Saying Goodbye to our “One”

October 18, 2021 By Amy Green

Every other Monday night, we scurry to get a build of Painted Waters ready for Jack to test. Some days it slips into Tuesday. Some days it’s still loading onto itch.io while we sign on to Zoom and chat with Jack

Game devs are used to late builds and game-breaking bugs in their playtesting. But Jack isn’t a game dev. Still, he’s gracious. As we wait for the demo to load, he asks about everyone on the team who isn’t on the call. “How are they doing?” He asks about our kids, remembering each of their names and their interests. Sometimes he gives us an update on their birthday countdown, “23 days until Zoe’s birthday.” He often makes jokes and tells us about his adventures that week: a new power chair, or special blue-blocking glasses for the computer, a haircut, a zoom call with cousins, or an excursion to the Longwood Gardens or the King of Prussia Mall. He teases his dad, calling him a knucklehead. And I remember the first few calls with Jack where I couldn’t understand his speech, the way it bounced around his trach. But now I do, and it makes me feel proud every time that I can effortlessly chat back and forth with him. Some days he sings. Before Jack, I’d never heard anyone with a trach sing.

 

Some days the demo works well, and Jack plays everything, “Yeah baby! This is fun. I like it!” Some days everything that can go wrong does, and Jack gets stuck. “This is frustrating.” But his frustration is a gift. It means we’ll fix the frustrating moments in Painted Waters before any kids with SMA ever play it. Jack feels frustrated, so they won’t have to. He loves the children he meets with SMA. He remembers their names and their birthdays. He befriends their families. He wants Painted Waters to be great for them, and so do we. So every other Monday night, we scurry to get a build ready for Jack.

 

On Monday, October 4, we got an email letting us know that Jack was in the hospital. His family was preparing to say their goodbyes. We knew Jack was medically fragile. We knew he’d exceeded his life expectancy by 25 years. But, he was so full of life, joy, and spunk that we couldn’t imagine anything changing that. However, with the news still reverberating through our team like shockwaves, we could imagine what it was like to sit at the hospital and say goodbye to Jack. There are some hard moments in life that you can only imagine if you’ve experienced them – if you’ve deeply loved someone like Jack: someone whose disabilities make every part of their life more challenging, but whose love, joy, patience, and strength makes every part of your life more rewarding, someone who naturally becomes the center of everything you do, so saying goodbye to them feels like starting your life over. Loving a person like Jack is a joy and a sorrow that shakes you to your core; it changes your perspective on everything. It makes you want to build worlds in their honor. We did that for our son Joel, and now, without really meaning to, we’re doing it again for Jack. We knew him, and we loved him, and he mattered, and he’s gone.

 

We didn’t make a new build of Painted Waters for Jack this Monday. Jack passed away on October 5th. We already miss him. It’s hard to build new levels into the game that Jack won’t get to play. We have always said that you should “design for the one.” We don’t believe it’s enough to build out accessibility features from a checklist. You need to have a player in mind. Think about what will serve them. Worry about what will block them. Care about what they care about. To design for someone, you need to know them. To create a world for someone, you need to love them. Jack was our “one.” We were designing Painted Waters for him, trusting that everything we did for him would serve the larger group. He was excited to help because he saw the game as a gift he could help give the SMA community. We will think of him every time we build out a new demo of the game. We will remember him every time a smile crosses the face of a playtester because we know he wanted this game to be fun for them. Our hearts will shout, “yeah baby!” with every prize earned by a child in Painted Waters. Continuing to make a game that Jack would be proud to share with his SMA friends is the best way we can honor the life of a young man who inspired us and gave us a reason to try harder. We won’t scurry to make Monday night builds for Jack, but we’ll scurry to put in a fountain and a zipline because he loved those things, and when you are designing for the one, you love what they love. Jack continues to be our one; death isn’t strong enough to change that.



Our Final One- Button Design Challenge Winner

September 27, 2021 By Amy Green

We have loved witnessing the creative contributions of The Playability Initiative to the monthly one-button design challenges this past year. September was our final challenge, and we want to take a minute to offer our heartfelt thanks to everyone who entered the challenge. We have all learned a lot about considering the needs of our players and making video games an even more welcoming experience.

For the September challenge, we wanted to end with something truly difficult, something we hadn’t ever asked our community to take on: a platformer. Platformers are unique because navigation is a perpetual component of the mechanics. The challenge was to redesign Psychonauts 2 as a one-button game. But participants were allowed to base their design on the original Psychonauts if they preferred, as the mechanics between the two games are similar. 

We are thrilled to announce that Damien Fargeout was the winner of the September design challenge and the recipient of a $40 Steam Gift Card. Damien first entered our design challenge in May; he entered again in July and was an honorable mention both months. He entered again in September and won.

Here is Damien’s winning design, along with our judge’s commentary.

Psychonauts 2 One Button Gameplay

Psychonauts 2 Cover

The main pillars from the original game

Psychonauts 2 Original Interactions

A lot of interactions are thought from these pillars. Collectibles and secrets are scattered in all areas.

One Button Gameplay: opportunities and constraints

Can the game require press and hold? Answer: No press and hold. (Holding pressure on a button for specific lengths of time may be challenging for people who are using adaptive buttons/switches.)

Does pressing a screen count as a button? Answer: Yes, tapping on a screen can count as a button, so long as tapping the screen accomplishes the same thing no matter where you tap on the screen. No targeted tapping to accomplish different objectives (As this would essentially create unlimited buttons.)

Can the design utilize the joystick as well as one button? Answer: No, everything the player needs to do should be able to be accomplished with a single switch or button.

Can the design use a double-tap feature? Answer: No. Players who have low motor control may not be able to tap a button quickly enough a second time to have it register as a “double-tap” instead of as a second single tap. Design that relies on double-tap bars users with slower response times from ever choosing the “double-tap” option.

One-button solution

The movement of your character would be possible in different phases:

  • Came angle selection
  • Target location

Camera angle selection

From the default position of the camera, the camera will begin to move around the character to the right or to the left (preferences on speed and direction should be defined before the gameplay). The player will be able to stop it with a click when the camera has a good angle for him.

Psychonauts 2 Directional Arrows

Target Location

From this angle, a target will show the different locations possible between interactable point/interest points. A pointer will automatically run between points, and the player should select the one he/she wants with a click. 

If the target needs to take a bridge, invisible walls will keep the character from falling.

If the character hits a wall, he will stop. If he needs to jump (or double jump or triple jump), he’ll do it automatically.

Psychonauts 2 Directional Targeting

After selecting a point, the character will move around it. If, at any moment, the player wants to change the directions, he/she can stop the character with a click while he is in movement. The camera will start again from the camera selection etc.

Every location will have different icons to give a clue about what’s in it. If the location needs different points to be reached, the player will have to find out the first place to begin with and choose his/her path wisely until they reach the goal location.

Situational Gameplay

If, during a movement, the player guides the character toward an interactable object. The game will propose to interact with an icon lighted by his presence.

Psychonauts 2 Interactable Object

Enemies

When near an enemy, the character will auto-lock on it, and the more lethal and legit attack can be launched with a click.

For instance, if the enemy is invulnerable to shooting, the character will automatically fight with his fists. If the enemy is in the air, the character will shoot. A One-Shot Instant Kill option will be provided to avoid multiple clicks to kill an enemy.

Psychonauts 2 one-shot insta-kill target

If the environment shows that different solutions are possible to kill an enemy, the game will pause (when you click) and propose the different solutions to the player, as below:

Psychonauts 2 different kill solutions target

Here, you can use three strategies :

  • your Psi Blast to stay away from your enemy
  • your Melee attack despite the chances of the enemy to explode
  • Telekinesis to launch a wheelchair at the enemy

You can add dodging in these proposals so the player could dodge a shot on the perfect frame, for instance.

It’s on the player to choose one of these strategies by clicking at the right time. A selector will highlight each of them every five seconds. This preference can be changed in the options. 

The selector can run on action mapped on bumpers and triggers.

The player will have his/her own freedom to pick a solution and find out what happens, as the target location described above.

If the player wants another solution for the situation, he/she can open the weapon wheel. And a selector will run automatically between the different weapons available.

Psychonauts 2 Weapon Wheel

Mike from Numinous Games

When Mike Perrotto reviewed this design, he said, “I feel inspired to try out some of these ideas in a 3D platformer. I love the thought you’ve put into player decisions and making choices based on context as well. Being able to interact with things but not have to make quick and dexterity-based decisions is crucial when designing for accessibility.  Well done!”

