Project Vision: Innovative Humber student develops virtual reality game for the blind
Humber game programming student Peter Tran has a vision that will help the blind play virtual reality games.
The concept involves using VR goggles, two controllers, vibrations and sound to help visually impaired gamers to play in cyberspace.
Tran is working to improve his capstone project which currently offers various puzzles like traveling to an objective or finding an item. His goal is to simplify the equipment the blind will use, and found existing items didn’t require any major modifications.
“We live in a world where games have a visual base. There’s not a game in the world where a blind person can play it fairly,” Tran said. “I want a game where an individual could just use a regular set up and play the game normally.”
That is his vision for the future of VR technology, which is accessible.
Tran, in his final year, has been working on Project Vision since December 2017, and has demonstrated it to the public at not only Humber’s Capstone Showcase, but also events such as Level Up and Digifest 2018.
The idea for Project Vision came up when Tran realized video games are strictly visually-based, which meant that although individuals who are legally blind can play a game, they would need large amounts of hardware, studio sounds, monitors and special glasses to simply start it up.
When he was first demonstrating the game, the public found it difficult to understand how far they were within the maze. While they knew they were touching a wall, for example, they didn’t know their location relative to an objective.
“When they think about games, they don’t think about this,” Tran said. “They always think about shooters, Call of Duty, all these common ground games.
“When it comes to VR, they think about pilot or car racing games,” he said.
“They’re are kind of the norm, but when it comes to games just for the disabled — with just the focus on the disabled — you begin to question what becomes a game and what defines the experience for a game,” Tran said.
He said while the public saw the game as a simulation on what reality really is for the blind, Project Vision is a game for the blind, which then gave him the idea of adding a multiplayer aspect to it. Tran said it would help level the playing field between the visually impaired and those who are not.
It would be a step towards making games more accessible to different audiences, he said.
Tran also faces a challenge in making the game industry understand the project.
He has reached out to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to discuss Project Vision but apparently don’t seem interested. The CNIB did not respond to requests for an interview.
Tran also learned from other game programmers there is always a push towards what’s popular rather than what is innovative to the industry as a whole.
However, Tran is thankful for Humber’s support of his game despite the odds.
“In terms of Humber supporting the game, it was very generous. It was an idea that they really wanted to push for and they really wanted someone to make, because it was something different,” he said.
“Humber has provided a lot, a development space, which is the VR Lab, the VR kits themselves, those were very important to my game, because, as a student, I don’t have the funds to buy my own kit,” Tran said. “It’s very hard to buy the HTC Vive, find space, find the right computer to run this entire set-up.
“Humber has been gracious enough to provide me enough room, a laptop to work on and the kit itself to develop on it,” he said.
Tran also attributes the encouragement and support of his idea to gaming programming professors Kristopher Alexander and Geoffrey Lachapelle.
“I had a lot of encouragement from Kris and Geoff,” he said. “They were really into this game and they wanted to see the end result, play it, see how it really is compared to how other VR games are trying to pursue this new technology.
“It was really cool,” Tran said.
Alexander said it’s very important to the gaming industry’s future to see the work of students like Tran, especially at this particular time where video games are becoming mainstream entertainment.
“With projects like Project Vision, we can highlight some of the other interesting things that video game technologies are doing to help humanity outside of entertainment at the core of an experience,” he said.
“Some examples, on top of empathy for the visually impaired, would include mental health, physical health, and simulation and training. Here, the engagement properties of video games can be merged with pedagogy,” Alexander said.
“At Humber, projects like Peter’s Project Vision is exactly the kind of innovation we encourage, in addition to the more popularized perspectives of the video game medium,” he said. “At the beginning of his Capstone project year, Peter had a question he wanted to address, with computer programming: ‘What could it be like to feel what it might be like to be visually impaired?’”
Alexander said it was an experience Tran wanted to create.
“Peter studies the medium extensively in his own life and wanted to make something that tapped into a different perspective of humanity,” he said. “The news needs to talk about projects like these more.”
Alexander said one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching game programming at Humber is seeing the growth and success of students, who are the future of the industry.
Lachapelle agreed. He said a game like Project Vision makes people think carefully about perspective and immersion in VR, as well as improve the user experience.
“This has been true throughout the history of game design,” he said. “When the industry shifted from 2D to 3D, games like Goldeneye for the N64 showed us new possibilities in the FPS genre.
“For the next 10 years, shooters had their roots in the systems that Goldeneye and many games like it introduced. VR is still a developing format in gaming, with plenty of room for innovation. Students who are willing to experiment can be the ones who help move that development farther,” Lachapelle said.
He said schools are about discoveries and learning. At Humber, in particular, experimentation and innovation are fundamental pillars of learning in new technologies.
“These formats and designs are invaluable additions to the discourse within classes about how to move the industry forward,”Lachapelle said. “It creates learning opportunities for all students when these games are presented and reviewed, and can help spur other innovations in those genres.
“The whole school is made better by encouraging and fostering these activities,” he said.
Game programming at Humber is a six-semester Advanced Diploma program that is project-driven and offers students the tools to not only develop a game, but network with the industry itself.