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Game accessibility news roundup: 1/13/09

Yet another trilogy of news related to game accessibility:

Google engineer T.V. Raman

For the Blind, Technology Does What a Guide Dog Can't A profile in the New York Times of Google engineer T.V. Raman, who is blind and specializes in making technology accessible for people with disabilities. However, as Miguel Helft writes in the article: "Instead of asking how something should work if a person cannot see, he says he prefers to ask, "How should something work when the user is not looking at the screen?"

In Truly Innovative Controllers For Disabled Gamers, Stew Shearer of The Game Reviews interviews engineers like Mark Felling and writes about some interesting accessible controllers in history, including Nintendo's sip-and-puff Hands Free Controller from 1989.

Not a news story, but still neat: 7128 Software, which makes games for people with disabilities, hosts a color chart that can aid in developing software that's accessible to people who are color blind.

My World, My Way Preview

Atlus was kind enough to share some info with me about their upcoming DS RPG My World, My Way, and I'm passing it along to you.

Launching February 3rd, My World, My Way is the story of Elise, a spoiled-rotten princess who finds that the one thing she can’t have is a boyfriend. Why not? Because the boy who has captured her fancy is an adventurer, and he’ll never settle down with a bratty girl who has everything handed to her. Naturally, the first thing Elise does is set out to have adventures of her own in order to land that boyfriend, once and for all.

The story is absolutely on the comic side and far from the usual RPG fare, and the mechanics follow suit. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the "Pout" option and PP points in these screenshots. In a strange twist, Elise is such an effective pouter and tantrum-thrower that she has the power to affect change over tons of things in the game—everything from skipping random battles, to completing quests just by saying that they’re too annoying to finish legitimately.

For readers who crave their RPG a little off the beaten path, My World, My Way is definitely one to keep an eye on.

And as I'm sure most of you know, Atlus RPGs can be notoriously hard to find after their initial release. Don't say I didn't warn you, K?

2008: The Year in Review

2008: The Year in Review - Too Human

It's that time of year again (i.e. the beginning of a new one) so in keeping with the tradition held by gamers all across the globe, GameCritics.com locked four of its staffers in a very small, uncomfortable room and forced them to come up with a list of 2008's top releases. Unlike years past, there was quite a diversity of high-quality software available with no one title that seemed to build up the kind of critical mass necessary to sweep the industry. Instead, there was a little bit of everything for everyone, and quite a lot of it was excellent. Not a bad situation, any way you slice it.

1UP.com sold, EGM Magazine closes, staff laid off

What a way to start the new year. EGM Magazine closes, 1UP Network bought by UGO.com

1UP.com was a very popular gaming website, full of veteran and new gaming journalists and home to my favorite audio podcasts and video podcasts. It was one of the few online gaming sites that managed to flourish after the dot com debacle of the 1990s—some will remember that it was born from much of the remains of Gamers.com. It was under the umbrella of magazine publisher Ziff-Davis, a publisher that at one time published almost every magazine that I bothered to read.

But 1UP.com wasn't making money. Or least it wasn't making the kind of money that Ziff-Davis needed to keep the network and all of its sister websites up and running. Rumors had been swirling for years that Ziff-Davis was in financial trouble, but nothing ever came of them. In fact, many just believed it was the print magazines that would take the fall. And they did, but as we now know, the online outlets would not be spared.

Word dropped yesterday, but the aftershocks are still resonating in game journalism circles. And it is interesting to watch because though from competing outlets, many of the 1UP Network staff had close relationships, both working and personal, with other writers. While reading the coverage from these writers, you can't help but feel their pain and anger while writing about their peers and friends who are now out of work.

ADA Amendments Act: good for gamers with disabilities?

It's a new year, and the ADA Amendments Act is now in effect. These Amendments are a response to the Supreme Court's erosion of protections and rights in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 over the years (see Sutton et. al vs. United Air Lines, Inc, Murphy vs. United Parcel Service, Inc.. The Supreme Court argued that, if a person's condition is controlled with "mitigating measures"—medication for high blood pressure, for instance—the person does not have a disability...even if that person is fired or otherwise discriminated against because of their condition).

The Amendments spell out just what "disability" means, but what's most interesting is the wide variety of things the act defines as "major life activities". They "include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." They also involve "the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions."

What do these specifications mean for gamers? As Suzanne Robitaille writes in For the Disabled, More Power for Play, the Amendments "will also clarify that a major life activity doesn't just include work. The act expands this definition to include communicating, reading, and other activities of central importance -- such as plain old fun."