Jonah

And Jonah Monaghan added, “This design smooths the varied mechanisms of Psychonauts 2 into a fluid one-button design. Camera control can be a forgotten element when designing one-button games. I appreciate that this design gives the player agency over the camera: a vital mechanism in a 3D platforming game. However, just as camera control is important for a 3D platforming game, so are interactions such as jumping. Perhaps, providing the player agency in their jumping times would allow the platforming mechanics to show themselves more. Despite this critique, the design ensures that other mechanisms such as combat can show their colors even in a one-button setting. An important thing I must applaud you on is that any ideas that may stretch outside of being accessible are clarified to be deemed by the user (such as dodging). Clarification such as this is a valuable tool when handing designs over to developers. Well done!”

While we are sad to say goodbye to the one-button challenges, we hope they have been a valuable experience for everyone who read about them and participated in them. We believe the fine work everyone shared showed by example how games can be inclusive while not compromising on fun. We are excited to begin sharing Painted Waters, our new one-button game, in October. We’d love to have the community’s feedback so we can make sure this game is as accessible as possible. To see all the community feedback posts that will begin in October, please join us in our Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ThePlayabilityInitiative



August Design Challenge – Winner Announced!

September 3, 2021 By Amy Green

At the Playability Initiative, we are convinced that if present and future game designers are challenged to think a little more concretely about accessibility, they will come up with exciting, innovative game designs that include more and more people over time. The one-button design challenge we host each month is our way of challenging everyone to consider the player in unique ways. And we suspect that, in addition to the community members who take on the challenge and enter the contest, there are many more each month who spend a little time thinking about accessibility in new ways and how accessibility concerns apply to some of their favorite games.

In August, we challenged our Playability Initiative Community Members to redesign the sword combat system within Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to make it a one-button mechanic. We received an excellent submission from Matthew Colon, who won a $20 Steam Gift Card this month for his contribution. Here is his submitted design, along with our judges’ commentary.

Screen shot from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

 

“Skyward Sword makes use of eight directional attack options, so we can make use of that with a spinning arrow that iterates through those eight options.

For this design, the enemy will be shown at the top 2/3 of the screen and will animate up until it begins an attack or defense, at which point it will freeze, and a spinner will appear at the bottom of the screen. That spinner could be a circle with an arrow in it pointing to different sections like what you’d see in a board game (see attached picture). When the spinner appears, it will be spinning quickly in a clockwise manner and slowly lose speed until it moves at a slow pace between the eight options, and the player will push their one button when the arrow is pointing in the direction they want to attack. This fast-to-slow speed is so it is accessible to those who need time to make their input but also more of a challenge to do it quicker for those who can do timing-based challenges, but it could be configured to always start at the slow pace so those who need that accessibility don’t have to wait for it to slow down (and that slow pace could also be configurable). 

When the arrow reaches the last option, it naturally ends up back to pointing at the first since it’s just continuing to spin around the circle until the player pushes the button. If the player chooses the attack that best capitalizes on the enemy’s offensive or defensive stance, then the enemy is successfully attacked and damaged; otherwise, the player is attacked. For example, if the enemy has a sword raised above their head, then a horizontal slash left or right would damage them. However, if the player chooses to do their own vertical slash in response, then the enemy will hit them because they are already primed for that type of attack. Likewise, if an enemy is defending with a shield in a manner that protects against most directions but is exposed to a particular direction, then only when the player pushes the button when the arrow is pointing in that particular direction will the attack bypass the defenses and damage the enemy.

If we applied this directly to Skyward Sword, we could have enemy encounters more like what you would expect from older RPGs where you see them in front of you from a first-person view, and you choose your attacks to maximize the ability to read the enemy’s stances, or you could show Link from a close over-the-shoulder view like what’s in the game when locked on for consistency with the series. Let’s say you are fighting against a Deku Baba plant and its mouth opens so its teeth are horizontal (i.e. its head is split into a top and bottom), then you would want to wait until the spinner has the arrow pointing to the left or the right to do a horizontal attack to damage them. If it then opens its mouth so its teeth are vertical (i.e. its head is split into a left and right side), then using a vertical slash up or down by waiting until the spinner is pointing in one of those directions will be the right choice. Any other attack in these instances will bounce off their hard shell and leave an opening for it to attack Link.”

In-game number spinner

 

This month, our judges were Playability Initiative Game Designer Mike Perrotto and the previous One Button Design Challenge Winner, Jonah Monaghan.

Jonah

When considering Matthew’s entry, Jonah said, “Overall, this design is fantastic! I particularly appreciate the timing-based considerations allowing the gameplay to flow at a pace that the player is comfortable with. This design works well with how Skyward Sword affords players to interact with enemies in terms of reacting to enemy actions.

Putting on a more critical lens, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice more screen space than needed. Sacrificing ⅓ of your screen could be costly, especially for players in handheld mode. Of course, there needs to be a balance between visibility and functionality, so a small UI overlay would not suffice (better safe than sorry if user-defined size isn’t an option, I think ). Additionally, since Skyward Sword is an ARPG blocking is another area to consider, to accommodate this mechanism I would increase the number of sections on your spinner to include blocking sections, removing the need to freeze combat for an attack provided that enemy behavior can be modified by the player’s speed preferences.

Ultimately, under a time constraint, this design is very impressive! I think the critiques I gave are all things that would be identified during testing and can easily be accommodated. Designs that can accommodate feedback make life easier for everyone. Well done!”

Mike from Numinous Games

Mike Perrotto added his feedback as well. “I love the idea of using a spinner for directional considerations when attacking enemies.  Being able to adjust the speed of the spinner is crucial as well.  One visibility option that could be added, would be to make the spinner semi-transparent overlaid on the screen so as to not take up valuable real estate.  Having an option for both ways would be helpful. I didn’t read anything that considered Link’s shield use here, but that is something else that would need to be allowed in this design.  Simply adding a moment after a failed attack to defend would suffice. Great work!

Tomorrow, we are announcing the game for our final one-button design challenge. Beginning in October, we’ll be soliciting feedback about our own one-button game, Painted Waters. We’ll still give away a steam gift card every month, and we hope you’ll all help us make a truly accessible game by letting us know where we can improve the design! To join our final one-button design challenge or see our upcoming news about Painted Waters, join our Facebook Group



A Sneak Peek of Painted Waters for an Incredible Community

August 4, 2021 By Amy Green

On Monday, August 2nd, we were privileged to spend a couple of hours sharing the Playability Initiative with a new group of people through the One Rare Experience program. One Rare Experience is an event for young adults with rare conditions who are trying to improve the experiences for their community of peers.

Anthony DeVergillo, a member of our Playability Initiative community on Facebook, invited us to join him in sharing about accessible video games. Anthony has been working hard this year with Jonah Monaghan to create a digitally remapped controller that will allow more people to play their favorite video games, even if those games don’t support the accessibility adaptations that would welcome players with unique needs. We loved watching them share Overjoyed with the larger community.

And, we were thrilled to share a sneak peek of our progress on Painted Waters, a free one-button game we’re building to serve the SMA community. Since we shared some details we’ve never shared before, we wanted to highlight some of the latest progress on this game with all of you as well.

We are hoping to have a demo of the game for an early access community by the end of 2021, and we are expecting to invite playtesters to try out the game this Fall. 

Here’s a few of the slides we shared with our new friends at One Rare Experience. We hope they help stir a little excitement in our Playability Initiative community as well.

A one button game? It just means more people can play! Because I can look, tap, touch, press, sip, puff, nudge or click, I can play!

Players explore the mysterious world of Painted Waters riding on their trusty walkerdoodles. As they explore, the play games, make music and search for wonders.

Wonders and Treasures can be colleccted and used to adorn the musical gardens of Painted Waters. Some treasures help customize marble-inspired games and toys.

Collect Boomy Poppers to play mini-games within the world, like the 'Tower Tumble' game shown here.

If you’d like to be one of our early playtesters of Painted Waters, be sure to joining our Facebook community at Facebook.com/group/ThePlayabilityInitiative. We will send out our requests for playtesters within that group as well as several groups dedicated to the SMA community.



July Design Challenge – Winner Announced!

July 23, 2021 By Amy Green

We love our monthly one-button design challenges because we believe that the more game designers practice considering the player, the more creative and inclusive they’ll be in their future game designs.

For July, our community considered how they could make Mario Golf games a one-button experience. Mario Golf: Super Rush just came out, but we opened the challenge to all games in the series. Nintendo isn’t known for accessible design, so their titles tend to leave a lot of room for improvement, and the entries we received were really creative about how they could approach Mario Golf with a wider range of players in mind.

