[games_access] Jam's last project...

Barrie Ellis barrie.ellis at oneswitch.org.uk
Wed Mar 28 16:34:29 EDT 2007


BBC Jam to a different tune
By Paul Crichton
13 Mar 07, 10:14 AM

Introducing science to young, visually impaired children in a fun way is a
tough brief, but it is one that BBC Jam sets out to meet with 'Sonic Science',
a forthcoming educational game for seven to eleven year olds.
The game is set in Audioville, a place that the player can explore,
completing a series of fun tests and challenges as they go. To look at it,
you wouldn't know that it is an audio game. It looks good. Audioville is a
bright, colourful animated place. But this is an example of what BBC Jam
call, "reverse inclusion". If sighted kids want to play the game they can,
but their primary source of information will come from using their ears, not
their eyes.

The game brings the concept of experimentation to children. One way that
this is done is in the section where the player must help a robot to push
carts to a train. If the player pushes too gently, then it won't reach the
train. If they push too hard, then it bounces off.

All the information required to complete the task is conveyed with sound. A
power bar determines how hard the robot pushes the trolley. As the power
increases, each increment is announced both with numbers, and with a note
that increases in pitch as the power goes up. Feedback is also provided by
commentary, letting the player know if they were successful, or whether they
must increase or decrease the amount of power used. The players might not
realise it, but they are being introduced to experimentation as well as to
the ideas of physics like 'force' and Newton's famous third principle -
every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

The use of sound is innovative. Unlike most standard games, it isn't there
just to add atmosphere. Nor is information only conveyed by voiceover. Using
stereo speakers, the player gets far more information delivered in a more
precise way than heard before - effectively, "3D sound".

This is best seen in another section, where the player must talk to
different animals from different habitats. This is cleverly done. In moving
from one habitat to another the sound changes, say from walking on grass to
the sound of walking in snow. And players can hear when an animal is nearby.
In the snow habitat area, because of the use of stereo, players can hear the
snowy owl hooting and whether it is to the left, right or straight ahead.

BBC Jam has demonstrated what can be done with sound in this game, and there
is no reason why others cannot adopt some of these techniques in other
areas. Integrating 3D sound into standard games, for instance, could make
them accessible to many more people. But the BBC Jam team aren't stopping
there. They are exploring ever more creative ways that sound can be used for
future projects. So if you want to know what a triangle or a graph sounds
like, then BBC Jam will be the place to look.

Update - since this blog has been published, the BBC have announced that BBC
Jam is to be suspended.

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