The Horror Geek presents: EA makes first issue of Dead Space comic available for free

Dead Space comic book

Electronic Arts just keeps on trucking in its blitzkrieg-like attempt to make Dead Space into a multi-media franchise. First there was the game, then the animated film Dead Space: Downfall, then talks about a live-action feature length film, and now a comic book. I’m guessing Dead Space lunch boxes are right around the corner…

Anyway, if you’re at all curious as to what the first issue of the six part series looks like, head over to Newsarama.

Game accessibility advocate running for GDC ambassador award

I subscribe to the IGDA's Game Accessibility Special Interest Group (SIG) mailing list, and found this e-mail from SIG chair (and one of Edge Magazine's 100 most influential women in the gaming industry) D. Michelle Hinn, who advocates for diversity in the gaming industry:

I am writing you today because one of the (if not the biggest) Game Developers Conferences is reducing diversity programming at an alarming level. So Diversity topics have REALLY been cheated out of GDC this year I feel. I got one tiny and VERY basic talk accepted but we nearly got knocked out completely -- this after getting our best talk scores and feedback ever last year. I've heard similar stories from others in other area of game diversity programming.

I've decided that I'm "running" for a GDC ambassador award [Ed: the ambassador award is at the bottom of the page] because GDC is really squashing out most disability (and diversity programming in general -- Chris Bateman, Noah Falstein, Ernest Adams and I have been frothing at the mouth about this...as I am sure you are as well!). For years I've been trying to get a "game accessibility" award in the Annual Game Developers Choice Awards...and we almost had it. Then things shifted with CMP (now ThinkServices, Jamil left CMP and went to EA, etc. And this year we only had one small proposal on the most basic accessibility information accepted, which I can already read the session feedback now..."Why don't you do the Accessibility Arcade or the more advanced/applied sessions anymore?" There is still need for the basics but if GDC wants to really present "the best of/state of the art" talks then some content control has to be given back to those of us who know what people are currently asking from us. But I digress...

This is definitely not an ego trip thing -- I feel quite humble asking you for your support on this! Because this is not a Gamasutra Reader "voter" award and is instead chosen by an advisory board I am campaigning so every bit of support will help. I just am getting mad at how little attention (and it's dwindling) we (those of us in all areas of gaming diversity) get and I want accessibility to be recognized! And this is the only way I can think of to have an opportunity, if I happen to win, to say on record "next stop? Game accessibility award for GDC awards!" and give props to those who have always been supportive of the accessibility and diversity message.

I, along with members of the IGDA Game Accessibility SIG that I chair, give our blood sweat and tears to keep game accessibility (making sure games are playable by the disabled, the elderly, etc) in the minds of both academia and industry...and we don't get paid for it -- we do it because we believe so strongly in the topic. I've been involved in it for nearly ten years now (before I help start the SIG 7 years ago I did my own independent work on the topic). I've given talks the past 5 GDCs, SXSW, Develop, Montreal, Games for Health and many more industry conferences. Now that I'm finished with my Chapter for Chris Bateman's book I can get back to the SIG book on game accessibility! :)

[cut]

Michelle Hinn, Chair
Game Accessibility Special Interest Group
International Game Developers Association
Entertainment Consumers Association

The Horror Geek presents: Resident Evil 5 prequel to appear in comic form

Resident Evil 5 Prequel

There are two things I wish I covered more of here at the site: videogames and comic books. I try to cover games as much as I can, but comics are just stretching myself too thin (despite the fact that I love comics enough to have actually spent a good chunk of 2007 working in a comic shop…)

Despite that, occasionally something comic-related comes along and I’ve got to post about it despite my lack of comic coverage. This news from Wildstorm about a Resident Evil 5 prequel falls squarely into that category.

The guys over at STYD uncovered news that Wildstorm will be releasing a six issue Resident Evil 5 prequel that looks at what brings lead character Chris Redfield to Africa and what “dark burden” haunts him. Rick Sanchez will handle the writing duties with Kevin Sharpe and Jim Clark providing the artwork.

You’ll find Resident Evil 5 at your local comic shop come March 11th. The game hits stores on March 13th.

Happy (Belated) New Year!

Ok, we're a little late, but technically you can wish someone a happy New Year until March of that year. So on behalf of GameCritics.com, have a Happy New Year. Hopefully, 2009 will be an improvement on 2008!

The issue of credibility and Joystiq

Every so often, you hear the word "credibility" come up on a website. For whatever reason, people seem to forget what it means, and when it's called into question, people get awfully uppity about it. The problem is, credibility is subjective. And how to defend credibility is up to the speaker.
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