Our winning entry this month was submitted by Jonah Monaghan. Here is his entry in its entirety, followed by commentary from our judges, Mike Perrotto, a Playability Initiative Game designer and Amaury Français, this month’s guest judge and a previous one-button design challenge winner.

 

Mario Golf: One-Button Design

Introduction

This is a submission for the July 2021 Design Challenge for The Playability Initiative.

Looking at Mario Golf, there are a few challenges we need to overcome in shot mode:

  • Lining up a shot
  • Setting spin on the ball
  • Using a special shot
  • Using the rangefinder
  • Selecting the club
  • Taking the shot

Additionally, we need to overcome the movement when out of shot mode, which breaks down to:

  • Moving the character
  • Using the characters Special Dash
  • Sprinting

Once the player is within range, it seems like there are no additional buttons that need to be pressed as they are immediately brought into the shot mode. Then the cycle repeats.

Shot Mode

In this section, we’re going to explore how the shot mode will function and explain the best way to tackle the six challenges identified earlier. To provide players access to all the available mechanisms that the game provides, each shot will go through a series of steps.

Step 1: Club Selection

When the player reaches their ball, their first action will be to select their club; this will bring up a club selection menu where they can see all the possible options. The player can cycle through the options as they see fit by pressing the button. If the player stays on a certain option for a certain amount of time (determined by the player in their settings), then that is the selected club for the shot. 

Rangefinder submission

As seen on the diagram above, the range finder is also in this menu. If the player selects the rangefinder, they will be sent to Rangefinder Mode, which is covered later in this document. This allows the player to look for information to make the best decision on which club to use.

Step 2: Lining Up the Shot

Similar to selecting a club, players will confirm their shot selection by waiting for a timer to reach zero (time determined by individual player’s settings) however, this timer functions slightly differently from the club selection timer. Players can press the button to move their shot in a direction and reset the timer; after the button is released, the timer will begin counting down. Once the timer reaches zero, the direction that the button moves the shot switches. As seen in the diagrams below, each button press will move the shot over a little (could also be a hold mechanism, however, a tap mode is more accessible). Additionally, when it is time to swing, a signifier will be provided to warn the players of an upcoming swing, ensuring players don’t accidentally swing when they want the direction to switch.

submission swing example 1

submission swing example 2

submission swing example 3

Step 3: Power the Shot

Powering the shot will work identically to how it is done in the game: players will tap the button at the desired power.

Step 4: Spin and Super Shot

While the original version of the game has players selecting their Super Shot before the power is selected. In order to save resources, spins and Super Shots will be combined in the same step. Like the club selection, shot actions are determined by an interactive menu. After the power is selected, the player will be presented with a menu to choose their spin, functioning the same way as the club selection menu. Since spin can’t be applied to a Super Shot, the two actions can be combined into one menu.

submission spins and super shot example

Step 5: Taking the shot

Finally, now that the shot is prepared, players can take the shot like they normally would, timing their hit to their power.

Rangefinder Mode

Currently, the game’s rangefinder mode seems to be based on gyroscope motion (not very accessible, Nintendo). Additionally, the top-down view of the map seems to be a very important way to scope out the course. Therefore, the rangefinder mode will be a combination of the top-down menu and the rangefinder in one menu. This menu will play through an animation that guides the player through the course. For example, in the image below, slopes will be marked with color and other non-color-based signifiers to identify slopes on the course. As the animation pans through the map, other key locations will be noted as well as their relevant details, as seen in the additional diagram below. Without a video to showcase this concept, the best way I can explain is to compare it to the animations shown when reaching a viewpoint in Assassin’s Creed or activating a radio tower on Far Cry 3.

submission rangefinder example 1

submission rangefinder example 2

Moving Around the Map

Without access to a joystick, movement will be restricted to a pathfinding system in which the player will automatically move towards the ball. This leaves one final problem to solve: how to distinguish between walking, sprinting, and Special Dashes. This section will attempt to answer this problem as well as identify concerns that may come from a pathfinding system.

Why Pathfinding Won’t Break the Game

It looks like some of the Super Shots are intended to hinder movement, such as adding ice to the field. However, pathfinding won’t nerf these abilities as players will either have to deal with the consequences of the Super Shot and walk/shoot through it or go around. While the addition of pathfinding would remove some player agency, I find it unlikely that a player would choose to go through a hazard such as ice or bombs unless they had to. This may impact some of the strategy required when moving with characters such as Luigi; however, this can be accommodated by changing the location of the shot since your character runs directly to it.

Sprinting and Special Dashes

While players will move automatically through the course, the consumption of stamina still needs to be balanced. To do so, players will be able to toggle between sprinting and walking by pressing the button; however, that leaves special dashes. The way I’ve chosen to tackle this problem is to base the player’s action off of their remaining stamina. If the player has enough stamina while sprinting, they will do their Special Dash then walk to recover stamina. If the player does not have enough stamina while sprinting, they will begin walking.

submission sprinting example

Mike from Numinous Games

In considering this entry, Mike Perrotto said, “The thoroughness here is much appreciated.  Button cycling and then stopping on the desired entry is becoming a very common design consideration with regards to accessibility, and it fits perfectly here as well for selecting clubs, direction, and spin.  Adding the “Recommended” flare is also a nice touch.

Using color-coding to denote slope changes during a preview of each hole is a great way to combine the range finder and distance map into one tool.  Being able to visually see differences at a glance instead of trying to aim the range finder via motion controls is extremely helpful.

I like your solution to running towards the ball in Speed Golf modes.  Choosing when to dash or use your super moves will feel satisfying and important.”

Amaury Français added, “Nice job! Overall, a great understanding of the different elements that need to be revisited and thought about in the game. The mockups are also explicit enough. Radial menus are probably the best way to go for selections like this. In addition, I especially really like the handling of the movement and the decision between sprinting or using the special dash depending on the stamina. It is one of those one-button implementations that feels natural and doesn’t need to jump through hoops to achieve what a player with a standard handheld would probably do. I also really enjoy the critical thinking and making sure the changes won’t break the game like the pathfinding.

As a more critical observation, I think all these radial menus would fit very well for a slower gameplay, like the standard golf mode. For the golf rush mode (the one when you play in real-time and run through the map), I feel like all those menus add a lot of selection time where the game mode is meant to be fast-paced and intuitive. The recommended choice for the golf club, for example, is excellent, but you could also just force that default choice for the sake of speed. However, as I said, those radial choices are the best way to go for the standard golf mode. Good job!”

Our next entry came from a first-time participant in our game design challenge. Charles Love is not a game designer but had great ideas, and we loved having the opportunity to review his entry. Here it is in its entirety, followed by our judges’ feedback.

My idea comes primarily from the old PS2 boss fighting clichés where you press a combination of buttons as you attack to deal more damage or do a cooler attack.

This accessibility option could be more targeted to younger players. So here is my idea:

The player is presented with puzzles/questions. (I think a way to select difficulty would be cool.)

After the puzzle/question is presented, the player can press the button when they are ready to see answer options. Then in X second intervals, an answer is presented. If the player thinks the presented answer is correct, they press the button. If they don’t press the button after X seconds, another answer option is presented.

Once they select an answer, they can press the button one more time to confirm the answer. This can help prevent accidental clicks and misclicks from affecting the player’s answer outcome.

If the player gets the answer correct, the player makes a strong and accurate swing; if the player gets the question wrong, they make a weak and inaccurate swing. The more questions they answer correctly, the faster/fewer swings they take to finish the hole.

Now that being said, I am not sure if this pulls itself too far away from how the game was intended to be played. I think I’d have a ton of fun playing a game like this anyway, though!

Mike from Numinous Games

When Mike Perrotto reviewed this entry, he said, “First and foremost, I love that you’re going out of your comfort zone and throwing your hat into the ring here this month!  We hope to have you back again in the future!

This immediately feels like a very interesting mode.  I would love to see this fleshed out a bit more as I’m left with a lot of questions on how certain aspects would work exactly.  Would the questions be general trivia?  Specific to the game itself, maybe quizzing the player on things they’ve learned already?  Math/Geometry?

This would be a very cool feature included in the story mode, perhaps.  I, too, want to play this game!”

Guest judge Amaury Français added this feedback, “Thanks a lot for trying out! Your entry is full of very interesting ideas. And we shouldn’t forget that this isn’t just a competition for the best design but also a way to explore new opportunities for accessibility in video games.

