A Train, a Jam, And GDC: AbleGamer’s Fellow Tells Their Adventure

“We’d like to help you take a train up to GDC while making a game.”

I’ve done plenty of game jams before, but on a train? I’ve never been on a train before and had many questions regarding taking a wheelchair on a train.

“You’ll be fine and we know you’ll do us proud.”

When AbleGamers asked me to do Train Jam, I knew I had to go. I didn’t know what to expect, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I love participating in game jams, but doing one on a train with other game developers? I could not pass this up.

I knew I wanted to create an accessible game during Train Jam. By creating accessible games during game jams, I disprove the myth some developers believe that accessibility features take too long to implement. During Train Jam, however, I wanted challenge myself.

I decided early on that I wanted to create an accessible action game that could be played by blind gamers. I also found myself promoting speed settings and single button in games throughout the past year, despite never adding them into one of my own games. My game design document for Train Jam consisted of one sentence: “A one switch action game accessible to the blind with speed settings.”

I ended up with Protect the Rocket!, a one switch reaction game where you quickly decide whether or not to terminate aliens approaching a rocket. The included speed settings range from 10% to 200%, allow anyone to play at their own pace. I worked alongside an awesome sound designer who was able to give everything in the game its own unique sound. The feature I was most proud of, however, was text-to-speech. With little documentation, I was able to figure out how to make my game engine read out all text in my game. This feature, combined with great sound design, allows anyone to play the game by sound.

Everyone on the train was awesome. Good conversations were had on game accessibility and game development around the world. It was really cool to see all of the unique games that came out of train jam, especially when you know the developers behind the games. Also, I should mention the scenery was great! I’m so glad I went across the country by train to San Francisco while developing a game.

After a day of rest, my next stop was a new mini conference, the Game Accessibility Conference. The fact that an entire conference existed to discuss and promote game accessibility was something I’ve always wanted to see. The conference lived up to the immense amount of hype I’ve given it.

From post-mortems on accessibility in AAA games, to designing games for different audiences, to accessibility studies, Game Accessibility Conference had topics covering every aspect of accessibility. My panel, along with other developers, was a Q&A panel on how we make games more accessible. It was great to be on a panel that was able to clearly and concisely answer multiple questions on how best to account for accessibility when developing games. Meeting everyone during and after the Game Accessibility Conference was also a great experience. I have to say, I’m surprised how many people in the AAA space are all for game accessibility. I loved seeing everyone, from gamers, to indies, to AAA, figure out how gaming could be more accessible. I hope this conference is something that can happen in some capacity every year!

And finally, it came time for me to attend my first GDC! I spent most of the conference touring booths on the floor. Alt.Ctrl.GDC was an interesting set of booths where developers made unique control schemes for their games. I was able to play the Nintendo Switch before its official release; kicking everyone’s ass at Super Bomberman R and showing Nintendo that not everyone games the same way! Train Jam’s booth was of course, excellent, and I was able to demo my game there and play train jam games with their developers. I personally enjoyed GDC’s new Retro Play area, as I was finally able to play Turbografx 16. I don’t think anyone managed to beat my high score in Galaga ‘90!

I did manage to catch a few panels when I wasn’t on the floor or networking. The panel on the development of Seaman, a Sega Dreamcast game where you take care of a sassy fish with a face, was enlightening. I had no idea Seaman sold Dreamcasts to people who normally did not play games, or how much thought went into the interactions with Seaman! I also went to a panel on Xbox’s new APIs for accessibility, which included a demonstration of their new speech-to-text technology. I loved how Microsoft devoted entire panels devoted to the topic of accessibility at GDC.
Overall, my trip was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a game developer, and a gamer. Creating accessible games on a train, going to a conference devoted to game accessibility, and seeing accessibility all over GDC was something I never thought would happen in this industry. I’m happy to be proven wrong! I hope to make it to more conferences and see what the future holds for accessible gaming.