Pointers for Accessibility Diversifiers

Game jams are a fantastic way of experimenting with accessibility - pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, getting the chance to work on things that you don’t have the opportunity to work on during the day-to-day, learning something new, everything between.

It’s a great illustration of how much valuable stuff can be done in a very short period if you think about it from the outset, ideally before you write a line of code.

Global Game Jam 2017 has several accessibility diversifiers. To help with that early consideration, below is some info on why they matter, and some examples of solutions. There is huge room for innovation beyond these examples, but they should give a few starting points to kick the thought processes off.

 

Don’t say a word

Games often focus on only one, or sometimes two, methods of communication - speech or text.

This can create challenges for people who have difficulty speaking, hearing, reading or writing.

Innovation in approaches taken to how gamers communicate - including alternative options for communication - could make games more enjoyable for people who currently find communicating in multiplayer games difficult. The benefits apply across all kinds of gaming, local and online, and outside of disability too, e.g. playing a party game in a noisy environment, or allowing players who speak different languages to understand each other.


Daimon's taunt move in King Of Fighters XIII


Placing an attack ping in Dawn of War II


Symbol-based chat in Phantasy Star Online

 

The colour and the shape

Despite the name, colorblindness does not usually mean lack of ability to perceive color. It more often means lack of ability perceive one specific color. E.g. red deficiency, which makes it difficult to distinguish red from green, red from brown, and purple from blue.

Colorblind support is an area that has seen huge advances over the past few years, going from rarely seen to common and expected. There is however still room for more progress.

The best approach is to reduce color reliance, which can mean using an additional signifier any time color is used to communicate information. Extra signifiers can mean many things, such as icon, pattern, shape, text.

Then also have a quick check for contrast issues (e.g. red on black is difficult for people who are red deficient) by using a simulator, such as the free tool at www.colororacle.org.

If additional signifiers aren’t enough, you can then fall back to tweaking the palette for specific types of colorblindness (lots of work), or allowing players to choose colours themselves.


Symbol-based colorblind accessibility in Hue


Pattern-based colorblind accessibility in Super Space Snakes in Space (GGJ12)


Freely configurable colors and textures in Auralux

 
I see what you’re saying

Subtitles have become close to standard functionality in games, not just for accessibility but for localisation. They are used by many players for many reasons, from hearing loss to playing in a noisy room, from unpredictable audio mixes and difficult accents to having to play on mute while the baby is asleep.

It will be important to carry that progress forward to future games, and to continue to innovate. 

For example, games can add text or visual equivalents not only for speech, but also for sound that is important for gameplay.

Or allow presentation (at least size and contrast, i.e. whether there is a black rectangle behind the text) to be customised, as the needs of someone who cannot hear and needs to read every single word are different to the needs of someone who just glances at subtitles occasionally when they mis-hear an individual word. 

These additions can result in a big difference to many players.


Captions for important sounds and music in Portal 2


Options for subtitle size and contrast in Life Is Strange

 
Another way in

Some people have difficulty making small precise movements, some people have difficulty making large movements. Different players have different grip strength, range of movement, accuracy.

Because different people get on better with different types of input device, the more choice of input you can offer, the more people will be able to have an enjoyable experience.

This can be a choice of device, e.g. mouse / keyboard / controller, a choice of input within that, e.g. analogue stick / digital pad, or choice between gyroscope / virtual stick / virtual buttons on a mobile device.

Some gamers rely on other devices such as head pointers or eye tracking. These usually map directly to a traditional input device such as a keyboard or mouse, so supporting more traditional devices means supporting more niche devices too.


Choice between motion and traditional controls in The London Heist


Choice of different mobile input methods in Into The Dead

 

Spaced

One button mechanics have a benefit that isn’t widely known about; accessibility to people with profound motor impairment, who are physically unable to operate any kind of traditional or complex input device at all.

An example of a common set-up used instead is single physical button mounted on a wheelchair headrest. This single input device can be mapped to a keypress or a touch event.  

Even within this group there is a wide range of ability/needs, so if you can it is great to include options for difficulty or game speed.

Games with simple controls are the obvious application, but a single key can be used to navigate menus, or menu based gameplay. This is done through highlighting one of the menu options, then every few seconds move the highlight to the next option, then press space when the highlight reaches the one you want.


Simple space bar controls in Moon Waltz Werewolf Simulator


A “scanning interface” in Gambler – the highlight moves through each option in turn, use space to select when the one you want is highlighted

 

One benefit of implementing accessibility through diversifiers is that the game listing on the GGJ website will automatically include a listing of which you have considered.

This obviously doesn’t happen outside of GGJ, so if you’re considering accessibility in day to day production remember to do the same, make efforts to communicate what you’ve done through feature listings, presskits, storefront descriptions and screenshots and so on.

And don’t forget most important accessibility consideration of all; concentrate first and foremost on making a good game. The accessibility features are just a means to an end, people play games for the fun rather than because of accessibility features. Accessibility is just a way to ensure that as many people as possible can experience that fun.

More information on accessibility – http://www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com