If we just go exactly by the rules, then this design is obviously straying far from the initial golf gameplay. But at the same time, it opens up to some very exciting ideas and design opportunities that I think nobody has done before, which is to ignore the fidelity of the game, and even its intended gameplay, to propose something that fits ultimately much better with a one-button design. 

Turning a simple golf game into quiz golf is a very good idea, as golf, in general, has a great range of amazing shots to bad shots. Just like answers, that can be amazingly good, or terrible, or anything in between. Your gameplay also has a very interesting twist on the usual “choose your answer” quiz type, where you only have one answer at a time, and you don’t know how many other options there will be until the right one pops up! This leads to much more excitement and tension than usual quiz games (where you can compare all the available answers straight away).

Seeing designs like this, that venture in designs I had never thought of, should be encouraged more, either by explicitly allowing them, or even better, by doing some months where we propose much more open designs that just keep the basic theme of the game like you did. Thanks a lot for this submission!”

Our final entry for July came from Damien Fargeout and was acknowledged as our honorable mention entry for the month. Here it is in its entirety, along with our judges’ commentary.

Mario Golf Super Rush One button Gameplay

Intentions

I want to give the closest experience to the original game.

Game Feel

I’m based on videos to understand the game feel.

Mario Golf : Super Rush is the newest Mario Golf game out on Nintendo Switch, following the line of previous games out on Nintendo’s previous hardwares.

It is a solo/multiplayer game playable with two joysticks with one main objective :

-Put the ball in the hole with the fewest strokes possible.

On the basis, there is no pressure in playing. All the challenge is about the precision of your shot (except in different modes). The pleasure is to play golf with Mario’s character.

submission precision example 1

Speed Golf

It’s one of the new multiplayer modes of Mario Golf Super Rush. Unlike the original mode, you have to be quick in your shots and be the first to put the ball in the hole.

The dynamic is different as described by the following loop :

submission precision example 2

One Button Gameplay: opportunities and constraints

Can the game require press and hold? Answer: No press and hold. (Holding pressure on a button for specific lengths of time may be challenging for people who are using adaptive buttons/switches.)

Does pressing a screen count as a button? Answer: Yes, tapping on a screen can count as a button, so long as tapping the screen accomplishes the same thing no matter where you tap on the screen. No targeted tapping to accomplish different objectives (As this would essentially create unlimited buttons.)

Can the design utilize the joystick as well as one button? Answer: No, everything the player needs to do should be able to be accomplished with a single switch or button.

Can the design use a double-tap feature? Answer: No. Players who have low motor control may not be able to tap a button quickly enough a second time to have it register as a “double-tap” instead of as a second single tap. Design that relies on double-tap bars users with slower response times from ever choosing the “double-tap” option.

The game is pretty made for one button-gameplay for the basics. As a designer, you have to give access to the effects and the gameplay’s nuances. My proposed solution is different extra-menus to control the directions by different “roads” in multiplayer Speed Golf mode and new gameplay for the putter mode.

Two phases 

In Speed Golf mode, you have two phases to take into account :

The shoot

First, the player has to give a direction to his/her shot. With one button, the camera can automatically follow a quadrant of 90 degrees. The speed can be previously chosen in the menu. The player has to select his/her angle by clicking one time.

Secondly, the player has to choose power and effect to this ball. The power is adjusted by a gauge: one click to start the cursor to move up, and another click to stop the cursor at the power chosen. Again, the speed can be adjusted in the menu.

submission angle of shot example

For the effect, it’s basically the same thing, but you can move the joystick while the cursor is moving up. With one button, the game can ask directly to the player if he/she wants to give effects to his ball by menu displaying propositions:

submission spin menu example

A selection runs between items at a speed preselected in a menu.

Switch clubs

Automatically, the game will advise the player giving him the best club for the situation. Before each shot, the game proposes to the player if he/she wants to change the clubs.

submission yes/no menu example

If yes, the player will have a new menu to select the club :

submission club selection example

Wind speed

submission wind speed indicator example

The player has a look at the wind speed at every time and has to take it into account for each shot. It will be trickier in Putter mode with the new rules and so this creates a new challenge for the player.

Driver Mode VS Putter mode

In putter mode, the player has a grid for an overview of the topography of the land.

submission topography diagram example

Here, instead of choosing the power of your shoot, the player is gonna choose the area of his/her shoot. Inspired by the alphabet letter board (the image below), periodically, the game will highlight some part of the grid, and the player will have to choose to select it or not. 

Big areas at first, and a line, and a square, the player can select one square at the end.

After several selections, the game will give the position of the shoot by the average of your position.

submission alphabet grid example

Special shot

When the special bar is full, the player has the ability to use the special shot. To use it, a new option is available in the Effect menus. So, the player can choose to use it or not at each shot.

The Run

Auto-run / Dash

After each shot, you have to run to your ball the quickest as possible. Normally, the player has to hold B to run, but here we can add an auto-run.

submission auto run example

submission stamina example

Using a big chunk of your stamina bar, you can dash by clicking one time on the button. The player has to be careful with his/her stamina. He/she has to manage it to optimize the run.

Directions

You can move the character on the land to get some collectibles or tackle your enemies in multiplayer mode.

You can separate the land into different corridors where the player can switch between them during the auto run.

submission directions example

Alternatively, the game proposes to switch right or left.

Collectibles : gold coins (to fill the special shot bar) and heart (to give stamina) 

Mike from Numinous Games

Judge Mike Perrotto said, “I really like the idea of using an Alphabet Board and having it auto select areas that the player can accept or not to get more specific in creating their putt.

I also really like the concept of corridors or “lanes” while running to help control movement and interaction with other players.”

Amaury Français added his judging commentary, “I really like the focus on the game feel and the willingness to replicate that game feel, even though you speak about the two game modes but don’t really talk about them much later on (and especially what one-button designs would fit better one mode or the other).

I do enjoy that a lot of the decisions are already taken for the player, like the club, general direction, etc. It seems like you forgot about the Range Finder, which seems to be an important component of the gameplay. I would have liked to see what ideas you would have found about how to manage that with only one button, but you covered the rest, which is more than fine.

The Alphabet Putter mode square design is very clever. If the AI proposes the most sensible options to the players, then they shouldn’t spend too much time on this trying to find out the best option. Proposing a choice too deep could lead to a lot of time wasted for the player, but with a few tweaks, this idea can be very useful for selecting a zone.

Overall, a lot of great ideas, even if some could have been detailed a bit more like the movement (when does the player hit the button exactly, etc.), and I really appreciate the intention of getting the game’s feel before trying to replicate it with only one button. Great job!”

 

If these entries inspired you to think about accessible design in new ways, we’d love to have you participate in our future one-button design challenges. We’ll be announcing our next one-button design challenge, on Friday, August 6th. We’d love to have your participation and the participation of your friends. Join our community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ThePlayabilityInitiative to participate.

 



Congratulations to Accessible Designers of the Future!

July 13, 2021 By Amy Green

The Playability Initiative was privileged to sponsor the Games Accessibility Challenge, a new award category for this year’s Games For Change Student Challenge. We asked middle school and high school students to learn more about accessible game design and to include accessibility features in the video games they designed for the competition.

Games For Change Student Challenge

We were thrilled to learn that 50 students submitted games with accessible design features. As we judged these entries, it was inspiring to see how these upcoming game developers are thinking through inclusivity.

We helped select five winners, and we gave each of these winners two Xbox adaptive controllers, one for them and one for their school, as well as two Logitech Adaptive Gaming kits, one for them and one for their school. We want young game designers to have the tools to think about accessible design first when they begin creating a new game!

We will also be inviting these five winners to design alongside us as we continue to build our one-button game, Painted Waters.

We were proud to congratulate the winners, and we can’t wait to see what they design next.

 

If you’d like to play through the winning games, designed by students from all over the United States, here’s a link to  the student arcade:

http://gamesforchange.org/studentchallenge/arcade/game-accessibility-challenge/



Changing the Game – An Interview with Andy Robertson

June 24, 2021 By Amy Green

We are excited to present our next Game Changers Interview. In our Game Changers series, we interview people who are making a big difference in the video game accessibility landscape. Today, we’re excited to talk with Andy Robertson, author of Taming Gaming and the creator of the Family Videogame Database. His work helping people discover new, accessible games is making a huge difference in the industry, and we have been honored to sponsor his accessibility work through The Playability Initiative and to be able to shine a spotlight on his tremendous efforts through this interview. Here’s the conversation we had.

Andy Robertson, Taming Gaming

 

Amy: You’ve poured a lot of time and energy into the Family Videogame Database. What made you realize that adding accessibility information to the games on the database would serve your users?

