Inspirational Gamer of The Week: Almost Human Games

Imagine if you will that you are a gamer and you love playing games, or you would love to play games, but the accessibility of the controls made it inaccessible or impossible to succeed at playing said games. This is a situation that occurs for thousands, if not millions of gamers world wide with disabilities. This week though we have a case of a gaming company hearing the voice of one individual and changing the course of their games accessibility just from the sound of one question posed to them.

In January 2012 a small indie company called Almost Human Games began promotion of a game called Legends of Grimrock. It was set to be an old-school dungeon crawler RPG. The dungeons have tile based movement and so most actions are rather simplistic in nature. The real story here comes from a gamer, HarpoonIPA, who contacted Almost Human about their accessibility and why the option of on-screen directional movement arrows was actually a necessity in his case.

This is amazing - so I had to share.

HarpoonIPA is a paraplegic gamer who is required to use a mouth stick for any of his typing and so when HarpoonIPA explained the reason why accessible onscreen button controls were a necessity for his enjoyment and gameplay. The developers were touched by his story and, thus, set about implementing the onscreen HUD to the game. Developer, Petri Hakkinen, stated in an interview with Kotaku that:

” It was no big deal to implement it. I mean even it were to affect only the life of one single person, it is still totally worth it.”

The game will be released on April 11th, 2012 on Windows, Mac, and iOS – but this event truly speaks to me. I mean, as a designer, I’m constantly searching for new ideas and new methods that people are working on and trying to see how to best implement aspects into my own projects. In this story I think it speaks in droves the kind of impact small gestures like this can have.

Why don’t we have more onscreen HUD controls?

Why don’t we see more main-stream developers taking the reigns and reformatting their works to be more accessible?

I have to ask, is it a finance thing?

Is it a lack of desire to change control schemes, or do developers feel locked to the plastic control schemes presented by mainstream consoles?

Is it because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

I applaud HarpoonIPA for speaking out and requesting his needs and desires to help the developers change their accessibility, and I applaud the developers for having the courage and wherewithal to follow through with it. Most gaming companies would have stopped this idea at the front door, because there’s so much consumerism and mass appeal that goes into production of most of these games. Indie games catch a break though, because they don’t often have to deal with all of the red-tape of a hierarchy system.

Badger Badger Badger Badger...MUSHROOM MONSTER!

My question that this poses is why? Why does it have to be indie houses that show the most attention to detail when it comes to creating accessibility? Why can’t the console market take steps to creating meaningful experiences like this? I’ve traveled many forums, talked to countless other gamers, and even having SOME options like this available to them would make their enjoyment of their gaming lives overall better. One thing I hate though above all are the folks out there who are able-bodied and who troll forums like Youtube and other major network sites and claim that the needs of disabled players shouldn’t be recognized because it will give them an ‘unfair advantage.’

Trust me I’ve seen hate bashing on some button remapping campaigns. Some able-bodied gamers believe that giving access to additions like button remapping or assistive controls will ultimately give disabled gamers an advantage in their gameplay. How much sense does this really make? None. I pose this argument to anyone who still thinks this is true: If you’re getting beat by a disabled gamer, and you’re able bodied, you seriously need to think about choosing a new game to play. They are playing at a disadvantage already, so how does giving them the ability to play on an equal playing field make it an unfair advantage for them?

Hmm - He's behind bars... now how to make a stew out of him?

Fellow gamers shouldn’t complain, instead, embrace and show love and support for your fellow gamers. Almost Human has and I’m so excited to see design studios doing this. I hope there’s more of it in the future. I believe a ton of MMO’s could benefit from onscreen HUD displays like this: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft, DC Universe Online – you name it, they could use it. I’ve also thought about the concept of voice recognition software too. I know that Bioware was working on voice software for the Kinect and Mass Effect 3, but I would love to see that same concept implemented into other games before I can truly say that it’s a step forward in gaming.

