Even though the games industry has expanded rapidly and by a gargantuan amount in the last two decades, there’s always room for more expansion. Inclusiveness is a word that’s dropped a lot. Often it’s in reference to the disproportionate number of female, gay or non-white protagonists, and the suggestion is that if games were more representative it would encourage a broader demographic to interact with them.
But there are folk who already want to play games – they aren’t waiting for better writing or more realistic characters, they’re waiting for a way to play them without the things most of us probably take for granted. Things like sight. Grail to the Thief is an interactive audio adventure designed for everyone, but especially for the blind and visually impaired. It’s exceedingly simple – it needs to be – but it opens adventure gaming up to a whole new audience that can’t experience it as a visual medium.
I felt a little silly when I started playing the prototype. There’s written text and buttons to click on, but that’s not how I wanted to play it. I closed my eyes. I only felt silly because I knocked over my mouse, caught my foot on the edge of my PC and then almost knocked my beverage onto my keyboard. A minute in and I was already making a right mess of things. But I had the good fortune to be able to open my eyes by the end of it.
Grail to the Thief’s developer For All to Play has smartly chosen possibly the most perfect genre for the game. The earliest of adventure game styles, the MUD. There’s no typing, just hitting number keys or the spacebar, but other than that it’s Zork, it’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The most basic of interfaces and almost everything else left up to the imagination. But there’s one major improvement: audio.
Even in the prototype the sound effects are loud and clear. They paint a picture in your mind – specifically of rural England and Camelot, the setting of this time travelling adventure.
Crowds go about their business, hawking their goods and swapping gossip; the blacksmith hammers away on his anvil while his dog whimpers in a corner; inside the castle itself, voices reverberate as they bounce off the huge walls, hinting at its scale; the tiny voice of my companion reminds me that he’s an AI, and a bloody sarcastic one – these are easily overlooked when you’re focused on animation, colour and pixel hunting, but not when you can’t see.
Some of the audio is placeholder and the voice acting definitely finds itself dancing around the hammy part of the scale, but when it ended after five minutes I was rather disappointed. I wanted to keep playing. The similarities to Hitchhikers Guide went well beyond the the MUD roots – it’s got the quirky sci-fi and camp delivery of the BBC radio play of Adam’s books as well. But five minutes isn’t long enough to know anything, beyond the fact that I was chuckling, occasionally groaning and wanting more.