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.



March Design Challenge – Winner Announced!

March 31, 2021 By Amy Green

In March, we issued our most difficult one-button design challenge yet. So, we weren’t at all surprised when we had only one entry this month. However, the caliber of the entry we did receive was so high that we are really excited to share it with you.

We were thinking through what kinds of video games we had not yet thrown down the one-button gauntlet with, and we decided that a complicated sports game that relies heavily on timing would present a unique design challenge that couldn’t be solved with a simple scan and select mechanic. And when we thought of complicated sports games that rely heavily on timing, we immediately thought about a nostalgic favorite of ours, NBA Jam. Of course, like many of our favorite games from decades ago, NBA Jam isn’t widely available now, so we picked a more recent title that shared many of the previous game’s mechanics. NBA 2K Playgrounds 2.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 requires a press and hold; it relies on timing and uses many buttons and combos that require players to press a series of buttons together. If you haven’t played it, here’s a video we put together to demonstrate the complicated gameplay.

So, who was the only game designer brave enough to take on the challenge of thinking through how a single-switch player could have a similar experience without all the button complexity? Amaury Français, a previous one-button design challenge winner for his Genshin Impact entry in January, was the only entry this month, and consequently, he has won a $20 steam gift card for his efforts.

Since Amaury has proven his chops as a game designer who is great at considering the player, and since he is a  two-time winner, our Playability Initiative designers held nothing back as they reviewed his entry and offered feedback.

Here is Amaury Français’ winning entry, along with our team’s feedback.

 

NBA2K Playgrounds2 Logo

One Button Design – Amaury Français

Introduction

This document is about a one-button design for the game NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. The goal is to focus on playability and fun, using only one button, and thinking about accessibility, that is, removing any obstacle that would prevent people with severe disabilities from playing that game.

This document presents two design ideas, a small one that sacrifices some accessibility for great gameplay and another one that really focuses on maximum accessibility.

 

1. Characteristics of the game

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a basketball sports game. It focuses on a very “street” version of the sport, where you can elbow your opponent, and there are only two players per team. It has a very fun focus, visible in the visuals with the big heads and the crazy dunks you can do. It is supposed to be a much more intuitive, fast, and enjoyable version of basketball, with less strategy (long-term planning) and more tactics (instant decision-taking), or just plain old button bashing to win, which is definitely a designed way to play the game.

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 Screenshot

We want our players to feel the same emotions and the same experience as any other player when playing our one-button version. We want them to feel their hearts beat as they approach the basket for a dunk or get their ball stolen and try to take it back. Here is a list of features that define the core experience of NBA 2K Playgrounds 2, and we’ll try to reproduce as much as we can in our designs.

  • Fast gameplay, very short goal sessions, very fast change between attacking and defending
  • Very intuitive gameplay, with fast reflexes and decision-taking
  • Possibility to do very impressive score-making moves (Dunk, 3 points throws)
  • Like any good sports game, you feel like you’re playing the game yourself (hold and release for throwing the ball, etc.)
  • Short decision-taking (where to move, passing, throwing)

 

2. Small design Idea: Dribbling

This is just a neat idea that sacrifices some accessibility. We’re not spending too much time on it, but it still feels very intuitive and fun, so here it is. 

The main characteristic of Basketball is Dribbling. With only one button, it is easy to associate the idea of dribbling with the ball with that button press.

Sadly, this creates a demand for repetitive button presses, and a hold (to differentiate between dribbling and throwing the ball). But it could work for one button, using only one finger, or a foot, or even the tongue.

The idea is to associate the movement of the player with the speed of the dribbling.

  1. Dribbling at a steady pace keeps you where you are
  2. Dribbling faster makes you move towards the basket
  3. Dribbling slowly makes you move backward
  4. Depending on the position of the other player on your team, a cursor moves from that player to the goal, indicating where you’d shoot if you were to throw the ball
  5. Holding the button throws the ball. If it’s for a pass, you automatically succeed. If it is for a goal, the same QTE as in the main game appears (where you have to release the button at the right time)
  6. You automatically dunk instead of shoot, if you’re in the goal zone
  7. If you don’t have the ball, your character automatically moves towards the other players, and you need to do a well-timed button press to elbow them. If the ball is free, the player automatically moves towards it.

 

3. Main Design Idea

This is the main design idea that focuses on accessibility and tries, as much as possible, to cater to any type of disability, with one button, not asking for too many repetitive button presses, and requiring no hold/release.

1. The AI-Path selection

Since we cannot have a standard multi-directional stick, we need to find a way for the player to move around. In basketball, it is good to find a hole in the opponent’s team defense and to slip through their ranks to find yourself closer to the basket.

Our one-button designs contain an AI that will propose an ever-changing path that starts and ends where the player is. Along that path, a selector circle moves at a steady pace and passes through the other team members and, depending on whether you’re defending or attacking, your team’s goal or the opponent’s team goal and players. When the selector is not on a player or a goal, an arrow is visible from the player to that circle (to show the path taken if the player wishes to move there.)

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 Screenshot 3

Image of Hayden from Numinous Games

Playability Initiative Designer, Hayden Scott-Baron:

“This is my favourite suggestion of everything here! Using an AI-assisted route is an excellent way to reduce the input complexity but still allow for sophisticated movement. This approach could probably be extended much further, with AI suggestions of tactical opportunities, or interrupting AI control to suggest a previous tactic.”

