The Audio Flashlight series (2008-2011)
How many games out there have an option to turn-off the graphics and let you keep playing? In “The Audio Flashlight”, you can experience this as the game flows with no visual information at all.
The Audio Flashlight is an accessible mobile phone game designed for both visually-impaired and sighted people. It is non-visual, where all interaction happens through audio, gestures, and tactile feedback. For some it is an opportunity for digital inclusion, for others it is a novel approach for gameplay.
To the best of my knowledge, the first version is the first non-visual game for mobile phones.
The Audio Flashlight series comprises 5 games. They have been developed as part of my Doctorate thesis regarding pervasive mobile games. The general research goals for this game series was to explore innovative gameplay through non-visual games, using gestures, haptics and audio as the main interface elements.
The first one was unveiled in 2008. The research work about this game has been awarded at the IHC’08 (Brazilian Symposium on Human Factors in Computer Systems) with the best paper award.
The Audio Flashlight 2 is the first non-visual and multiplayer game for mobile devices, as far as I know. In this version, two people play and have complementary roles in the game.
The third version is a competitive three-player game, where two players play as in the first version (they have to find the treasure), while the third player acts as a “spoiler” - this player has the job of disturbing the others through the ability of chaning the treasure location from time to time. The game has a time limit for the players to find the treasure. If they are unable to find it, the spoiler player wins.
The fourth and fifth versions present features that integrate aspects from the “real-world” into the game, turning them into “pervasive mobile games”. In other words, the real-world influences what happens in the game.
For example, the fourth game is almost identical to the first one, except that now the game may become easier depending on the number of Bluetooth devices around the player. This version has a number of “doors” inside the room, which are initially closed. Here, more Bluetooth devices around the player means more open doors in the game..
The fifth version is a “pervasive” version of the third version. Now, depending on the number of WiFi access points around the players, they earn a certain number of “freeze commands”. The freeze command allows a player to freeze the opponents - who remain unable to move/act in the game while they are frozen. The actual number of granted freeze commands relates to the number of WiFi access points around the players.
Versions 1 and 2 have been detailed in selected academic publications (listed below). The other versions are detailed in my Doctorate thesis.
Key features for the game series
- One of the original goals of this project is to have visually-impaired people come into play, as those people do not have many options when regarding mobile phone entertainment. We hope to contribute in helping to bridge the gap of the digital exclusion with this initiative. Although mobile devices are rapidly becoming more powerful, with more memory, more processing power, and more multimedia functionalities, such resources have not yet been used to promote accessible gaming interfaces. Also, explorations with non-visual game interaction clearly opens up novel possibilities for sighted users as well.
- Another point (non-traditional in general) for visually-impaired people is that the game presents an (accessible) audio menu for navigating inside it. In the main menu the user is able to listen to the game instructions or to start the game. While playing the game, the user may pause it by touching the phone screen. In the pause audio menu, the user is able to restart the game, quit it, or resume it.
- The game takes a non-traditional approach to convey information using audio and haptics, different from the majority of games. The player interacts with the game in a more natural way, instead of just pressing buttons. This is easier to learn, to use, and potentially much funnier.
- The game offers an opportunity to create unique game experiences for the players (sighted and visually-impaired). As there is no visual information (except for versions 3 & 5, which are “semi-visual”), players have to use their imagination and creativity to create a mental image of the game world and what is going on there. As people usually imagine things in different ways, this opens up the possibility of having personalized gaming experiences. This contributes to improve the immersion and engagement in the game