Andy:

I’d love to say it was part of a master plan, but the Family Video Game Database was something I stumbled into. I wanted to create a website to support the launch of my Taming Gaming book that was delayed because of printing during the pandemic. The appetite from parents and guardians to find out about video games their children were playing has turned it into the huge resource it is today, with close to 1200 games.

The database grew out of a desire to stand with parents and guardians to provide them the information they need to find out about video games — and find amazing video games for their family to play.

To make good on that mission, accessibility was clearly an important part of the puzzle. In fact, it wasn’t really a separate piece at all. Much of the information we already provided was useful from an accessibility perspective. Extending the accessibility data was simply a way to extend our passion to help everyone discover games they love to play.

 

Amy: How long have you been working on adding accessibility data to your database?

Andy:

As you can see from the graph here, we started adding data on 14th August 2020 with our initial set of data-points. The work on accessibility had actually started a long time before that. 

As we realised this was an important area of data, I had a wide range of conversations to learn how best to cover this. I put together a rough plan for our approach to adding an accessibility search early in 2020. For a few months, I was a sponge, wanting to talk to anyone who would talk to me about accessibility. This included experts, those leading accessibility movements and charities, as well as loads of people from the accessibility community.

Cumulative Accessibility Taggings in The Taming Gaming Database

This was really helpful. When I started, I thought it would be relatively simple and require us to record what settings games had. However, from all the research I did and conversations I had, I soon learned how complex and large this challenge was. It wasn’t just about settings, but about how each game applied them for the player. It was more about inclusive design in a holistic sense, rather than discrete settings.

 

Amy: What has the response from the community been like?

Andy:

One of the main reasons that we have made such good progress with the data is from the positive and generous response from the community. We have worked with loads of people who have been keen to add data for the games they know about, as well as experts who have checked quality and accuracy.

Each time we talk to someone about accessibility, we seem to learn something new. Sometimes that leads to us updating how we describe one of the data-points, or adding new data. Sometimes that leads to us separating a single datapoint into two separate flags. Sometimes it leads to us collecting together a specific list of games. 

Another part of the community response that I have loved is from game developers. When entering accessibility data we always aim to talk to the developer to check that we have them correct. This has led us to talking to more and more devs earlier in the process. 

These conversions have been fruitful for adding data about their game before release, so people can make an informed choice. These conversations have also precipitated many games to actually add new accessibility features they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Here are a couple of examples:

 

“Had a wonderful #accessibility chat with @TamingGamingDB. All our confirmed settings are recorded in their page, and we’ve got some great ideas of a11y we could add to @Smalland.”

https://twitter.com/MergeGamesLtd/status/1337368737293479936

 

“Yay, @GeekDadGamer added Get Together to the database @TamingGamingDB. His accessibility review uncovered some handy things we’ll be adding like making screenshake optional.”

https://twitter.com/studiosterneck/status/1350097700117737475

 

As with family video games, our hope for the database is that it raises awareness about video games. For parents and guardians, this is about the breadth of positive experiences they can find for their families. For developers, this is a deeper understanding of the family audience. For both these audiences, accessibility is just another area of awareness we can contribute to.

A recent example is a mother whose child broke their arm. We could provide them some game suggestions not only on the basis of the system they had and the age of their child, but also games they could play with one hand.

 

Amy: What is your latest new addition to accessibility information for people searching video games on your database?

Andy:

We have a new landing page for accessibility where we can highlight the specialist accessibility sites to check out once you have discovered a game on the database. This leads on from our new Accessibility Report pages that offer more space to detail the accessibility features on a game.

The report uses the similar games the database knows about to attempt to make suggestions when a game doesn’t offer very many accessibility features in a particular area. This isn’t perfect yet, but is a great step towards what’s possible as we get more of this data recorded on the database. It also highlights how useful it is to not segment accessibility data to other information about the game. Being able to search in a holistic way and combine game suggestions with the results is what makes it so powerful.

We are also working on a feature where a developer can log onto the database and check or enter the accessibility data for their games. This saves us and them time, and is flagged for a follow up to confirm the data provided by the game devs with our accessibility editors.

 

Amy: What is your biggest challenge going forward?

Andy:

The biggest challenge going forward is freeing up enough time to spend on the data. We have some amazing supporters on the site like the VSC Rating Board, Ukie, Gamewell and AskAboutGames. But the amount of data in this area is huge and really is a full time job.

It’s the combination of volume and accuracy that is front and centre for us. We never want to have an accessibility flag on the database if we are not sure that the game offers it. Although we see the database as a first point of discovery before some more research, our data needs to be reliable.

In this area we have recently made a couple of painful errors. On one game, we had flagged that it was playable for players without sight which led to a couple of people making purchases of a game they couldn’t play. That was a real low point, both in terms of the public perception of the database and personally. It was the exact opposite of what I wanted to contribute. 

We were contacted about the error and could fix the data immediately. We got in touch with those who made a purchase to rectify our mistake, and compensate them where we could. This actually led to a really positive conversation about what went wrong and how to improve this and other aspects of the database for these players.

It’s a challenging thing we are trying to do. Being willing to get it wrong in spite of best efforts is a part of that. But we are around for the long haul. The database has made a good start, but I’m most excited about what the resource will look like five years from now.

 

Amy: What has made the work rewarding for you?

Andy:

I have a background in information architecture. I have this strange love of organising large sets of data. I also love providing information to people that will make a difference and empower their choices. The database is a sweet spot of those two passions I have.

The most rewarding thing are those moments when someone needs advice about a particular game and the database has done the legwork for them. Being able to be the resource ready to meet people’s needs is a big motivator.

In accessibility in particular, it’s been really motivating to make some great friends who have taught me so much and made the database a better resource. Growing in understanding and putting the architecture in place today, to be ready to answer tomorrow’s questions has been a thrilling and all encompassing journey.

 

Amy: How can people help you spread the word about the Family Videogame Database and the accessibility features it includes?

Andy:

At this stage, a big challenge is getting word out about the database. The parents and guardians who would most benefit from the database are those who are least likely to find it. So telling friends and family about it is great. Of course it’s also really helpful if you can link to the database.

Another big help is people getting in touch who use the database. Tell us what works and what doesn’t. We’re in this hot-house innovation phase in this second year, so ideas are gold dust. Finally, we are looking for partners to stand with us and help cover costs of the database to give it that secure future we hope it will have.



May Design Challenge – Winner Announced!

May 28, 2021 By Amy Green

When you’re playing Splatoon, the type of paint gun you choose determines your unofficial role on a team. Our May one-button design challenge gave participants an opportunity to think through the roles a one-button player could take. We asked for submissions that designed a paint gun or tool that can be played using just one button.

We were so impressed with the creative solutions our community came up with, they were fun to read, and we suspect that each one of them would be a blast to play. This month’s winner, Jonah Monaghan, has entered the monthly design challenges three times now, but this was his first win. We’ve enjoyed watching his submissions improve as he continues to consider players with accessibility needs in new ways.

Our other two entries received tying scores and were both recognized as honorable mentions. One of these second-place entries was created by a team. We loved the idea of a team approach to the design challenge since designers never work in isolation on a game development team.

Here are all three entries, along with feedback from our judges, including our guest judge, Blake Schreurs, a previous winner of the one-button design challenge.

Here is the winning entry from Jonah Monaghan.

Splatoon 2 – Parasite Support

 

Introduction

Splatoon 2 is a heavily complex game with a variety of game modes:

  • Turf War
  • Splat Zones
  • Tower Control
  • Rainmaker
  • Clam Blitz

Each mode has its own rules and objectives, so it’s important to ensure that the role is adaptable to each game mode without a significant change to how the role needs to be played. The one thing that stays consistent between each of these modes is that they are team-oriented. It takes the whole team to win, unlike other team games, there is no 1v4 clutch. This is due to the fairly forgiving respawn system as well as the fact that objectives lead to victory while kills only assist in the victory.

 

The Role

The role I’ve chosen to design is a support role where you can attach and rotate between players providing support and long lines of ink. As long as the player has a line of sight with a character (and the character is within the specific version of the gear’s range) they can attach to that character. In the example below, the player is attached to an ally, but then has a line of sight with the enemy. When the player is aligned with the enemy, they can press the button to move to that enemy, inking the ground along the way. Once they reach the enemy, they make a small splash of ink dealing damage relative to the level and specs of the equipment.

Ink Zone Diagram 1

Ink Zone Diagram 2

Now that the player is attached to the enemy, they need to be sure they have someone else to attach to, or else they’re in danger. This encourages team play and strategic movement from the player as they shouldn’t attach to an enemy if the enemy can run away with them.

