Tuesday, August 25, 2015

GJG Interview #5 - Brian Bors

The Accessibility Foundation
This is another interview that unfortunately didn't make it to my email inbox in time for me to add to my IDG Connect article on game accessibility. However, the content of this interview was simply too good to let go to waste as you will get a good idea on how game accessibility functions. This is an interview with Brian Bors of The Accessibility Foundation, a game accessibility organization based in the Netherlands. You can view the organization's website below.

Steven Vitte: What types of hardware and technology do you use to make game accessibility programs and products? 

Brian Bors: Game-Accessibility.com doesn't make games or products to make these games more accessible. We write articles on how to make games more accessible and offer a platform for gamers to review games their accessibility.

Steven: How many game accessibility events do you hold each year? How big are the turnouts for these events?

Brian: Last year we had about 7 "events". Some are really small events where we simply take a few consoles and laptops and try out some games with people with disabilities. On one occasion we only had three gamers but we where able to give them very good support and guidance and we learned a lot ourselves. Our biggest event was the accessibility gamejam where we had a turnout of about 50 game developers, gamers and press. 

A Special One-Handed Xbox Controller
Steven: Can you provide any stats or figures on the scientific studies on game accessibility? Is there anything noteworthy?

Brian: We ourselves have published articles and papers on our scientific studies on game accessibility. See for example:

Wing chin has furthermore done a scientific study on the effectiveness of the game accessibility guidelines:

But it's a really niche field to study. You might have a better off searching here: http://www.gamasutra.com/search/?search_text="game+accessibility"

Steven: How much of a role does technology play in game accessibility? How exactly has technology helped disabled gamers?

Brian: Technology has brought new input mechanisms for physically disabled gamers. This usually takes the form of custom made controllers.

Steven: What have been the bigger challenges for game accessibility technology, as far as gamers go? (physically or mentally disabled)

Brian: The fact that most physically disabled gamers have different needs makes it hard if not impossible to make a "one size fits all" controller. So most controllers are custom made or only serve a very narrow niche (for example one handed controllers). The market is too small to make it financially attractive to create such controllers on a large scale which makes drives up the price for such controllers.

Steven: When it comes to investors and entrepreneurs, how much interest do they have in investing in projects associated with game accessibility? How do they profit from a good cause like this?

Brian: Game developers can certainly profit by making the game accessible to a broader audience if the investment is small enough. For example: Making a FPS accessible to blind gamers would probably be a huge investment for only a small audience and might not be profitable. But making sure your MUD can be read by screenreaders is only a small investment and MUD's are hugely popular among the blind so that is profitable.

Steven: What is the game accessibility scene basically like in Europe? 

Brian: Small. It mainly consists of small non-profit teams that want to push for awareness among game developers. But it certainly is a growing scene.

We have just recently launched the new www.game-accessibility.com website. We hope doing our part helps grow the scene.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Birthday Video Games (Steven Turns 26)

My imaginary birthday cake for turning 26! Yay!
I was born on August 16, 1989 and throughout my 26 years of living in this world I have seen many things come and go. As a gamer, I have seen gaming generations come and go. I have seen video game consoles come and go. One part of me growing up as a kid involved playing video games, and yes, say what you will about all the possible negatives that come with playing video games, but the fact of the matter is that I turned out just fine. I ended up finding my calling as a writer, and you know what? I believe playing video games played a small part in me realizing my writing talent.

Throughout my 26 years of life many video game consoles made their presence known. The NES, Sega's countless consoles, Atari's final attempts of making consoles, a 3DO console, a Jaguar, Sony Playstation 1,2,3 and 4, Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One... and handhelds like the crappy Nokia N-Gage and all the Tiger Electronic handhelds which never had any value whatsoever. There were good handhelds too, such as the original GameBoy, the GameBoy Advance, the GameBoy DS and 3DS, and the New Nintendo 3DS. Sony had the Playstation Vita as its handheld console. Just recently we've been seeing mircoconsoles like the Ouya... which is a rather interesting story by itself for many reasons.

