One thing we try to remain aware of at Gizmodeus is user accessibility. I’m not only talking about the ability for a disabled gamer to enjoy their hobby, but also for anyone in a temporarily-impaired situation to continue to play their favorite games.
In our first game, Matchpot!, we’ve designed the game graphics and inputs to be flexible to both people with disabilities, people in activity-limiting situations, and people who just have strong preferences about interface.
As frustrated color-blind gamers know, many games are simply unplayable without proper color recognition. Games often encode critical information into the color of pieces and areas (safe/unsafe) that is not represented in any other way.
Among games that do try to support color-blind gamers, most do it with a separate color-blind mode, which gives up all pretense of presenting an attractive interface.
In Matchpot!, we worked the idea of full (right down to “I can’t see color at all”) color-blindness support into the base game, into the main graphics, with no need for a color blind mode. Every time color is used in the game, there is a corresponding symbol attractively worked into the graphics and recognizable purely by shape, which conveys the same information.
- Unusable hand
A second form of impairment more rarely addressed by game developers is the absence of two usable hands. Again, we’re not only talking about a person missing a hand or arm, but also something as temporary as having a hand full (holding onto a child, holding your bag on the train, one arm is tired, etc).
Especially on a mobile platform with a touch screen, most games are unplayable without two free and functioning hands: one to hold the phone, the other to touch the screen.
Matchpot! addresses this need with optional tilt controls. These controls are accessible from anywhere in the game, even during the middle of a level, without pausing the game or returning through clunky menus. A two-fingered tap immediately cycles through the control options, so a temporary impairment can be handled by simply changing control styles. The “chip ring” then spins via phone tilt, and the “chip drop” mechanic can be handled with the thumb of the hand holding the phone (slide left, middle, or right, then release).
- No usable hands
This is obviously trickier, and unlikely to arise as a temporary impairment. Most normally-unimpaired gamers will not plan for a game session in which they have both hands otherwise occupied.I have seen very few games that give any thought to serving a gamer without the use of either hand. If it occurs to the developer at all, the solution is left in the hands of device manufacturers to simulate normal input (like an eye mouse).
In Matchpot! we tried to account for this as best we could in the default control scheme. The default interface is one that requires touch-and-hold only, with no dragging or sliding necessary, and no precision touches. The user touches anywhere on the left half of the screen to continuously spin the ring left, and on the right to spin the ring right, releasing the touch to stop the spinning. In the “chip drop” mode, the user can touch the left, middle, or right of the screen (and release) to drop a chip. These controls are suitable even for a gamer using a head-mounted touch stick.
- Tactile preference
Not a disability, but some gamers strongly prefer, and are more skilled at, actions that require precise timing, while others are better at input forms using tactile actions.
We’ve accommodated this skill difference in Matchpot! with two touch-based control modes (separate from the tilt mode mentioned earlier). The gamer who prefers a simple interface relying more on timing can stick with the default (hold screen to spin wheel, release to stop spinning). The gamer who likes or needs a more tactile experience and a little less dexterity can use the “drag” mode, where the user grabs the ring with a finger and spins it by dragging around as they please.
It is probably not possible for every game to accommodate every form of disability. For example, a visually-oriented game like Matchpot! is still not accessible to the truly blind (it can not be played purely via audio cues).
I do hope, though, as more indie developers pay attention to supporting impaired gamers, two good things will happen. One, impaired people will more easily be drawn into the hobby, because games don’t exclude them. Two, a snowball effect will occur among developers, further broadening support for those with disabilities or limitations.