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  • Student Postmortem: Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab's AudiOdyssey

    [04.08.08]
    - Dominic Chai and Eitan Glinert
  •  AudiOdyssey, from the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab, is a research-based game that explores the notion of who can play games. It's designed for a mainstream audience, yet it is completely accessible to the visually impaired. That is to say, a blind person can play AudiOdyssey just as well as a sighted person. Moreover, the game has been designed in such a way that (in theory) both the blind and the sighted person could play the game with the same level of difficulty, frustration, and learning curve.

    We chose this research goal because we wanted to see if we could make a game that would bring blind gamers into the same realm as the mainstream. Several visually impaired accessible games already exist, however almost all of them are inaccessible to sighted players, either due to lack of graphics or awkward controls. Furthermore, most visually impaired gamers themselves want to play the same games that all their sighted friends play. Thus, we felt it would be worthwhile to make a game directed at mainstream, but that had an accessible theme.

    The game itself stars Vinyl Scorcher, a DJ in a nightclub trying to get people to dance. Because AudiOdyssey is a rhythm game, the DJ adds different tracks to a song to get club goers moving by matching changing rhythmic beats. However, if the party gets too crazy, there's a chance the DJ's table might get bumped, causing him to lose tracks and forcing him to re-synch his music. The user can control the single-player PC game either with the keyboard or with the Nintendo Wiimote. In fact, AudiOdyssey is the first visually impaired accessible game that has support for Wiimote controls.

    The Development Process
    AudiOdyssey was made by a team of seven undergraduate students: Dominic Chai, Bruce Chia, Paviter Singh, Mark Sullivan, Edwin Toh, Jim Willburger, and Yeo Jingying. They worked in close collaboration with two product owners, graduate student Eitan Glinert and Professor Lonce Wyse. None of the undergrads had ever worked on such an ambitious game before, though three of them did have some minimal game development experience. The team named itself Reverb in honor of the audio nature of the project.

    Game development took place in Boston over one summer, which was especially exciting for the five team members from Singapore. In addition to Reverb, the GAMBIT lab housed several other student teams, as well as a few common development resources, such as a separate sound team, IT support, and testing support. In addition to making the game, students occasionally attended game development lectures, visited nearby studios, and went out in the greater Boston area.

    The development schedule was split into four two-week intervals, when the team was expected to make a new game iteration. To help follow this schedule, we used the Scrum methodology.

    At the beginning of the summer the only work that had been done was that Glinert had conducted some initial accessibility research; Wyse had made some sound synthesis tools; and the game's research goals and broad theme had been defined. Eight weeks later, Reverb was fully formed, and despite some bumps, managed to pull together and create a fun game with dual control schemes, Wiimote support, and visually impaired accessibility.

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