 

When attacking, If you press the button:

  • while the selector is on your team member:
    • If you have the ball, you do a pass to that team member
    • If you don’t have the ball, you request a pass.
  • on the goal’s selector (purple donut on the screenshot)
    • If you have the ball, you attempt a goal or a dunk if you’re already positioned close to the goal
    • If you don’t have the ball, you move towards the goal (the purple donut disappears)
  • anywhere else:
    • You move towards that position, in a direct line, following the visible arrow (so you shouldn’t take the furthest point away from you, but proceed step by step, or you may run into the opponents)

Image of Hayden from Numinous Games

Playability Initiative Designer, Hayden Scott-Baron:

“These attacking controls seem to do a great job of balancing movement and shooting. Some of the actions could even be combined, like a single option to move in and take a shot as soon as possible.”

 

When defending, if you press the button:

  • while the selector is on your team member:
    • You switch control to that team member
  • on an opponent’s team member
    • You move towards that opponent (see the chapter about defending)
  • your goal’s selector
    • You move towards the goal to defend it (see the chapter about defending)
  • the free ball on the floor
    • You move towards that ball and automatically take it if you arrive first.
  • anywhere else
    • You move towards that position in a direct line, following the visible arrow between you and the circle.

Image of Hayden from Numinous Games

Playability Initiative Designer, Hayden Scott-Baron:

“Switching between broad policies of defence would help a lot to reduce micromanaging behaviour.”

 

Because of the time necessary to make a decision, the player’s speed should be increased compared to normal gameplay. We could also slow the game around the player, but this would be at the detriment of the fast and exciting environment of the sport.

Depending on the movements of the player and its team member, The AI path moves and changes but never “resets” so that the selector can always be present. The only time the selector resets is when you move from attacking to defending, or when you have the opportunity to elbow while defending (see defend chapter)

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 Screenshot 4

 

2. Attacking gameplay

1. Passing the ball

When you pass the ball, you don’t need to do any test; your character will send the ball to the opponent. If you make a pass while there is an opponent between you and your teammate, it is very likely that the opponent will steal the ball.

2. Defending from an opponent’s elbow/steal 

When your character moves next to an opponent, that opponent can try to elbow you or steal your ball. In that situation, a button press QTE will suddenly appear. If you press it fast enough, you will dodge the attack. Otherwise, the attack succeeds.

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 Screenshot 5

Brock from Numinous Games

Playability Initiative Designer, Brock Henderson

This works if you’re playing single-player, but not in a multiplayer context. (I’m assuming that time slows way down briefly.)

 

3. Shooting

When you try to shoot the ball or dunk, (the choice is automatically made depending on your position), you will see the same QTE as the default gameplay, but instead of having to release the button on time, you will need to press it on time. The chances are similar to the normal gameplay.

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 Screenshot 6

Brock from Numinous Games

Playability Initiative Designer, Brock Henderson

This is probably an accessibility improvement, but it does require multiple button presses in a short period of time.

 

3. Defending Gameplay

1. Elbowing a player

When being close to an opponent that you can elbow, the selector moves automatically to that player for a small time, allowing you to select it to elbow it. If you don’t select that option, the cursor continues on its way. A visual cue also reminds you that pressing the button will elbow the opponent.

NBA2K Playgrounds 2 Screenshot 7

Amy from Numinous Games

Playability Initiative Designer, Amy Green

“I love these intuitive moments in one-button design, where designers anticipate what a player’s most-likely action will be and offer them the opportunity to take it quickly and efficiently, rather than pushing them through a tedious selection process of all possible actions. It really adds to the fun of the experience and the pacing of the gameplay. Well done!”

 

2. Protecting a throw

Protecting a throw works the same as shooting the ball. A small QTE, similar to the shooting one, will appear, asking you to press at the right moment. If you’re successful, you can block the throw or even steal the ball!

4. Difficulty parameters for even greater accessibility

Here are the different parameters you can change to make the game easier to play so that anybody can have fun with it:

1. Modify the overall speed of the game

 This ensures a player will have plenty of time to choose their movement but can be at the detriment of the feeling of playing a sport in real-time.

2. Modify the speed of the player

If the player is fast, it can react faster to the decisions taken with the selector. This is probably the best way to make the game easier and not too punishing if you didn’t make a decision in the first pass of the selector.

3. Modify the timing necessary to protect from a throw/elbow attack

Reflex QTEs can be frustrating to react to as they’re sudden, so we can give more time for the player to react to them.

4. Increase the chances of throwing the ball

Again, this is to help with players who would have trouble getting the timing right.

Amy from Numinous Games

Playability Initiative Designer, Amy Green

“I love the idea presented here in numbers 3 and 4, about responding to the player’s ability. So perhaps if the player can not respond quickly enough to the QTE the first time, the QTE could give more time and be less specific the second time. It could keep adjusting down on each attempt until the player can successfully participate as intended. In general, QTEs can be quite difficult for one-button players with any motor control issues, so letting it adjust to the player over time is a way to even the playing field.”

 

4. Conclusion

We hope you liked this design and found it exciting! It seems like a great way to keep the fast pace and great choice span of the game in real-time while allowing for a single button.

We hope this helped you find some great ideas to add even more accessibility to games in the future so that anybody can play!

We love what Amaury said in his conclusion, and we agree that all along, our hope has been that the one-button design challenges both sharpen our skills as game developers but also that they inspire new ideas and awareness in other developers and studios. Accessible game design is not impossible; it just takes a willingness to consider the player, prioritize accessibility early in the process, and a little creativity.

 

Our accessibility challenges are posted on the first Friday of every month. If you would like to participate in our next one-button design challenge for a chance to win a $20 Steam Gift card, join the Playability Initiative Facebook group and watch for the announcement of the April challenge, coming this Friday, April 2nd.



February Design Challenge – Winners Announced!

March 3, 2021 By Amy Green

It’s no secret that we love seeing the creative ways our community responds to the monthly one-button design challenges. In February, we wanted to tackle a truly challenging aspect of one-button design: navigation. Making choices with one-button can be pretty straightforward, but when a game is known for really fun player navigation, how can they consider their one-button players without sacrificing the style and fun?

