By Barrie Ellis
2010 has seen some really encouraging game accessibility developments across the year, with IGDA GASIG members being a part of many of them. My personal highlight has been in working with the accessible gaming charity Special Effect. January saw the soft launch of the Accessible Game Base (BETA) website, which shares and encourages others to share info and developments relating to accessible gaming. Special Effect saw through the installation of the first accessible gaming suite at children’s hospice Helen and Douglas House. They also worked with programmers and hardware designers to create more accessible games and controllers that included: The for slowing down the top speed of racing games for those with slower reaction times; Jazz Ball puzzle game by Graeme Singh for Eye Controller one-switch play; and a super-light Wii controller which enabled a girl with Spinal Muscular Atrophy to keep playing “Just Dance”.
The Kokoromi Gamma IV programming competition saw a whole slew of one-button playable games released, fantastic news for the many potential players struggling with motion controls or (what must seem like) thousand button joy pads. Kokoromi didn’t entirely embrace the standards for one-button play, but it didn’t stop some fantastic and innovative games being produced.
A new podcast arrived thanks to a tie up between OneSwitch.org.uk, Special Effect and “Dark” from AudioGames.net: The Electronic. It opened by running a four segment piece on Audio Games and features that can assist visually impaired players. Slightly quirky delivery you might find, but really useful in getting some of the concepts across.
Thanks to the efforts of Eelke Folmer and his students, Wii Sports inspired “V.I. Tennis” was played by blind people in Qatar using Wii remotes. Game Accessibility spreads further every year it seems.
Good and bad news came, as a flood of cheap and effective PS3 and Xbox 360 converters reached the likes of eBay, allowing for a huge array of alternative controllers to be attached to these machines. Bad news came as Sony tightened up the use of 3rd party controllers with a firmware update, causing some alternative ways of playing to cease working, disabling some people from playing at all on a PS3.
GASIG member Reid Kimball produced a mock-up of Heavy Rain, as it might look with full subtitles/closed captions. Heavy Rain later was released with an alternative “Move” control scheme. It’s good to have alternatives, but this game proved to be a stretch too far for many players using either system. A simplified accessible control scheme would have been wonderful.
Chuck Bittner made an on-line petition, pleading for developers to add reconfigurable control schemes to their games. It presently has well over 10,000signatures to date.
Microsoft ran a Kinect Accessibility Round Table in September 2010, inviting a range of people from accessible gaming communities to partake. It felt like real progress for a large developer to be actively considering game accessibility. Here’s hoping they’ll be influenced to push for greater accessibility in practice. Still on Kinect, although via a hack of sorts, saw another of Eelke Folmer’s students find a way for blind people to playa Kinect sports game using “Real Time Sensory Substitution”.
Assistive Technology Partner’s in Colorado ran the inspiring AbleGames2010 event, whilst Special Effect ran a number of accessible road shows throughout the year, opening up the world of accessible gaming to disabled children, their friends and families. Later in the year, Special Effect hosted an accessible gaming showcase at London’s EuroGamer 2010Expo which brought a variety of alternative access methods to play racing games to a mainstream audience.
Able Gamers got some great publicity for the cause on CNN.
From the GASIG point of view, we were sad to see our chair Michelle Hinn leave her position in 2010. Michelle has been a superb and passionate advocate of accessible gaming, and has made a huge difference. Taking her place now is Tara Tefertiller, who has helped kick things off by designing our new IGDA GASIG web site, which opened with links to our Top 10 ways to improve game accessibility list, and some of our future aims.
Looking forward to 2011, I would hope to see the spread of game accessibility continue to reach game developers. I would hope that easier to grasp sources of information will be developed and get into the right hands. I would hope that we’ll see more people come to the likes of the IGDA GASIG for guidance and support. I hope that we’ll see accessibility ratings systems start to take shape more so than already. I hope that charities such as Special Effect, Able Gamers Foundation and Accessable will continue to grow. I look forward to the official launch of a loan library of accessible gaming equipment and games via the Accessible Game Base. I look forward to the development of a system to make modern day games consoles more accessible via controller emulation and controller assists. More games, made more accessible.