2019-02-17 05:38:58

Tomorrow, Blind Sparrow Interactive’s first project will be announced. But, as the founder of the studio, I thought it would be helpful to give some context to the news and share a bit of the journey.

I’ve worked in AAA and indie games on the business development side for more than 12 years. Throughout this time I’ve always wanted to do something meaningful in the games industry, but outside of a few small charity projects and some larger creative projects, I’ve never felt like I’d found what I was looking for. I’ve also had a real heart for blind gamers, ever since I watched the interactive fiction documentary Get Lamp and was incredibly impressed by the blind players of text adventures describing their experiences of playing games and the different perspectives they had on them.

Last year, I came to a crossroads in my working life. While I had been fortunate to have an amazing array of experiences and see all kinds of games come together, I wasn’t happy. I knew I needed to pursue my heart. I won’t go into all the personal details here, but it was a big decision for my family, but we really felt God’s blessing on it.

So, without knowing how to code anything more than a few simple things in JavaScript, and having never set up a game studio before, and with no team, and knowing very little about accessibility, and with only the money my wife and I have personally invested into the company, Blind Sparrow Interactive was founded.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster. I know. I personally would have advised anyone who came to me with the same scenario against going ahead; and probably would still caution against it. But, somehow, I knew that I would do it, even if I didn’t immediately know how. In these times I’m fuelled by the Bible verse that says, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but one of love, power and self-control’. I also had the benefit of 12 years of watching others do it, seeing what they did right and, more importantly, what they did wrong.

Changing a culture from the inside is hard. Go and work for a company that doesn’t have a good work culture and you can easily find yourself aligning to bad habits. When I started Blind Sparrow Interactive I was adamant that I would create a positive culture for the studio. People who worked for the company as contractors would get paid well and quickly. I would never let “crunch culture” (the idea that people must work longer and harder than what is reasonable to get their work done) take a foothold; mental and physical health would always come first. Accessibility wasn’t going to be just a word; it was to permeate every element of what we do and how we speak and behave - from the first inklings of a game design, right through to the marketing and even, perhaps especially, who the company contracted work to. Originally, we had a lofty goal of employing blind and low vision developers to make up around half of our contracted team. We thought it might take a few projects to reach that. But I’m pleased to say that at this moment, we’ve already hit that goal on project one, and we couldn’t be prouder of the work those devs have contributed.

Our company vision is to create exceptional, life-changing game experiences for low vision and blind gamers that can be shared with players of all sight ability. But we knew from the outset that one of the biggest mistakes any new studio can make is aiming too high too quickly. Some studios want to make the ultimate game, the game they’ve been dreaming of all their lives. And they want it to be their first project, even if they don’t yet have experience with scoping, “feature creep”, QA, enjoyable game loops, and so on. They dream of the game awards and the accolades and the praise. But so often they’re left with disappointment and despair, and a huge financial hole they need to climb back out of.

We decided we needed to work on something small, but practical. Something that could be completed within four months, allowing for the huge amount of time that would be spent setting up the studio and the company, pulling together a team of contractors, getting a working website together, learning how to code in C sharp, learning how to use Unity, understanding the particulars of blind accessibility and still be able to go through an entire dev cycle without compromising anything.

Given that the studio is founded by someone who is sighted, we also knew we needed help, particularly when it came to understanding a blind gamer’s perspective and experience. We will always say that our first best decision - one we made even before we had officially started the company - was to employ a blind accessibility consultant, namely Brandon Cole. (You can find him on Twitter at @superblindman.) He helped set the path we would need to take.

Tomorrow, as we near the completion of our final QA round, that small, but practical something will be announced.

Our first project is not a game; those will come. It’s an iOS app, a utility that relates to an area of gaming that allows blind and sighted people to come together socially. We know that what we’ve created is not revolutionary, but we’re proud of it: it’s fast to use and it’s been completely designed from the ground up for blind and low vision players, with a particular attention to detail.

This is our first step as Blind Sparrow Interactive. No matter what happens with the app, it won’t be our last step. Even with no support, our commitment is to a full year of development. By that point we should be starting on our third project.

You may notice that I’ve used “we” a lot when I’m talking about Blind Sparrow Interactive. I do that to remind myself that this is not my studio. In my mind, this studio stands to represent everyone who works on any one of our projects and, hopefully, the community that it was created to love and serve.

You are that community.

Through all your advice, your support, your willingness to accept us and guide us when we make mistakes, I want to say a personal thank you for helping us take this first step.

Thanks.

Drew Taylor

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2019-02-17 06:24:05

Hi.

