My Dream and the Path from There to Here
Gaming has been a huge part of my life before we even knew of it as gaming. I played my first video game on the Apple IIGS, it was Oregon Trail and I never made it all the way to the end. From the first time I set eyes on the machine, with its state--of-the-art five-inch floppy disks, I knew that whatever I was going to do with my life, computers were going to be a huge part of it. There was something magical about these machines and the way they could allow us to explore fantastic worlds in a way we couldn't before. Later, my brothers and I were fortunate enough to get a second-hand Nintendo Entertainment System and we got to experience video games in our house for the first time. Platformers such as Super Mario Bros. were fun, but the games that really inspired me were Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, now Dragon Quest and other RPG's which actually had a story to tell and a place for me in it. I remember dreaming about making a really cool RPG and having all my friends play it. Hey, I was a kid and dreams don't cost a thing! When I was a teenager, I bought my first computer, a TI 99/4A. It didn’t have a monitor, but I could connect it to an old black and white television. It came pre-loaded with TI B.A.S.I.C. It took me a lot of looking, but I managed to find a book which taught B.A.S.I.C and I taught myself my first programming language. Countless hours would fly by while I created programs which no one else would ever see and would disappear the moment I powered off the machine, but that never discouraged me from putting my fingers to the keys. Keep in mind, while I was clicking away on the TI 99/4A, kids in my class were bragging about their new computers running Windows 95, but I didn't care, I was creating games, they were merely playing them. Not that playing games is bad, again, it's my favorite pastime after all.
Even into my adult life, gaming was my preferred way to relax after work. Popping Perfect Dark or Ocarina of time into my Nintendo 64 was a great way to unwind after a double shift managing a popular fast-food franchise who shall go unnamed. If you really want to know, ask the arches on my feet, all the hours I spent on them surely were not golden! But life does not always turn out as we would expect. I lost my sight suddenly and found myself cut off to more than just gaming. No longer could I explore magical kingdoms or rescue princesses! I couldn’t even explore my way to the grocery store. Video game companies, whom I felt vastly loyal to and spend thousands of dollars on, were not so loyal to me! Very little mainstream content is accessible to the blind. It was a depressing time of my life. I had a brand-new Windows XP computer sitting on my desk and without my eyes, even that was useless to me, or so I thought. I didn't know there were rehabilitation facilities out there who would help me learn to adapt to life as a blind man. I didn't know there were O&M instructors out there who could teach me how to get from place to place on my own. My ignorance would cost me dearly and I truly believed that my gaming days were over, and I would never become a developer.
I discovered that my new computer had a screen reader built in. It was called Narrator and changed my life. With Narrator and Microsoft Sam, (remember him?) I pulled myself out of my depression enough to learn that I was not alone. There were other blind people out there, using screen readers and even playing games! How did I not know about this? I wanted to play too! I found Alter Aeon, a text-based RPG. Finally, I felt like I had gotten back a bit of something that was lost forever. While a text-based game is nowhere near to what I was accustomed to as a gamer, I continued my search for a really cool zelda-like RPG which was accessible to good old MS Sam. I never found one. So, I decided to make one! I found Audiogames.net, where i read about something called audio game maker. A program I can use to make audio games, without knowing how to code? Hell yes, sign me up! I tore through their online documentation, tested and tried all kinds of things and even got a working demo of a game going. I was excited! The flame which I thought had gone out in me ignited like an inferno! but, it was not to be. The support for AGM had disappeared from the net, along with its instruction manual. Couple that with the fact that Flash was being dropped across operating systems everywhere, I had no choice but to abandon my princess hero Hilda. Fast forward just a few years and I have gotten O&M training, earned my GED and an Associate’s Degree in Arts and Science at my local community college, I enrolled in university to work on a BS in Computer Science. Since then, I have gained knowledge in several computer languages including C and C++. I was even invited to become a host on a popular text-based RPG, where my skills as a coder exploded, thanks much to the welcoming environment I found among the staff and players of Cosmic Rage. I have been a part of the Cosmic Rage Community for just under 5 years at the time of this blog post and picked up knowledge of 2 more languages, MOO code, called lambda, and python! I even picked up a little HTML, and started up my own website.
Roughly one year ago, I released my first audio game. Little Boss’ Lemonade Stand, which has been downloaded thousands of times and I have 2 more projects in the works. I am happy to say that while my blindness was an obstacle on the path, it was not one that I could not overcome. I don’t feel like I am near the end of the road by no means. Too many audio game developers seem like “one hit wonders” who release one good title and disappear into the ether. I refuse to be one of those developers. In subsequent posting to this blog, I plan to share with you some insights I have gained as I continue the path towards my dream. It is my hope that these writings will serve to motivate myself and anyone else who feels like blindness or disability has barred them from reaching a goal. While my original dream of making video games seems unlikely now, I can still develop fun computer games and spread some fun and adventure to a community who surely appreciates it. And as for that Zelda—like RpG?
I have not given up on that either. Watch my twitter feed for DragonSong updates and more!
Thank you dear reader for visiting my blog and reading my first entry. I hope you will spread the word, not only for my benefit, but awareness of accessibility in mainstream gaming seems to be something everyone likes to talk about but few actually do something about. I hate the fact that blind gamers are an isolated community, cut off from mainstream gaming when most games out there need very little tweaking to allow them to be accessible in a non-visual way. Let's keep the conversation going, while at the same time, actually moving towards bringing us all together.
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