The Great Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part II

When I was much younger, I received Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out as a birthday present. (It was the same year I got a brand new bike, and I’m sad to say I spent more time with the former than the latter.) My dad read me the manual, and I ran into the other room, glued my nose to the TV screen, and pummeled my way through a whole list of crazy characters as the scrappy—and thoroughly under-sized—Little Mac.

The funny thing about that experience, though, was that no matter how much I squinted and stared, I couldn’t see to play the game to save my life. I could see the shapes of the characters, and I could tell them apart based on their appearances, but I never saw the tells and quirks that have long been a hallmark of the Punch-Out games. I never saw the gem flashes and eye blinks that warned of impending punches, but I learned through careful timing and a whole lot of dodging how to stay on my feet. I once even thoroughly confused mom by hiding under a bean bag chair with the controller while continuing to play the game by sound alone.

Years later, Punch-Out was rereleased for the Nintendo Wii, and I found out that other blind people were able to play the same way. It turns out that on the Wii the game is even more accessible, as many of the opponents’ punch tells are now audible. It’s so playable, in fact, that Karl Belanger once told me he had racked up 136 straight victories. For even more proof, check out videos like this one or this one where Liam Erven drops two opponents in fine style.

Flash forward a few years to the beta release of BGT. I picked up the language, started mucking about with various functions, and thought it might be an interesting test of my newfound skill to try making an audio only version of Punch-Out. When I made the switch to Python, I took the concept and code with me, figuring that it would still be a fine first project. I figured that the game could be a gentle introduction to programming, and it would give me something more substantial to release than Guess the Number or another Space Invaders clone.

And herein lies the irony. Here I am, finally gaining the ability to design the games I’ve always dreamed of, and I’m spending my time porting a game to audio that’s already perfectly playable by both the blind and sighted alike. The folks at Nintendo spent far more time and money on their product than I ever will, and they produced it with richer sound, more features, and an overall better design.

The question I’ve been asking myself as I struggled with the keyboard handler and pyHook is whether this boxing game is even worth it. If a superior product already exists for a mainstream console, and if that product is already completely playable without sight, what is the point of my designing my version? Sometimes, even though I’ve sunk nearly a year of work into the boxing game already, I’ve contemplated just tossing the game in the closet for a while to work on something else—something far more original and interesting to me.

Two things stop me, though: my sense of duty—the fact that I’ve already promised the game—and this post sent to the Audyssey list back when I announced the game:

Not trying to sound negative here, but it seems that every once in a while
we get some announcement on here about some huge audio game project coming
out. it never materializes and we’re left waiting for this non-existent
game. let’s hope we aren’t disappointed yet again. I learned to take these
announcements with a grain of salt, and so should everyone else. usually
when these announcements are posted, the game is still in the planning
stages and nothing ever comes of it. all this does is give most gamers hope.
I really hope I’m wrong this time and that this game does indeed come out.

I want that author to be wrong, too.

One response to “The Great Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part II

  1. Hello.

    i’m very glad your still developing the boxing game and haven’t given up, since even with! punchout produced by nintendo there are I think a number of reasons why an audio boxing game is still a good thing.

    1: Most basically, I’ve never played punchout myself. The nes didn’t do too well in england, and due to menue inaccessible I don’t own a wii, so on a basic front, it’d be good to have something for the Pc, and i’m sure I’m not the only person in this position.

    2: Accessibility. In your above blog, you mention punchout as accessible. I would disagree, —- playable perhaps, accessible, maybe not.

    You mention that the boxers in the punchout game have visual tells, that a sighted player can see the boxers eyeblink, twich etc before launching an attack. Yes, it is possible to play the game without these, and quite effectively. However it still takes far more memorization of timing and rapidity than a sighted person would need to put in to learning the game.

    I had a similar experience myself with the bosses of the mega man x series. I can see enough to see where the bosses are, what attacks they are doing etc. However it wasn’t until i read a faq I realized the bosses had tells just as you describe in punchout, for instance the character chill penguin would lower his beak and shake his head before sliding.

    Myself, I simply learnt the timing much as you describe, and now can murder chill penguin every time we fight, —– however I do remember a period where he seemed to be acting at random, where all his attacks just came out of no where and seemed to activate without any warning.

    it’s that period that the accessibility is there to help with, that period of “hay, where did that attack come from?”

    Plus of course all the in game text and anything textual that the game requires outside the ring, such as boxer statistics, training etc, not to mention the atmosphere provided by comments.

    As per the deffinition of “accessible” used by audiogames.net (a deffinition actually from my phd on disability), a game is only accessible when a blind person can play it with approximately the same amount of effort as a sighted person. This is why games like Mortal combat and indeed punchout don’t have audiogames.net pages and probably won’t be getting them in the future.

    as I said, this isn’t to deny a blind person can’t become proficient at such games, merely to acknolidge that the effort needed ind eveloping such proficiency, menue and sound memorization etc is always going to be greater than that of a sighted person unless the same game information is available equally as audio or graphics.

    So, on this basis, a truly “accessible” boxing game would be a very good thing indeed.

    3: Customization.

    Even aside from the above two points, the third bennifit I see in an audio boxing game is I think the most crytical.

    Back in the 1980’s we had an Amigar computer. My favourite game there was the game Turrican, a massive exploration side scroller where you ran around in a robotic suit, working your way through massive levels, blasting nasty robot enemies. It was the Turrican games that really peaked my interest both in computer games generally, and in fact in music with weerd miner cords and key changes, both of which continue now.

    Yet, amazing as they were, the Turrican games were finite. Turrican 1 ad 11 levels in 5 different worlds, Turrican 2 13. But that was all you got. There was no ability to save the game meaning you had to play through the hole thing off the bat, and there was no possibility of going anywhere other than the levels offered to you.

    i used to dream (in both sences of the word), of seeing turrican in new and exciting environments, such as forests, jungles or space battles that werent’ included in the original game.

    To my absolute and lasting pleasure, some years ago I discovered that Turrican’s creator had licensed a freeware pc graphical remake called T2002. Same gameplay, same amazing music, but new levels! even better, some years after it’s released, a level editer was created, and now there are over 40 different level packs containing over 100 levels for T2002, many with new graphics, sounds and music but the same Turrican gameplay.

    So now, Turrican gets to explore all the places that I imagined as a child but which weren’t included in the original game. jungles, snow fields, an asteroid belt in space and more!

    The point? —- there are many people out there who can’t program a game, but have some great ideas on what a game should include. They are not however employees of nintendo, and thus they’re ideas for new boxers to challenge your punching skills won’t get realized.

    This is one of the advantages of developing for the pc, you can give people the tools to expand your game, even if the people themselves don’t know programming. I’ve loved the sound of the opponent creator, and being able to swap in and out touch boxers for people to fight, —- I’ve even been thinking of what ideas I can come up with myself.

    Thus, even if! punchout were completely accessible, and even f everyone could play it, there still would be a major justification in your boxing game, that of allowing people to create their own opponents.

    Look at top speed and rale racer and how much has been created for those games.

    so, I’m really glad your continuing work on the boxing game, and I absolutely hope it will get finished, since it has huge bennifits either way, even allowing that the punchout game is playable.

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