Tag Archives: accessibility

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft Story Labs has a great piece by in-house writer Deborah Bach about the development of the Adaptive Controller. It’s great storytelling through and through; chock full of touching stories, business cases, and design implementation all the way down to the packaging.

Here’s the opening story:

Dan Bertholomey awoke in a hospital in June of 2010, four days after a hit-and-run driver almost killed him while he was riding his motorcycle, to the sinking knowledge that he’d lost the use of his right arm and hand.

As he lay in his hospital bed, Bertholomey pondered his future. He thought about his daily life and the things he loved to do. How am I going to game again, he wondered? He’d been an avid gamer since age 10, when an original Pong console from Sears magically transformed his family’s television set into an electronic playground that he could control. Bertholomey was instantly hooked. He loved the competitiveness of gaming, loved the places it took his imagination.

Bertholomey continued gaming into adulthood, playing often with his son and daughter. In 2005, when he was 40, Bertholomey placed sixth on “Madden Nation,” a televised competition of the U.S.’s best “Madden NFL 06” football video game players. For him, gaming wasn’t just a hobby, something he did in his spare time. It was a lifestyle.

“You can’t fathom losing something that you love so much, said Bertholomey, 52, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. It’s incredibly devastating.”

Bertholomey began looking for ways to play with one hand. He found someone to hack him a foot pedal that connected to his Xbox, but it didn’t work well for him. He eventually taught himself to play with his left hand, but it was awkward and he couldn’t play at anywhere near his previous capacity.

The solution Bertholomey needed is now a reality — and it has the potential to make gaming accessible to players with disabilities worldwide. The new Xbox Adaptive Controller, which will be available later this year, can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving gamers with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customize their setups. The most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company, the device can be used to play Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games and supports Xbox Wireless Controller features such as button remapping.

Bertholomey, who is among a select group of gamers who have been testing the device, said the controller makes it easy to create different setups for various types of games and seamlessly switch between them. Gamers can set up three different gaming profiles on the controller and don’t need to reset the device every time they change games, as they sometimes do with modified controllers.

This controller is really something else. There should have been steps taken to get to this point a long time ago, but this is wonderful, nonetheless.

I’ve recently wondered how to make games more accessible. The thought (rather shamefully) finally occurred to me while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch in handheld mode. I have perfect eyesight, but the text was just small enough to be uncomfortable to read. Seeing as the game was originally intended for a TV experience on Wii U, it’s not terribly surprising that the experience wasn’t tailored for the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen. However, with the success of the Switch and Breath of the Wild, it’s surprising Nintendo hasn’t patched the text size while in handheld mode.

More recently, I’ve been playing God of War on a 720p TV. Golly, is the text tough to read.

Software accessibility is difficult, let alone manufacturing a piece of hardware for a niche audience. But it’s a niche audience that must to be considered. Where many companies seemingly glance over serving mental and physical handicaps, it’s wonderful to see Microsoft doing the right thing by enabling play for as many people as possible.

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Blind Gamer Beats Ocarina of Time

Rich McCormick, The Verge:

His final video, uploaded on January 2nd, shows him using the same method to defeat Ganon, the game’s pig-faced final boss. Particularly important in Garrett’s playthrough was the use of the hookshot — a Zelda mainstay that fires a retractable chain — as a form of echolocation. When Garrett fired it against a wall, he’d hear a telltale clang; if he fired it into thin air, it would reach the end of its tether before returning to his hand, spooling backwards with a different noise.

Utterly fascinating. Congratulations, Terry!

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PS4 Adds Console Wide Button Remapping

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

The screen at the top of this story doesn’t look like much. It’s a simple interface that allows you to swap any one button on the Dual Shock 4 for any other button. It’s a screen that makes gaming a much better place.

“Console wide button remapping is a huge deal for physically impaired gamers. One of the most commonly requested accessibility adaptation AbleGamers receives is for custom controller’s that move buttons to more comfortable positions,” Steve Spohn, COO of the AbleGamers charity; told Polygon.

“If you have limited movement in one arm, only one functioning hand, or even limited digit movement, button positioning is everything. And even more so if you have a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy where you fatigue more easily depending on what buttons you need to press.”

The push for full customization in button mapping has been going on for years, and some companies are better than others when it comes to offering the feature. What Sony has done is make the conversation obsolete by offering the option at the console level. This is a huge deal for many gamers.

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Space Age Color Blindness Options

@Spaceageapp:

Making sure Space Age is colorblind friendly.

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Awesome accessibility awareness. And top level too. (Tap Options on the title screen and there they are!) That alone earned Big Bucket Software my $3.99.

Space Age: A Cosmic Adventure is currently available for iOS. Looking forward to playing. Also hearing great things about the soundtrack by Cabel Sasser.

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Three Monkeys

Jordan Erica Webber, The Guardian:

In that demo, a sprite called Yoska teaches the player how to use their hearing to hunt a bird and shoot it down with a bow and arrow and fight bandits and goblins with a sword. It sounds like something you’d expect to do in a modern big-budget RPG, which Willey says is intentional: “What we’re really aiming for is an audio game that has a kind of AAA [those with the highest development budgets and levels of promotion] feel about it.”

That should appeal to vision-impaired players such as Harlow, whose experience of “real video games” before he lost his sight has led him to consider many audio games “kind of bad, and just not entertaining”. But Willey and Satizabal both hope sighted players will enjoy the game too, so that they can have a shared experience with those who are vision-impaired.

Sounds extremely interesting and like a great focus for game development. Start any piece with the words Super Mario 64 and you’ll have my attention.

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Tunnel vision

Robert Kingett, legally-blind video game reviewer with cerebral palsy via IGN:

In multiplayer games I will always be at a slight disadvantage because I can’t look at multiple parts of the screen at once because of my tunnel vision. It’s like looking through a toilet paper roll all the time. My cerebral palsy hinders me as well but not in games like MAGIC, or similar because that’s strategy. I do have a stutter and people who want to be gamers are quick to point out I sound “retarded” or “like I am disabled.” It saddens me to see that there are not many true gamers anymore who just enjoy gaming no matter how unskilled someone is. I actually know some mentally disabled people who play better than most, and when I say play, I mean their spirit.

I’ve experienced a lot of that, and I just don’t understand why people say some of the things that they say. It’s not going to create an elite gaming world full of epic gamers who know every Easter egg known to man. Gamers will game, no matter who says what. I’m a gamer and I will game on. I enjoy the art and everything else video games have to offer and that means enjoying it with all kinds of people. There are even cases of people being flat out derogatory to other races on video games. Again, I don’t understand why. I don’t want people like that ruining it for us gamers.

Kingett on what developers can do to make their games more accessible:

There are three words I’d say that makes a video game completely accessible. Customization, choices, and alternatives. Have a game very customizable in all assets and you will have an accessible game. Have caption customizations where deaf players can have captions in a font that they want to have. Make your HUD’s customizable so visually impaired players like me can change the map size, the radar size, the crosshair size and shape, have assist, control mapping options, different control styles – just make your game very customizable unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.

A must read.

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