When using this role, ink is generated by switching between players, so if you attach to an enemy and they run with you into their ink color, you’ll pop up and be vulnerable just like any other player would be.

 

Equipment Details

Each piece of equipment in Splatoon 2 has three stats:

  • Damage
  • Range
  • Mobility

This equipment can still work with the designated stats:

  • Damage: Damage dealt by splash
  • Range: Range of lock-on between players
  • Mobility: The speed that the player rotates around their host, and the speed of moving between new players.

 

Camera

This role will be able to utilize its position on the player on the host to change the camera. This allows the role to not require a joystick. This would be done from a more overhead angle to show the range and reduce motion sickness but make sure that vision isn’t unfair.

 

Signifiers

Similar to the tenta missiles, there will be a lock-on signifier showing which player they can move to.

Lock On Signifier

 

Multiple Parasites?

Since Splatoon doesn’t let you change gear after a match starts, how does the game progress if there are more parasites than hosts? Or even only parasites? Well, first, more than one parasite can attach to a host, including other parasites. In this case, two or more parasites would need to work together to chain each other.

Multiple Parasites Diagram

While this solution may lead to a confusing match, it’s improbable and would probably be an enjoyable match due to the oddness of it, in the same way that having multiple snipers in a team makes for a challenging match.

 

Rainmaker?

Since the game mode Rainmaker relies on players holding a different weapon, how can parasites contribute? First, the rainmaker shield can be targeted like a player, allowing for the shield to be damaged by parasite splashes. Additionally, the rainmaker itself can be attached to like a player to be picked up, we want to avoid press-and-hold mechanisms since the Rainmaker is a charged weapon. To bypass this, we apply the Rainmaker effects to the player’s splash attack, increasing both splash radius and damage while also reducing movement speed.

 

Clam Blitz?

This mode also has players picking up items; however, it’s much easier to manage. The parasite will have its limits on how many clams it can carry just like any other player. Upon reaching a goal point, the player will still have to throw clams in using their one button, as a lock-on symbol will appear on the goal or bump-to-goal. These rules also apply to power clams. 

When Playability Initiative developer, Mike Perrotto, reviewed Jonah’s entry, he gave this feedback: 

Mike from Numinous Games

“The parasite is an incredibly creative idea and provides a very unique role to a game with a lot of depth already.  I really like that this design requires no joystick control for the parasite. Instead they navigate by hopping from character to character and being strategic in how they traverse the play area to apply the most paint at a crucial moment.  This role also feels like a saboteur, so to speak, in that the enemy player wouldn’t know where they are taking the parasite until maximum splash is achieved well behind enemy lines.  Balancing that with the parasite planning their next move makes for some very interesting match mechanics.”

Blake Schreurs, the winner of our first one-button design challenge and a valuable contributor to the Playability Initiative community, gave this commentary on Jonah’s entry: 

Blake Schreurs

“This is a really creative way to bring players into the game. This seems like a very fluid mechanism to integrate into the existing modes. Hopping between players is not a common mechanic, and especially not for a player! The overall mechanic is conceptually clear, and it could even be easily worked into the game thematically (lamprey or similar). I also really like how the mechanic emphasizes team play: with this type of navigation, the parasite is a team-centric player!”

 

Our next entry was recognized as a shared honorary mention and created by Quentin Deberdt. We hope you enjoy reading through it as much as we did.

 

Pillars and setup

It is important to say that I didn’t have the chance to play a game of the Splatoon series. However, I still identified some important game pillars to respect.

  • Dynamic: Each match is a “non-stop” action moment. The weapon-tool has to allow the player to be directly in the action.
  • Space management: In addition to the classic draw and withdraw mechanism from the shooter genre, space management is in the core concept of the game with the goal to cover the map with the team’s paint. The proposition has to keep these principles.
  • Team-base: Each weapon-tool proposes a way to be complementary with the members of the team, mostly by focusing either on the elimination of the opponents or by covering the map more efficiently with the team’s paint.

I mainly focused on a weapon-tool for the Turf war mode online. Some adjustments may be necessary for other online modes. I didn’t design based on one particular game of the series.

 

The Brush-sub

Visually, it looks like a giant brush (like the inkbrush) but with a big handle where we can find a driving spot where the Inkling in his/her squid form can take place.

When the match begins, an animation shows the Inkling transforming into his/her squid mode, going to the driver seat and, after spreading a little color on the ground, diving into the paint. 

It is the initial state of the Sub mode.

Sub mode:

In Sub mode, the player has a top view of the map. Each time the player triggers this mode, two icons appear with a “scan and select ” interface to choose between two behaviors :

  • Offensive
  • Defensive

After the choice, the icons disappear to let the player see the map. 

The player has to choose in which area of the map he wants to appear. For that, a scan and select is displayed. The selection goes through every “room” (area with a minimum of space defined by the level design team) where there is some paint of the player’s team. 

An additional feedback can highlight some rooms when :

  • In Offensive behavior, a room is currently painted by the opponents and there is only one or no ally.
  • In Defensive behavior, one or multiple allies are taking damages.

This way, players can have additional information for their choice.

An icon is highlighted after each complete scan of the rooms if the player wants to go back to the behavior selection.

When the player has pushed the button to select a room, the brush mode is triggered.

Brush mode:

In this mode, the Inkling appears from the paint of his/her team and retakes his/her human form. The avatar takes the Brush-sub and triggers attacks/effects depending on the behavior selected.

  • In Offensive behavior, the character automatically launches big projectiles causing heavy damage (like a charger weapon) to the nearby enemies by swinging his brush. Each attack animation is slow, which helps the ‘sign and feedback” for the opponents and also gives them a window of attack. Each projectile also paints the trajectory. When the avatar has no more paint or there are no more enemies in the area, the brush mode stops.
  • In Defensive behavior, the avatar uses the brush to paint the ground around him. It has two purposes : color the room and offer a defense boost effect to the allies in the room. The animation and effects are quicker than the Offensive behavior but still offer opportunities for the opponent to take the player’s avatar down. When the avatar has no more paint or the entire room is covered by the team’s color, the brush mode stops.

In any case, the player can trigger back the Sub mode by pushing the button.

Sub Mode and Brush Mode Diagram

 

Sub and Special weapons

In addition to their actual rules of using, the sub and special weapons will have a cooldown after which it will be automatically triggered at the next corresponding Brush mode.

Sub weapon, Glowing Paint:

When the player goes in Brush mode with a Defensive behavior, his/her avatar uses a special glowing paint. This paint boosts the attack and defense for the teammates who are in the room for a limited time. The effects are limited but longer than the classic Defensive behavior and can stay even if the player with the Brush-sub is taking down or is changing mode.

Special weapon, Quantum Can:

When the player goes in Brush mode with a Defensive behavior, a can of paint is dropped on the floor. This paint can acts like a vacuum and takes every Sub weapon that the teammates could throw at it. The can disappears when the player goes back into Sub mode.

Next time a Brush mode in Offensive behavior is triggered, the player’s character opens the can and frees all the sub weapons in it that are automatically thrown to the nearby enemies. If the avatar is taken down between these two actions, the can stays “loaded.”

The Special weapon has a priority over the Sub weapon if both are available.

In reviewing Quentin’s entry, Mike Perrotto said,

Mike from Numinous Games

“Overall, I love adding a Real-time Strategy (RTS) element to games as well as a support role.  What I really like about this design is the ability to switch between the behaviors depending on the needs of the team.  I can also see additional behaviors being introduced in the future, like additional offensive or defensive actions.  These also strike me as almost “Ultimates,” similar to game-changing boosts in games like Overwatch.”

Blake Schreurs added, 

Blake Schreurs

“I really like how the player is able to choose a behavior and then go into a room with intent. This allows the brush-sub to be a more strategic player, which is a nice complement to the often tactical gameplay of Splatoon. With a little bit of work, it should be possible to switch offensive/defensive roles fairly quickly. The big concern is that many of the offensive/defensive actions seem scripted, which means that in time players will learn how to anticipate/defeat players using the Brush-Sub.”

 

Our final submission shared the recognition of honorary mention. It was created by a team of first-time entrants in the monthly one-button design challenge. Damien Fargeout and Brice M created the design, and they tapped Mathieu Sancho to create some impressive art!

 

The Pangolin Supersuit

(for Splatoon 2)

 

Here [is] our submission for the PlayabilityInitiative May Challenge :

Design a tool/weapon with one button in Splatoon 1 or 2

One button weapon concept sketch

©Mathieu Sancho

Intentions

We wanted to offer the closest experience possible, allowing for an adaptive pace.

