Blind interactive fiction authors

Hi everyone.
As you may already know, Many blind people including myself have played IF games for years. Because of the majority being purely text based, they are pretty easy to play using screen readers. The If Tech Foundation’s accessibility report goes into more detail, and I proud to have taken part in it.
With that aside, I was wondering how many blind IF authors there are. I only know of one, Ken Downey. He released a game called World of Darkness, which is a blindness simulation of sorts released in either late 2000 or early 2001. It was written in HTML TADS.
I’m not much of a writer myself, but I have dabbled with both Adrift and Inform 7.
It would be interesting if a similar accessibility report was done on authoring tools.

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I’ve had a small amount of experience helping a blind author get started in IF. My only data are secondhand.

I was surprised to hear that MacOS’s VoiceOver assistant is not compatible with Twine. Or, Twine is not compatible with VoiceOver. I don’t really know how it works.

I got the impression that the Inform 7 IDE doesn’t play particularly nicely with VoiceOver either. The person I was helping ended up relying on Playfic, which meant the author couldn’t benefit from the built-in documentation or fancy error reporting of the IDE. This made it especially frustrating when the compiler referred to errors having to do with punctuation or whitespace that would be hard to locate with a screen reader.

So it’s my understanding that writing interactive fiction is fairly inconvenient for blind Mac users, but I’m speaking from a position of extreme ignorance.

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There was a thread here semi-recently about accessibility and keyboard shortcuts in Inform 7 which might be of interest: Keyboard Accessibility in Inform 7?

Hi there! I’m a blind programmer interested in making text-based interactive fiction type games. The thread about keyboard shortcuts in Inform was mine, though it is still a difficult program to use with a screen reader. I have also switched to using Tads, but as Tads Workbench is not accessible, I’m takint the same approach I have with Twine and am using a basic text editor and a commandline compiler. I used Twine (the application itself) for a bit, but this was before I completely lost my vision. I’m not sure if it’s been updated, but back when I used it, my screen reader (NVDA) could not read any text in the app’s editor, forcing me to write in a text editor and copy/paste into the app for compilation.

Now, I just use Tweego and twee notation to write Twine programs (along with a lot of HTML and JavaScript). Twine, Inform, and Tads are so far the only IF authoring tools I’ve used, and none of them are particularly friendly to the blind. Tads and Twine have the advantage that you don’t need a special application to use their language/syntax, so in that way they are more accessible. Debugging is an issue and can be horribly frustrating with vague syntax error reports, but with some patience and clever debugging techniques, I’ve mostly made do.

I’m not one for reports and write-ups, unfortunately, but there’s my two cents with my limited experience.

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As far as I know, one can compile I7 projects from the command line in Windows, although I haven’t tried it myself.
The necessary compilers are in Inform’s installation directory in the subdirectory “Compilers”, and there’s also a compiler in the IF Archive at the following location:
https://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/infocom/compilers/inform7/executables/NI_6M62_Win64.zip
with the description:

“The Natural Inform 6M62 command line compiler, built as a 64-bit Windows console application. Note that this cannot be used with the current Inform 7 Windows front-end, and is intended for compiling very large projects on the command line.”

There is a description of the process here:
http://docs.textadventures.co.uk/ifanswers/ifanswers.com/30/how-do-i-build-an-i7-project-from-the-command-line-in-windows.html
(though I can’t say whether it’s still correct, as I haven’t tried it myself).

Maybe you can give command-line Inform a try, if you like, and if accessibility was the main reason for switching. But of course, TADS and Twine are absolutely capable and valid authoring platforms, too, so best of luck however you proceed!

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Thanks for that info, Ryan.

I use Windows with NvDA (Nonvisual Desktop Access), and sadly the
same is true for Twine.

Inform 7 on Windows on the other hand is fairly accessible from
what I can tell. I’ve not done anything extensive with it so take
this with a pinch of salt, but with a few tweaks I’d imagine it
could be completely accessible.

I would be interested to work with developers of IF authoring
tools to make them more accessible. I’m not a coder, but I have
over 20 years of experience of using screen readers, and would be
willing to provide feedback etc.

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To this, I believe the author of these games is blind (I’m not sure if I’m supposed to disclose the identity behind the pseudonym). And I do think there are other blind authors participating in the community. In any case, welcome!

Thanks, Matt.
I’ve had an account on here for about 2 years but have rarely posted.
Re the thread you linked to, that was an interesting read. He does seem to have had similar experiences to me with Inform 7.
I hope there will be more of a push to improve accessibility.

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Oh darn it, I didn’t mean to link that thread, I meant to link to his games page! That’s here at http://www.nigeljayne.ca/njgames.html. Sorry for the wrong link but I’m glad you found the thread I linked interesting!

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The world is slowly taking more note of accessibility, but the issue with Tads and Inform is that they are not really being actively updated/maintained any longer. This might be less true for Inform 7; I’m not sure. And I’m referring mostly to the applications themselves; each still has a community of authors and some extensions/addons that keep things moving.

As for the main reason I switched off of Inform 7, it was mostly a preference thing. Coming from a coding background, I very quickly grew frustrated with the way Inform code is written. I would attempt to do something that according to the documentation looked completely valid, but which caused several problems. Tads is more of a programming language with more structure and strict syntax rules, which is more my speed.