So here is to you Almost Human Games! You reached out to a gamer in need and changed your game for the benefit of, not only him, but countless new gamers who will play your title. You have not only my respect, but my admiration, and I wish you all the best of luck upon the games release April 11th, 2012! Time for me to go slay a dragon in some dungeon somewhere…

Development: What Would Molydeux?: Game Jam Tomorrow

Hey there folks! So today – to build off of my Tech Talk argument of yesterday, I figured I would give my developer folks a heads up [ because unfortunately I can’t attend – but you might! ] So, if you haven’t heard yet, there’s a funny little faux Peter Molyneux Twitter account out there and it’s posted up some really odd and intriguing game concepts under the tag Peter Molydeux. I figured this was a wonderful idea and so I wanted to share it with fans. Essentially here’s the deal:

People all over are going to be running a 48 hour gaming jam to come up with ideas based on these game concepts that greenpixeldeux has come up with. Thanks though, goes to Anna Kipnis of Double Fine Productions suggesting the game jam.

Reading his Twitter feed, some of the concepts are incredible and I would love to see the outcome of the games! I mean, they are off the wall and cooky. Some are so off the beaten path that I shudder to think how someone would make a game out of something that odd. Here are just a few to get you understanding the insanity and fun of this event at hand:

“Imagine, you play a baby in a pram and can only see your parent’s faces. Studying those faces deeply is the key to true progress”

“Game in which you can only progress during one minute silences. You need to find creative ways to keep the nation having 1 minute silences.”

“Imagine carrying a radioactive baby in a pitch black environment, your baby would act as a torch. Rocking the baby intensifies the glow etc”

“Game in which you must comfort children on a plane who are afraid of flying, game mechanic is similar to spinning plates.”

“What if your tummy rumbling created earthquakes? In a world where food is rare.”

If you are interested in joining the efforts of this wonderful game opportunity then here’s what you need to know:

Cities that will be hosting MolyJam:

What Would Molydeux? Jam Sessions

You can just click your city of preference and go directly to their Facebook sign up sheet. I’ll be following up with this as it goes along and I can’t wait to see what kind of games come out of this wonderful idea! I’ve heard of game jams before, so they’re not uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Twitter account used in this way to promote the operation of game design. It’s a neat feeling knowing that there will be possibly thousands of designers attending and huddling in different cities all over the world and using these small suggestions via a faux Twitter account to make interesting, innovative and brilliant new IP’s. I can’t wait to see the end result – but what’s the best part you ask?!

Peter Molyneux will be ATTENDING the LONDON MolyJam!

The whole thing is apparently going to be live streamed from the MolyJam website so I’ll keep people posted about that. I am so stoked for this, and it’s a shame I can’t attend, but I never hesitate to be excited for my fellow gamers.

I say happy programming and designing to all of you who manage to attend this awesome experience! I, for one, am not going to let the lack of my jam session access deter me though. I am definitely going to be using inspiration from some of these tweets for future reference and perhaps future game concepts. Thanks Peter Molydeux Рyour epic oddities and whimsies about what gamers deserve Рare awesome.

Much more follow up on this in the days to come!

UPDATE: This was a promotional video for the Game Jam release via the Twitter last night:

Join up folks developer powers unite!

Inspirational Gamers of the Week: Jerry Book and Reid Kimball

Hey there folks, now I know yesterday I took a veer from my usual forte of posts, but today I’m back and focused on the important issues I came to tackle with Gastrogamer. Today we’re going to be discussing game accessibility and I’d like to do so by chronicling the gaming and development lives of two gamers in particular. I watched this video and it touched my heart, and I figured that it would hit home with viewers too. The gamers in question this week are a boy named Jerry Book and a developer named Reid Kimball. These two are my Inspirational Gamers of the Week, because their stories hit home with me and they captivated me enough to talk about game accessibility and why it’s important.

