Coder Creates Game Totally Hands Free

The game in question is a retro style, pixel art title by the name of Dig Dog. It’s available for purchase at just $3. Yet it’s not the game’s price that makes it so special. The singular man behind creation of the game has built the whole thing… without using his hands.

Coder Creates Game Totally Hands Free
Developer, Rusty Moyher was diagnosed five years ago with a condition called Repetitive Strain Injury. This having happened to him in the middle of an intense game crunch cycle during development of another title, he decided this would not stop him from creating videogames. In an interview with Ars Technica, he states, "I still want to make games. It’s hard to imagine any career or job that doesn’t involve computers." Dig Dog is a result of his ongoing determination.

After his diagnosis, Moyher was working with two other developers on a Kickstarter project that had reached its target of $60,000. Unfortunately the project did not meet its deadline because of the pain Moyher was suffering in his hands and wrists. Determined to press on, he experimented with all kinds of office equipment from ergonomic keyboards to special mouse setups. 

Eventually, Moyher found the solution in a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking. The software had been around for a while and on many a forum, Moyher was told not bother and that coding a game with voice recognition software was still an impossible task. However, after watching a video by fellow coder Travis Rudd, who explained exactly how people with Moyher’s condition could continue to code. Rudd customized Dragon Naturaly Speaking in such a way that worked perfectly for what Moyher was looking for. "The commands you come up with, basically in a made-up language, are all built to be quickly and easily recognized by Dragon… Short, tight words or phrases that can be executed quickly."

Coder Creates Game Totally Hands Free - Speaking software
For Moyher’s plan to really work (and it was starting to look like it could) he would have to become very familiar with the Dragon software. Not only that but he would need to systematically train it up in understanding buzzwords and phrases that worked specifically for him. In the same interview with Ars Technica, he states "I needed to build a vocabulary that was suited for what I was doing that I was familiar with. The process of coding by voice is, I have to do programming tasks, like normal, and come up with commands and modify the system. On top of that, all at once, I also have to remember these [shortcut terms]. It can be really slow going. I had to slowly build up a library of commands I was familiar with, working with my voice, that I could basically remember."

But what about mouse control? Sat at a PC with a full coding suite, Moyher would need to navigate the system. To get around this, he opted for head tracking and foot pedals. For the head tracking, he invested $500 in a SmartNav 4. These little gadgets are similar in tech design to VR interfaces. Moyher would need to set up a sensor on his monitor, place another on whatever hat he chose to wear and presto – you’ve got head controlled mouse movement with pedals for clicking.

While Moyer admits Dig Dog’s design led to the game that it is as a result of having to work with this equipment, it’ll be interesting to see where his determination leads him next. As it stands, Dig Dog’s big pixel look is the result of a simple 220p image and only six colour palette. He doubtless learned all kinds of tricks in the working process of creating Dig Dog so it’ll be worth seeing what he creates next and how it’ll look. After all, Dig Dog was likely a testing ground for future projects.

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