That sounds like an awesome story and list of experiences, I'll be interested to see what you come up with game wise.
I'm particularly interested that you've employed Brandon, a long time community member as accessibility consultant, since that likely means you'll have some knowledge of what audiogames already exist, what has been tried, what does and doesn't make for great gaming experiences etc.

Obviously I can't speak to the performance of an Ap I haven't seen, but your ethos as a company is certainly one which interests me and I'll  looking forward to seeing what comes of it.

With our dreaming and singing, Ceaseless and sorrowless we! The glory about us clinging Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing; O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing, A little apart from ye. (Arthur O'Shaughnessy 1873.)

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2019-02-17 06:32:26

@Dark

Thanks for the kind words. We look forward to the journey. We've already learned much as a studio, and at a personal level it's shaped my perceptions and understanding.

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2019-02-17 09:59:39

I should add that if anyone has any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

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2019-02-17 13:35:30

Hello and welcome to the Forum.
It's great that you are starting out small and don't promise a revolutionary game as your first release, which, in the end, would turn out to not be that good.
I am also glad that you apparently have got some decent accessibility Expertise on board and I am looking Forward to whatever you release.

Greetings and happy gaming, Julian
BTW, give me a thumbs up if you like my Posts!

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2019-02-17 13:40:06

Very excited to see what you come up with; I heard a little while ago that you'd picked up Brandon and have been very pumped to see what you come up with for a couple months now.
I hope your other projects also end up working out.

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2019-02-17 13:57:52

@JulianTheAudioGamer Thanks. We know we have a lot to learn. I've always been taught to never promise what you can't deliver, which is why we've tried to keep quiet about our first project, not wishing to properly announce it until we knew it was all but done. As for bringing on an accessibility consultant, Brandon has been exceptional. But the majority of our QA team are blind, too, and that consistent feedback has made a huge difference in all kinds of ways. And then there's Grace, our primary VO, a Western Australian blind woman whose voice I feel like I've heard for 100 hours, and still love the sound of. We also have just contracted a technical writer, too, to help write up a guide that will be posted in these forums, as well as on our website. Their perspectives and expertise are, to a large degree, what makes Blind Sparrow what it is.

@rashad Thanks. The app may not be for everyone, but we really hope that it's well received and honours the effort that everyone put in to making it. Whatever happens, we will learn so much from the process and we look forward to pouring that into our second project.

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2019-02-17 15:29:08

I'm very excited to see where this goes and what this entails. I appreciate your stated ethos and think a lot of up-and-coming developers would do well to emulate it.

I've always wanted to be more hands-on from a quality control/testing perspective. I don't code, but I've been a gamer for a long time and have strong ideas of what works and what doesn't. I've supported other projects and devs in the past as well, so if for whatever reason you feel you want or need more input from the community, I would be willing to help. This is not to say that I believe you -need my input; it's clear that at this stage, you don't. I'm more saying I'm here if and when that time comes.

I'm curious about the app and, as stated before, am eager to see what you come up with. Your past experience and understanding of larger-scale gamer culture is likely to prove a long-term asset for you.

Check out my Manamon text walkthrough at the following link:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/z8ls3rc3f4mkb … n.txt?dl=1

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2019-02-17 15:44:42

I am also extremely excited about this. As a totally blind, adult, mainstream gamer and also arcade fan (yep, actual arcades) from the UK who discovered audiogames in around 2003 back when there wasn't really a term, untl I discovered this very website, I've been a part of it ever since, and always love looking at new projects and seeing where people can go. This year is looking very exciting already, from the accessibility coming in small steps to the mainstream gaming world, and now, you guys, and I absolutely am looking forward to finding out what your first project is, even if it might not be a revolutionary thing, if it's designed well, that's all that matters, and I'll support you. I will also be happy to help in the future as well.

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2019-02-17 16:03:46

"Accessibility wasn’t going to be just a word; it was to permeate every element of what we do and how we speak and behave - from the first inklings of a game design, right through to the marketing and even, perhaps especially, who the company contracted work to. Originally, we had a lofty goal of employing blind and low vision developers to make up around half of our contracted team. We thought it might take a few projects to reach that. But I’m pleased to say that at this moment, we’ve already hit that goal on project one, and we couldn’t be prouder of the work those devs have contributed."
Love this! Awesome job, keep it up! I'm excited for your upcoming projects, and so happy to see your enthuziasm. big_smile Wish you all the good luck in your future endeavours.

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.-Clark's first law.
Find me on Twitter

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2019-02-17 18:15:56

Hi, and welcome to the forum.
Sounds amazing. I'm really excited to read all that.
I don't fully get what the app is about. I look forward to see what you come up with in the future. I'm both playing audiogames and mainstream console games as well.