When our February winner Quentin Deberdt and honorable mention Ian Hamilton, submitted their designs for how to make the Spider-Man web-swinging mechanic a one-button design, they both went above and beyond in making sure that the resulting gameplay still felt as epic and cinematic as the original gameplay.

Here are their designs, along with the feedback from our Playability Initiative Game Designers.

 

We’ll begin with Ian Hamilton’s entry. February was Ian’s second honorable mention recognition in a row. We love that Ian lays a great foundation for accessible design with a unique nod to style and fun.

“Auto swing in the current direction on initial press, on any further presses rotate left/right looping around 180 degrees to choose a new direction or stop, on a configurable speed. Rather than the game pausing while choosing a new direction, enter into extreme slow motion, with spidey’s head/body animating according to the directional scanning; rather than an accessibility accommodation, this would feel legitimately like you’re using his superpower speed and heightened senses. Like this, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ROSj2V45-g but quite a bit slower again, so no meaningful forward distance is traveled while choosing a new direction.”

 

Mike from Numinous Games

In reviewing Ian’s entry, Mike Perrotto said, “I love the slow-motion idea.  Probably even slower than what is in the example video.  Perhaps more like Final Fantasy VII: Remake when making ATB choices.” 

Amy from Numinous Games

Amy Green added, “Letting Spider-Man’s head and body show the loop rather than putting in icons does a lot to keep the aesthetic really nice for players with disabilities, and I like the concern shown here for not giving players who are using the one-button option a less visually appealing experience.” She continued, “Often accessible design suffers from feeling “less interesting” than the mainstream design. I love that this extreme slow-motion approach adds a stylistic and thematic element to the design that would make the one-button mechanic feel like a special effect that puts you in the mind of Spider-Man rather than simply feeling like the gameplay has halted or is accommodating you.”

 

Quentin Deberedt’s entry was quite creative. It incorporated a lot of the elements that make Spider-Man such a popular game franchise, and he communicated his ideas really elegantly despite English not being his native language. Here is his entry:

Pillars and gameplay setup

The web swinging gameplay of Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales is rooted around 3 pillars:

  • Controls : Even in Toggle mode, the player has the feeling to have an influence on the avatar’s movements. Being able to control the vertical axis in addition to the horizontal one helps a lot to get this sensation
  • Animations : The animations of the swing, the “floating” of the body during a fall, the aerial tricks…all these animations are a big part of the Spider-Man experience.
  • Level design : In addition to its strong art, Manhattan’s map offers a lot of diverse situations for the swinging gameplay and clear landmarks for navigation.

I keep in mind these pillars while designing this proposal.

Note : I only played the Spider-man game on PS4 and have seen only a little of Miles Morales gameplay.

For the following, we stated that the player has already triggered the web swinging gameplay (the first push on the button) whatever was the initial state of the avatar : Jumping, falling, using a burst…

We will also make a difference between exploration state (or free roam) and missions state. (Mostly pursuit)

Web swinging during exploration

After the start of the web swinging gameplay, the avatar goes toward a marked objective on the map or just in the direction of the camera. 

The goal of the following mechanism is to represent Spider-man’s ability to be aware of his environment and to offer an alternative to a simple rotation system.

At any time, the push of the button triggers a high slow motion mode where the avatar’s current movements have no incidence. (In any case, we can freeze the movements after multiple minutes)

During this slow motion, a “scan and select” interface appears. It cycles automatically (the speed can be set in the accessibility menu) through highlighted points of interest (POI) around the character, the camera turning around Spider-Man to show them. 

These POI can be :

  • Landmarks : A building at the corner, a monument, the road of a street, a nearby rooftops, the narrow path between buildings…
  • Marks : defined by the player on the map, a nearby collectible or event…

The player just pushes the button on the highlighted POI he wants to be guided to.

Spider-Man game screenshot of Spider-Man falling and certain locales highlighted

At the end of a cycle, the avatar is highlighted which prevents any change of direction if the player pushes the button at this moment.

Web swinging during missions

The navigation during missions or pursuits is different. The game is more dynamic and the player has, most of the time, a clear information to where to go. 

In that case, the exploration system isn’t as relevant and the direction can be set automatically by the current objective. 

However, we would miss the opportunity to give the Spider-man experience by letting the controls on fully automatic. This is why I propose a pace system.

When the player pushes the button, a “scan and select” interface appears and the high slow motion mode is triggered. But this time, the interface cycles automatically (speed can be set) through icons that just appeared on screen.

These icons pictured the different paces possible :

  • High and slow : The avatar will take some highs compared to its current altitude and the one of its target. He will also move slower and allow the player to have a larger view of the scene.
  • Low and fast : Spider-Man will go lower than his current altitude and, in some cases, be lower than his objective. That way, he will go faster.
  • Burst : The character stays at the same altitude but uses the environment and the burst features to automatically avoid attacks and rush toward the objective. 
  • Front swing : To stay at the same altitude and speed.

Screenshot from Spider-man the game with potential controls

When the avatar is close to his objective, the “triangle” action is automatically triggered in order to help the transition between the swinging gameplay and the next gameplay state.

Other features

I imagine others possibilities that could be turned on or off in the menus.

  • Aerial tricks : The option to automatically make aerial tricks is already available in the game but I wanted to highlight its importance for the experience.
  • Pace system during exploration : After the selection of the POI, the player would have the pace selection cycle before going back to normal speed in order to have a better control of Spider-man. In that situation, some set of moves like the land shock attack, running on the building or the border burst would be triggered in burst mode.

