Audio game

Audio game

An audio game is a game played on an electronic device such as—but not limited to—a personal computer. It is similar to a video game save that the only feedback device is audible rather than visual.

Audio games originally started out as 'blind accessible'-games and were developed mostly by amateurs and blind programmers. But more and more people are showing interest in audio games, ranging from sound artists, game accessibility researchers, mobile game developers and mainstream video gamers. Most audio games run on a computer platform, although there are a few audiogames for handhelds and video game consoles. Audio games feature the same variety of genres as video games, such as adventure games, racing games, etc.

Audio game history

The term "electronic game" is commonly understood as a synonym for the narrower concept of the "video game." This is understandable as both electronic games and video games have developed in parallel and the game market has always had a strong bias toward the visual. The first electronic game, in fact, is often cited to be "Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device" (1947) a decidedly visual game. Despite the difficulties in creating a visual component to early electronic games imposed by crude graphics, small view-screens, and power consumption, video games remained the primary focus of the early electronic game market.

Arcade and one-off handheld audio games - the early years

It was not until 1974 that Atari released the first audio game, "Touch Me". Housed in an arcade cabinet, "Touch Me" featured a series of lights which would flash with an acompanying tone. The player would reproduce the sequence by pressing a corresponding sequence of buttons and then the game would add another light/sound to the end of the growing sequence to continually test the player's eidetic memory in a Pelmanism-style format. Although the game featured both a visual and an auditory component, the disconnect between the two enabled both the seeing and the visually impaired to equally enjoy the game.

Based on the popularity of "Touch Me", in 1978 Milton Bradley released a handheld audio game entitled "Simon" at Studio 54 in New York City. Whereas "Touch Me" had been in competition with other visual-centric arcade games and consequently remained only a minor success, the allure of a personal electronic game allowed "Simon" to capture a much greater share of the market. "Simon" became an immediate success eventually becoming a pop culture symbol of the 1980s.

In the decades following the release of "Simon", numerous clones and variations were produced. In 1996, Milton Bradley and a number of other producers released the handheld "Bop It" which featured a similar concept of a growing series of commands designed to test eidetic memory. [ [ Bop-it FAQ] from World of Tim (personal website)] "Bop It" was followed in 1998 by the sequel, "Bop It Extreme" [ [ Extreme rules and assembly instructions] from World of Tim (personal website)] which featured extra controls and then a third title, "Bop It-Extreme 2" was released in 2002-2003.

TTS software and the PC - the second wave

Before graphical operating systems like Windows, most home computers used text-based operating systems such as DOS. Being text-based meant that they were relatively accessible to visually impaired users, requiring only the additional use of text-to-speech (TTS) software. For the same reason, following the development of TTS software, text-based games such as early text-only works of interactive fiction were also equally accessible to users with or without a visual impairment.Citation |last=Damoulakis |first=Ari |title=A Blind Man's Take on Interactive Fiction |newspaper=SPAG |issue=52 |pages=7-9 |year=2008 |date=July29 |url=] Since the availability of such software was not commonly accessible until the inclusion of the MacInTalk program on Apple Computers in 1984, the library of games which became accessible to the vision impaired spanned everything from the earliest text adventure, "Colossal Cave Adventure" (1976), to the comparatively advanced works of interactive fiction which had developed in the subsequent 8 years. Although the popularity of this genre has waned in the general market as video-centric games became the dominant form of electronic game, this library is still growing with the freeware development by devoted enthusiasts of new interactive fiction titles each year.

Accessibility for the visually impaired began to change, some time prior to the advent of graphical operating systems as computers became powerful enough to support more video-centric games. This created a gap between electronic games for the seeing and games for the blind—a gap that has by now grown substantially. Due to a strong market bias in favor of the seeing, electronic games were primarily developed for this demographic. While seeing gamers could venture into 3D gaming worlds in such video game titles as "Myst", "Final Fantasy" and "Doom", blind gamers were relegated to playing more mundane games such as "Blackjack", "Battleship" or "Memory".

As video games flourished and became increasingly common, however, amateur game designers began to adapt video games for the blind via sound. In time audio game programmers began to develop audio-only games, based to a smaller and smaller degree on existing video game ideas and instead focussing on the possibilities of game immersion and feedback with sound.Specifically, 3-dimensional positional audio (binaural recording) has been developed since 2000 and now figures prominently in, for example, such audio games as "BBBeat". To effect this, a sound is played in the left, center, or right channel to indicate an object's position in a virtual gaming environment. Generally, this involves stereo panning of various sound effects, many of which are looped to serve as indicators of hazards or objects with which the user can interact. Volume also plays a major role in 3D audio games primarily to indicate an object's proximity with reference to the user. The pitch of a sound is often varied to convey other information about the object it symbolizes. Voice talent is used to indicate menu items rather than text. These parameters have allowed for the creation of, among other genres, side scrollers, 3D action adventures, shooters, and arcade style games.

