Galactic Colonies – Accessibility Sneak Preview

Galactic Colonies is on track to be fully accessible. Soon-ish.
Actually, it’s coming along quite nicely. I made a recording of the first 4 minutes of gameplay. If you’re interested in a sneak preview, here it is:

If your screen reader has issues with the sound cloud player, here’s a direct download link: Galactic Colonies Accessibility Audio Demo

Sounds like it’s almost done, when can I play?

In the demo, things sound a little further along than they actually are. In reality there is still a metric ton of work to be done.

I’m sorry to say, I have no release date for the accessibility patch yet. But it will more than likely be a few more weeks.

Different from all other games I’ve made accessible in the past, this game has a lot of 3D elements. Those are making things tricky, and there is need for many creative solutions.

Sounds a little… vague?

Fair enough. I’m going to describe an actual problem that I’m working on this week. That should demonstrate why it takes a lot of time to make this game accessible.

As part of the game, players have to build colonies on planets. This gameplay happens on the planet’s surface. Players can explore new regions, construct houses, farms and other production buildings and set up a flow of products between buildings. Everything is in 3D of course, and the camera can be moved and zoomed.

Screenshot showing a colony on a jungle planet, more than two dozen buildings, many lakes and part of the ocean

Colonies can get large

The difficulties start with selecting a free region to place your next building on. In the beginning only a handful of regions are explored, but there are a total of 2500 regions on each planets surface. Obviously I don’t expect players to swipe through them one by one, by one by one by one… I need to find a different method for players to navigate their colony.

The planet surface is flat, but it is a hex map, not squares. So a simple up, left, right, down navigation doesn’t cut it either. Each tile has six neighbors around it, not just four.

It is important to know which tiles are next to one another. Farms built next to a lake will produce more food. Houses next to an industrial building will have reduced capacity. Because which colonist wants to live next to a polluting, stinking factory? So the game can’t simply make the decision of where to build next for the player either.

The problems don’t end there. Some buildings need to be connected, so that one building can deliver products to another. You can produce food all day long, but you need a warehouse to store it in. And then you want the food to be distributed to your various houses, so your colonists don’t starve. Buildings that are too far apart cannot be connected. And one warehouse can only supply goods to a maximum of four other buildings.

Colony on an ice planet showing a warehouse receiving food from a farm and distributing it two connected houses

Warehouses are among the most important buildings in this game

Planning out what is delivered where is a core part of the game, so again, the game cannot make these decisions for the player automatically. These connections are set up visually by tapping on the buildings you want to connect. Difficult to do if vision isn’t an option.

But as you can hear in the audio demo, I haven’t been idle these past few weeks, and some parts of the game are already playable.

That was just a glimpse

I’m spending my days trying out a lot of different solutions to all of these problems, and then throwing away anything that doesn’t work.
This, obviously, takes time.

And keep in mind, everything I described above is just one of the mechanics in this game that I have to solve. It isn’t the only one. I haven’t even talked about space travel yet!

We made a good game with Galactic Colonies, and I’m determined to deliver a good experience on the accessibility part, too. I know as well as anyone how frustrating waiting can be, but I’m convinced it will be worth the wait.
Thank you for being so patient!

8 thoughts on “Galactic Colonies – Accessibility Sneak Preview

  1. I’m very much liking the sound of this and I’ve always wanted a single player colonisation game where you can go from a barren planet to a thriving community.
    For the hexes, one other relatively simple way around might be just concentrating on what information the player needs, Eg when a player either swipes to or touches a hex, she/he is told the contents of surrounding hexes as well, that way you could be sure not to put the sewage plant next to the living quarters but not have to memorise the hole map.

    Really looking forward to playing this, oh and the music and sound effects also sound great.

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  2. Zachary Bennoui says:

    Hi Michelle,
    I posted this question on Applevis as well, but don’t know if you saw so here it is again. I was wondering what device was used to make this demo, because the voice is not one that comes on either iOS or macOS at the moment. Are you using beta software? If you’re under a nondisclosure agreement you of course don’t need to answer, I was just curious.

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    • Hi Zachary, the demo was made on a Windows PC, using the NVDA screen reader. I have the Code Factory Vocalizer plugin installed, to get better voices than the rather robotic NVDA default one. This particular voice I believe is either Nathan or Daniel, I forgot which one.

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  3. Ka Yat Li says:

    Thanks for all your hard work on this. I’m happy to wait knowing that you want to make it a good experience for us. I wonder… for the challenge you described, could you make it so we can explore by moving your finger around the screen and also use 3D panning so as we touch an object on the screen, we can hear where they are? Not only would we be sensing it kind of tactially but auditorially as well to get the sense of space and distance between each object. If there are tons of objects, you could provide an audio beacon and instructions on where to move your finger as you touch an object when moving your finger around the screen.

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    • Hi Kat,
      that is funnily enough almost exactly the way I have ended up implementing the controls for now. I still want to add a swipe based navigation, so that there’s always an alternative, too. Not everything is yet working, but in a nutshell, this is my idea:
      Use a single finger to explore the screen and the regions and buildings under your finger are read out to you. If I have the time to add polish, I was thinking of adding sound effects, which would also identify buildings.
      Two finger swiping would move the landscape around for larger colonies.
      A two finger single tap would center the screen on the main base, which always sits in the center of your colony. That way, you won’t get lost.
      In a really advanced version, the colony base would give off a little spatial audio beacon sound when the landscape is panned, so that you get a sense of direction and distance. I’m not sure I will have time to take it that far, though – these are just my ideas.

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  4. Jason Fayre says:

    Can’t wait to play this. I completely understand that this isn’t a simple problem to solve and I understand it takes as long as it takes. Thanks again!

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  5. This is great! I can’t wait to see the innovations you are making! I think a swipe up, down, left, right, should be fine, that’s what both Tactical Battle and Castaways do, although they use the arrow keys on the computer. I’m not aware of any complex strategy game for IOS, so I don’t think there are any conventions for swiping through a grid like there are on the computer. Something you could do is post a problem like this on the audiogames.net forum and get users to design these interactions. I prefer that, as then I know the design will be somewhat good as a user created it. But nothing is as good as a beta test or demos.

    On Thu, Sep 5, 2019 at 10:06 AM I Code Like A Girl wrote:

    > mikrima posted: “Galactic Colonies is on track to be fully accessible. > Soon-ish. Actually, it’s coming along quite nicely. I made a recording of > the first 4 minutes of gameplay. If you’re interested in a sneak preview, > here it is: If your screen reader has issues ” >

    Like

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