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Lars Doucet on Making Defender’s Quest More Accessible [Interview]

Not all gamers are the same, at least that’s what developers Anthony Pecorella and Lars Doucet considered when making upcoming human-tower defense game Defender’s Quest. A lot of gamers out there have disabilities; Lars was candid enough to share that he, too, has some special needs.

Yet, all it takes to accommodate those needs are a few tweaks to make a game playable. Lars admits that things like total paralysis and complete blindness are pretty hard to accommodate, but other things like low vision, color-blindness, deafness, physical handicaps (missing fingers / hands, cerebral palsy), just require a little attention. Lars likens these little adjustments to being more like “putting subtitles in movies, not installing chair lifts to Mount Everest.”

Lars shared that he has Tourette’s Syndrome and Narcolepsy. “These particular conditions don’t affect my game-playing abilities, but being diagnosed with them led me to become involved with the student with disabilities community back in college, and gave me some perspective on conditions that others have that do.”

Therefore, Lars and Co. have added to Defender’s Quest several quick options to help with accessibility. If you take a quick look at the list below, you’ll see most of these probably don’t take long to implement. However, they will make your game more accessible and enjoyable to a wider audience.

-Turn flashing effects on/off – There’s some pretty common full-screen flashes, screen shakes, etc, and there’s a chance this could cause seizures in people with epilepsy. While he can’t guarantee the game is 100% epilepsy-safe, having an option to turn these effects on and off should make it easier for some people.

-Keyboard shortcuts – Adding hotkeys makes the game much more accessible to people who have trouble using a mouse. This is also a feature regular gamers enjoy, as well.

-Customizable controls – just letting the player re-map the controls is really a boon to people with physical handicaps. For instance, for a person with only one hand, allowing them to put all the hotkeys on one side of the keyboard makes the game easier to play. Some disabled gamers also use special devices that can emulate keyboard input, and so letting them specify which keys they want to use makes it more likely to be compatible with the device.

“Furthermore,” Lars added, “keyboard layouts aren’t the same in all countries, and some grognards love the DVORAK layout, and then there’s also left-handed people.”

-Variable game speed – the whole game is based on the idea that it’s about strategy, not reaction time. So, you can slow the game way down, or even pause it, and still make decisions. You’ll have to run the clock forward in order to gain Psi, of course, but you can always pause, do everything, unpause. One of the most important ways to make games accessible to people with disabilities is game speed. People with severe physical handicaps often have to go through games at a reaaaaallly subdued pace, but are just glad if they can play the game at all. If the minimum 1/2x game speed is still too fast, you can enable 1/4x speed from the accessibility menu. And of course, impatient non-disabled gamers can zoom by at 4x.

-Keyboard controls – you can also control the game entirely with the keyboard. Lars added some low-level code that lets the keyboard act as the mouse as far as the game is concerned. You can move by default with arrow keys and click with enter.

-Red-green colorblindness aware design. The most prevalent form of color-blindness is Red-Green, with an incidence of up to 10% in males. “My policy in the game is to avoid differentiating things simply by hue,” explained Lars. “If I pallete swap something (such as a monster), I try to make that alternate color scheme darker or lighter as well, and I always try to avoid having red and green varieties of the same thing. Red and blue are still pretty easy to distinguish for most types of color-blindness (which is why this is the most common choice for team colors in any multiplayer game).” The spawn points on the map are differentiated by both color and shape.

Lars added, “I could probably do better on the color-blindness angle, but we still have features like being able to click on enemies to get their stats, so you’re not totally screwed if you can’t tell what it is simply by its color.”

Defender’s Quest currently has a free demo playable via browser or for download and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Check it out and let us know what you think! If you are hesitant, check out the gameplay footage and features covered in our first Defender’s Quest interview. Lars, thanks for helping us all be a little more considerate!