Here is our feedback on Quentin’s design, broken down into the categories he presented:

 

Amy from Numinous Games

For web-swinging in exploration mode, Amy Green said, “I really appreciate offering a variable speed for scan and select.”

Mike from Numinous Games

Mike Perrotto said, “I love the idea of using Points of Interest or player indicated markers to control core locomotion.  In our own design research, we have found that the destination is what we tend to think about more than each individual choice.” Amy agreed, adding, “POI-based rather than navigationally-compass based makes a lot of sense, because the player can use these POI to navigate, but a vast majority of the time they are traveling to a specific location, so letting them choose a destination and not just a direction makes a lot of sense and cuts down on the number of steps a player must take to get to their desired outcome!”

Amy from Numinous Games

For web-swinging during missions, Amy said, “It makes sense to assume the player’s destination during a mission and to get them there as efficiently as possible to not add to player frustration, and I love that you use this time to allow the player to choose their pacing and style of swinging, since this is a core part of the fun of swinging as Spider-man, and the perfect opportunity to surface it!”

Mike from Numinous Games

Mike added, “The pace system idea is very intriguing, and it harkens back to game systems like Final Fantasy XII’s Gambit system and Final Fantasy XIII’s Paradigm system.  Having a general approach to an obstacle or encounter to influence your basic move-set and then the player can focus on flourish and details.”

Amy from Numinous Games

For other features, Amy said, “This approach of getting the key information settled first…”what is the destination” and then allowing exploration in style and pace really lets the player using one-button mode experience the parts of Spider-man swinging that make it such a compelling navigation system.”

 

Once again, we are so encouraged to see the thoughtful, creative work that our community puts into these monthly design challenges. We hope we are setting an example together of how easy it is to consider players who have unique limitations in how they can play. Our goal is to help more developers think accessibly from the very beginning of their game development process. As we practice this together each month, we learn from one another and grow in our resolve. 

 

If you’d like to participate in the March one-button design challenge, join the Playability Initiative Facebook Group. We will announce the contest on Friday, March 5th, and the winning entry will be awarded with a $20 Steam gift card.

 



OverJoyed: How Collaboration in The Playabilitiy Initiative Community is Creating Innovation

March 2, 2021 By Amy Green

One of our goals in creating a community around the Playability Initiative was to bring people together who care about accessibility. We hoped that people would share their knowledge and begin to solve bigger problems together. We also hoped that abled and disabled game designers would get to know some players with disabilities and that these growing relationships would lead to new collaborations that would gradually change the way games were made. 

 

We firmly believe that if we “design for the one,” we’ll create games that are more enjoyable for the many. Can you imagine how different video games would be if every person involved in making them had their own disability or even one friend with a disability who they collaborated with as they were making design decisions?

We are beginning to see some of these relationships forming in our community, and we are so excited to see how these relationships are already leading to innovation.

 

Back in November, a Playability Initiative community member, Anthony DeVergillo shared a post on the Playability Initiative Facebook group sharing an idea he had for a virtual joystick that would allow him greater access to the games he wanted to play. He asked if anyone would be interested in helping him create it because he imagined it would help many other gamers too. 

Several community members commented on Anthony’s post, and eventually, he connected with Jonah Monaghan, another Playability Initiative community member. They discussed Anthony’s idea, and they began collaborating to create an accessible, virtual joystick controlled by the mouse or trackpad. They call it OverJoyed, and it will eliminate the need to use a keyboard to move and perform actions in PC games.

 

When Jonah and Anthony work on OverJoyed together, they stream their development on Twitch. They are currently streaming once a week for two hours.  The first hour is dedicated to the development of OverJoyed, and the last hour is split into two parts: an accessible game review and a conversation between Jonah and Anthony about accessibility. 

We are so excited about this innovative virtual joystick design and the fact that it came out of the Playability Initiative community connecting with one another. We love that Anthony and Jonah are sharing their progress publicly so they can inspire even more accessible design.

Anthony and Jonah

 

We asked Anthony and Jonah some questions about OverJoyed, and we’re excited to share their responses to our Q&A with you.

 

Amy: Anthony, what inspired your idea for Overjoyed?

Anthony: 

November of last year, I got the new Super Mario 3D All-Stars Collection, and I was super excited to play it because I have such nostalgia for those games. When I opened up Super Mario Galaxy, I was prompted to immediately use motion controls to pick a save file. It didn’t annoy me at the time. I asked for assistance, thinking it would just be that once. I was able to play through the first level on my own, but once I finished the level, it required me to save my file again using motion controls, and that infuriated me because I could play the whole rest of the game, but I had to ask for help just to save. I tweeted about it and was interviewed about my experience on a popular YouTube channel called GameXplain. That really started me on the journey of accessibility. I found the Playability Initiative, and one day I had the idea of creating a virtual joystick on the computer so that I would be able to play a lot more of my games on the computer because I can’t use a keyboard. So, I reached out on the Playability Initiative, and I got responses almost immediately.

 

Amy: Anthony, what response did you get when you shared your idea on The Playability Initiative Facebook group?

Anthony: 

There were a lot of people who couldn’t do it themselves, but they loved the idea. There were some people who wanted more information or wanted to talk about it more. Jonah was the one who was ready to jump into it. I think everyone wanted to help, but they didn’t have the time to devote to it.

 

Amy: Jonah, what did you think when you first saw Anthony’s post, and what inspired you to reach out to him?

Jonah: 

When I first saw Anthony’s post, I saw this fantastic idea that I feel anyone would be kicking themselves for not thinking of. It is a relatively universal solution for a major problem in the community, which is a pretty rare thing. I reached out to Anthony one on  one to get the ball rolling as fast as possible.

 

Amy: Jonah, how did you decide this was a project you wanted to commit yourself to working on?

