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MUSHclient: - accessible, powerful MUDding.


This article describes how to get started with MUSHclient to play MUDs online, offering some plugIns and scripts for download to interface with several popular screen readers and to make your MUDding experience as a blind MUDder easier.
Dated: Monday, January 14, 2008.


Introduction

MUSHclient is now the only program I ever consider using to play MUDs, MOOs, MUSHes or any other similar game. It provides excellent accessibility by virtue of its use of standard windows dialogs and controls, and was a good buy when it was sold as commercial software.

It has now been released as freeware, so even those of you too tight-fisted (or hard-up) to buy it can get MUDding with no excuse. I will withhold my comments about the state of blind people's attitude toward paying for good software in my demographic, and instead proceed to tell you how and why you can and should use this program for all your MUDding needs.

Defining the problem - a brief history

I've been MUDding for years, on various MUDs with various clients. I started out using Telnet on Valhalla Mud back in the early nineties and quickly progressed to GMud32. JAWS scripts for GMud were the "In Thing" in those days, and by judicious use of the JAWS screen echo setting or script events, GMud read reasonably well with JAWS.

Technology moved on, or perhaps our wishes grew in intensity - because a few years later, reading via the screen itself was no longer practical. I toured clients, played with ZMud, Mudmagic, Mudmaster, WinTin and all the others and eventually settled on MonkeyTerm because it was dead easy to add a trigger which would allow incoming text from the connected MUD to read automatically via the JAWS API. This, my friends, was "cool".

But although MonkeyTerm was a step up, its sheer fiddlyness and lack of decent support and very much in the way of power let it down. Too many configuration problems and its renowned instability meant that something else was needed. Enter MUSHclient.

I downloaded it, fell in love with it, bought it and an MSN contact and mate Tyler helped me see the benefits of this wonderful client. Now it's free, and despite that still has its forum and author to hand offering help, advice, tips and code.
With MUSHclient, no longer do you need to add triggers to each world to make it talk - we have plugins and global ones at that. Keyboard accelerators, aliases, triggers, timers and variables all combine in a glorious, feature-rich and unshakably stable product - and those are just the features to wet the appetite of the average user!

Using the tools

MUSHclient is easy to download, install, set-up and use. there are (and will always be) some things that aren't quite as accessible as they could be - we are disabled, and can't read the screen visually, regardless of the power that text-to-speech or Braille give us. However I firmly believe that, out of any MUD clients you care to name on the scene at the moment, MUSHclient is one of, if not The best choice.

PlugIns

A PlugIn allows you to add something to your client - like plugIns for Winamp add functions thereto. In the downloads section later in this article there are several PlugIns on offer to enable MUSHclient to use various screen readers. PlugIns can be loaded for each MUD you play, or if you use one all the time (I use JAWS), you can load it as a "global PlugIn" and have it to hand in any game you play.

Scripts

MUSHclient, like many other MUD clients out there, lets you use scripting to add functionality to your gaming experience. Indeed most if not all PlugIns will contain a script of some sort inside, and there aren't a great many instances when you'll want to use a script over a PlugIn. Nonetheless I offer one download later - a prompt manager - which is a script, not a PlugIn, for technical reasons.

Downloads

This article, aside from giving you some background on MUSHclient and my personal MUDding history, has several files for you to download - all in the name of accessibility. Each section is a heading 3, each file a heading 4. You can flick through as you like.

PlugIns are XML files which should be saved in your MUSHclient PlugIns directory. I also put scripts there to although it really doesn't matter where any files go, as long as you know where they are and can tell the client.

Screen reader and text-to-speech plugIns:

Here are what |I call Primary Text-to-speech PlugIns. This means that they will be what you use, in the main, to read your MUD output. I use JAWS, although sometimes I will use a secondary plugIn for SAPI speech if the game I am using benefits from it. If you can think of an instance where having an extra voice announce important events would be helpful then you'll see why.

Note to developers: if you want to have your scripts, plugIns or triggers or whatever call speech, you can use the broadcastPlugin values 887 to speak and 8874 to interrupt and speak.

JAWS

The JAWS PlugIn consists of two files. There is the plugIn itself, tts_jfw.xml which you need to load into MUSHclient. Optionally, you will need the JFW API Ctrl DLL file registered, which you may already have if you've used other programs that use it.

The plugIn has a command, called tts. If you type it and hit enter, the speech from the MUD will be toggled on or off.

Window Eyes

the window eyes software comes with the API function already included. All you need is the tts_wineyes plugIn. Once again, the tts command toggles speech.

SAPI 5

if you have a windows system with an unsupported screen reader, you can use the TTS_SAPI plugIn. This one also has a tts command with various options for rate, voice, volume and keyboared shortcut to stop speech - tts help will read them.

All of the above are quite early hack-ups, and as I only use the JAWS one myself there's doubtless areas that can improve. If you have any updates to make or want anything added let me know and I shall update this article with the relevant files and information.

Keyboard Prompt controller

This is something I've also only recently wrote and it's quite untested. The basic idea is that this script allows you to take bits of your MUD prompt and assign them to keyboard shortcuts. In this way you can turn your prompt off, visually (so it's not read after every line of MUD text), but have the items within read to you on demand via keyboard hotkeys of your choice.

An example: suppose my prompt reads
100/120 hit; 90/90 energy; 300/315 movement.
With this script, I could use three keys (let's pick ctrl 1 to ctrl 3). If I hit ctrl+1 I hear "100/120 hit", ctrl 2 reads the energy - and so on. Each time your prompt is sent from the mud this script updates the variables that are used in the keystrokes so your prompt is always as up-to-date as if you were sighted.

How to install

  1. Download the keyboard prompt VBScript. Place it somewhere easy to find - in one of MUSHclient's folders is probably best for back-up purposes etc.
  2. In whichever MUD you're playing, add the script as described above (options, scripting, script file). Browse to what you just downloaded and make sure scripting is enabled.
  3. You'll now need to set-up your prompt so that it resembles the one above - or at least conforms to the separater rule. This means that each segment of your prompt - each bit you want accessible with a key - should be separated. I use semicolons, but you can use what you like.
  4. Now, add a trigger to match your prompt - you need an asterisk (star) representing the prompt. The way I do this is to ensure there is unique text either side of my prompt on the MUD so I can be sure I'm only capturing what I want to capture.
    1. In the "script" (alt+l) box of the trigger, type "updatePromptVariables" (without the quotes). This is the name of a subroutine in the script.
    2. Optionally, you can tick the "omit from output"(alt+m) box so that your prompt isn't actually read all the time.
  5. The final step is to edit the script file if you want to. Open it in a text editor (or even MUSHclient's editor) and examine the top few lines. You will see the constants to specify your split character (like my semicolon), and a list of keyboard shortcuts you want to use. Be aware that whatever you put will override default behaviour (i.e. ctrl+o, if used, will break "open", as will ctrl+s for "save").

Final Words

Well that's that - a few downloads from me to make your MUSHclient more screen reader friendly. I hope you find them useful !
All that remains is for you to go to MUSHclient's home page and download this absolutely fabulous program for yourself.




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Contents copyright Sean Randall unless otherwise stated within.