Come to the Ear Monsters Ball
EarGames says that Ear Monsters was not specifically created as a game for the blind, but the app does make extensive use of voiceover and is fully accessible for visually impaired gamers, which is cool. I can also imagine this technology being folded into gameplay for sight-based games -- for instance, if you ran away from a monster to hide in a pitch black cave.
Ear Monsters: A 3D Audio Game by Ear Games is available in the iOS App Store for US$1.99.
The iPhone and iPad have sparked some amazing new apps -- apps that tap directly into niches and needs and coolness that most of us would barely notice otherwise, much less imagine. So when I stumble upon a fresh and creative app, particularly an app that pushes humanity forward in cold dark universe, I take a closer look.
One such app is Ear Monsters: A 3D Audio Game by Ear Games via Brian Schmidt Studios.
In this game, monsters from a parallel dimension have created wormholes to invade our universe. They quickly become invisible in our world when they pop out of the wormholes, but luckily for us, they don't realize we can still hear them. Your mission is to tap (and presumably smash) as many monsters as you can, as you hear them arrive in our dimension.
Ear Monsters is essentially an arcade-type game that moves you along as your reflexes become better and better.
If this isn't yet clear, to play the game, you need to wear headphones.
Visual and Audio Training
To start out, you see a few "wormholes" on your screen -- for example, one on the left, one in the middle, and one on the right. When a monster appears, it arrives with a sound. In the first few rounds, you'll see a green monster head pop into a wormhole. This corresponds to, for example, the monster arrival noise coming from your left headphone. So you tap the monster and save humanity. Nice. Trouble is, there are a lot of monsters.
The next comes to the right wormhole. You see and hear it, so you tap it. One to the middle, and the same thing. Shortly the monsters start appearing in a vague sheen of transparency and then arrive in our dimension totally invisible. At this point, you have to remember that an arrival sound in your right ear means you need to tap the wormhole on the right. Easy enough.
It gets harder -- or more enjoyable.
New wormholes appear -- some to the extreme left and right of your screen. You can recognize them because the sound is quieter, more muted. Then wormholes appear at say, the top right and the bottom left -- suddenly, the number of spots on your screen in which an audio cue identifies the general location increases to more than a dozen.
Seems crazy hard, right? It is and it isn't.
I was surprised at how well I could identify the general location -- obviously through subtle volume and tonal changes, but likely through some other audio magic, too. Turns out Ear Monsters uses "an advanced binaural HRTF 3D sound engine" created by QSound Labs, which created Virtual Haircut, which is apparently the most listened to 3D audio on the Internet. The upshot is, when you wear headphones, both the game and Virtual Haircut make it seem as if you can hear amazingly life-like sounds as if they come from specific locations in 3D space around your head.
Back to the Game
To make the game more challenging, there's a time component. You've got to keep being successful quickly in order to keep playing -- but there's more. The monsters learn to send bombs through the wormhole, too. So while you identify a bomb's location to defuse it, a monster might simultaneously enter a wormhole. You've got to sort the sounds on the fly and act accordingly.
Then there's air support where planes fly overhead and let you tap the heck out of the screen to get monsters you may not have been able to pinpoint.
It's challenging, for sure, and it's definitely fun -- but it's not a game I would spend hours and hours playing. If I were visually impaired, I would appreciate it even more, I'm certain. EarGames says that Ear Monsters was not specifically created as a game for the blind, but the app does make extensive use of VoiceOver and is fully accessible for visually impaired gamers, which is cool.
For blind or visually impaired players, it seems to me as if the monsters and wormholes are too small to find on the iPad or iPhone screen -- but I'm likely wrong since I don't have a finely tuned sense of hearing or space as it relates to my hands and fine motor skills.
Still, for visually impaired players, I can see where it would be nice for a person to be able to turn up the glow coming from the wormholes so that their position on the screen could be more readily identified to ease the monster tapping.
I can also imagine this technology being folded into gameplay for sight-based games -- for instance, if you ran away from a monster to hide in a pitch black cave. This sort of temporary exploration of dark areas in otherwise visual games could lend a whole new level of nuance, fear and excitement.
All-in-all, I like to reward innovation whenever possible, making Ear Monsters an easy game to recommend -- it's worth paying just to hear for yourself how far along the technology has come -- and see if you can identify a monster here and there and save the universe.
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