Best regards SLJ.
If you like the post, then please give it a thumps up.
Feel free to contact me privately if you have something in mind. If you do so, then please send me a mail instead of using the private message on the forum, since I don't check those very often.
Happy gaming... :D

2019-02-17 19:03:39

Sounds like you guys have the right idea about how to do this thing.

Pain is life and life is pain.

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2019-02-18 00:22:56

Wow. To all of you, thanks for the encouraging words while I was sleeping. (We're based in Australia.) We'll be making the announcement in the next hour.

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2019-02-18 00:23:01

Hi there.
I'm very excited to see what you're working on.
One more thing, I believe that your post contains  principles that every game developer should follow.
Keep it up and I wish  you all the best.

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2019-02-18 00:31:22

Wow drew, so much openness.
Well if you need a tester on pc at least or anything extra, I'm happy to work for you, especially with the attitude you have.
I think you would get on with the late thomas ward, he had almost the same open style as you have its a pitty he went before his dreams were realised.
I do suspect that if things went his way with his life and other things he could have been a real master at what he did.
Sadly as we all know, he had family issues, health issues and a few other issues that got stuck in his way.
He then took the brave step on taking on projects made by another developer who didn't manage as well as he could have and got into trouble with preorders for something that he couldn't fill on time.
As I write this, those preorders will probably remain unfilled for all time its a pitty is all.
Having beta tested for several organisations in and out of this forum, and the gaming sceen from universities to governments, to small companies, it can be an issue.
I have seen companies rise and fall, through no fault of their own, maybe they try to hard to quick, maybe users complain a lot about instabilities and some even try to hack their online platforms.
I have seen open developers try their best and break under strain.
I have seen those that believe that if they get popular enough they will get fame and fortune only to have it blow up in their faces at which point they get disapointed and leave, then come back only to repeat the same mistakes.
I ha ve tested for a company recently that while their games were quite good for what they were, ended up having to switch their primary goal to making accessibility related systems rather than games because of the revenue they were not generating.
At the other end of the spectrum I have been the victum of budget cuts where a government lab I work for who had been going along for ages and that I am now a test pilot for has had to manage with less money, and less building space than it had when I started 6 years back.
Its not all chocolates and fine wine, sometimes it is, but a lot of the time, achievement is mostly your own and that be it.
I have seen people that have the ideas and hire contractors only to have never ritten a piece of code in their lives.

Don't be discouraged if you get an unusual amount of bitching on this forum either.
The blind gaming scene while it has had its fair share of sucess stories over the while has been in a small resession over the last little while.
With a lot of the core companies, either stopped, not working, or simply not moving, bar the japanese and a few startups like your's and experimental one banders has had more than its fair share of broken promises, bad quality projects, unfinnished projects and disapointments.
Understandably a lot of the users are bitter about this.
Having been at the start of the online movement in 1996 I have seen most of these dramas and more.
Like a colony we started out with little idea what was involved, some of us survived, some of us drowned, and some of us are stuck in the middle.
While its mostly peacefull we have had our share of wars and battles, not to many but a few.
There are new users joining all the time, new members, most are fine, a few are trouble but thats expected I guess.
If your stuff is good enough and people like and and you don't set release dates that you end up going over to much etc then there will not be a problem.
I have seen good men set goals that they can't complete or don't allow for things outside this virtual world to happen.
As I said before the road of this place is paved with a lot of rusting projects, failiers, broken dreams and some successes.
Its fair to say we have had a lot more failiers than successes.
People are just a bit on the fence over these.
People myself included have spent money on some of these successes and failiers some of us knew they would all be good but when it didn't eventuate felt cheated.
Saying that there can be those that want to be a problem, but if you look after your players we will get em all for you.
To be honest, its good to see a new face round here.
And its good youhave a reson to come.
I have seen people come because they want to try.
Thats fine if you have a strong spirit and all but if you think you can try, have it not work and go the chance you will get back in is not good.
If you need anything at all, email me from my profile page.

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2019-02-18 00:57:32

Thanks, @CrashMaster. I've been around long enough to say that you are right in all that you've said. It's a tough game and I know that. Particularly stepping into a space where there's a strong community and a history of people trampling in, promising the world. When I was younger, I made that same mistake in the interactive fiction community. I was passionate, but ignorant. And it was a very humbling experience, once I'd seen the missteps I'd taken. People were so kind to me there, but I swore to myself I wouldn't do that ever again.

Anyway, thanks again for the support in advance.

