Unity Accessibility Plugin – Update 10 – A First Game

A few weekends ago I did my own personal Game Jam. The plugin is in a good place and I wanted to give it a test run.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, I recommend quickly reading the first post on this project and then come back. You can find it here.

A woman sits deeply focused at her desk, typing at her computer.

My One-Person Game Jam

I started at 7 pm, got some sugar (aka chocolate!) and some caffeine in me – and shortly after midnight I had a game up and running. It would have been sooner, but my dogs insisted that I feed them and then even demanded a walk around the neighborhood. What can I say – puppy eyes are my big weakness.

The result is an accessible Match 3 game.
Yes, you read correctly – another Match 3 game. This is a technology test, so stop moaning!

Screenshot of the puzzle game, showing a grid of different colored gems.

The world really needed another Match 3 game, didn’t it?

The game is quite simplistic without a deep story line. Or any story line, really. I wanted to test the plugin, so going for something simplistic made the most sense – and I didn’t have time for more anyway.

The plugin isn’t fully complete yet, there are a dozen small issues, and just as many missing features. Most importantly, many of the special gestures don’t work yet, like “Read From Top” or “Go Back”. But still, this is a first live action test for the plugin and I am a little excited about that!

Go check it out!

If anyone wants to see the plugin in action in its current state, please give it a go. And if you try it out, I would be grateful if you gave me your feedback. I’m not talking about a review (although I won’t stop you), I mean feedback about the navigation, the controls and the overall accessibility of everything. Just post it into a comment here or write me an email: mika@metalpopgames.com

Banner for Blindie Match Puzzle Game showing a few of the gems and the subtitle 'a fully accessible puzzle game'.

If VoiceOver or TalkBack are detected to be active, accessibility will turn on automatically. But you can turn the accessibility mode on or off with the button in the main menu.

The game is available on Android and iOS. Here are the links:

Blindie Match for iOS – (Update: Speech rate and voice issues are fixed now)

Blindie Match for Android

Note to sighted players:
If you have never before used a phone with VoiceOver or TalkBack enabled, the navigation might be a tad confusing – at least if you choose to turn on the accessibility mode. Sighted people tend to intuitively swipe into the direction that they want the UI focus to move, for example down to get to the next button in a list. This is not how screen readers work – since that wouldn’t make much sense for non-sighted people. Try swiping left and right instead, and double tap to press a button.

Why are there graphics? 

That’s a valid question.
Both the accessibility plugin’s code and actually blind players couldn’t care less whether there are beautifully animated, hand-drawn images bouncing around, or whether I just show you a blank screen. In fact, that is what I did at first.

Here is how the game actually looked that night after my game jam. Next to it is a screenshot of how it looks now.

The left picture shows the game's main menu with a light gray background and rectangular white buttons. The right picture shows the main menu with a strong purple background, and colorful round buttons in different sizes.

The game’s title was shortened from Blindie Match 3 to just Blindie Match

I spent a week cleaning up the code and adding in some minimal level of polish. The point of this plugin is not just to enable developers to make games specifically targeted at blind or sight-impaired players. It is equally supposed to give them a chance to make their regular, graphics-based games accessible. I don’t want to send the wrong message by making the first game I release with this plugin something that looks like it is actively uninviting sighted players.

Yes, I’m still a crappy artist

As you might know, I have no sense for colors or graphical design, and I can’t draw well. I’ve written about it before in a previous post. It’s OK, I like to believe I make up for my lack of skills in the graphics department by being really good at coding instead. So if you are wondering how I made the game look pretty, the answer is: I cheated. I bought a pre-made set of Match 3 graphics online. Luckily we live in an indie developer heaven, where you can buy what you can’t create yourself for very reasonable prices.

Unity Accessibility Plugin – Update 7 – Explore By Touch

As of today, the Unity Accessibility Plugin has a new feature: Explore By Touch!

Explore By What Now?

Explore By Touch is an accessibility feature on smartphones that let’s blind users run their finger over the screen – and the screen reader will read out what’s under their fingertip. The screen reader also makes sure that no buttons are accidentally pressed or an app is started unintentionally. This works on both Google TalkBack and iOS VoiceOver.

A blindfolded man is swinging a stick at a pinata. He misses and hits his girlfriend instead.

This was my original impression of Explore By Touch. Typical rookie mistake of a sighted person.

I originally thought that this is one feature that I wouldn’t need to re-create for the accessibility plugin, because I figured that no one would be using it much. I assumed no one wanted to blindly poke around on the screen to discover buttons. Why would anyone do that when swiping left and right navigates safely through the user interface?

Think again, you sighted fool!

As we all know, making blind assumptions is a bad thing. Pun intended.

Why would anyone use Explore By Touch?
The answer is simple. Because it is faster!

Navigating menus is a necessity, not fun. Doing it slowly by stepping through all elements on the screen one by one doesn’t make it any better.
If you already roughly know where a button is located, then using Explore By Touch is the next best thing to actually seeing where it is and clicking it directly.

Sure, the first time you get hit with a new menu, you might just trigger the Read From Top function and have the entire screen read out to you. But after that, you can poke around and find out where things are. And being blind doesn’t mean you cannot remember roughly where a button is located on the screen.

Thanks for the Feedback

I wouldn’t have come to this conclusion if I hadn’t received some very clear feedback from an actually blind person, who straight up told me the plugin would be pretty much useless without Explore By Touch. His opinion matched what I read in an article by Matt Gemmel in which he covers Myths about visually impaired users. After that I put my phone back in accessibility mode for a while and ultimately had to agree. It made me want that feature, too.

I am happy to announce that my plugin’s Explore By Touch is now fully functional.
Also: Thank you for your honest feedback, Scott!