Jonah: 

This is a pretty tough question. To be honest, if I see a project I want to do, I figure it out. I had a pretty tight schedule before the project, but after talking to Anthony, I could see that we both shared similar values, and if that meant freeing up even one day to get the project done, then I would make sure I free up that day.

 

Amy: How is development going?

Anthony: 

It’s going really well. We have a minimum viable product. It works; we just have a lot more features to add to it.

Jonah: 

Development is slow but fun. I’m used to tighter development schedules and crunch time, so having a project where I only take 3 – 4 hours a week is a nice change of pace for me. Almost all the development is seen on our streams. The only development off stream is research and some small fixes to prep for the next stream.

A sneak peek at the overjoyed joystick software in development.ware

 

Amy: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

Anthony: 

Right now, the joystick is based on the absolute position of your mouse on the screen. We’re trying to make it so it’s not based on the position of the screen, it’s based on the position it moves relative to where it was. It’s a lot more complex because you have to do calculations to figure out where it was and where it is. 

Jonah:

Right now, for the prototype, there haven’t been many challenges since we’ve been taking our time and having fun. However, moving forward, I know our biggest challenge is going to be adapting the software to work with games that lock the mouse like most major titles.

 

Amy:  What’s it like to stream your development? Have you had many viewers?

Anthony: 

It was kind of weird for us at first. I’m a big follower of developers on Twitch, but I think it was tough for us to get into the groove. I think the hardest part was coding and entertaining. But I think now, we’ve found a good mix where we code, and then we do an accessibility review, or I’ll do a reaction to a video, or Jonah will show some of the game he’s working on where accessibility is a component of playing the game. To beat the game, you have to turn on the accessibility features. We have five to seven viewers per stream, but it’s a great start.

Jonah: 

Before this project, I had never streamed before, so the first few streams were definitely a learning curve. I found it crazy that in our first stream, we had someone from the Netherlands who decided to join and stayed interested in the work we were doing. Programming while streaming is an adjustment. Since I’m taking things slow to talk to the viewers, I can clearly formulate my thoughts, but also, I make dumb mistakes since I get distracted by taking things slow. 

In terms of viewers, we average at around seven per stream. This is already more than I could ask for, but coming into the next few weeks, we’re planning on incorporating much more viewer engagement activities to put our current work-in-progress in the hands of the viewers.

 

Amy: Is there anything else you want to share with us about working on Overjoyed together?

Anthony:

We call it OverJoyed because it’s a joystick overlay: over – joyed. But it’s also the feeling you get when you receive an adaptive technology that works and just being able to play the games you dearly love again, because when you’re struggling to play, it’s deeply frustrating.

Jonah: 

Overall, working on OverJoyed has been an awesome experience. I’m glad I got to meet Anthony so we could work on this together. I hope that people keep coming out and being engaged with our content, even after the product is done.

 

Anthony and Jonah just reached Affiliate status on their Twitch channel.  Affiliate status allows them to receive Twitch subs and create unique channel emotes for subscribers to use in chat.  You can follow their channel at https://www.twitch.tv/breakingbeaker.

Breaking Beaker logo

If you want to catch the announcements of the stream, join us in the Playability Initiative Facebook group. If you’d be interested in The Playability Initiative hosting your accessibility-focused stream on Twitch, email mike@numinousgames.com.

 

We appreciated this opportunity to reach out to a couple people making a big difference in games. It has inspired us to start a new series on our blog that we’ll be calling Game Changers. In Game Changer blogs, we will be interviewing people who we recognize are moving the needle when it comes to accessibility in games. Their work, ideas, energy, and conversations are bringing about changes that will benefit gaming audiences for years to come. Keep an eye out for our next Game Changers blog, and if you want to nominate a Game Changer for us to interview email amy@numinousgames.com

 



Announcing the Games4Change Student Challenge!

February 1, 2021 By Amy Green

We’ve always been pretty big fans of the Games For Change organization. We love their optimistic view of games. We are impressed by the way they bring people together who have a vision for the positive ways games can impact the future. And we love that they are investing in the future of games by working with students.

When we began talking about The Playability Initiative, we knew that Games For Change should be involved in some way. We also knew that we didn’t want to have a one-time impact on the way a single game was designed. We wanted to inspire accessible game design well into the future. And so, we’ve partnered with Games For Change to sponsor their Student Challenge with an accessible game design modifier.

2021 G4C Student Challenge Competition

Students in 8th – 12th grades who are entering the Games for Change Student Challenge can choose to make their entries accessible for a chance to win a design opportunity on our upcoming one-button game, Painted Waters. The winner will also receive accessible tech to help test their future game designs.

We’ve been busy this past week compiling student resources, thinking through some new curriculum ideas, and creating gamer personas for students to use in their game design. We are so excited to see what these students come up with, and we can’t wait to play their games as we judge their entries. We hope that some students may even pop into our Playability Initiative Facebook group to ask  our community members questions as they’re working on their games for the contest.

How Students Participate

In the coming weeks, we’ll create some blogs that share with you some of our favorite accessible game design resources, because frankly, we were blown away by all the really great content that already exists for game designers of all ages and experience levels.

In the meantime, if you know any student in 8th -12th grade who would be interested in participating in this year’s student challenge, it’s even easier to participate online than ever!



January Design Challenge Winners

January 29, 2021 By Amy Green

One of our first thoughts when we played Animal Crossing: New Horizons was, “This game sure requires players to use a ton of buttons, but I bet it could be a one-button game.” 

Animal Crossing Characters

We had already been thinking about our own one-button game, but Animal Crossing made us wonder why games so often equate “more buttons”  with “more fun.” Do we humans really receive more joy from our play experiences when we are able to showcase our ability to remember the special functions of multiple buttons? Or could all of these complicated games but just as fun if their inputs were simplified? 

