his name but there was a number to contact the owner on his collar. It was late at that time and it was snowing so I picked up my phone and made a call. No one picked up so I just left a message saying that I found your cat in the snow but I couldn’t help him. I still feel bad until this day that I left that cat in the snow and went home. Luckily on the next day, I receive a message from the cat’s owner said that she was on her way home from a vacation and that cat should be fine, hopefully.
From this event, I came up with an idea of a cat detective that his/her job is to find missing cats and return to its owners. But the question is, how can I delivery this idea? My first option is to make a mobile game because I like the touch screen system that you can click on the object without any other commands so my first set of case studies are mobile games.
Lost Cat Story is one of my case study that influences my first prototype. It is a cat theme escape game on mobile that you play as a cat that tries to find his way home to his beloved owner. Just like other escape games, there are many mini puzzles in this game for you to solve so you can move forward. What I like about this game is the story mood and tone, the graphics designed and the gameplay system. The problem with this game is that you will not know exactly what you need to do. However, there are many hints that you can get to help you if you need. Another thing that I like about this game is, there are different endings base on players actions and path that they do so even after they finished the game they can come back to play and try to find different endings.
When I compare this game to the idea of a game that I want to make, there is not really the same kind of player experience so I looked into mystery or detective theme games to understand how detective game works. One of the detective theme game that I like is Criminal Case: The Conspiracy. In this game, you play as the police that was assigned to different murder cases. Your job is to find out who is the murder and arrest him/her. Investigate crime scenes for clues, find hidden objects, bring the suspects in for questioning and analyze evidence to catch the killers. It was a time-based type of game that players need to play it faster to better their scores. I like the idea of looking for the clues and find out the truth of this game but the game system just makes players find the objects that match with the words that were given instead of letting the players really looking for clues by themselves.
My design idea started to change direction when I think about my blind friend. If I’m going to design a game, I would like to make it in a way that he can play it as well but ho can I do that? The mystery or object finding types of games normally based on visual elements so how can I keep this concept but make it more inclusive?
This idea led to my next case study, A Blind Legend. It is a game made for visually impaired people that I ever know. Because of zero use of visual art, players have to rely on the full 3D environment audio like a blind person. However, this is not a free game so I didn’t have a chance to play it yet but after watching many game reviews, I realize that this is not a game for me. I like the story and how they use directional audio, cues and even features a surprisingly challenging combat system but as a sighted person, this game is too hard for someone like me.
Is there any way that sighted and blind players can enjoy the same game? How can I design a game that sighted people can experience the same as blind people without feeling frustrated? I hope to have answers to this question by the end of this journey.