Lots of progress, but not a lot of updates

I realize I haven’t posted since the new year started and hang my head in shame for that. I have been working on Game Tower quite a bit and have a lot of progress to show for it – but somehow I never found the time to post any updates.

Now with the GDC out of the way, things should slow down a little. In the next weeks I will start sorting through everything and post a few updates about what happened with the game since Christmas.

Breasts? No thank you!

Maybe I should have just made a game about candy pieces. It would have been a lot easier. Calling my shiny, colorful puzzle game ‘Boob Rescue’ certainly made things a lot harder than they needed to be.

Screenshot of the game boob rescue. A puzzle game with crystals.

I think it’s great when developers create post mortems about their released games and I have always wanted to do the same. At the beginning of October I released my pink puzzle game on the Google Play Store. Boob Rescue hasn’t been on the market long enough to really gather relevant data in terms of download numbers or revenue, but I will post those at a later time. Today I want to write about the development of the game, which deserves its own post.

What I learned during the development of Boob Rescue in the past few months is that making a game about breasts is anything but easy.

Breast Cancer has to do with breasts, but it isn’t sexy.
Although these days the display of female breasts seems to be socially accepted for purposes of advertisement or promotion of goods and services, making a video game focusing on the female breast is still a challenge. Boob Rescue has nothing to do with sex, pornography or anything else the game’s title might suggest. It is a game about breast cancer with the goal to raise breast cancer awareness. That is a good cause and should not create any problems, right? Well…

A pink ribbon, the international symbol for the fight against breast cancer.

The idea for Boob Rescue was born in ‘Pinktober’, the breast cancer awareness month where everybody is happily and cheerily celebrating the fight against the disease. Pink t-shirts and fund raisers are omnipresent each year during October, and this year, I wanted to join the cause. Making a cute little mobile game dealing with breast cancer to raise funds for breast cancer research with in-app purchases was my attempt to support the fight.

I felt that I would be the right girl for the job: I am female, an experienced software engineer, and I have a personal connection to the subject matter. My mother battled hard with breast cancer and almost lost the fight. She had to undergo a very aggressive form of chemotherapy and lost one of her breasts. Somewhere in the back of my head lingers the constant fear that one day I might get hit by the disease as well, just because I might have inherited some of the wrong genes.

What better way than to combat that fear than to make a game that lets players ‘puzzle against breast cancer’!?

Not much ‘boob’ left
Well, let me tell you, now that the game has been released, there is not much ‘boob’ left in Boob Rescue. The first thing that died were the physicalized 3D breasts which could be touched and scanned in order to detect dangerous lumps. This was really the coolest feature of the game and has now been replaced by a simple 2D scratch-off style puzzle.

It is sad because the underlying tech prototype had worked really well and made great use of the multi-touch ability of modern tablets. It had a custom animation system with realistic surface deformation, using both blend shapes and joint animations. I even dare to say that this would have been one of the most realistic physicalized breasts you would have gotten on a tablet.

A screenshot from the game Boob Rescue. It shows an cartoon X-Ray of a woman with two tumor cells in her body.

However therein also lies the problem, since Apple or Google will not approve anything for release in their stores which even remotely features ‘bouncing’ breasts, no matter how far away the content is from any sexual reference.

It’s not that I can’t see where they are coming from. Even though the gameplay focused on detecting lumps and learning about breast cancer prevention, it isn’t hard to imagine that in the hands of teenage boys those wobbling 3D breasts might be used in ways not quite intended by the designer. 🙂

Breasts are fine in ads, but not the other way around
Even after removing the most loved feature of the game and replacing it with a more ‘safe’ 2D alternative, things didn’t go smoothly from there.

Since the game was free I wanted to bring in a bit of extra money by placing ad banners in the game. After signing up with one of the biggest ad networks out there it only took a couple of days to get the game banned from their network due to its ‘inappropriate’ content. Again the name ‘Boob Rescue’ was hurting the game, since something that is called Boob Rescue must clearly have some pornographic/sexual content, right?

My emails asking what exactly was inappropriate about the game never got any replies. It needed several attempts, a rework of the game’s logo and artwork to finally get signed up with an ad network without getting kicked out again.

Marketing
Next up was marketing. Everybody familiar with the mobile space knows that without marketing it is very hard to get noticed among all the hundreds of games released every month. One of the greatest things about Boob Rescue is that a share of every in-app purchase will be donated to breast cancer research. The more players spend in the game, the more funds for breast cancer research will be raised.

My plan was to get involved with the most popular breast cancer charities and try to get their help to promote the game on their social media accounts and in return it would (hopefully) generate lots of extra funds for them. I was even offering to guarantee a certain amount of donations, and pay for it myself, should the game fall flat. Everybody wins, right? Again, things proved to be a bit more difficult.

I have not yet found anyone who wants to partner with me and promote the game. I was turned down due to ‘contractual’ reasons or told that this isn’t really a fit. Do games and breast cancer not mix well? I don’t know if people found the two years my company has been in existence as too short to bear credibility, or if they found the whole idea of making a game about breast cancer too dubious. At this point I decided to just release the game without any support and see where things are going. I figure I can just donate the money anyway, without an official partnership.

A screenshot from the game Boob Rescue. A female surgeon getting ready to destroy the tumor.

Boob Rescue has since been released for phones and tablets, just in time for this year’s Pinktober. The game is out on the Google Play Store now and has not yet been banned, so I guess it will stay there for good.

I also submitted the game to Apple’s AppStore but there has been no approval yet. At the time of writing, it has been in review for three weeks, more than twice as long as the average review time. In my mind I am speculating wildly about what’s causing the holdup. I hope whoever is reviewing it doesn’t just look at the title and then rejects the for ‘sexual content’ without ever opening the app.

I never expected Boob Rescue to make millions. I just didn’t expect it to be this complicated.