And even if we derive some measured amount of enjoyment from conquering the complexity, is that enjoyment worth excluding others from the experience for? Yes, these are the kind of things we think about while gathering apples, or fishing, or decorating houses in Animal Crossing. We’re a barrel of laughs, I know. But, our thoughts along these lines eventually inspired our monthly design challenges where we invite people to re-think the games they love and show us what it would take to make those games, or specific mechanics within them, a one-button experience.

In January’s challenge, we specifically asked players to show us how they could make decorating in Animal Crossing a one-button mechanic.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of building yourself an extravagant house and furnishing it with as much stuff as you can acquire, all while trying to work off your soul-crushing debt to Tom Nook, well, first, we’re sorry you’ve missed out on this capitalist cautionary tale, or this opportunity to be the star of your own animated American Dream, depending on your current philosophical leanings…. But also, here’s a quick video we made that shows you how decorating currently works within Animal Crossing.

 

So, how did the entries we received simplify the process of decorating in Animal Crossing and make it accessible to players who can only press a single button? Let’s find out!

Ian Hamilton’s entry solved the problem pretty simply and was recognized as this month’s honorable mention:

“Nested scan & select, cycling between each wall, the floor, and cancel, then elements or locations within that.

For placing, scan between objects to place, then choose a location as above, then cycle between grid squares within that location. Then ok/cancel/rotate – rotate sets the object rotating through directions, on the same scanning speed.

For editing, choose a location as above, then cycle between objects in that location. Cycle between rotate, move, remove. Rotate as above. For move, cycle between available grid locations.”

And we have to say, the fact that you can remove a whole slew of buttons and include thousands of extra players with just five sentences of design thinking is pretty impressive! 

These are not insurmountable design puzzles; they’re just a matter of consideration. As an industry, we aren’t excluding people from games because it’s too hard to include them. Ultimately, we’re excluding people because we don’t care enough. And a simple entry like this really brings that shortcoming to light.

Here’s the feedback our Playability Initiative designers had for Ian’s design:

Mike from Numinous Games

Mike Perrotto said, “Scanning is a great way to go, and I think being a bit more precise when scanning is important to help expedite the player finding what they want to select. Scanning the entire room could take a long time if the placement the player wants is near the end of the list. I would recommend keeping the scanning within close proximity to the player to help make the process more rapid and keep the player engaged.“

Ryan of Numinous Games

Ryan Green added, “This is a solid solution for total control over an area. The main risk is that doing even simple decorations could take a long time in the event that there are multiple spots on the floor or wall. Starting with a suggested spot on the wall could speed up the process.”

This month’s winning design came from Matthew Colon. Matthew has entered all three of our design contests so far. He has been our honorable mention twice, and in January, his winning design earned him a shiny new steam gift card in the amount of $20. (Just imagine all the buttons he’ll be pushing and all the joy he’ll derive from proving he can!) 

We are always impressed with how Matthew’s designs get to the heart of the solution quickly and with a really elegant creativity that not only allows access but really optimizes the player’s experience.

Here’s Matthew’s entry:

I’ll define “cycle-based menu” to represent iterating a cursor of sorts over a small discrete number of selectable options at a speed configurable in a game menu in which the cursor returns to the first item after reaching the last. This will be the method of navigating through options with a single button. When I say below that the player selects an option, it’s under the assumption that a cycle-based menu is being used.

Here’s what Matthew wrote up for the January design challenge:

“I’ll define “cycle-based menu” to represent iterating a cursor of sorts over a small discrete number of selectable options at a speed configurable in a game menu in which the cursor returns to the first item after reaching the last. This will be the method of navigating through options with a single button. When I say below that the player selects an option, it’s under the assumption that a cycle-based menu is being used.

Here’s my entry:

Let’s start with the player character in the room having furniture and items in their inventory that they want to place. They will have around them in Animal Crossing style a cycle-based menu with the following options:

– Inventory (select items to place)

– Shuffle (randomize the placement of items already in the room)

– Decorate (interact with individual items in the room)

– Photo Shoot (has the camera pan over the room at different angles for a short time where the player can take pictures)

– Done (finish decorating and return to some other part of the game)

The player starts by selecting “Inventory,” which opens their Animal Crossing-esque inventory and a cursor iterates through the items in their inventory and a “Done” option. If the player pushes the button while the cursor is on an item, the item is toggled to be selected/unselected in regards to adding it to the room. When the player pushes the button while the cursor is on “Done,” it will playfully toss all selected items randomly throughout the room so there’s a starting arrangement, and the player will return to the “Inventory/Shuffle/Decorate/Photo Shoot/Done” cycle-based menu. If they don’t like the initial random arrangement, they could select “Shuffle” as many times as they like to randomize the arrangement. For some players, the results of shuffling might be sufficient for what they want, and they can select “Done” to finish decorating and do something else in the game.

Once the starting arrangement is satisfactory, now it’s time to select “Decorate” to personalize the space. A cursor will appear that iterates through pointing at each item in the room and a “Done” option. Selecting one of the items will put a cycle-based menu around the item with the following:

– Move

– Rotate

– Pick Up

– Done

Selecting “Move” will replace the cycle-based menu with an arrow that cycles through pointing up, right, down, left, and a “Done” option. Pressing the button will move the item in the direction shown. If “Done” is selected, they return to the “Move/Rotate/Pick Up/Done” cycle-based menu.

Selecting “Rotate” will replace the cycle-based menu with a curved arrow that cycles between pointing clockwise, pointing counter-clockwise, and a “Done” option. Pressing the button will rotate the item in the direction shown. If “Done” is selected, they return to the “Move/Rotate/Pick Up/Done” cycle-based menu.