Console audio games and the modern era

Most audio games are now developed by several small companies (consisting of only a team of 1 to 4 people). The main audience remains primarily visually impaired users, however the game market at large is gradually taking more notice of audio games as well due to the issue of game accessibility. Commercial interest in audio games has steadily grown and as a result artists and students have created a number of experimental freeware PC audio games to explore the possibilities and limitations of this gaming form. Recently, audio games have also become very interesting for the mobile gaming market since no screen is needed.

In the field of console-gaming, there has been very little in the way of audio-games. One notable exception has been the innovative incorporation of strong audio elements in several of the games produced by the Japanese video game company, WARP. WARP (formerly EIM) was founded by musician Kenji Eno and consisted of a five-man team including first-time designer Fumito Ueda. [ [ Kenji Eno from WARP] from James's 1UP Blog] In 1997, WARP developed a game called "Real Sound" for the Sega Saturn which was later ported to DreamCast in 1999 and renamed nihongo|""|"Real Sound: Regrets in the Wind". [ Game Collector’s Melancholy – Kenji Eno] from GameSetWatch] This game featured no visuals at all and was entirely dependent upon sound. Following the release of "Real Sound", WARP again made use of a novel employment of audio elements in the Sega Saturn game, "Enemy Zero" (1997) where the enemies of the game are invisible and can only be detected through auditory clues. Further emphasis on the aural environment derived from the game's inclusion of a soundtrack created by minimalist musicologist, Michael Nyman. [cite video game|title= Enemy Zero|developer= WARP|publisher= Sega|date= 1997-10-31|platform= Sega Saturn|language= English] Audio-specific elements used in gameplay have been recognized in WARP's "D" series (including "D" (1995) and "D2" (2000) [ [ game review: Real Sound - Kaze No Riglet ] ] , which both incorporate soundtracks created by Eno).

WARP stopped production of video games in 2000 and changed their name to Superwarp following a number of problems with video game producers, mixed reviews of the games, and markedly mediocre sales. As a result, WARP games have become quite rare and have gained cult status as they are increasingly sought after. Superwarp's work focussed on network services, DVD products, and online music [ [ warp-superwarp-fytoファンサイト [ふぁいと ] ] until 2005 when the company, still under the direction of Kenji Eno, was renamed From Yellow to Orange (commonly abbreviated as fyto). Eno has hinted at E3 2006 that fyto is currently engaged in production of a new video game title to be released for the Nintendo Wii [ [ Gamasutra - Report: Kenji Eno Returning To Games With Wii Title? ] ] .

Nintendo, as part of its shift to alternative gameplay forms, has shown recent interest in audio games through its own development teams [ [ game review: Bit Generations Sound Voyager ] ] . In July of 2006, Nintendo released a collection of audio games called "Soundvoyager" as the newest member of its spare "Digiluxe" series. The Digiluxe series for Game Boy Advance consists of 7 games (in 2 series) that are characterized by simple yet compelling gameplay, minimal graphics, and the emphasis, in such titles as "Soundvoyager" and "Dotstream", on music. "Soundvoyager" contains 7 audio games ("Sound Slalom", "Sound Picker", "Sound Drive", "Sound Cock", "Sound Chase", "Sound Catcher", and "Sound Cannon") [cite video game|title= Soundvoyager|developer= Nintendo|publisher= Nintendo|date= 2006-07-27|platform= Game Boy Advance|language= Japanese|isolang=ja] . While the Digiluxe series has been available in Japan since July 2006, Nintendo of America have yet to announce whether they will release the series in North America [ [ bit Generations ] ] .

TTS-enabling video games

The rise of text-to-speech (TTS) software and steady improvements in the field have allowed full audio-conversion of traditionally video-based games. Such games were intended for use by and marketed to the seeing, however they do not actually rest primarily on the visual aspects of the game and so members of the audio game community have been able to convert them to audio games by using them in conjunction with TTS software. While this was originally only available for strictly text-based games such as text adventures, advances in TTS software have led to increased functionality with a diverse array of software types beyond text-only media allowing other works of interactive fiction as well as various simulator games to be enjoyed in a strictly audio environment.

Examples of such games include:
*"Hattrick" - (Extralives AB, 1997) [ [ game review: Hattrick ] ]
*"OGame" - (Gameforge, 2002) [ [ game review: OGame ] ]
*"" - (Max Barry, 2002) [ [ game review: Nation States ] ]
*"Freekick" (2003) [ [ AudioGames, your resource for audiogames, games for the blind, games for the visually impaired! ] ]

See also

* Binaural recording
* Dummy head recording
* Holophonics
* Interactive fiction
* List of gaming topics
* Music video game
* Video game genres
* Video game music


External links

* [ Game Accessibility Project] , website of the Game Accessibility project
* [ PCS Accessible Game developers List] , a big list of blind accessible games and audiogames
* [ IGDA Game Accessibility Special Interest Group] , working to make mainstream games accessible for all disability groups
* [] , community website for audio gamers
* [ AudioGames resources] , audio game resources and articles
* [ Accessible Gaming Rending Independence Possible (AGRIP)] , home of "Audio Quake" - a project designed to make "Quake" accessible for visually impaired individuals
* [ The Virtual Barbershop] , a demonstration of multiple binaural sound effects. (NOTE: This is intended for use with stereo headphones)

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