Accessibility in Game Design

What can we do to Improve Overall Accessibility?

Accessibility is about creating experiences for more people Accessibility means avoiding unnecessary barriers that prevent people with a range of impairments from accessing or enjoying your output.

  • Preserve depth of the core mechanics: Those game remove the fat down to what matters.
  • Expansion of core while keeping accessibility: drifting and snaking as an example, in Mario Mart expend, the take a turn sharply.
  • Hazards and Dangers: environmental hazard plays a big role, in the difficulty and skill levels required.
  • Fair Randomness: Random is never really random, and even smash bros choose items to spawn according to play styles and performance. As randomness acts on predefined rules, it's easy to anticipate.
  • Pushing Risk: Taking the lead is taking risk, risky maneuver is usually meet with a satisfying payoff. Randomness, as it follows rules, encourages pushing risk (gambling appeal).
  • Rubber Band: the game has inbuilt rules to keep everyone on toes, it uses fair randomness as part to achieving this.
  • Skill Counter: Whatever bad happen to you there is always a way to counter it or to minimize its effect. Even the awful Wii blue shell can be deflected with a banana or a mushroom in the correct time frame/positioning. It helps mitigate randomness
  • Favor adaptation skills over brute force: Dark room isolation training" still count but what makes the difference is the capacity to assess the situation and take advantage of it.
  • Combinatorial explosion: situation, core mechanics, basic movement, items, randomness, hazard, all combine with themselves and together to create an infinite set of situation. There is always something to discover or to create. Single mechanics can spawn entire strategy books (see "nade" for Solid Snake in SSBB). Everything interacts with everything.

Allowing the Player to use their controls to orient themselves.

There are other things you can do to make navigation simpler:

  • If the player has a single goal: Have an arrow that's always on-screen that points in the direction of where the player is supposed to be headed.
  • Cursor controlled movement: When the cursor reaches the edge of the screen, view changes.  Click to make the player move in direction of the cursor.

Movement modes Wii Case Study

  • Basic movement could be like classic 3D Zelda move, the player could dash but not jump, instead of interaction with the environment would be contextual. Just like in Zelda, Jump would be only available on edge at run or dash speed, climbing small height would be accessible by pushing the wall and using a contextual key. The camera would focus on the immediate surrounding and less on far sight.
  • Action like picking/tossing objects/characters, opening doors, climbing, pushing/pulling a big object, any interaction is handled by the contextual button, let say A on the Wiimote.
  • Dashing (smashing the stick) + A would result in a dodging move.
  • The C button recenters the camera behind the character.
  • The B button is to use picked items. You can only have one item at a time.
  • Holding A will open a radial menu around the character that let the player aim to select an option.
  • Waggle of the wiimote result in a melee attack, with dashing the character smash everything in front of him.
  • Waggle with the nunchuk result in a "shine", a very quick shield that deflect projectile or guard melee attack. Think barrel roll or fox shine in smash bros. But it also stop the character for a moment. Sucessfully deflecting shot can result him to get back to his source.

Aim modes in First Person Shooter Case Study

  • You enter aiming mode by pressing the aiming button and the character draw his weapon. It set the camera close behind the character head (like RE4 or crossbow training) and make the character crouch and strafe resulting in the slower movement speed. In an aiming position, the character also cannot go down a cliff or interact with the environment. Aiming might be very different than in a typical FPS, as some are more focused on direct aiming a point of the screen (Crossbow training, RE4 WII) and slow camera turning.
  • The A button allows direct control of the camera like in typical FPS but does not allow firing. Useful For quick adjustment.
  • The B button is to use to fire the weapon. You can charge it by holding B, it will widen the target reticule and lock an opponent (like in Starfox 64) but the camera would not follow it, and if the locked character gets outside of view, the lock is lost.

Different People have Different Play Styles

One of the goals of accessibility in gaming has been to increase the number of different people who can play video games, making the necessary adjustments in both hardware and software. Everyone is benefiting from these efforts being made, as by allowing all players to change the gaming experience it is enabling different play styles.

Many video games and consoles allow remapping of controls to allow for different play styles. Again, this benefits everyone and allows the player to change the gaming experience to meet their requirements.

Accessibility for the Handicapped or Mobile Impaired.

According to GameAccessibilityGuide:

15% of the population is disabled, rising to 20% amongst casual gamers (PopCap). Other conditions that aren’t registered disabilities can also hit barriers. 14% of the adult population has a reading age of below 11 years old (NCES / BIS), 8% of males have a red-green color deficiency (AAO), and many people have temporary impairments such as a broken arm. Many more have situational impairments such as playing in a noisy room or in bright sunlight, and all players have different levels of ability and difference preferences – there’s no ‘typical gamer’.

When my injury happened, I got extremely depressed. Because I had no finger movement, I figured there was nothing I could really do anymore. Eventually, I found help to mod a controller. Thanks to remapping options I’ve been gaming ever since.

Manny Wooden, gamer & online FPS fan.
Also quadriplegic.

How to make your game more accessible.

As GameAccessibiltyGuide further states: These guidelines are in three categories – basic, intermediate and advanced. These levels are based on a balance of three things:

Reach (number of people who benefit)
Impact (the difference made to those people)
Value (the cost to implement)

They are then grouped in sub-categories that relate to types of skill/impairment: motor, cognitive, visual and speech, and also some general considerations that apply to all areas.

To get the most out of them, follow this process:

1. Familiarise

Review the guidelines before any work starts. If you do this at game design document stage then the work needed is greatly reduced, as many guidelines can be met just by a simple design decisions. The later in the project the more likely retrofitting will be needed, so costs increase significantly with time.

2. Evaluate & plan

The guidelines are an umbrella set for all genres and mechanics. They won’t all be relevant to your game, so first, decide which guidelines are appropriate for your mechanic. The Excel checklist download can be used as a tool for this.

Often you can allow the same mechanic to reach a much wider audience by just providing a few extra options, for example, Bayonetta’s automatic mode. For some players, that mode will be just as enjoyably punishing a test of motor skill as hardcode more is for other players.

3. Prioritise and schedule

Once you know which guidelines you’re aiming for, check which ones have more of a production impact if implemented later on in development, and get them into earlier milestones / higher up the backlog.

Even amongst the guidelines that are relevant to your mechanic, you may not be able to do as much as you would like to. This is fine. Do not let that put you off, doing something is always better than nothing, every single thing you do will simply allow more people to have a better experience with your game. The levels on the site are a prioritisation aid; prioritising the “basic” guidelines will allow you to reach as many people as possible with the resources you have available.

4. Implement

Guidelines are a good start, but to get the best results you also need to test your prototypes with disabled players, and research & seek advice when needed. Just including some disabled players in existing play-testing sessions makes a huge difference, and you’re likely to have some people with impairments in your studio too, colour-blindness in particular. Use them, they’re a great asset.

5. Inform

As you’ve put the work in, make sure that people know about it. List key accessibility considerations in the features list on your site. As well as more customers you’ll gain SEO goodness too. Don’t hide accessibility options away in settings menus, also talk about them in tutorials, loading screen tips, etc. Also, let accessible gaming review sites such as Unstoppable GamerDAGERS and GameCritics know what you’ve been doing, accessibility features can net you good review scores and awards.

6. Review & learn

Telemetry is extremely valuable. Gathering data on usage of accessibility features allows you to compare the cost to develop against the number of players who used them and value per player, resulting in precise figures on profitability. This can then be used to make solid business cases and inform backlog priorities for future projects.