Following the introduction to our Game Accessibility Rating System, comes our wish list for accessible game design features.
There are 20 wishes spread evenly across four different categories of accessibility. That's a lot we admit, but please don't worry! No one expects all of these to make it into any one game, and many overlap. For a game designer to include even just one item from each list would be a wonderful start.
Read on to view our wishes...
Cognitive Related Accessibility
1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to help file that can be read out loud by a PC screen-reader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an indication of the degree of comprehension and reaction speed needed to play; a break-down of the cognitive related accessibility features that have been included, as you best understand. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or down-loading your game, either on-line or by request. People who often face barriers in gaming need to know how likely they are to be able to play your game. Let them know.
2. Game menu accessibility: Can menus be easily navigated with a simple control scheme? Is there a quick-start method? Is there consideration for those who cannot read English?
3. Broad difficulty level adjustment: Offer a way to meaningfully adjust the difficulty level of a game to suit the player. Consider extending time, increasing powers, reducing obstacles and so on as appropriate. Consider making what might be considered “cheats” to some, available as accessibility options. Consider gamer assist modes, such as auto-targeting in a first person shooter and steering correction in a driving game to help you recover from a spin.
4. Speed control: Give consideration to people with slower reactions. Could extra or unlimited time be offered in the likes of quiz game Buzz!? For a game with Quick Time Events such as Shenmue, could these be slowed, automated or removed if required? Could the entire game play environment be slowed, as is possible with The Pyramid and Shoot 1UP? Offering speed control options not only benefits those with slower reaction times due to physical and/or cognitive reasons, but many visually impaired players too who may need more time to scan the screen in front of them.
5. Training, Playground/Sandbox and Experimental modes: Trainer levels can help people become more proficient at areas they are struggling in, as well as giving easier access to favourite areas of a game. Sandbox, Freeplay and “Doodle-City” areas can free players from the constraints of game missions and rule-sets, giving them a much less pressured way to get used to the game controls and/or environment. And they’re normally a lot of fun whatever your ability.
Recommended further research: Gaming with a Learning Disability at Game-Accessibility.com; PugFugly’s The Pyramid; Mommy’s Best Games’ Shoot 1UP; Atari’s I, Robot linked to “Doodle-City” modes; and HelpKidzLearn on-line games aimed at learning disabled children.
Hearing Related Accessibility
1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to a help file that can be read out loud by a PC screen-reader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an explanation of what degree of hearing is needed to play it; a break-down of what hearing related accessibility features have been included as you best understand. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or down-loading your game, either on-line or by request.
2. Include individual volume controls if beneficial: If your game plays music and sound effects simultaneously, offer a way to adjust the volume of each separately, down to silence. Give thought to making essential sounds and spoken dialogue as clear as you can. Otherwise parts of a story, rules or events may be lost on hearing impaired players. This option can also be considered a cognitive related accessibility feature as it can help improve players comprehend what is going on.
3. Include Subtitles/Closed-Captions for all spoken dialogue: Use coloured text to help denote different speakers, and ideally include captions for essential and mood setting sounds and music.
4. Synesthesia (Sound Alternatives): Use alternative sensory feedback such as visual effects, text or force feedback linked to, your sound. Think about what is lost game experience wise with the sound muted or turned off, then try to put it back via alternative output.
5. Make playable with no sound and no microphone: Ensure your game can be played through with the sound off, through good design choices. Make use of visual or tactile alternatives to sounds that are essential to the game, and impossible or unfair to do without. Include all of the above to a high standard. If appropriate, offer an alternative method of communication for players unable to make use of a head-phones and microphone set-up as detailed in Controller/Physical Related Accessibility, step 4, “Alternative Controller Access”.
Recommended further research: “The Sound Alternative” by Richard van Tol and Deaf-Gamers.com classification system; Closed-Captioned Heavy-Rain mock-up by Reid Kimball; Leon Calvely’s “Game Accessibility for the Hard of Hearing”. Gamasutra article on Subtitling standards.
Input Related Accessibility
1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to a help file that can be read out loud by a PC screen-reader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an explanation of what degree of physical ability is needed to play it; a break-down of what input related accessibility features have been included such as what type of controllers can be used and what degree of mobility/movement is needed as you best understand. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or down-loading your game, either on-line or by request. Even one accessibility feature from this list is a good thing to be sharing.
2. Allow players to reconfigure their own controls: This takes into account players who are uncomfortable with the standard preset control scheme/s, such as people finding it impossible to reach shoulder buttons, amputees and so on. For those using custom built and alternative controllers, reconfigurable controls can make play possible and comfortable. Seek to make control remapping options as versatile as you can.
