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ESP Softworks
Computer Games for the Blind and Visually Impaired

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ESP Softworks
Computer Games for the Blind and Visually Impaired

From: www.espsoftworks.com
(Please note: as of August 2005, ESP Softworks has ceased selling their games.

However, we have discovered that most of their games, as well as several new games, are available from Draconis Entertainment. We've never dealt with this company, and would be interested in hearing your opinions on them. Thanks!)
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - December 4, 2003

Computer games for the blind and visually impaired, is such a thing possible? After all, aren't computer games, by their very nature, vision oriented? In my experience, I've found that very few games are accessible using a screen reader or computer magnification program, and most of the games that are accessible tend to be sedate card games. Once you get into the more action, and visually oriented games, accessibility goes out the window - that is until now...

ESP Softworks, and its president, James North, have developed a number of truly awesome, action packed games, designed specifically to be played by blind and visually impaired individuals. In fact, give one of these games to a fully sighted individual and they will be totally lost *grin*. Other than a title page that is displayed on the computer screen, these games are played entirely by ear - nothing can be seen of the game play! These games are not your run-of-the-mill solitaire games, they are full throttle action games that run the gamut from arcade games to first-person shooters.

Currently, ESP Softworks offers seven titles: Change Reaction, ESP Whoopass, Alien Outback, Monkey Business, ESP Pinball, Shell Shock, and DynaMan. These programs are being continually refined, and new titles are in the works, including ESP Pinball 2, Max Shrapnel - a first-person shooter, and ESP Raceway. ESP Raceway promises to be an exiting and innovative game that will put you in the driver's seat of a fully load race car. The game will offer dozens of unique tracks for you to compete on, at speeds up to 270 miles an hour!

For the purposes of this review, I looked at seven of ESP Softworks' currently available games, Change Reaction, ESP Whoopass, Alien Outback, Monkey Business, Shell Shock, ESP Pinball, and DynaMan. They were played on a PC running Windows 98. Without exception, I was amazed at their playability, detail, and the shear fun of the experience. You explore and play the games via the sounds that you hear. From squishing feet to the bloing of a pinball ball, the sound is realistic and easy to follow once you learn to identify all the different sound effects used in the game. Various objects have unique sounds, and there is ambient background noises that help to bring the environment you are playing in to life. Due to the nature of these games, you will need to have a sound card installed on your computer. While it is possible to play many of these games using the sound/speaker built in your computer, sound quality is much better if you have a set of external speakers attached to your computer. In addition, some of the games, such as DynaMan, are designed to be played with quad-speaker set up for best sound quality. I played these games using a system with only two speakers, and I found the quality of these "quad-speaker" games to be quite acceptable with only two speakers.

Please be aware that there is a definite learning curve associated with playing these games, but it should not take you too long to learn all the intricacies associated with playing 'by ear'. No matter your skill level, you will find these games challenging, and entertaining!

The Games....

Change Reaction

Change Reaction is a Tetris-styled puzzle game in which you strive to connect as many similar coins as possible, as fast as you can, before the timer runs out. The game is played on a grid, when you line up a row of similar coins, it causes a chain reaction that results in the row exploding and you winning points. This is a very, very addictive game - so beware!

ESP Whoopass

This is a zany game in which you attempt to put the cranky and obnoxious Mr. Whoopass in his place by beating him in an old-fashioned game of fisticuffs - i.e., you try to punch him out! Sounds a bit violent, but it is really a rather innocent game that will give you a good chuckle.

Alien Outback

This is an old-fashioned arcade game similar to the game Space Invaders. In Alien Outback, you play the role of the hard-drinking Australian, Busha Bob. The Earth is about to be invaded by aliens, and your job is to shot their ships out of the sky before they can land.

Monkey Business

This fun, challenging games is a first-person action - arcade game similar to the old platform games in which you travel through an environment, collecting objects and points, and avoiding enemies. In this game you are trying to catch various monkeys who have pieces of the teleporter that you need in order to jump to the next level. This game has a very realist 3D feel about it. For example, when you are jumping over a gap, you really feel as if you are in the air, and if you miss your landing on the 'other side' you get a real sense that you are falling!