So yeah, I've seen many gaming developments in my 26 years of life so far. Now what else should I talk about in this post? Today is my 26th Birthday, so why don't I talk about video games that have the birthday theme attached to them? No, I don't include all the Mario games which involved the plot of Princess Peach baking a cake for Mario simply because Mario doesn't have multiple birthdays. For all we know, the cake must be a lie, right?

Remember The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout?

Happy Birthday Bugs! Now enjoy some technical difficulties!

Yeah, neither do I, and for good reason. This game was released on the NES in 1990 and it paved the way for a long, long road of crappy Crazy Castle style games. This game was so bad that it was even reviewed by a popular figure in video game reviewing... the Angry Video Game Nerd. I'm sure by now some of you have watched content made by the AVGN, so you would know how he feels about The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout.

The plot of this game was lacking, the controls were much too wonky, and the graphics were less than ideal. Just take a look at the picture above and you would get an idea of how well the visuals were implemented. There were plenty of parts in this game that were just too difficult for players to overcome, and if anyone did beat the game, it didn't feel rewarding. Simply put, gamers who wanted to celebrate their birthday in style in 1990 would be disappointed by a game like this one.

Steven Vitte's Birthday Video Game Idea

Now let's get to an idea of mine that I think could be interesting, but I guess that will depend on how my blog readers will view this. Considering how certain video games allow us to see their game worlds in different forms during the course of the year, I believe that creating a birthday video game that centers around the dates of the birthdays gamers and their friends have would be intriguing. 
Perhaps some will refer to the Animal Crossing series as being somewhat of an inspiration for this, but not too much. What I propose with my idea is that a video game be created where players will get to take in the experience of playing in a world where birthdays happen pretty much all the time. This game world could just be one big birthday cake, or it could be some sort of an amusement park that is decorated with birthday themes, or we could have this game world be something like a traveling circus, but with some tweaks to it.

Whenever a player gets to celebrate his or her birthday on a certain date, a huge event is held in this game world, and for this date, the "Birthday Player" gets to set up the rules for whatever mini-games, games or random contests are held. The Birthday Player in particular gets to design the game world 100% only for that date and can even submit certain things for his or her friends to enjoy, such as any special speeches, pump in a medley of tunes for other players to listen to, or can even create a custom mini-level for friends to explore through. However, the Birthday Player also has the option of allowing a friend of his or hers to run the show if he or she doesn't feel like running the show. 

I think this would be a cool social interacting tool to have in a game, but of course it would need some modifying first. Anyway, I would like to thank my readers who enjoy the content that I put out for the Gaming Journalist Gazette. I'm looking forward to going through another year worth of putting out gaming content on this blog, and I hope that my readers will stick along for the ride. Let's hope that year 26 of my life has some more memorable moments than year 25!

Monday, August 10, 2015

GJG Blog Interview #4 - Brian Conklin

As a precursor to the game accessibility article that I wrote, which will be published on http://www.idgconnect.com on September 3, I would like to showcase this additional content on game accessibility. This additional content wasn't able to make it to my email in time for me to include it in my IDG Connect article, but I feel it is necessary to include this as valuable content for this blog. 

I present to my blog readers an email interview I had with Brian Conklin of Ablegamers.  http://www.ablegamers.com 

Steven Vitte: What role does technology play in game accessibility? Can you explain how technology plays a part in the development of game accessibility tools? 

Brian Conklin: Technology is essential for the areas of game accessibility that cannot be solved with game design alone. Developers can create alternative control schemes or colorblind modes for games, but there isn't a way to program a game for someone who needs head tracking technology to interact with your game. The game developer can only allow for an environment that allows users to use their own best devices for their gaming experiences.
Steven: What kind of hardware and technology are used for game accessibility? 

Brian: The Adroit Switchblade, the Quadstick, Stinkyboards, Track IR, text to speech software, and nearly any other piece of hardware. There are ways to hack and utilize almost every type of input device to be a gaming controller.

