Ideas for accessible version of a vague map feelie?

Is there a general approach to accessibility for non-schematic maps in IF? That is I’m not talking about the traditional box-and-lines style of map that shows all the rooms and their connections. I’m thinking about including a map feelie in an all-text IF game, which is intended to just give a general impression of the shape of the game world and potential points of interest in it.

My game isn’t a zombie survival game, but if it was: imagine a map showing the layout of a town. The player would be able to identify where they are (“Civil Defense Shelter”) in one corner, and if the game has them wanting to get a message to the outside world they might notice that there’s a radio tower on the hill north of town and also a hospital in town with a microwave receiver on the roof. Looking at the hill they could see that the road leading to it from town has a bunch of red Xs on it, with the note “biters”, but it looks like there’s an old mill road that runs the long way around from the west side of town, up and around the lake outside of town, but it goes across a bridge that’s crossed out.

The details are made up and I’m just including them to give an idea of the sort of thing I’m going for: basically just suggesting possible points of interest for investigation, and giving some vague impression of the potential problems that the player might encounter.

I’ve read through the stickied accessibility thread here, and searched through past threads about adapting for example old Infocom feelies to be accessible via screen reader. They contain a lot of useful suggestions, but I think I still don’t have a good feel for how to approach the sort of thing I describe above.

How does this work for, for example Infocom’s Suspended, where the player starts out with a map and often consults it to figure out how to approach puzzles/problems (I just discovered that the foozle emitter is missing a quux transistor, what rooms on the map seem like they might be where I find a quux transistor? Where am I likely to find the tools I need to do the replacement?)?


Maybe include a legend alongside the map, saying clues like:

The road to the radio tower has been overrun—BITERS—bridge is out
Foozle needs repair… try supply depot by (landmark)
Hospital roof—

Or something like that—like notes somebody had made on or alongside the map that are text based that offer the same information or hints.

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uh… ahem… seems to me that you have answered yourself…

the textual description of the example map gives me a good mental picture of the ruined town’s layout (but being a military historian whose monitor what was happening in Mariupol in the light of the most fitting historical precedent, Stalingrad, perhaps I’m a big exception…) so, I can say that you can write good textual description of maps.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


In Infidel, the map can be made usable because the player has an item that reports current latitude and longitude. They can consider their location in terms of X,Y for landmarks on the map. For a vague map, perhaps it could say things like “somewhere east of X”.

I think the thing I’m really struggling with is a way to emulate the “workflow” of how players would (presumably) interact with a “physical” feelie map. I’m not quite sure what the right term is.

Basically, when I’m consulting this sort of reference (like when I was playing Suspended) I’m frequently switching between just sorta vaguely surveying the map: not specifically looking for any specific detail or anything, but just getting an overall sense of the layout, or the general relation of one bit to another, or whatever.

Then maybe I get an idea, and then I’m suddenly interested in drilling down on the details: looking for a specific feature (what areas make sense to check for some specific thing), trying to evaluate some specific relationship between features (is the distance from point A and point B the same as the distance between point B and point C; are points A, B, and C all within a narrow radius or are they spread out; or whatever).

The ability to sorta freely switch between the “survey” and “drill down” mode seems central to how I’d expect to interact with a “physical” map.

Writing out a detailed description of everything on the map certainly conveys all the same information as the map does, but I can’t imagine that the experience of reviewing such a description (or several descriptions of different bits) would be particular nice on a screen reader. If I have a map (and it’s relevant to gameplay) I’m going to be consulting it constantly just to see if going over it again knocks something loose and results in an insight. That’s true of maps like the Suspended feelie, handmade maps drawn while playing other games, or physical maps in board games like Sherlock Homes: Consulting Detective.

But I don’t know how to translate/encapsulate/reproduce/whatever that experience (or some approximation of it) for a screen reader.

What I’m kinda thinking is an in-game object that starts out relatively “blank” (“This is a map of the town. You really haven’t looked it over yet.”), which you could then >SEARCH MAP or something, which would give you something like “You notice the CD shelter on the map. It’s in the lower left corner, the far southeastern part of town.” And then when you X MAP again you’d then have something like:

This is a map of the town.  Points of interest:

CD shelter in the extreme southeast

Or something like that. Or maybe a standalone minigame with exactly one object (the map) and a syntax designed just for the task (i.e., a LEGEND command to list just the names of known locations and so on, with >X [location] giving a more detailed description of the named location).

Basically whenever I think about implementing anything in a “normal” IF format…the way you’d normally describe a map in-game…it seems like it would be hopelessly wordy in a way that would be frustrating to go over again and again via screen reader in the way I expect/want to be able to go over a map again and again myself.

This sounds like a good solution to test

Hi, blind IF player and author here. I agree with @jsimmons, this seems like a good idea to test. The experience you’re talking about with a graphical map is hard to replicate for screenreader users, as it’s mostly a function of being able to view the map in a non-linear way. When you look at a map like this, you can choose to skim it, or connect arbitrarily distant points, or view it reversed or inverted, etc. (some) Screenreader users can do these things too if they’re good at making a mental map based on textual information, but it’s not a skill everyone has. Screen reader users don’t really view this kind of thing spatially. For us, everything is more of a grid, read from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and as far as I know, for most people the abstraction always comes after doing this. I get the problem you’re trying to solve, and I really appreciate you considering it! I think your best bet would be to have convenient and formulaic ways of retrieving the same information. That way if it’s wordy, at least it’s consistent, and your screenreader using players can build up a pattern in their minds. Some of them might be like me and write their own condensed version in a way that makes sense to them. If I’m exploring a large area on a MUD, for example, I often write down little notes about certain sections I’ve passed through. Certain indicators in room descriptions, the general shape of this or that, common routes from here to there, where there’s a higher concentration of mobs. The client I use has a little notepad window for just this purpose, and I can overlay it on top of the room description and compare. My personal style is pretty idiosyncratic, most of my friends can’t follow it, but it makes navigation easier for me. It does mean more work for your players, which is a potential downside, but I think consistency would be the best policy for minimizing effort. Like a map, or a landmarks command, or even a “where” command like some MUDs have, which tells you about the most important things around you.

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Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why one of the options I was considering was a standalone minigame sort of thing: so the syntax and style could be completely different than you’d expect for a typical IF object interaction. More terse, a subject-specific set of commands, and so on. How much of a pain is it to flip back and forth between a game window and a browser window containing documentation? That is, would being a standalone thing outside the game itself be a disincentive to use a feelie in the first place?

Anyway, thanks for your input. I was kinda sideways hoping that there might be some common approach to this sort of thing (like, for example, with real-world maps) that I could just crib design ideas from.

I can’t answer for anyone else, but flipping back and forth between a game and another task is not a bother for me at all, it’s usually as trivial as a single keystroke to switch.