 

Game feel

We’ve based our design on videos to understand the game feel in Splatoon 2.

 Splatoon 2 is a fast-paced multiplayer third-person shooter playable with two joysticks. There’s shooting everywhere with two mains objectives :

  • kill everyone
  • paint everywhere

It’s a team-based game, so team-play will have an impact on the dynamics, and each player will have to adapt.

 

Gameloop

Gameloop Diagram

 

Group dynamic / Tactics

Each game will induce group dynamic, behaviors in teams :

  • Other weapons give four actions at the same or close (jump, aim, shoot, move)
  • One team = 4 members = 4 simultaneous actions
  • Aiming and avoiding projectile by moving is key
  • Positioning your character allows you to cover more ground with paint
  • Fast-paced, mutual coverage

Objectives, Ammo cost/replenishment, spread, range, and rate of fire are balanced to push players toward an evermoving gameplay (as opposed to static/covering/camping gameplay).

One-Button weapon needs to take into consideration these group dynamics.

 

One-Button Gameplay: opportunities and constraints

Can the game require press and hold? Answer: No press and hold. (Holding pressure on a button for specific lengths of time may be challenging for people who are using adaptive buttons/switches.)

Does pressing a screen count as a button? Answer: Yes, tapping on a screen can count as a button, so long as tapping the screen accomplishes the same thing no matter where you tap on the screen. No targeted tapping to accomplish different objectives (As this would essentially create unlimited buttons.)

Can the design utilize the joystick as well as one button? Answer: No, everything the player needs to do should be able to be accomplished with a single switch or button.

Can the design use a double-tap feature? Answer: No. Players who have low motor control may not be able to tap a button quickly enough a second time to have it register as a “double-tap” instead of as a second single-tap. Design that relies on double-tap bars users with slower response times from ever choosing the “double-tap” option.

Our proposed solution to control the character in the game is an action wheel.

 

Action Wheel

Action Wheel Diagram

 

Invulnerability

It’s important to say that during the “picking an action” phase, the player will be invulnerable to any attacks from the front giving him/her the time to choose.

This is a way to counteract the slower selection dynamic for one-button player, and give them the extra time they need with an action wheel in multiplayer mode.

 

Moving 

The player is still in movement all around the map so they do not become an easy target. When he/she activates the action wheel, the character’s position will induce a specific angle of camera/aiming.

 

Diving into Paint, Diving off the paint

When the character is on paint, the player has the possibility to dive into it via the action wheel.

Same with diving off, when already in the paint, this action is available in the action wheel.

 

Primary weapon

The Pangolin Supersuit is an uncommon weapon like the Noisy Cricket in Men In Black. Don’t be fooled by its size; it’s a very destructive weapon, able to kill everything and throw paint in its passage.

It’s playable by two taps on the button:

  • The first one to begin the charge of the weapon
  • The second to shoot 

Width of Paint Beam Diagram

The width (A -> B) of the beam is defined by the time between the two taps.

The amount of paint used when shooting depends on the width of the beam.

The length is the entire map like the fake screen following:

Map with Paint Length Diagram

This mode is more for long-distance shoot/kill compared to the sub-weapon.

 

Sub weapon

The sub-weapon is more of a secondary weapon. It can be used as a flamethrower for enemies in contact.

As the primary weapon, the time between the two taps defines the power of the weapon:

  • on the first tap, the flame thrower begins
  • on the second tap, the flame thrower stops

The longer the amount of time between the two taps, the bigger the flame will be.

 

Special weapon 

For the special weapon, we see where the “pangolin” part comes into play. Using the special weapon will give the player the ability to throw paint around and be protected just like a pangolin rolling into a ball.

 

Weapon Tactics

This weapon offers a new dynamic for the player and for the team. It’s not about aiming but about anticipating the movements of enemies. The player using this weapon is a powerful ally but still weaker than the other players, so each member has to keep an eye on him. He/she can be a game-changer but with a big cost, so this encourages a positive and caring behavior between team members.

While considering this entry, Mike Perrotto commented, 

Mike from Numinous Games

“The art is fantastic!  I really like the concept of this tool being used less as a standard gun, because it focuses more on strategic placement based on where the player predicts other players will be.  Targeting across the entire map could yield a very satisfying direct hit when used precisely.  The “FlameThrower” effect is also an excellent sub-type to help protect the player in close-range situations.  If the character is more like a glass cannon, then the invulnerability while selecting an action makes sense.  The opponent would need to time their own attacks effectively to take down this new role.”

Blake Schreuers added, 

Blake Schreurs

“Wait… was that art made for this challenge??? Impressive! I especially like how analysis was done to consider both opportunities and constraints. I think the larger impact of a player of this type may change much about the team dynamic, allowing for new interactions and new ways of playing existing maps. I also think there’s a large amount of complexity, which may make using this character in the heat of a paint fight challenging.”

We hope reading through these entries helps you think about video game accessibility in new ways while inspiring you to think about the players who would like to join you in gameplay if they were given mechanics they could use! 

 

We will be announcing our next one-button design challenge next week, on Friday, June 4th. We’d love to have your participation and the participation of your friends. Join our community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ThePlayabilityInitiative to participate.



Special Needs Moms Don’t Think of Screen Time The Same Way You Do

April 29, 2021 By Amy Green

As a mom, I hear a lot about screen time. I hear it from social media. I hear it from other parents. I really hear it from my children’s doctors. It’s their job to warn me that too many video games could diminish my children’s IQ. Popular culture seems to have dictated that my top priority as a parent should be to protect my children from the evil video games that will rot their brains and ruin their attention spans.

Kids and video games

Every now and then, I pick a fight. I talk about the studies that show that video games actually increase focus and attention span. They have been shown to help struggling readers persist in their reading, so they perform more like advanced readers. When I’m in a feisty mood, I point out that instead of rotting your brain, video games have actually been shown to increase your gray matter

But most of the time, I don’t pick a fight. I know my children play too many games, even if there are some great benefits. So, I don’t speak up. I sheepishly forget to mention that I’m a game developer who travels the world speaking about games at conferences and that I’ve heard plenty of experts report on the benefits of games. I just nod obediently and tell the doctor, “We’ll work on that.” When other moms lament their battles over screen time and ask for advice, I mostly stay out of it. Sure, I think their fear of screens is a little alarmist, but I know my hands-off approach isn’t exactly five-star parenting.

There is a balance to be struck, and I haven’t always been great at achieving that balance. I could ask my kids to go outside and kick a ball around a little more often. If they put their controllers down and scraped their knees climbing a tree, that would probably be good for them. It would be easy to add “too much screen time” to the growing list of my failures as a mom. (All my insistence that “Moms shouldn’t live with perpetual mom-guilt because it’s a hard job and nobody’s perfect” only goes so far. )

Instead, I try a little harder. But there are still days when my “trying” feels a little anemic. And on those days the temptation to wallow in mom guilt is strong.  “A better mom would give her kids jump ropes and crayons, not joysticks and cartridges.” And mom guilt never stops there, it has a tendency to make you question everything.  “A better mom wouldn’t make video games at all.”  Is that what I believe? Is that why I don’t spend more time defending games?

Instead of giving into mom-guilt, I remember what it felt like when my mom stressors weren’t just, “Are my kids playing too many games?” When my son was struggling with developmental deficits as a result of his cancer treatments, my stressors were, “Did my son keep his hearing aids in long enough today?” “Should we be trying a visual communication board or just keep working on signing and verbalizing common words?” “Is my son’s walker helping him gain confidence or preventing him from building the balance he needs?” 

And I take a moment to remember the moms whose list of worries extends far beyond screen time. And that’s just it; my kids can go out and kick a ball around. They can ride their bikes or go for a hike. They can engage with their peers on equal footing in almost any activity they choose. Not all kids can. Some moms are thrilled that their child can use video games as a lifeline to social engagement.

And this is the secret power of video games. Above all the other advantages that video games provide, they have one huge benefit that is often overlooked. Video games can be a great equalizer for kids with disabilities. In virtual playspaces, children with physical disabilities don’t have to be left out of the fun. Video games have the opportunity to include everyone. They aren’t always designed to be inclusive, but they could be. The game industry is beginning to put accessibility first, which means they are putting a whole generation of children first, children who get left out of other activities due to their physical limitations.