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2019-02-18 01:05:10 (edited by Blind Sparrow Interactive 2019-02-18 01:13:29)

Okay, so here it is:

Blind Sparrow Interactive's first project is Ready to Roll, a blind accessible RPG dice manager, coming soon to iOS. Listen here to learn more: https://soundcloud.com/user-244235312/r … udio-promo

With many tabletop RPGs being largely "theatres of the mind", we believe roleplay gaming is a magical way for blind and sighted people to socialise and go on exciting adventures together. But, as players know, rolling dice quickly and independently is tantamount to keeping the flow of the game going.

With Ready to Roll you can roll multiple dice and dice types quickly and efficiently. Save custom rolls and review previous rolls. Roll percentile and for advantage. Change voice over speed and type. Have individual dice rolls read out. And much more. Completely designed from the ground up for blind accessibility, enjoy easy navigation, full voice acting, and the freedom of having a set of RPG dice on hand, ready to roll when you are.

The key art for the app is a commissioned piece created by the wonderful Madeleine Beer https://twitter.com/CritterOfHabit. To hear an audio description of it, click here: https://soundcloud.com/user-244235312/k … escription

The VO you hear is voiced by the delightful Grace King.

The app is in final QA. We expect the release build to be submitted to Apple this week.

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2019-02-18 01:21:05

Huh. This looks very interesting. I'm getting into tabletop games, and while I personally love the feel of regular dice in my hand, this will be a great sollution for use whenever I need it.

You should've gone for the .net ...

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2019-02-18 01:25:20

You know, you say your app is not revolutionary, but I can't think of another accessible dice roller for iOS. Especially one with as many features as you have cited. Congratulations! I am not normally a roleplayer, but I will be checking this out if for nothing more than to see how it works.

I want to say also that I very much appreciate your acknowledgement of God's presence in your business. I've been hoping to see an openly Christian gaming company for a long time. Just out of curiosity, what made you choose the sparrow to symbolize this company?

Obviously you aren't explicitly hiring christians and I don't know how many of your current employees are followers of Christ. But it's still so cool to see God acknowledged in a business venture. I would love to talk more to a fellow Christian gamer if you have the time and interest.

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2019-02-18 02:40:39

@david_solomon1

Thanks. Naming anything is like a nemesis to me. But I wanted the name of the studio to reflect what it was we were trying to do and the spirit with which we are doing it. It also needed to be a name that immediately gave an indication of what we do.

There are numerous verses in the Bible about sparrows (most notably the one that says that God notices every sparrow that falls) but it's also a bird that is gentle and small and that made me think of how we wanted to step into this space. While as a studio we are open about our faith origins, you're right: we don't make it a requirement for employment at all. My faith is not exclusionary; we are all loved.

Thanks for the kind words about the app announcement.

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2019-02-18 03:36:51

finally! a decent dice roller that is accessible! I'm soo very excited because I play D&D and right now my DM has to read me my dice because there's nothing decent.
Question (i haven't had a chance to listen to the audio demo yet): Will there be visuals on the screen, too?

skype name: techluver
Feel free to add me.

2019-02-18 03:50:15

@harrylst Yes, the app will also have visuals. While designed from the ground up for blind and low vision players, it is also fully usable by sighted players. We want all of our games and apps to be accessible to people of all sight ability. This means when you play or use something made by us, you can recommend it to sighted friends and share the experience with them, too.

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2019-02-18 05:18:11

Time for me to learn D&D haha. Neat idea thanks!

Kingdom of Loathing name JB77

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2019-02-18 05:35:06

i checkout those audios sound amasing
if the game release and quality is decent same as i expect in audio
i sure this game will be the best of dice roller ever had
my question is if you focusing on rpg thing when we play do we choose any choice during the result of dice or the game will randomy situation after rolling
and congrats for your first project that make this small community so exciting

the bestest reward for people who are working so hard they should receive their experience of their own life.
everyone can collect in everyday.
:d

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2019-02-18 06:06:00

@Jeffb If you haven't played, it's well worth the effort of finding a group, even online. I'm sure this forum could suggest some great starting places. If others do have links, I'll happily post them up on the Blind Sparrow website as well.

@Wightfall Thanks. Grace was fantastic. There's not a lot of use for character voices in the app, but her voice is so effortless and friendly. We're so glad to have her contribute. Now, if I understand your question correctly, you're either asking if the app will roll each dice randomly for you, or will you have complete control over which dice you can roll. The answer is both. You choose the dice you want to roll, and how many of them, and how you want the result read out to you, and it will randomly roll those dice for you and give you the result. As a great suggestion during the QA process, our lead QA said that it was very important in some games to know what the score on each dice was, so we've included an "individual" setting, which will read out each individual dice roll, too.

But don't fear. We have someone writing up a guide that can be read by screen readers that will answer all of your most likely questions and tell you how to do things. That should be ready at launch. And we will be posting it here on the AudioGames forum, as well as on our website.

I hope that helps!

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