Later in March, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Game Developers Conference. While video game accessibility is still largely unexplored by many developers, I was impressed by the level of accessibility exhibited by some smaller companies whose games I had the privilege of previewing during the conference. Below is a list of the games and a summary of games that I found either interesting, accessible, or in some cases, both.
For The King
Folks who have been keeping up with our Indie Spotlight series will recognize Curve Digital from their game Bomber Crew which received praise for its inherent accessibility. For The King is another offer published by Curve Digital, but this time developed by IronOak Games. For The King harkens back to classic turn based games such as the Final Fantasy series and XCOM. Players have two options, they can either control a party of three heroes as they explore around maps and complete quests, or they can go online and form a party with two other players to achieve the closest thing to a Dungeons and Dragons style campaign in a video game that I have ever seen. Each player fills the role of an individual hero, rather than one player controlling the whole team. In addition to For The King’s high level of inherent accessibility that comes from its genre and its developers vision, it also features very forgiving gameplay and an art style that does not rely on fine detail.
The one weakness that I found in For The King was that its color palette may pose barriers for certain color blind players, but given that the game is still in early access on Steam, there is still time for IronOak Games to address this issue. If they do, its not unlikely that For The King will receive a nomination for the next DAGERS Diamond Award
When the email from Unavowed came into my inbox, I was immediately intrigued. This title from Wadjet Eye Games, is a point and click 16 bit adventure with occult overtones similar to the Justice League Dark comics series. The protagonist that you play was possessed by a demon and went on a rampage for 1 year prior to the beginning of the game. At the games opening, the demon is exorcized and you are left with one choice: Turn yourself in for your crimes, or join the shadowy agency “Unavowed” to fight other worldly menaces to earth. Along the way you’ll meet an interesting cast of characters and be treated to a story told both through text and through very well executed spoken dialogue. Again, Unavowed is another case where the game is accessible simply due to the developer’s vision, and is a sure fire hit for any disabled gamer looking for a spooky retro narrative experience.
Downward Spiral: Horus Station
The only VR game that I previewed, Downward Spiral: Horus Station is an atmospheric sci-fi puzzle action game with two unique features:
1. The game takes place entirely in zero gravity, making traversal and combat a completely unique experience from anything that I’ve ever seen previously.
2. The game comes with 2 modes: An Explorer mode and an Engage mode. Engage mode lets players experience the full Horus Station story, enemies will attack you, and you’ll find yourself in fights very similar to the ones found in the SciFi classic Enders Game. The Explorer mode is an exploration mode in which puzzle solving and traversal are the focus. Enemies are still present but they won’t attack you.
In both modes you play as a character who is exploring an abandoned space station that has gone haywire. The best praise that I can give Downward Spiral: Horus Station, is that it’s the first VR game that I am excited to play in VR, although one of the unique features of this title is that it will be available as a flat experience as well.
Away: Journey to the Unexpected
Away was one of two games that I previewed from Playdius, a game publisher and retailer out of France. It features a kid friendly vibe about a young boy who fights monsters with his trusty stick. Away: Journey to the Unexpected features a gameplay style very similar to OG Doom, in that it’s a first person action game where the enemies are always facing you. It’s overblown art style and easy to read text mean that many players with visual impairments will have no problem accessing this game, while from the little chunk that I saw, fine-motor impaired gamers who are playing this game on PC should be able to enjoy it as well.
Dead in Vinland
The second offering from Playdius, Dead in Vinland is a point and click adventure that tasks you with keeping a family of Vikings alive after their wrecked on the shores of the titular Vinland, the game features a day progression system and a conversation system that I found reminiscent of Fire Emblem. Players will be tasked with assigning survivors to various tasks and growing their settlement with characters that they meet along the way. Permadeath is real in Dead in Vinland, but as long as it is not one of the four main characters, players will be able to continue on. The whole goal is to make sure that the main family survives in a story very similar in flavor to Swiss Family Robinson.
A Lost Legend of Redwall: The Scout
Redwall: The Scout, was an incidental demo that I did while I was waiting for a scheduled showing of another game, so I only got a very brief glimpse, but the fact that they are making a game based in the Redwall world should have vast implications for the disabled community, since the authors intent when writing the original Redwall books was to create a world that was so vivid that children without sight could fully imagine themselves using only Brian Jacques’ words, so it stands to reason that the developers at Soma Games will have missed a wonderful opportunity if they don’t make this title as visually accessible as possible.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
By far the most exciting game that I was able to demo at GDC this year was based on a Finish pen and paper RPG. Mutant Year Zero is made by a development team comprised of members of the team that made the Hitman games. Their unique expertise has resulted in a game where XCOM meets Hitman. World traversal is in real time, and each character is a mutated being that has both customizable gear and unique abilities, but once combat is engaged, there’s no need to rely on quick reflexes since all of the combat that was demo’d was turn based. As a result, it takes one of the best mechanics of XCOM 2, the ambush mechanic, and fleshes it out to be a core part of an exciting and original game. Road to Eden looks like it not only rewards planning and strategy in a way that few games do, but it also provides a real-time element that is often completely lacking in the most accessible turn based games. After leaving the demo, it was incredibly clear to me, that unless the developers take a drastic change in direction, I’m looking at another nominee for the 2018 DAGERS Diamond Award.
I had several other demos that I could’ve talked about, and some of them will be covered in upcoming Indie Spotlights, but on the whole, I was surprised by how many games I demoed this year that were accessible, not due to any extreme effort on the developers part, but rather because the underlying vision was accessible and the developers were just seeking to execute that vision to the highest possible standards.