Playing Video Games

I’m proud to be part of the Playability Initiative. I love that I wake up every day thinking about how I can help create the most enjoyable game possible using just a single button for input. I remember all the parents who aren’t worried that their children may be getting too much screen time but are simply hoping their children can connect with other kids in a way that doesn’t alienate them, no matter what form that connection takes. I think about the children who learn to use eye-tracking so they can play a video game they love,  and only later realize that they have built the skills necessary to get a job that uses their computer abilities. I think about all the good the games I create can accomplish. And it makes me a little more willing to pick some fights with everyone who insists that being a good parent means saying no as often as possible to the games their children love. Maybe those games you’re saying no to are the only place where your child connects on equal footing with children who have disabilities that prevent them from joining your child in a water fight or a game of basketball.

As we continue to develop Painted Waters, a one-button video game, we hope we are making a game so fun that the children who play it want more — more games, more technology, more adaptive equipment, more opportunities. I hope their screen time is so absorbing that they discover new ways to engage with a world that keeps putting up barriers for them. I hope they learn that there are way-makers in the world, advocates, helpers, and I hope they eventually become one too. Because screens are really powerful, and screen time can be transformative. And video games don’t have to be evil. They can do an awful lot of good.



Changing the Game – Interview with Ian Hamilton

April 6, 2021 By Andy Robertson

We recently kicked off our new Game Changers series. Game Changers is a collection of interviews that aim to get to know a few of the people making big strides in video game accessibility.

Of course, when we think of individuals whose legacy will be more inclusive gaming for everyone, a more thoughtful and caring games industry, and continued energy and momentum for creating accessibility within every type of video game, one of the very first people who comes to mind is Ian Hamilton.

Ian is a game accessibility specialist with a 15-year background in raising the bar for gamers with disabilities, through advocacy and awareness-raising – writing, speaking, organising events, community building, and consulting –  working with studios from the smallest indies to the largest AAAs, as well as publishers, platforms, industry and government bodies. Ian is also the Co-director of GAconf and coordinator of gameaccessibilityguidelines.com.

Ian has been a frequent contributor on our Playability Initiative Facebook group, and he has been a huge source of help and advice as the Family Video Game Database has been adding accessibility tags to all the games in the database. Andy Robertson had the pleasure of interviewing Ian, and we’re so excited to share that interview with you here now.

Ian Hamilton

Andy: What was your relationship with video games as a child?

Ian:

The first game I played was Galaxians on the Apple II in 1986. Initially, it was about agency and immersion, being part of this thing that you could actively influence. But where it really started to click for me was at the end of the 80s / start of the 90s on platforms like the Atari ST and SNES, when the fidelity and storage capabilities meant developers were able to create more convincing and detailed worlds to explore, that portal into other worlds was quite a mind-blower for 10-year-old me.

 

Andy: What was your route into accessibility?

Ian:

Through design and UX (the kind of design that’s concerned with making sure what you’re making isn’t an unpleasant chore to use). I’d had a few brief encounters with accessibility previously but it really kicked into gear when I started at the BBC about 15 years ago working across their kids’ games and websites. Accessibility is part of everyone’s day job there, but it wasn’t until I saw some testing footage of games altered to work for kids using things like a single button attached to their wheelchair headrest that why it all mattered sunk in, what the human benefit was. There’s no unseeing something like that, so from then on, I carved out time to work on my own similar side-projects.

Fast forward a few years, I was more senior then and overseeing a whole bunch of projects both internally and for external studios, and kept seeing the same mistakes over and over again, devs putting lots of polish into things that would make the experience slightly better while making it a miserable experience for lots of other players for no reason other than lack of awareness. Designers are often motivated by frustration, seeing something that’s broken and needing to fix it, so I started working a bit broader on things like internal training, guidelines, consulting.

Then forward a few more years, the BBC was moving across the country and I couldn’t move with them. By this stage, accessibility was a recognised part of my responsibilities, with time allocated to it each week, and it was the aspect of my job that I enjoyed the most. So I looked around for other companies where I could continue in the same capacity – there were none. This was a real shock to me as I worked across the web as well, where it’s just a standard recognised discipline and career path. Seeing how far behind the games industry was, gave me the push I needed to go beyond thinking of it as my work and join the people already fighting for change across the industry.

Initially, I carried on with the UX work as a contractor to keep the bills paid, and used my evenings and weekends primarily for advocacy, trying to get people to listen and understand that it mattered, alongside occasional bits of paid consulting work when a company wanted my help on something detailed. Eventually, it reached a point where awareness and interest had grown enough that I was able to just about scrape by financially on accessibility income alone, at which point I retired from UX, meaning accessibility is now all that I do.

Game Control Pad and Game Controller

 

Andy: What is your current role and responsibility now?

Ian:

I’m an independent accessibility specialist. At a high level that means that companies who don’t have sufficient in-house capacity (either not the right experience or expertise, or have internal expertise but not enough time) to manage the issues they’re trying to tackle will drop me a line and bring me in to help out. 

What that entails varies wildly from company to company, culture to culture, project to project. Some things I’ve recently been brought in for include hands-on design work and feedback on individual features, detailed audits and expert review on full builds, development of QA success criteria, internal talks and workshops, advising on user research recruitment and facilitation, subject matter expert input for R&D prototyping, development of educational & training materials and internal standards and guidelines, community engagement, and guidance on complying with CVAA accessibility legislation. 

 

Andy: What are the common mistakes current games make in terms of accessibility?

Ian:

By far the biggest mistake is leaving it too late in development. The earlier you consider it, the easier and cheaper it becomes. Consider it from the very start and there’s actually quite a bit of impact you can have for zero cost, just through making the right design decisions from the outset (rather than having to build features to compensate for unintentionally exclusionary decisions). 

 

Andy: What are the biggest barriers to good accessibility and inclusive design in video games?

Ian:

The biggest used to be awareness, people not even knowing that accessibility is a thing. That battle is largely won now; it’s increasingly hard to find developers who haven’t heard of accessibility as a concept, and even increasingly hard to find developers who don’t have at least some experience of implementing some kind of accessibility consideration. So now the biggest barrier really is misconceptions. People thinking that accessibility is going to be really hard, really expensive, is going to mean diluting your ideas down to suit less than 1% of players who probably don’t play games anyway. People who think like that themselves, or people who don’t think those things but whose managers and teammates do. 

In fact, every single one of these things is demonstrably false. As above, if considered early enough in development there is a great deal that can be done for relatively little effort. and rather than diluting anything down, it means ensuring that your vision is kept intact for as many players as possible, including the over 20% of gamers who experience some kind of disability.

 

Andy: With big games making strides forward with accessibility and inclusive design, are things improving in general in this area?

Ian:

Absolutely. It wasn’t very long ago that the idea of a games console having any kind of accessibility feature was pure pie in the sky, now every major gaming platform has a whole suite. Similarly, the idea that nearly all big-name games would have multiple accessibility considerations, including one of the most popular games over the past year being fully accessible to somebody who is blind, would even just a few short years ago have been pure pie in the sky (credit where credit is due, indies have been driving innovation in accessibility for many years, and are still doing so). 

But it is still really only the tip of the iceberg. The progress in the past couple of years in particular has been quite staggering, but we are still a very long way from where we need to be.

 

Andy: What has been the most personally rewarding experience in your work trying to promote accessible design in video games?

Ian:

My interest, motivation and reward are people, seeing the impact on the individuals. And not just the impact on individual gamers, the impact on developers too. Seeing a dev’s reaction when they get some nice feedback; when they gain players; when they learn something new; when they find some cool thing to make their lives easier. But gamers too, of course, seeing people benefitting from the access to culture, recreation and socialising that gaming has the ability to enable. 

 

Andy: What would your dream game look like, what features are you waiting for someone to get right?

Ian:

At the moment I’m just interested in finally seeing a game in the AAA space managing to get the basics right. Decent text size, good subtitling, colourblind friendly design, manageable effect intensity, good remapping. Those are the things that I see complained about the most often, none of them are rocket science yet there still has not been a single game from that side of the industry that has managed to cover all five of them to a decent degree. I am optimistic though. I’m reasonably confident that 2021 will be the year that we finally see all those things come together in one game.

But longer-term obviously it is not just about a few basic core essentials. We really need to get to a point where any gamer can pick up any game and have a reasonable expectation that they will be able to play it.  No game can be accessible to everyone, but at the moment we are a long way from any game being as accessible as it reasonably could be. We will get there. The awareness is in place; the groundwork is in place; the motivation is in place; the momentum is in place. We just have to make it happen, make sure that momentum is maintained, and in doing so ensure that all of the reasons why gaming matters so much are opened up to as many people as possible.