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The Evolution of Accessibility in Gaming: The Role of Audio Radar

In recent years, the growth of accessibility in gaming has been massive. Most high-level companies offer accessibility support, whether in-game settings with options like colorblind mode or external devices and software designed to make gaming more inclusive for people with different physical and sensory abilities. These accessibility options go back to 1950 when a game called Bertie the Brain offered different difficulties so that more people of any age could play the game. Then, a bit further ahead, in 1988, Nintendo released a controller for those disabled, the Hands-Free controller for the NES. This controller was the first of its kind. However, for deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers, the process has been a lot slower.

The deaf and hard-of-hearing community have lacked a specialized solution that caters to their needs, often relying on rudimentary solutions or non-existent support in mainstream gaming. One significant tool for deaf gamers has been the use of subtitles. Subtitles have been a critical tool for deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers, providing a way to follow game narratives and understand dialogue. However, relying solely on subtitles means missing out on the full spectrum of audio cues—such as footsteps, environmental sounds, or enemy actions—essential for immersive and competitive gameplay. This has highlighted a significant gap in accessibility, showing that while progress has been made, much work still needs to be done to create genuinely inclusive gaming experiences.

Fortnite and Minecraft, using visual cues to indicate sound, are two large titles that have bridged this gap.

In Fortnite, a "Visualize Sound Effects" option allows players to see sound indicators in a small radius around the center of the screen. This enables deaf gamers to keep up in fights, especially when the enemy's location is unknown , but they're still running around and making sounds. It also helps deaf gamers find out where loot is, as sound is one of the main factors in finding chests.

Minecraft takes a different approach. The game features a subtitle system that provides text for spoken dialogue and describes environmental sounds. For example, it will display subtitles such as "Creeper hissing," "Water flowing," or "Zombie groaning," along with directional arrows to indicate where the sound is coming from.

Despite these systems, most games still need to put them in place. Most games remain hugely inaccessible for deaf or hard-of-hearing gamers, and that's where Audio Radar comes in. Audio Radar aims to bridge the gap for gamers no matter the game, as long as it supports surround sound systems. Audio Radar's strength lies in its compatibility with various games and platforms, offering a visual representation of directional audio cues. This allows players to experience the spatial aspects of sound and level the playing field. By transforming audio signals into visual cues through an array of LED light bars surrounding the player's monitor or TV, Audio Radar effectively communicates important in-game sounds, such as footsteps, gunfire, and vehicle movements, enabling players to make quicker, more informed decisions during gameplay.

The only limit Audio Radar currently faces is its inability to differentiate types of sounds, meaning that all sounds, whether they are footsteps or gunshots, are indicated in the same color. This could make it challenging for players to distinguish between different types of in-game sounds based solely on the visual cues provided. However, these limitations have already been eliminated with a particular version of Audio Radar, previewed at CES 2024. This iteration allows the user to customize the colors of sounds and can even indicate how far away the sound is. This version updates the light bars to use individual LEDS, allowing even more precision. This version will launch in the summer of 2024, allowing all existing radars to receive updates through the upcoming app.

The mission is to make Audio Radar the go-to solution for deaf and hard-of-hearing gaming accessibility. By providing hardware, software, and SDK that developers can easily integrate, Audio Radar is paving the way for more inclusive gaming environments. This approach benefits gamers with hearing impairments and enhances the gaming experience for all players by providing an additional layer of sensory feedback.


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