Alternative to ASCII map for visually impaired players

That sounds like a good idea. I’ll look into it.

Wow, that of bring to physical world part of a videogame is cool!

I have this very same question. The only thing I could come up with (and this only works if the map is small) is to just list areas: The Kitchen is north of the living room. The living room is east of the bedroom and west of the bathroom.

This kind of sucks, but it’s the best thing I can come up with. @kamineko , any better ideas for us?

----and now for something completely different:

How does a screenreader pronounce XYZZY?

Alright, alright! Stop it! Run along! This is getting too silly…----

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This was discussed elsewhere. Although it’s not a screen reader, I just turned speech on in Windows Frotz and it was pronounced as ecks why zee zee why.

Note: I use “screen reader” as a catch-all term. OS-level accessibility features apply, too.

During my research for screen reader-friendly Infocom documentation, I have had occasion to ask about this a lot. I spent a lot of time asking and thinking about Seastalker in particular. It’s an unfortunate irony that I’ve invested so much time on what I consider Infocom’s worst game, but it is what it is. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Seastalker features a sonar map made of ASCII characters. It looks like this, but sounds like nonsense over a screen reader:

>examine sonar
(+=you, .=open water, *=obstacle)
----------------------
                               
 * * * * . . . . . . .
 * * * * . . . . . . .
 * * * * . . . . . . .
 * * * * . . . . . . . HDG:E 
 * * * * . . . . . . .     
 * * * * . + . . . . .   +--
 * * * * * . . . . . .     
 * * * * * * . . . . .
 * * * * * * * . . . .
 * * * * * * * * . . .
 * * * * * * * * * * .
----------------------

A problem with braille printers and braille displays is that there is no one-to-one correspondence between visually displayed ASCII characters and tactile (braille) characters. This is true in terms of layout as well as character shape. I have been told that it isn’t a viable solution. The equipment seems to be expensive (at least to me), too.

I have heard that a 3D printed map would be the best solution functionally, but that sounds even more expensive than braille printing.

@AmandaB has thought a lot about this, too, and I agree with her take. Unfortunately, alt descriptions are good for images, but a maze designed for ASCII representation (or Seastalker’s Frobton Bay) would likely be tedious or else incomprehensible. Generally, the ASCII display approach is used by developers because it is a better gameplay alternative (for those who can access it). Transcribing it to text would be a diminished experience.

The only alternatives I can think of are:

  • A separate, screen reader-specific puzzle replacement: high effort, potentially good experience.
  • A separate dramatization of traversing the maze (removing the problem but hopefully recreating the experience of solving it): high effort, potentially good experience.
  • A turn-by-turn walkthrough: low effort, less fulfilling.
  • Sequence break for screen reader players: lowest effort but may be better than a walkthrough.

I’m definitely interested in hearing community ideas about ASCII. Perhaps there is a better way we just haven’t found yet!

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Following the XYZZY experiment, I just tried examining the map with speech on. The symbols were pronounced as:

o = oh
| = vertical line
-, <, > = (too fast to understand)
^ = circumflex accent
v = vee

Personally As a blind screen reader user I’d say go for the first suggestion. You could ask the player at the beginning if they use a screen reader and the answer would determine the puzzle given.

As for how screen readers pronounce xyzzy, the one I’m currently using says it like “zizey”, but I could add a pronunciation rule to its dictionary so it’d say it as “zizzy”. But I’m just used to it mispronouncing it so I haven’t bothered.

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I second the vote for option 1. Unfortunately there just doesn’t seem to be a straightforward solution for these ASCII graphics situations at the moment. Braille and/or tactile renders can definitely be helpful under certain circumstances, but I’m fairly certain that there aren’t many individuals out there who would be willing to shell out $1000+ for the technology required to produce them.
Xyzzy, on the other hand, is something that screenreaders handle pretty well, even if they can’t always agree how it should be done. The one built into my phone says “zizzy”, whereas my computer thinks with a bit of an Italian flair: “zitzy” as in “pizza”.

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Hi, blind player here, thanks for your suggestion. Unfortunately, Braille printers are pretty rare in home situations, they’re very expensive and the majority of people won’t have access to one. Also, the varying locale-dependant conventions of Braille mean that you can’t guarantee how a map appears from player to player. Factors like the size of a Braille page being different to regular printer paper and the encoding that’s being used can dramatically alter the scale of the resulting map.

