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Roguelike Computer Games for Visually Impaired Users

INDEX

Introduction.
The roguelike genre.
Roguelikes and accessibility.
Games currently available.
Game 1: The Inner Eye.
Game 2: The Accessible Dungeon).
Contact information.

INTRODUCTION

TOP PLAYER LYS is an initiative proposed by professors of the Language in the Information Society (LYS) Group of the University of A Coruña. Its objective is the development of computer games accessible to visually-impaired users by applying natural language processing techniques. These games are developed within the framework of final-year projects for Computer Science Degree students. So far we have focused on roguelike-genre games.

THE ROGUELIKE GENRE

Roguelike videogames, or "Rogue-like", constitute a sub-genre of computer role-playing games. They generally make use of a high fantasy setting similar to, for example, Dungeons & Dragons. The character of the player, the hero, explores a dungeon or similar environment struggling with the creatures that inhabit it (this is why it is usually referred as a "dungeon crawl " scenario). Through his journey, the hero will gain experience and collect all kinds of treasures that will help him to become more and more powerful. In addition to the fantasy setup of the game, most roguelike games share a number of features:

  • Turn-based: In general, each action or movement of the hero corresponds to one turn. This also allows the player to take time to plan his next actions.
  • Permanent death or permadeath: When the hero dies, the player must start all over again from the beginning because it is not allowed to load a previous game. You can only save and load your game at the end and at the beginning of a game session, respectively.
  • Randomness: To prevent permanent death from making the game boring and repetitive, every time the player starts a new game he will find a different dungeon, which has just been procedurally generated. Thus, the map will be different, the properties of the objects will have changed, etc. Its goal is to favor replayability.
  • ASCII-based pseudo-graphics: This is one of the most peculiar characteristics of roguelike games. Even today, the most purist roguelikes are characterized by giving little importance to the graphic aspect, focusing on the gaming experience itself. In this way, such games do not use typical graphics, but they use ASCII characters to represent the dungeon and what it contains in the screen. For example, the hero is usually represented with the character @, walls can be represented with the characters | and -, corridors with #, the monsters would be letters, etc. Let's take a look to this simple example:

    LIST OF SYMBOLS:

    # Dark (non-illuminated) corridor
    . Illuminated area
    $ Piece of gold
    + Door
    ! Magic potion
    @ Hero
    D Dragon
    < Stairs connecting with the previous level
    ? Magic scroll

    A DUNGEON DISPLAY:

    ------                    
    |....|      ############  
    |....|      #          #  
    |.$..+########         #  
    |....|       #      ---+---
    ------       #      |.....|
                 #      |.!...|
                 #      |.....|
                 #      |..@..|
      ----       #      |.....|
      |..|       #######+..D..|
      |<.+###    #      |.....|
      ----  #    #      |.?...|
            ######      -------

ROGUELIKES AND ACCESSIBILITY

Paradoxically, the simplicity of these ASCII-based pseudo-graphics is a problem for the accessibility by visually-impaired players. The reason is that reading and making sense of such a representation by means of a screen reader program or a refreshable braille display is extremely slow and confusing to the user.

Our proposal consists of a roguelike that provides the players with two types of interchangeable interfaces on the same game: one for sighted users and another one for the visually-impaired. In addition, in this way we will also be promoting the integration and socialization of these users, as both groups will be playing exactly the same game. For this purpose the program displays two windows at once. The first window shows a classic interface with ASCII-based pseudo-graphics; this window is aimed at sighted players and cannot be accessed by screen reader software. At the same time, the second window shows a description-based interface, aimed at visually-impaired players and that is accessible to screen readers. In this new interface the player is presented with exactly the same information as in the graphical interface, but using textual descriptions of the situation instead of graphics. For instance, for the example shown in the previous section, a first attempt might be something like this:

" The hero is in the center of a large rectangular room with two doors. The first door is on the north wall. The second door is on the west wall, to the southwest of the hero's position. There is a magic potion to the north, close to the hero. There is a dragon to the south, close to the hero. There is a magic scroll to the south, far from the hero. The hero's hit points are at 75%."

For generating these descriptions we will use natural language generation (NLG) mechanisms and other natural language processing (NLP) techniques. In this way we will seek a greater expressiveness and variety in the descriptions to avoid being repetitive and achieve a deeper immersion of the player in the game, thus improving the gaming experience. For example, an alternative description to the previous one, much more complex and crafted, would be this one:

" You are in the center of a huge rectangular room, the raggedy remains of old tapestries hang from the stone walls. You see that there are two doors, one behind you, in the background, the other is on your right, a little further from you. You are not yet fully recovered from your last fight, and in front of you a fierce dragon stretches out its wings and blocks your way. There is a sickening stench of sulfur in the room. Looking out of the corner of your eye, halfway to the back door, you can see an unopened glass jar and, beyond the dragon, you can see a strange scroll with runes between the crevices of the floor. "

Those games created under this initiative will be distributed under a free open source software license. Thus, anyone can not only play with them, but also modify them, by extending or adapting them as he sees fit. For example, by extending the lexicon and improving the descriptions, by adding elements to the game such as new hero classes or new spells, by adapting the game to new languages, and so on.

GAMES CURRENTLY AVAILABLE

Next, we show the games developed within this initiative so far:

GAME 1: THE INNER EYE

Author: Luis Fernández-Núñez.
Advisors: Carlos Gómez-Rodríguez, Jesús Vilares.
Languages available: Spanish and English (manual only in Spanish).
Requirements: The game requires having a Java Runtime Environment 7.0 or higher installed on the PC. In case you need to use a screen reader to play, Java Access Bridge must be correctly installed and configured. The reading function has been tested and works correctly with Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, all in 32 and 64 bits, as well as with the readers NVDA 2014.2 and JAWS 15.0.11024, both in 32 and 64 bits.
Download: Available at https://github.com/Lusote/theInnerEye under a GNU General Public Licence v3.

GAME 2: THE ACCESSIBLE DUNGEON

Author: Darío Penas.
Advisors: Carlos Gómez-Rodríguez, Jesús Vilares.
Languages available: English, Spanish, Galician and Dutch (manual only in English).
Requirements: The game requires having a Java Runtime Environment 7.0 or higher installed on the PC. In case you need to use a screen reader to play, Java Access Bridge must be correctly installed and configured.
Download: Available at https://github.com/dpenas/roomsgame under a GNU General Public Licence v3.

CONTACT INFORMATION

If you are interested in our initiative, you can contact Prof. Jesús Vilares at the following email address (I will spell it using the international phonetic alphabet):
juliet echo sierra uniform sierra [dot] victor india lima alpha romeo echo sierra [at] uniform delta charlie [dot] echo sierra

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