The video was released in 2007, but it’s only received 5,147 views within that time period. If there are millions of disabled gamers out there in this world, to have only 5,000+ people learn about the struggles that disabled people face as gamers is a saddening realization. I hope to change that. Let’s start with Jerry Book. He and his father like to play online games together, but Jerry has a condition known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. This condition can be carried in the DNA of one out of ever 50 people, and one in every 6,000 to one in every 10,000 people are born with a form of SMA. If you have a child with SMA, or a relative, and wish to find out more information about the condition and find out ways to help here:

http://www.smafoundation.org/about-sma/

The condition affects his range of mobility and motor skills. This limits not only the games he can play, but how he has to play them. In the video his father and him rig up this wonderful little home device to allow for Jerry to play with his dad and press multiple keys simultaneously, but the reality is that not every family out there has father’s that skilled at engineering or MacGyvering solution to disabled gaming problems. Jerry and his father are an inspiration to me, because even though they may be considered a minority by major gaming companies, they’re still gamers.

This means that, as a developer, it’s my duty to make sure that games allow accessibility across the largest scale I can possibly get. Limiting the amount of controls that need to be pressed, giving a screen as much visibility as possible, etc. These are all important aspects to consider when designing a game, not only for disabled gamers, but all gamers. Disabled gamers don’t wish to be playing games exclusively designed for them. This is counter-intutitive. They want to be able to play with their friends, relatives, and internationally with a world-wide environment. If we single out disabled gamers and put them in a different class all together, then we’re becoming counter productive to the real mission here:

Accessibility for All.

In Jerry’s case, and in the case of many physically and neurologically impaired gamers, movement becomes hard and the peripheral market for gameplay for them is practically non-existent. We focus so much as an industry on controllers and the way we can interact with games, and yet, we pour money into “motion control” and 16 button massively complex controls for massively complex AAA titles. I’m not saying I’m against the console and mainstream market, I’m for them. I love them. I enjoy being a part of those mainstream story lines, but for Jerry, and many children like him, the accessibility to play these games isn’t there – and this is something we must strive to fix somehow so that all gamers can feel included – disabled or not.

Now let’s take a look at Reid Kimball’s case. Kimball is a retired aerospace engineer and he’s taken some amazing steps in getting the word about video game accessibility out there to the world. He designed a prototype for a quadriplegic controller, and also provided closed captioning modifications to a premiere title: Doom 3. Reid is interesting to me, in that the man has a condition known as Spinal Meningitis. It’s a swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal chord. In Reid’s case it resulted in one of the characteristic symptoms of massive hearing loss.

This massive hearing loss resulted in Reid feeling a need to aid other hearing impaired gamers and so he contacted the creators of Doom 3 in order to facilitate a hearing impaired closed caption mod for the game. Now you may be thinking why this is important at all, but there are plenty of games out there that offer subtitles and so why is that any different? Well it is.

The difference between having subtitles and full closed-captioned access is like night and day. Many modern games have sound cues. If a bullet flies from a tower, if a bomb goes off down a road, if a creature is sneaking up behind a dark corner – all of these are sound cues that many games don’t hint at.

If I click on my subtitle option in the main menu, all most games provide me is subtitled solutions in the games cut scenes. This does not help hearing impaired gamers actually play the gameplay portion though. It only allows them to participate watching a storyline. Well now here comes the argument that well at least they’re not vision impaired.

True. This allows them to play games to a decent degree, but think about most games. In games like Doom, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Halo, etc. all of these games have some moments where sound in the game is important. Enemies sneaking up on you, a ping of a door unlocking that you need to get through, etc. Without sound cues these moments become pointless and make the games harder, if not impossible to complete.

There are other games and ideas geared towards how to fix accessibility issues within this video, but these were the primary ones I wanted to focus on today. These two gamers exemplify what I’m aiming to accomplish. Providing games that challenge us to think outside of the box in terms of providing accessible games for everyone, educational games to children, helping others through the power of gaming.

It’s all there. The technology is within our grasp, but we just need to get the word out there that these aspects of gaming are important. Once they become more well known and designers begin to focus their attention into making games with at least options to aid disabled gamers – we’ll start to see a brighter future in the whole realm of gaming.