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Plugged In

Fifth-grader makes video game for blind grandmother

Plugged In

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Dylan Viale (Jim Caroompas, patch.com)

While most ten-year-olds are happy simply playing video games, that wasn't enough for Dylan Viale.

The fifth-grader, you see, has a very close relationship with his grandmother Sherry, who has been blind for decades. And because of that condition, he wasn't able to share his love of video games.

So he decided to make one just for her.

"I like video games and I wanted to find a way for her to experience that," Dylan told The Contra Costa Times.

What started as a game for one person, though, has found a larger audience. "Quacky's Quest" won Viale his school's science fair and has become the hottest title at Martinez, California's Hidden Valley Elementary.

To create the game, Dylan downloaded GameMaker, a program that takes a lot of the pain out of creating a video game. After scribbling a few designs in a notebook, he chose to go with a maze design, and chose Quacky (a character his father had drawn when he was in elementary school) as the protagonist.

The object is to find a golden egg, but the game uses audio queues to let players know how they're progressing. The path to the golden egg is lined with diamonds, while branching paths are filled with spiders that lead the player to dynamite. Hit that and it's game over.

"Sound was the greatest tool for [Dylan's] grandmother to navigate through the game," said Dylan's father Dino told gaming blog Kotaku. "He had to figure out how to associate each move through the maze with sound cues for whether you were doing something correctly or incorrectly."

The game took Dylan about 30 hours to design, according to his mother Kelly. And it wasn't an entirely seamless experience.

After Sherry first played the game, he discovered a flaw in his design: Backtracking to a space she had already explored confused her since there was no audio prompt. To keep her and other players engaged and on the path, Dylan programmed boulders to fall once a player had moved past a diamond-encrusted square.

Dylan fell short of winning the district science fair, but still won over his grandmother — and his classmates. After he won the school's fair, people began begging him for a copy of the game. Eventually, his father bought him a stack of discs to make a copy of the game for them.

He also won over his teachers.

"Dylan's project tugged at my heartstrings," said Jennifer Sullivan, Dylan's science teacher. "I know the love he has for his grandmother. His (project) is unique."

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