Shell Shock

A basic 'shot at it' game, that you can play alone or against an opponent. The object of the game is to shoot your cannon / missiles at the opposing force in an attempt to destroy your opponents base of operation - before he destroys yours. This is a fairly straightforward, competitive, and fun game to play, especially when playing against a human opponent.

ESP Pinball

ESP Pinball is just like any pinball game. Much of the game is spent shooting a steel ball around the pinball table, hitting the ball with flippers / paddles, and racking up points by hitting a variety of bumpers, switches, and other elements. The full version of this game has six unique tables, each with its own theme and game variables. I found that it takes some time to get a feel for how to direct the ball to the desired target. I especially like the Pac Man table. It is not so much a traditional pinball game as it is a loopy game of Pac Man played on a pinball table. The object of the game is similar to the traditional Pac Man, in that you are trying to clear the table of dots. In this version you maneuver around the table using the pinball flippers, eating dots while trying not to run into any ghosts. If you do, they'll eat you! If you ever had a chance to play the real Pac Man, you'll find this pinball version of Pac Man will bring back a lot of fond memories as you get the feel that you are playing something very akin to 'the real thing'.

DynaMan

In DynaMan, you are playing in a 3-D maze, so you not only have to contend with the normal game play, but you also have to remember where you are in the maze! The mazes in this game are five-stories tall (deep) which makes them even more challenging than a simple two-dimensional maze. This added challenge makes this a truly marvelous game, one which also helps to build your memory skills. Within each maze are a series of electrons that you have to 'clear' from the maze before warping to the next level. As you progress through the game, the game play speeds up, and the mazes become more difficult to work through. Prepare to be challenged!

DynaMan also includes a self-voicing level editor that allows you to create addtional levels for the game - so it is conceivable that you'll never finish playing this game!

The Games in General

In addition to being entertaining and challenging, all these games have a few similarities. Whether you download the games, or buy them on CD, they are all easy to install. The installation is self-voicing except for the text of the licencing agreement that pops up almost as soon as the installation begins to run. If you want to read this document before agreeing to it, you'll need to have your screen reader enabled, if you use one. Afterwards, you can turn it off and let the program read you through the rest of the installation. Also, with the exception of Shell Shock, instructions on how to play each game cannot be accessed from the games themselves. Rather, the instructions are included as a plain text document in the folder in which the game was installed. These instructions are clear and easy to follow, and once you learn all the key combinations, you'll be able to maneuver through the games with ease (just be sure to keep an ear out for the bubbling pits of acid!) If you have purchased the full version of any of these games, you will have to input an registration code.

The first time you play the game, a registration dialogue box will appear, into which you'll have to enter your name and the registration key you were given when you purchased the game. Once you input your registration code, stay away from the F2 key, as this will delete your code and turn your game back into a demo. If you do this, don't worry, all you have to do is re-input your registration code and your game will be transferred back into the full version. (I know this because I did it a couple of time, much to my chagrin.) The games are played using your computers keyboard, and the instructions that come with each game fully explain the various key function, the registration process, tips on how to orient yourself in the game world, and background information on each game. I highly recommend that you read through the instructions before trying to play any of the games.

System Requirements

The following is a list of the system requirements as listed on the ESP Softworks website:
Operating System: Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000
System Memory: 32 minimum / 64 or more recommended
Hard Disk Space: Varies with title
CD-Rom Drive: Required for titles released on Compact Disc
Sound Card: Multi-Channel Recommended

Overall Recommendation

I highly recommend these games to individuals who are visually impaired, as well as to fully sighted individuals seeking a unique gaming challenge! These are all five star games, and there are games available for almost every member of the family. ESP Softworks sponsors a number of email lists that allow gamers to share tips and tricks, and to simply talk about the games. Happy Gaming!!!


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