Barrier Breakers are typically given out to studios who perfect or add new best-practices to an existing game accessibility feature. A new Barrier Breaker award goes to Insomniac Games for the game-speed controls featured in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart which are unique because Insomniac didn’t simply polish an existing feature, they invented a whole new one, or more correctly, they re-invented it. As historians of the game accessibility movement will no doubt know, one of the first attempts at making games accessible came when engineers began altering Pong cabinets so that you could manually adjust the game’s speed. And while we have seen other games use game speed options for story reasons such as the ”Bullet Time” mechanic in Max Payne, Insomniac took what has usually only been used as a gimmick and showed how it could be adapted to make games more accessible for players with profound physical impairments. With the touch of a button, players can cycle through a number of game-speed settings that activate in real-time, allowing the game to be slowed down at quick-moving platforming sections, then sped back up again once Ratchet or Rivet is out of danger of falling to their death. The result is a buttery-smooth system that gives fine-motor impaired gamers the tools they need to make it past most of the game’s more challenging segments without compromising the overall flow of gameplay.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to mention that I was brought in to consult on Rachet and Clank: Rift Apart, but I want to make this clear: my role was strictly observing the work they had already done, not adding new features to the game. In fact, in my half-a-decade plus work as a consultant, my work on Rift Apart stands out because when I got there, all of the heavy lifting was already done. Insomniac had such a strong grasp of the fundamentals of accessibility that they were able to implement the speed scaling without much feedback from consultants like myself. When I saw this feature demoed for the first time, I practically threw my controller in joy because it was something I had been begging developers to add for years, and Insomniac finally did it. It is my hope that others companies that are making platforming action games, or just games in general, will take note of Insomniac’s award-winning efforts and copy or improve upon them in the future.