Example of a controller for game accessibility
Steven: When it comes to entrepreneurs and investors, have these kinds of people approached Ablegamers in wanting to invest in game accessibility programs? 

Brian:  Ablegamers is approached by many different volunteers in many different areas. As our organizations's approach to accessibility is multi-tiered and focuses on many different areas, the specializations of  volunteers to help in our mission is just as broad. We've worked with many groups and individuals on creating accessible technology, such as the Adroit Switchblade and the Quadstick.

Steven: How has Ablegamers handled game accessibility throughout the years? How much has Ablegamers relied on technology specifically? 

Brian: Game accessibility has had an ebb and flow as game technology has advanced. While computing technology has improved, the tech for accessibility needs to reach the same levels. Some of these issues are solved through additional game design options (such as more colorblind options, options for mouse acceleration in game) but new developments in peripheral technology are always needed.

Steven: What has been the toughest challenge concerning game accessibility? Which disabled audience has been the most challenging to cater to? (mental or physical disability)  

Brian: It always falls on what game developers have time and money to implement. A gamer may have the tech they need to play, but games actually having the options to make use of those are always the toughest.

Steven: Have there been any recent new developments in game accessibility regarding technology? What's in store for the future? 

Brian: Sony actually did a huge update with the PlayStation interface for accessibility. Built into the operating system of the PS4, the PS3, and the Vita, gamers can now completely customize their controller button layouts by swapping what each button input is seen as by the system, as well as zoom into specific areas on screen or convert the colors of the games to help with colorblind issues.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ouya - Aftermath

Well, so much for that "revolution"...

By now I'm sure you all have read articles that indicate the eventual demise of the Ouya game console itself and how Ouya has been acquired by Razer, a company that has its own Android-like game console called the Forge TV. By now I'm certain that all of you who read my blog are curious to know how I feel about this news since it wasn't too long ago that I bought an Ouya game console.

To make a long story short: I'm not even going to dig into the core details of how I feel. I will just say that it is what it is, as par the course of a gaming industry (and a society in general) that flip-flops every few months.

To be honest with you guys, I have encountered a fair share of clunkers when accessing Ouya's game library, and a bit more clunkers than I would have liked to play. I'm not at all saying that all the games you see on the Ouya are bad, awful, terrible or anything like that, but I am saying that there are some games out on the library that had interesting ideas going into development... and they were never really polished enough to feel complete. This is sad since some of the game ideas that I saw were indeed thought-provoking.

For the record, if your game is in the early beta stages and you know it's nowhere near complete, don't even bother putting it out on a platform like the Ouya's game library. You are just wasting a gamer's time when you do that. Finish developing the game first, THEN put it out for gamers to play. It's not hard.

I highly doubt I'll get this Forge TV console
I do take away some interesting things from my experiences playing on the Ouya game console and I do believe that it was a different way to play video games. Contrary to what some may speculate, I won't be giving up my Ouya console. I might as well ride it out as long as Razer will allow and play on the Ouya for as long as possible until everything about its library gets disabled or whatever. Besides, I have until around June/July of 2016 to make use of the Ouya, considering the reports of how Razer intends to handle their new Ouya branch.

As for the Razer Forge TV console itself, I highly doubt I will be getting one. I mean, really, who's to say that Razer will not endure just the same thing that Ouya went through a few years from now? I know that the powers-that-be at Razer will be offering discounts to Ouya owners, and I at least appreciate the fact that they are thinking of Ouya users who are basically being left behind, but honestly, I don't want to start a trend here. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I think the saying goes something like that.

There really isn't much to say anymore about the Ouya, and I doubt I will be updating my readers here on the Gaming Journalist Gazette about Ouya-related news anymore neither. Never say never, of course, but just keep this in mind. I would like to thank the developers of Ouya for at least giving me the chance to play games like Acorn Assault, for example. I would like to get in contact with High Tale Studios if those guys are still around, and possibly even interview them if I'm fortunate enough!