American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2016       INNOVATION

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Audazzle: Discovering Possibilities, Creating Worlds

by Selwyn Lloyd

From the Editor: Although many innovators have developed electronic games that are accessible to blind players, the vast possibilities have barely been explored. In this article Selwyn Lloyd, a British game developer and entrepreneur, describes a new concept in gaming that makes use of auditory mapping.

When our oldest daughter, Daisy, was a year old, she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a form of childhood cancer that attacks the eyes. By the time she was four, she had lost all of her vision. Daisy's blindness led me and my wife, Marie, into a world we had never experienced before. Marie left her career as a chemist and retrained to become a teacher of the blind and visually impaired (TBVI). Over time I shifted my focus from business systems software to the development of accessible games for the blind.

When I graduated from art school in 1989, I had the idea that I wanted to start a company designing custom T-shirts. I spent the 1990s working as a software entrepreneur, and in 2013 I earned an MBA from Oxford University. As I thought about my options, I realized that I was interested in more than making money. I wanted to start a business that would have a real purpose, making a positive difference in people's lives.

The opening screen of the Audazzle game JumpinSaucers

Daisy has been active on a local goalball team, and I enjoy attending her matches. Goalball is a competitive sport played by blind people and sighted people who wear sleepshades. The players use sound to locate the ball, which has a bell inside. Goalball helped me understand how effectively sound can be used to locate people and objects.

In 2013 I wrote a children's book, a fantasy about a cat named Poppy's Cat. The more I worked on the book, the more it reminded me of a videogame. I had seen Daisy's frustration when she couldn't play visually oriented videogames with her brother and sisters, and I decided to create a game that blind people would be able to play.

I determined that my game would use technology to produce a 3D audio effect. To use 3D audio, a player wears a headset that conveys sound in the virtual environment much as we hear it in real life. Sound comes not only from right and left, but from above, below, behind, and in front of the listener.

At Christmas I presented Daisy and her younger siblings with a surprise gift, my prototype of a 3D audio game. All of the children were very excited! I was thrilled to discover that the audio effect worked well for Daisy. However, the game I had designed lacked a visual element that would appeal to sighted players. Eventually Daisy confided that she wanted to be able to play with her sighted siblings and friends.

I realized that technology could be used to break through the isolation that blind and visually impaired young people often experience. I made up my mind to develop a game for both blind and sighted players, a game that people of all ages could enjoy together, socially in the same space and online in a virtual world.

To carry the project forward, I needed startup money and a strong team of developers and businesspeople. My wife and a group of friends from Oxford, including Barbara Verardo and Anarika Didigova, eagerly pitched in with their ideas and expertise. We applied for and won a startup accelerator grant from the Sirius Foundation. We also launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising all of the money we requested.

In our effort to create a truly inclusive, fully accessible game, we encountered one hurdle after another. For example, one blind player pointed out that it was hard for him “to know when to shoot.” We fine-tuned the audio cues so that a blind player would be able to take accurate aim. In a scenario involving many characters and objects, audible cues can be hard to follow. We developed clear signature sounds for each character and object in the scene. We now use a blend of human voices, natural sounds, and computer-generated sound effects.

The company we founded is called Audazzle. We are working hard now to find commercial ways to sustain the further research and development of inclusive Audazzle games. Audazzle must grow to become a strong social business or "social enterprise."

Our early stage commercial options include membership of an online games world and paid downloads, details via our online shop. We have been truly humbled and encouraged that so many people are already buying the early prototype JumpInSaucers at the App Store and on Google Play, especially when it is also available for free. We'd like to thank all of our early customers (paying or not) and encourage new ones. Their purchases send a message that we are not alone, and that a world of people like us want inclusive games and want Audazzle to succeed.

One day soon Audazzle will succeed in developing a game platform that all gamers love playing on, first because it's fun, yet most of all because now they get to play games with people whom they didn't know or know how to include before.

JumpInSaucers is built around the story of nine clans and nine planets called "The Mists of Audazzle." Each clan has its own story. Every player takes on an individual character that is generated by the game. Players use their imaginations to develop their characters and advance the story line. Online players can find others who share their level of skill. We plan to develop RPG (role-playing game) elements to “Mists of Audazzle” and are very keen to fund a project called "Clan Babble."

We are busy at work on new games with exciting new possibilities. Beta testers are always welcome.

To learn more about our games, visit our website at <www.audazzle.com>. We'll look forward to hearing from you.

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