Very few commercial games offer a lot of help for disabled gamers. There are definitely gamers out there who are worse off than just having arthritis but still want to play our games. As an independent developer you can help give those gamers more options in their games library!
Shoot 1UP is one of the few shoot 'em ups to feature many options targeting disabled gamers. Sure some shoot 'em ups have options like different ships and difficulty settings, but Shoot 1UP goes further than most with things like gameplay speed changes, single button controls and more. I got a lot of my inspiration from these settings from OneSwitch.org.uk and AbleGamers.com.
As assistance for my ailing memory, but also as a challenge to other indie developers out there, I'm going to manage a list of accessibility options for games. Some things won't work in all game designs but some things will--open your mind and give them a try in your game!
- Gameplay speed adjustment: even if your game is a skill based game, consider allowing gamers to slow things down for those that can't track objects as quickly as others. The cool part is you can make the game faster for hardcores too! If necessary, you can separate leaderboards, or mark scores with gameplay speeds.
- Remappable buttons or Alternate control schemes: Remappable buttons are great for people with special needs, but also hardcore gamers with arcade sticks. If you can offer controls remapping, it's tough to do at first, but then the player can choose whatever they want without bothering the developer for more schemes.
- One switch mode or Single button mode: If possible, make an option to make all the gameplay and menus driven by a single button. In Shoot 1UP shooting was automatic, and the single button controlled motion via a rotating arrow. Each time they pressed and held, they moved in that direction. On release, the arrow rotated 90 degrees.
- Single button tweak: In Shoot 1UP I forced people to hold the button while moving. This played better during testing, but not for some people that can't hold a button for long. Offer a further option (or start this way like SYNSO) that allows for a simple toggle with a button press.
- Single button menus: As for the menus, you can offer an "automatic scroll" option which periodically moves to the next menu selection. When the player wants to select it, they simply press their one button. Of course all menus then need an explicit Back button instead of just mapping it to the B button (for instance).
- Closed captions: Allow for all spoken dialog to have subtitles, and for any gameplay-sensitive sound effects to have captions as well ("Door opened", "timer ticking", etc).
- Automatic options: In a shooting game, this means auto-fire. But it could also mean other toggling or selection of something that's not the core of the gameplay. Maybe it auto-jumps the player in a platformer, or maybe makes him walk always to the right--developers, you get to decide!
- Visual contrast options: Especially in a shoot 'em up, it's important to see the dangers. Shoot 1UP offered an option to lower the background contrast or turn it off. This is good for just about any action game as it can reduce eye strain and allow some gamers to track things better.
- Icons: Always offer icons along with text when you can. If there are mid-game choices involved, put a picture with the text to help it make more sense. On menus in addition to the words, offer an icon of what that choice means (if at all possible)
- Spoken options: Especially for menus, if there are any options in your game, allow a spoken version for people struggling to read the text. You could even use an automatic voice generators if you can't find someone to voice act for you (or don't want to use your own voice).
- Other button options: Instead of just One button mode, you could also offer a stripped down 'Two button' mode (or 'three button' mode). You'll be basically scaling down the input needed for players based on your game. The game Archaist provides these options plus tons more.
- Difficulty settings: Obviously this isn't just for disabled gamers, but offering an extra-easy or tutorial mode can really help some gamers enjoy the game and get into it more.
Obviously Shoot 1UP isn't perfect and while it includes a lot of these options, there's still more work to do. As I learn of more things disabled gamers want, I'll be updating this list for my own use, but yours too. I'll be taking what I've learned here and trying to apply it to Grapple Buggy in the future.