3. Simplify controls. Seek to offer a control scheme for both menus and game play that does not over complicate things, and ideally uses as few controls as is necessary. Consider assist modes to further simplify things. Contact us for a list of what we consider a simple control method.
4. Provide alternative controller access: Give gamers a way to play using something completely different from the default controls. A real world example can be found in Wii Mario Kart, which allows users to race using the Wii Remote or via the Wii classic joypad controller. Many people are disabled by the constraints of standard controls, but offering an alternative way in can make the unplayable playable. Consider that: Some people cannot cope with motion sensor games, but could given access to the same game with a joypad; Some cannot make themselves understood when forced to use a microphone, but could if offered a text, icon and/or emoticon based system of communication; Some might be unable to use a touch-screen but could manage a physical joystick; Some may struggle with a keyboard but could get on well with a pure mouse based system. Seek to offer at least one alternative method of access. [Technical info for PC game design: Avoid shutting out potential gaming utilties such as Microsoft's On Screen Keyboard and JoyToKey. Allow compatibility with "Scan Codes and Virtual Keycodes". Avoid pure "DirectInput RAW input"].
5. Speed control: Give consideration to people with slower reactions, as detailed in Cognitive Related Accessibility, step 4.
Recommended further research: Chuck Bittner’s “Custom Button Remapping” Petition; Gaming with a Physical Disability at Game-Accessibility.com; EA’s “Family Play” option in Wii Madden and for the ultimate in reduced controls see One Switch Design Tips and Nintendo’s “Demo Play”.
Sight Related Accessibility
1. Openly describe accessibility features: Supply easy access to a help file that can be read out loud by a PC screen-reader. This file should open with: A brief synopsis of your game; an explanation of what degree of sight is needed to play it; a break-down of what sight related accessibility features have been included as you best understand; any further essential information that may assist play. Make this information publicly and clearly available in advance of purchasing or down-loading your game, either on-line or by request. Be proud of your game’s accessibility, and let people know about it!
2. Offer broad difficulty level adjustment: Offer ways to adjust the difficulty level of your game. A visually impaired player may need more time to track and take in what is going on, so offering a way to slow the game down can make things much fairer and more enjoyable. Likewise, visually impaired players might reasonably be expected to make more mistakes in some games, so offering a way to increase lives, time, energy, or whatever is most appropriate, will again hopefully even things out and make playing a more fair and enjoyable experience.
3. Improve menu access for visually impaired players: Many visually impaired and blind players do not get along with the likes of analogue pointer based user interfaces, finding them unintuitive. Offering stepped navigation of menus via digital controls can make things much easier. Imagine how typical SEGA Megadrive game menus work (if you’re old enough), with them being accessed via the likes of a d-pad and push button/s or a keyboard. Ideally, supplement this with an explanatory help guide on how to navigate the menus, for example: “From the start-up screen, press down twice then press X to enter the options screen.” This provision takes into account people struggling to make out your menu system, such as those able to read Braille but not written English, Dyslexics and so on. Bolstering the digital control method with linked in sounds, vibration and/or bold visual indicators will help further still. Control method wise, it’s also all nice stuff for the majority of gamers.
4. Offer High contrast and high visibility graphics: Ideally offer these as optional features, or integrate them into your game design by default. Take into account colour-blindness and the barriers it can pose. Consider how difficult it would be to play many sports games, if both teams look the same. Would accessibility be improved by dimming non-essential graphics or switching them off completely? Is there a way of magnifying/highlighting elements of the game with it remaining playable? Is it possible to avoid tiny or hard to read fonts?
5. Use Speech and Audio to aid comprehension: Provide text-to-speech and clear sound effects for menu navigation. Attach unique identifying speech or sounds to essential game objects, elements and occurrences. Imagine a first person shooter where a gateway to the next level opens in the distance. Without something indicating that this has happened using a sense other that sight, a visually impaired player may never be aware of it. Consider going as far as adding audio description for scene and context setting. Ultimately, seek to make your game playable without the need for a screen.
Recommended further research: Addressing colour blindness in game design by Josh Tynjala; BBC Article on colour-blindness in games; Colour-blindness "ColorOracle" image checker; Fonts advice from the RNIB; The Accessible GameBase Podcast on Low-Vision Gaming by Dark and Barrie Ellis; Peggle by Popcap (PC); Shoot 1UP by Mommy’s Best Games (Xbox 360); NanoGames by Dennis Asher (on-line); To Hell with Johnny by Michi.nu (PC); And for Audio-Game design see BlindComputerGames.com and AudioGames.net.
To follow soon!...
A help-guide for people wishing to review games using this wish-list as a point of reference. As a preview to that, each category will be scored out of ten. This will be formed by awarding each of the five wishes within a category a score from 0-2 dependant on quality. More to follow...
Deeper assistance for game developers, in an easy to grab format.