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I agree with this. Perhaps you could also make the map togglable. I’m personally a fan of mapping things out for myself, and I wouldn’t really want to miss the puzzle unless I absolutely had to. To reduce noise, I’d appreciate being able to turn the map off.

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This is something I’ve been wondering about for a while, actually—are you generally comfortable with making a map of connections between rooms and being able to reference spatial relations on it?

I’ve made some puzzles involving figuring out these relations before (“if this room is north of that room, which is down from the other room, which is south of the third room, then these two must be close to each other”) and I’ve always wondered how accessible those are to players who aren’t playing by sight.

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Thanks for all the suggestions. I thought I might be able to use braille to represent the symbols rather than its normal interpretation as alphanumeric characters, but that doesn’t really work because of the restricted 2 by 3 grid used for each character and the spacing between characters. It sounds like braille embossers are expensive, anyway.

I then read up on tactile graphics, but couldn’t find any way of doing that without specialised equipment.

I think I’ll ask “Are you using a screen reader?” up front then modify the map accordingly, perhaps supplemented by MAP ON and MAP OFF. I just need to work out how to describe the map in a concise manner. If I can do that, how will a visually-impaired player perceive the map? Are you able to remember it all in your head or do you “draw” it somehow? (This applies to any game, not just my situation.) The map puzzle is 7 rooms by 7 rooms.

If all else fails, I think I might include a HINT command to give you the directions to follow on the map.

When I can work out a good solution, I’ll retrofit this to any other games where I’ve used ASCII graphics, such as ‘Captain Cutter’s Treasure’. I need to give more thought to visually-impaired players in future.

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I’ve wondered about this too.

Visually impaired players, how do you “draw” your maps?

This is kind of an interesting question, and I think the answer is going to vary from person to person. Some visually-impaired individuals really struggle with spatial awareness to the point where a 2-dimensional grid can be difficult for them to conceptualize and navigate. On the other hand you have people who are great at picturing their surroundings and could probably be considered blind cartographers. I think I personally fall somewhere in the middle. I wouldn’t really say I keep a “mental map” in my head, but if I explore a game environment enough I start to memorize the connections between rooms, and I can usually understand where the various locations are in relation to each other even if there isn’t necessarily a direct path from point a to point b. Twisty little passages though? That’s an entirely different can of worms.

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I’ve made a couple attempts toward creating a tactile representation of a maze in one of the games I was playing a while back, but all the twists and turns got the better of me. :pensive:

I’m curious about this. I thought that an easy solution would be to take a (lined with some physical texture) checkerboard and some tokens, and map the game that way. Works best with NSEW and that’s how I map my games. Is that method too burdensome/ineffective?

The disadvantages to that method are (1) the inability to label rooms and (2) needing to make sure you don’t knock your markers out of place while feeling around your map. Additionally, mazes where room a is north of room b but room b is not necessarily south of room a would pose their own challenges.

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I think I fall somewhat closer to the “blind cartographer” end of the spectrum. I’m pretty good at imagining shapes and can hold a mental map pretty well, occasionally supplemented with some written notes. I enjoy mapping more complex areas, and am one of those weird people who doesn’t mind a good maze now and then. It’s not always easy for me, but it’s a challenge I find fun, and I’ve found that it helps me IRL with my spatial awareness in the way that it intersects with my synesthesia.

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My humble little game is now out for testing. See Beta testers required for 'Alchemist's Gold' for further details. Straight away, @rovarsson gave me some valuable feedback regarding something that I’d been thinking about, but hadn’t implemented. I have now changed the introduction as follows:

screen grab

For those that can’t see the image, the prologue is followed by a warning that reads: “Warning: During this game, you will find a map that is drawn using ASCII letters and symbols. This may sound weird in a screen reader. You can turn the map on using MAP ON or turn it off using MAP OFF. When the map is off, it is replaced by a verbose text description.”

It then asks if you would like the map to initially be on. In this way, you can select the default (map on or map off), but you can change it during the game. I hope this will work for the majority of users, including those that use assistive technologies, such as screen magnifiers.

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