Yesterday I was able to pull myself away from digging a quarry in Minecraft – a game which is actively eating my brain – to dig instead through the still alarmingly deep pile of material I brought home from PAX East a few weeks ago. Having a Media tag is nice for a number of reasons, but one of my favorites is that people with something interesting to show you can spot you from across the room and rush over to show you what they’ve got. Such was the case with Kwasi Mensah, who stopped us on the exhibition floor to take a look at a title that he and his crew at Ananse Productions have put together, an iOS game called Stem Stumper.
On the surface, Stem Stumper appears to be just another puzzle game. Nothing wrong with that, a well made puzzle game is a worthwhile endeavor, but on a system that is already glutted with such titles, it may be a little difficult to stand out. Fortunately, Stem Stumper has got a trick up its sleeve, in that it has been designed to be blind accessible. Clever audio design, and integration with VoiceOver, Apple’s built in screen reader, means that a decent pair of stereo head phones will give even the vision impaired a chance to puzzle their way through 100 levels.
Now, we’ve heard of games for the blind before, but often, they are just that: For The Blind. Visuals are completely absent, making the blind accessibility essentially a gimmick. Likewise, we recently saw that some games have got sound design sufficient to permit a particularly dedicated sightless individual to play, but that is incidental. While zero graphics “sonar” mode is available for Stem Stumper, in every other way this is a typical puzzle game with excellent audio. It is thus a game that is also for the blind, rather than only for the blind, and I think that is a good direction to head in. We weren’t able to spend much time with the game, but playing it centers upon clearing a path through the game grid so that your protagonist, a vine, can grow. Your way is blocked by stumps, and you need to blast them off the face of the earth with angry acorns and the like, all while gathering fertilizer and trying not to run out of power. The announcement trailer will give you a little taste of what it has in store.
Stem Stumper is the first title for the freshly formed Ananse Productions, but the team is made up of professionals with proven development chops, with games like Green Day: Rock Band and Borderlands to their name and former positions at Boston hometown favorites like Demiurge Studios. The game is set for a Spring 2011 release on iOS devices. You can learn more at their site.