Global Game Jam Diversifiers for 2017

We at Kaludoscope are fairly fond of game jams. Indeed, our current project – Dragon Queens – was first drafted in the wake of Antholojam, at the tail end of 2014. For those not yet familiar with this form of game creation: it’s named after a type of collaboration found in jazz, in which a small group of creators get together to create a new piece of work in a short amount of time.

Global Game Jam 2016 in Stockholm (photo by Gemma)

A common point of entry to this hobby is Global Game Jam – a multi-national weekend of game-making, to a theme which changes every year. Accompanying this central theme are optional ‘diversifiers’ – a checklist of ideas and prompts to help direct or expand the potential of the jam game. In recent years these diversifiers have included a few pointers relating to accessibility, and this year’s event is no different. The selection, which was announced very recently, includes:

  • “Don’t say a word”
    A multiplayer game that requires communication between players, without relying on text or voice.
  • “The colour and the shape”
    A colour-based game that can also be played by people who have any kind of difficulty seeing colour.
  • “I see what you’re saying”
    All audio is subtitled, and the presentation of the subtitles (e.g. size, colour, container) can be customised by player.
  • “Spaced”
    Played using only the spacebar – no mouse, no other inputs.
  • “Another way in”
    Allow players to choose which input method they want to use, e.g. choice between mouse or keyboard, choice between tilt, virtual stick or tap, choice between controller or voice.

Source: Global Game Jam

So, what can one do with such diversifiers, especially if you feel you want to create an accessible game this month? A lot of the fun and challenge lays in working this out amongst yourselves at the jam (as has been the case at GGJ Stockholm, which I, Gemma, have helped organise in the past). Nevertheless, I thought we could take a broad look at some of these, and perhaps help get ideas churning.

So, for those of you who’ll be jamming with me across the world in a couple of weeks’ time, here are some thoughts to bear in mind before and after the jam begins:

Come Prepared

What a few of these diversifiers have in common is that they’ll rely upon extra hardware and tools. It need not necessarily be anything fancy though, and it’s likely you may have some very useful kit attached to a home PC but simply hadn’t considered bringing it along. Just as you might pack a VR kit in order to make a game for that platform, you might also consider bringing:

  • an external microphone – don’t rely upon the array mic. in your laptop amidst a noisy jam environment;
  • a peripheral keyboard – also generally useful for demo purposes);
  • game pad(s);
  • any custom controller kit you may have, such as a MakeyMakey – great for making simple, single- or multi-button touch inputs over USB.

Not only do extra tools like this help lend more input options to your game, but they’ll help it stand apart from the banks of others simply running on laptops. Just be sure to test these inputs in prototype builds as early as possible, so you can pre-empt any issues later on into the jam.

A MakeyMakey controller from Global Game Jam Stockholm 2016. Crocodile clips are attached to aluminium foil around a paper plate, with the leads feeding back into a MakeyMakey USB device to the side of an otherwise ordinary laptop.
Devices like the MakeyMakey allow you to incorporate inputs which may not only be more innovative and creative, but also more physically accessible. (Photo by Gemma)

On Subtitles and Visual Aids

Integrating visual aids into your game – especially for the “I see what you’re saying” diversifier – can be relatively easy so long as you start at the beginning of the project. Ensure that at least one person on your team can take care of integrating on-screen subtitles, and be sure to include options for it in your game menus.

Having adjustable subtitles is key for meeting individual accessibility needs, but it also makes your UI work considerably easier! Giving players the choice of subtitles with stroke around the letters, or frames in the form of a translucent or opaque backdrop, gives them control over that part of the UI. At the risk of endorsing laziness, this is of course an ideal way to avoid having to test which subtitle variant works best on your interface – just enable them all!

Don’t forget, however, that you should avoid sharply-contrasting colours and that you should pay attention to the font used. Offer alternatives, and include serif and non-serif options as some people find it easier to differentiate characters with more defined ‘edges’.

In General

Diversifiers like “Spaced” may at first seem like a restriction, or an aesthetic choice for your game’s inputs – but they’re also very useful for those who, for whatever reason, cannot make use of complex input devices like game controllers and keyboards. They’re also much more user-friendly for anyone who isn’t familiar with digital devices, and so may not have an instinctive awareness of where buttons are in relation to each other.

Incidentally, a similar rule can be applied to touch input on mobile games – as in the case of Dragon Queens, wherein the game can be played in its entirety using one finger. Unless you’re setting out to make a game with a physical challenge (which is fine!), do consider the ways in which your players will interact with the game and always strive for the simplest option.

Finally, there are some surprisingly simple ways to anticipate issues regarding colour recognition. It may be enough to simply run checks over your own graphics at various stages of the development. Every now and then, try to verbally or mentally describe your on-screen elements in relation to the others, and if colour ever becomes a key part of that description, work to differentiate it in another way – ideally through shape, but perhaps also by adjusting saturation.

It’s also possible to check your screen layout against proofs for two types of colour blindness in a variety of tools, including one built-in to Adobe Photoshop. So, if you’re making UI layouts in that program, ensure that you make use of the ‘proof setup’ menu every now and then (see below). The results should help give you a rough indication of any trouble areas.

Happy jamming!

.. and if you’re attending a local Global Game Jam site for 2017, I shall look forward to jamming alongside you from here in Stockholm!

Footnotes

It should of course be noted that Kaludoscope AB is in no way affiliated with Global Game Jam, inc. This article is intended as friendly advice in the spirit of the event, but is in no way endorsed by that organisation.

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