Selecting “Pick Up” will bring up another cycle-based menu asking if the player is sure they want to pick up the item from the room, showing “Yes” and “No” options. If they select “Yes,” the item is removed from the room and added back into their inventory, and if they select “No” they return to the “Move/Rotate/Pick Up/Done” cycle-based menu.

The player can continue to work with the various cycle-based menus to select items to move and rotate them until they have their room just how they want it. At that point, they can choose the “Photo Shoot” option to have a fancy pass through their room at different angles to view their creative design (here’s an example of the photo shoot style from Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer: https://youtu.be/DCk2Cgdzp-8?t=949). If the player pushes the button during this time, it will take a picture that they can view elsewhere in the game. After the photo shoot ends, control returns to the player and they see the “Inventory/Shuffle/Decorate/Photo Shoot/Done” cycle-based menu again.

At this point, the player could select “Done” to return to the rest of the game, “Decorate” again to refine their design, “Shuffle” to throw it all up in the air again, or “Inventory” to add items to the room (new items are randomly tossed in but the existing items stay where they are.)”

Mike from Numinous Games

When Mike Perrotto from the Playability Initiative reviewed this entry, he said, “I really like the idea of the “shuffle” when placing items. For some players, they want to decorate but don’t mind as much where everything goes, and sometimes it’s easier to start decorating with options already presented to you instead of having a clean slate. Some players really enjoy the clean slate approach. This option would support both types of players.” Ryan Green agreed, “With cycle-based-menus, it’s good to look for opportunities for automation. It doesn’t necessarily reduce the player’s agency; it reduces the energy and effort needed to create something nice. The “shuffle” is a very welcome automation option. It would create a really nice starting state with only a few taps.”

Mike went on to say, “I like the rotation options, and I’d encourage a test on whether both directions are necessary. Maybe only one direction to limit choice, and then the player can quickly rotate multiple times to their desired rotation. Moving objects in proximity to the player seems to give the player the most agency. Incrementally moving across the screen could provide playful experiences (additional dialog, sound effects, or animations) and keep the player engaged. Prompting the player, especially during destructive activities (like removing objects from the room), is very welcome in a scanning system. There is always the chance the player can make a mistake. I would even suggest an undo option. I love the idea of a camera mode while decorating. Being able to take quick snaps of different designs could be very helpful.  My only question now is how do I see the photos I’ve taken while in this mode?” 🙂

Overall, we love that Matthew’s design not only solved the problem, but it also focused on optimizing the experience for the one-button player. Well done, Matthew!

 

We’ll be posting our February One-button Design Challenge on Friday, February 5th.

If you’d like to participate, make sure you’re a member of our Playability Initiative Facebook Group. We can’t wait to see your creative designs!

 



Our Favorite Moments of Disability Representation in Pop Culture

January 25, 2021 By Amy Green

Most people who care about accessibility care because issues of accessibility impact their own lives or the lives of people close to them. I never thought a lot about handicapped parking until my friend was paralyzed in a car accident. Suddenly, I found myself noticing accessibility issues that had seemed invisible to me before. 

Unfortunately, if it takes us caring about someone with an accessibility need to begin to care about accessibility issues, the world will be very slow to change. We can’t possibly introduce every person in the world to someone with a disability.* 

Fortunately, television, movies, and games help all of us care about each other in new ways, as writers introduce us to diverse “friends” whose needs begin to matter to us. Popular culture is a powerful tool for changing the way our society views underrepresented populations. We’ve seen television shows change the public sentiment on working moms, interracial couples, LGBTQ+ rights, and many other topics that were once considered taboo. Media is a powerful force for exposing everyone to the needs of people who aren’t exactly like them.

While we haven’t seen a huge push to normalize disability in the mainstream media, we do have a few favorite moments when disability representation was done well – moments we think could lead to a new awareness of accessibility for people who might not be exposed to it otherwise. We’ll share our favorites, but we’d also love to hear yours.  Head over to The Playability Initiative Facebook Group to continue the conversation.

And if you think one of our favorites needs to be reconsidered, we’d love to hear from you as well. Our definition of good representation could be flawed, and we want to learn from the community what issues we should be aware of.

 

Biden’s Acceptance Speech – A Favorite of Ryan Green’s

We recently watched the documentary Crip Camp, which follows the story of filmmaker James LeBrecht and his contemporaries and how hard those with disabilities had to fight for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that prohibits discrimination and provides for equal access for those with disabilities in public life. It opened my eyes to an entire civil rights movement I hadn’t heard about before. So I was encouraged by President Biden’s speech on election night and his acknowledgment of the disabled community. My wife and I both teared up when we heard President Biden include disability in his speech, saying, “We must make the promise of the country real for everybody, no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.” 

Joe Biden accepts the nomination for President of the United States, November 7, 2020

 

Steve Spohn, activist and COO of AbleGamers posted this shortly after… https://twitter.com/stevenspohn/status/1325280639315226624

Another sign of this administration’s commitment to accessibility was highlighted last week when they relaunched the Whitehouse website with new accessibility features on the president’s first day in office. This administration’s posture towards accessibility is just one more example of how advocacy and personal connection with issues of access, breeds compassion.

 

A Quiet Place – A Favorite of Amy Green’s

The representation of deaf culture in this movie is not perfect. They get some details wrong or change the details for the sake of drama. (They have a cochlear impact ring with feedback in a way that only hearing aids would.) They caption the silent parts of the film and then remove the captions for the spoken words, an accessibility issue for the deaf community wanting to enjoy the film they are represented in. However, setting aside everything that could be improved, I still loved seeing a movie where a family who learned to sign to communicate with their deaf child benefited from this “superpower” in a post-apocalyptic world. Just seeing a family whose life is improved because of their child with a disability is a huge win. My son with disabilities added so much joy and love to our family. I always wanted people to know that despite the challenges, he made everything better, not worse. The concept of disability improving a family comes through beautifully in this film. I’ve also caused my son’s hearing aids to feedback painfully so many times, that even this “inaccurate” moment in the film made me smile because it felt like a nod to something I understood in a way only a parent of a deaf child could. 

