It’s been more than a decade since the internet took over and introduced various ways of communicating. In this period, we have also seen a lot of changes, mostly visual. Now, we have websites which have nicely layered graphics and online games which are graphically very advanced.
Internet is all about text. Although, graphics plays an important role now as it enhances the visual appeal, the backbone is still the text. When we communicate through the internet,we actually use codes. These codes are actually the main foundation of internet.
MUD, or Multi-User Dungeon is the longest living and the oldest online game genre. MUD’s are actually the predecessors of the MMORPGs which now dominates the online gaming scenario. MMORPGs are composed mainly of texts. One of the most popular online game, World of Warcraft is also composed mainly by texts and codes.
Similarly, another MUD game, Materia Magica which was released back in 1996, is now working on a very ambitious project which can change online gaming altogether. They are undertaking a project which will make it accessible to the visually challenged.
We are talking about the project only because of the hard work of a blind player name Lilah (her in game name), the game’s staff and a community of the game. At first it was only Lilah and her sighted coder partner, who started leveling the playing field of Materia’s Magica by using text readers.
She said, “zipMUD (a version of the zMUD client; MUDs use third-party-connection clients to log in) had nothing in it to really help us, but we could hear what was going on in the game [via external add-on software].”
“So I had to make myself sound triggers, so I could hear when somebody sent me a tell and a different one when someone replied to me. And I was getting more and more elaborate—I made one to tell me when I got poisoned, one when I got plagued. Gosh, I had maybe 2,000 triggers and aliases I used to play the game,” she added.
The visually impaired players will hear a sound or a particular word for the effects of the game. For example, when there is a blood effect in the screen, they will hear the word ‘Red’ or something similar to that which will make them understand. However, the project turned to be very ambitious and hard for the two of them and then developer of Materia Magica stepped in.
Beth Carrigan, the general manager of the game said, “There were always people who had to figure out how to use text readers to play these games, so some people developed add-ons for MUSHclient [a connection program] because it’s so easy to script.”
“One of our blind players [Lilah] is an accessibility professional in real life. She was friends with a sighted player who’s a programmer. The programmer helped Lilah get her plugins set up so she could play, and over time, they were just like, ‘We can clean this up and share it with other players.’ This was all unofficial at this point. The administration realized that this was pretty great, so we helped out and ran with it,” he added.
Lilah, on the other hand also focused on the economic accessibility of the project. She said, “A lot of the blind players are underemployed for their education levels. They’d be afraid to go get zipMUD just to see if it worked or if they liked it and still have to spend money.”
The game will now have an option which will let the players to change to the visual impairment code when they log in. The visually impaired players will receive various voice instructions once they plug in with the visual impairment code. However, these auditory information comes at a real fast rate.
“All computers come with screen readers now, and you can also buy nicer ones,” explains Carrigan. “So what Lilah and her partner have done is use two screen readers: The built-in one, to read all the background scrolling text—like in combat, there’s a constant stream of information—and that one’s turned up to something like 300 words per minute. Then they use a second one, which kicks out more important things, read over the top of the background noise.”
According to Beth Carrigan, the main aim of the team of Materia Magica is to strengthen the project started by Lilah and her friend. The team’s efforts in adding extra sounds and tweaking the codes of the game which would help the visually impaired players.
Unlike other online games, the development teams doesn’t have the control to the players and the clients. In Materia Magica‘s case, they have translated the visual information into an auditory format. They have included various MP3 files, have come up with ways to explain a map to the players and added support for concurrent sounds.
The tech head of Materia Magica, Sean Lyon said, “A lot of the underlying tech was planned for a long time.”
“One of our most accomplished PKers [players who focus on hunting down and defeating other players instead of fighting monsters and other enemies] is blind, though he wasn’t born blind. We realized that we could leverage some of the work we were already doing to better facilitate his gameplay,” he added.
Another factor that made this project successful is the age of the game. The twenty years old game, which is coded in C works in the ideology of the by gone internet era, where binary codes have preserved the character logs.
Anthony Roma, the financial manager of Materia Magica also thinks that this is a very good decision to embrace the blind MUDder to the game. He also states that sometimes the blind gamers forms about 50 percent of the online users.
Lilah, her friend and the Materia Magica has achieved an extraordinary feat. In this world of modern video games, they have revived and age old theory and that too for the blind gamers.
“I think if people just think outside of the box a little bit, there are ways to make things accessible without spending a fortune. But most people can’t even imagine being blind, much less playing a game like Materia Magica while blind,” Lilah says. “It’s an intricate game that even sighted people find too hard. So instead of saying, ‘This is too hard,’ I ask ‘How can we do it? If it’s inaccessible, how can we make it accessible?’ If you’re blind or visually impaired, deaf, or anything else, instead of thinking you can’t do it…Materia Magica is showing that it can be done.”
Well done team.