That said, someone who doesn’t come from a programming background might find Inform’s method is exactly what you need. However, if you’re using Inform 7, I would highly recommend viewing the documentation online rather than in the application. NVDA lags something awful in the program, and while the online documentation isn’t the easiest to navigate, it is much better than trying to do so in Inform 7 itself.

Inform 7 is slated for an update soon. It’s not dead yet!

{Graham Nelson]: One thing to remember that I am a self-taught amateur programmer and that I have a day job, actually two day jobs. I can’t devote my whole attention to Inform. But that said, I do continue to work on it, and rumours that it is rusting forgotten in a tool shed are exaggerated.
– from Inform: Past, Present, Future - a talk in 2018

http://www.emshort.com/ifmu/inform.html

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I’m not throwing out any accusations. These applications are completely free and people gotta’ make a living somehow. It’s admirable that they would be working on something so long, and I know that - at least at some point - Inform was slated to go open source. I don’t know if that’s still in the cards (I’m new to this whole scene and don’t spend a lot of time digging for news and updates). If it does become open source, there’s a good chance of more accessibility-minded people getting in on the project. (Again, not accusing anyone. Only very recently have tools and sources of information about how to develop accessible software become readily available.)

I guess all I’m saying is that: I am a blind IF author and I personally find working with a plain text editor and a command line compiler much easier - necessary even - as things stand right now.

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The Inform IDE is already open source. The compiler is not, but it doesn’t have much to do with how accessibile the editor is.

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Have you checked out Inform6 lately? I prefer it over Inform7 because I too am a coder in other languages. I like it so much that I keep the standard Inform6 Library up to date.

I haven’t. I kept seeing references to it, which made me wonder as I assumed Inform 7 was just a “better” version of Inform 6. I’ll look into it when I get a chance. Even if I decide to stick mainly with Tads, it’s always good to have a wide range of tools at one’s disposal.

Inform6 is a language that resembles C and Perl. It is completely unlike the natural Language approach of Inform7. The Inform7 compiler is more of a preprocessor that produces Inform6 code. Then the Inform6 compiler produces the Zcode or Glulx executable.

@mattw yes, Nigel Jayne is blind. I don’t know if he wants to reveal his real name, so I won’t say anything either, but it’d be good to have him stop by. He’s been helpful to me. And in general I’m grateful for testers who needed to use a screen reader. They’ve helped me in ways sighted readers can’t. There are certain things I realize I need to put more effort into describing, and I can skate on descriptions otherwise.

Also, a blind player was very generous with his time after my first release of A Roiling Original, and his work helped me make it more coherent.

And I’m impressed with people who can write code without the benefit of having colorized keywords. They’re necessary to me to avoid stupid mistakes. So I hope we continue to find ways to make sure they don’t have to work too hard to share their creative visions.

Inform 7 tangent

Re: Inform 7, given all the bells and whistles Inform 7’s adding on that aren’t really something I can use (though I see how others can,) I’ve been looking more at inform 6, too. I’ve kind of gone backwards to understand some programming concepts like inheritance and so forth. The usual textbook examples didn’t work for me. But I’ve also found that, yes, some simple technical stuff can be harder than it needs to be. Or, in an effort to make things simpler for non-programmers, I7 makes it harder for programmers. I know there are times I say “boy, why does I7 do things that way?” and I realize X years ago it was helpful to have it do things that way, and I’d have given up if I had to face I6-ish stuff.

I also have found the detailed error messages less useful and even a bit frustrating as I learned the language better. Having things spelled out is nice when you’re starting out, but then once you know more, you think “Oh, I just missed that, I wish I had an option to make the editor terse.”

That’d be a feature I’d be interesting in helping develop if I had th time. I imagine it’d be possible to have a file with custom error messages. But then we all say “Oh, I’d like to do something…”

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Oh, I make lots of stupid mistakes, and some are really “fun” to find with a screen reader. It’s all about patience and wanting to do something badly enough to find that patience. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective: For most of my life I did have some vision, but I still needed a lot more time to do anything visual than most people. Now that I can no longer read and have to rely on a screen reader, the challenges have changed. Some things, like reading giant articles are actually plausible now, while applications I would have found so easy to use with sight are completely locked to me now.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me they “couldn’t do what I do” or “have no idea how I get things done”. The simple fact of the matter is that - unless you decide to just give up on life - you’ll find a way if it’s possible when you don’t have another choice. It is often a struggle, but you just sort of get used to the way life is after an adaptation period. It was that way with programming for me. I had always done it by sight, even though it was still somewhat difficult for me, and at first I couldn’t see how i would ever code again. Then, I found an article by a blind programmer, who also mentioned NVDA, and the world just sort of opened up to me again, at least to some degree.

Anyway, sorry for the essay. Heh :slight_smile: My point was simply that human beings are pretty good at adaptation and working with what they have to attain some sense of normalcy, and text-based games are a major draw to people who are constantly frustrated with the need to see - and often see pretty well - to play games. It’s also a draw for programmers, at least in my case, because I can actually properly test what I make without worrying too much about how it looks to sighted players. (Though when working in Twine, I do have to worry about presentation a lot more than I would with Tads/Inform games.)

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