Scene from A Quiet Place

 

Speechless – A Favorite of Amy Green’s

Our family loves speechless! We love how accurately it describes life with a disability. Speechless pulls no punches when it portrays how annoying it is to constantly be celebrated for all the obstacles you’re overcoming, how hard you have to advocate for what you need, and how wonderful it feels to finally be seen as a legitimate member of your community, not just the “token special needs person.” In a time when only 2% of television characters were presented with disabilities, the choice to feature Micah Fowler, an actor with cerebral palsy, as the star of a sit-com was a bold step forward for representation. The story centers around Micah’s character, J.J. Dimeo, whose CP is the primary focus of this hilarious television show. While it has been canceled on network television, you can still stream it on Hulu.

The family from the TV Show, Speechless

 

President’s Choice Ad (Canada) – A Favorite of Katie Postma’s

One of the best things about accessibility awareness is how easily it becomes part of the ‘norm.’ When true equity occurs, you can find examples of every size, shape, and character in popular culture. I was recently (and happily) surprised when I realized an ad I had seen dozens of times has a gentleman in it with artificial legs. I was happy about it for two reasons: first, I was very glad they put someone with accessibility needs into a rather mainstream ad that millions of people would see. Second, I realized they did it so seamlessly and effortlessly that I didn’t notice it for weeks. When speaking to Amy about this, I tried to find the ad… in a PR piece, on YouTube, even on the company website. After weeks of searching for it, it finally showed up on “AmpuTO TV”, a Toronto-based channel that promotes representation for the limb loss and limb different community.

You can watch the President’s Choice ad, here on YouTube.

So I don’t feel it’s a publicity stunt, nor is it being used to promote their image as an “inclusive company.”. I imagine it’s simply an actor who auditioned for the role of “husband and father sitting in a living room” and got the part. It warmed my heart, and I immediately went out and supported the ad by purchasing the product. Kudos to President’s Choice Decadent Cookie Pie ad and all those behind it!

 

*Although I think that would be a fantastic initiative in higher education. Spend one week shadowing a disabled person before you graduate with a degree of any kind because no matter where you work, your choices will impact people who have different needs than you. And someone should fund this imaginary program because it’s not that person’s job to educate you, so they should be paid for their time. But, I digress…



Games that Give Us Hope

January 14, 2021 By Amy Green

One of our favorite conversations this year in the Playability Initiative Facebook group was a rousing discussion about which video game, released in 2020, gives us the most hope for overall game accessibility in the future.  We all agreed that there have been some really positive changes across the industry, with lots to celebrate and plenty of work still to be done.

We wanted to recap that conversation here for everyone who missed it and invite you to chime in with your own thoughts if you weren’t part of that original conversation.

Last of Us II screenshot depicting high contrast mode

It will come as no surprise that “Last of Us 2” was brought up early in the conversation. When Katie Postma mentioned The Last of Us 2 as the game that gives her the most hope for accessible games in the future, she said it “feels obvious but more than the game having improved options, I feel like it got a lot of great press and recognition.” And it’s true, thinking back, when has the industry been so quick to celebrate accessibility before? It’s hard to imagine a game getting this same kind of press and attention for its accessibility features five years ago, not just because games weren’t as focused on inclusivity but also because the industry wasn’t as focused on celebrating accessibility. We hope the press around this title will inspire more game studios to think of accessibility earlier in their process. Kelly Paradise pointed out that, “It won a game award for accessibility too, which brought some nice attention to it.”

Antonio Ignacio Martínez also mentioned this title, while reminding us it was one of many to celebrate this year, saying, “I think there isn’t one title that I can name only. The Last of Us Part 2 was a game-changer in blind and low vision accessibility, but it was the number of games (both indie and AAA) that embraced accessibility in different ways that really gave me hope. Even titles released previously kept adding options to be more accessible.”

Pickmin 3 Deluxe Screenshot

Anthony DeVirglio chose “Pikmin 3 Deluxe because Nintendo made motion controls optional.” and Kelly Paradise jumped into the Nintendo discussion, saying, “Nintendo finally allowing controller mapping is HUGE.” This brought up a more nuanced discussion of how system-wide remapping may have a dampening effect on accessibility on an individual game level since developers may decide that players already have sufficient system level mapping options. Control mapping is a good start to game accessibility, however games still need to bake broader accessible thinking into their design process. But wherever you land on this argument, just seeing Nintendo mentioned positively in an accessibility conversation is a surprising and welcome development.

Lair of the Clockwork God Accessibility Options

Ian Hamilton rounded out the conversation by drawing our attention to a game that showed how far accessibility has come. “Lair Of The Clockwork God. Not the most extensive efforts of 2020, but just a couple of years ago, it would have completely blown the industry away. And it took an afternoon, ‘probably less time than was spent choosing the colour of the options menu’ – 

“That I think more than anything else this year shows the trajectory that things are moving along – yesterday’s industry-shaking is today’s trivial effort. Nice to try extrapolating that further to how things will be in a couple of years’ time.”

Concept Art scene from Painted Waters by Numinous Games

While 2020 didn’t leave us hopeful about much, we have to agree that it gave us lots of optimism where accessible video games are concerned. We hope Painted Waters will be an accessible title that people can celebrate by this time next year. In the meantime, let us know what video games released in 2020 gave you the most hope for the future of accessibility in video games! Join us in our accessibility conversations in our Facebook group.