MAKING AR AND VR TRULY ACCESSIBLE
In this 2016 VRDC session, Minds + Assembly's Tracey John, Radial Games' Andy Moore, Tomorrow Today Labs' Brian Van Buren, and independent designer Kayla Kinnunen explore the challenges and necessities of making sure virtual reality experiences will remain accessible to players of all backgrounds.
18 -20% of the population have some kind of disability (visual impairments, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, motor and mobility impairments) and this figure increases rapidly with age.
There are some people for whom VR just isn't an option e.g. anybody who wears glasses may struggle with VR. But many more can gain access, so long as the software is designed in an inclusive way. Accessibility forces you as a developer to think outside of your own box – to be more than the bad designer only designing for themselves e.g. If you build a room scale experience, that game should also be playable by someone who is seated and can only play with a single hand.
If you design an experience for an abled body adult within the normal height variance, you are writing off a large number of people, you're even blocking off yourself at certain age groups e.g. small children don't have the same reach, or cognitive capacities.
– Think how the human body interacts and experiences space with the game.
- Ask: what if I have to do this with one hand?
- Ask: what if I have to have a standing-only mobile experience that someone who seated needs to use?
- Ask: should I be putting objects on the floor for people who have difficulty bending over?
- And question why you should force somebody to do a Konami code, when just pressing the trigger button will do?
There’s a lot of knowhow in this area now…go to gameaccessibilityguidelines.com, go to Microsoft's webpage on how to create an accessible video game and take on board those suggestions like MAPPABLE CONTROLS for people who can’t easily press buttons.
1. CREATE ALTERNATIVES
Try to be comprehensive in what you're designing so when you're designing a space in VR use the entire toolkit you have available. Instead of creating a cutscene, it's about designing how to make people to look at things, and how to use colour palettes, or designing a comprehensive cue, something that uses audio AND lighting.
e.g. When I was designing an earlier iteration of our game, in order to get people to turn their heads, I would use audio cues because positional audio is such a powerful tool in virtual reality, but people with hearing impairments wouldn’t respond, so that forced me to redesign our trigger system and redesigned our cue system making sure that there was a visual aid as well, like targeted lights and flashing arrows.
When you're trying to design with accessibility in mind, you come up with solutions that end up killing three or four birds with one stone. So. if you want to design an experience that's playable on a desk, instead of at room scale, you've now solved the problem of people having to bend over because now everything's at desk, and if you make the desk height, variable, that supports small people like children. Even the challenge of limited mobility is solved. All these problems are solved sometimes with a very simple solution. You can actually open up whole new markets, not just for people with disabilities, but people with small living rooms also benefit…and all of a sudden you're now solving for platforms that maybe have more limited tracking areas as well.
2. EXTEND HUMAN REACH
So, imagine a default action where you walk over to something, you pick it up, you walk over to where you want to put it, and you place it down - instead one group created a ray cast from the controller to act as a highlight so that whenever that red cast collided with another object in space, pulling the grab button would just suck that virtual object right into your hand. To extend that they also allowed for a half Press to hold an object in place where it wasn't at a distance. And so that would allow people to move things around. That would also allow them to kind of hold down a half trigger and move their arm backwards and actually extend an object out. This allowed the user to have full control of object placement within a three dimensional room scale space, all without actually moving from their chair.
3. MAKE PLAYERS MORE MOBILE
The easiest things you can do for mobility is to have teleporting in your game. It adds a way for somebody to navigate around your space in a very intuitive way, especially if you also add rotation on the teleport so that you can actually highlight a space where you want to go to and then immediately pick a direction you want to face. This would allow somebody that's chair bound, and only able to face in one direction to put themselves at any position on the map.
Alternative mobility design strategies -
To keep the pleasure of movement and gesture we added a grabby claw. You can take a stick and telescope it out using your physical motion. And you can hit the buttons on the controller to grab things remotely and still move them. So, you still get a sense of connectedness and presence.
And instead of going for teleportation, we opted for scaling. You can scale the whole environment so that your natural arm reach can now reach across your room instead of having a teleport button.
Not every solution works in every in every application. But if you think about these kinds of things early on in development e.g. knowing that scale is an option really opens a lot of doors.
4. TEST WITH DIFFERENT SHAPED BODIES
If you’re trying to make a game accessible later in the development process you have to just do a ton of user testing and watch for the pain points, which could just be like a sigh of frustration. If someone keeps having to bend over and pick something up. These sorts of barriers are likely to first show up as annoyances. to people that are able bodied.
e.g. One of the various near field interactions we were asking players to do is to play a game beer pong. And there was a ball dispenser that would dispense the ping pong balls that came out and would throw them and there were visual rewards if you knocked all the balls out of the out of the container…for Wesley, who is our artist who is six foot seven and has a bad hip and bad knee, for him to bend over and repeatedly try to pick them up was very painful. So we ended up putting a detector in there, so if a nearby space is ever empty of balls, the programme then pours out a bunch more balls and refills the container so that people don't think of that as being an accessibility concern.
People have different head heights – does this affect the play?
If you are at a different head height, there are multiple different ways to get around that- scaling being one of them, being able to adjust the head height of the users is another one, as is designing the space so that it is customizable. e.g. make the height of the control panel adjustable.
e.g. in our game Fantastic Contraption your toolbox is a cat. If you double-click the cat comes flying and you can position the anywhere in the world by just like clicking your finger and calling the cat. But something that a lot of people discover fairly quickly is if you pick up the cat, and you place it anywhere, at any height, not even on the ground, it'll just hover in that position, so that you can customize the play space and put your tools wherever you want them. And we have made prototypes of other games where every metallic control panel has bolts, and if you undo the bolts, you can pick up the whole control panel and move it. So, it's not difficult to build in these kinds of features.
Install your game on someone's computer and watch them play it at home over time.
We discovered that many Vive players don't use headphones at all, so you can't rely on audio cues at all.
We also found that if you don't support seated play, then good luck having a successful title on, say, psvr.
If you don't support forward facing gameplay, then good luck launching on Oculus.
… if you solve for disabilities, you also grow your market incredibly.
Reach out to your local disability meet-up groups and invite people to try your game out.
And remember to play test with people who have different sorts of disabilities because motor impairment is very different from mobility impairment, which is very different from hearing impairment, which is very different from vision impairment, which is very different from cognitive impairment. Each have their own specific needs.
5. MAKE YOUR OWN CONTROLS
As a wheelchair user, I turn in a tank fashion where I will turn one wheel one way and one wheel the other way in order to do a tight turn. And for the Vive controllers, if I have to hold down a button in order to keep holding on to an object, that becomes very difficult for me so I'll just put the five controllers in my lap and move to the area that I'm at turn or do whatever. Okay, same problem with the Oculus, the sensor ring for the Oculus Touch gets in the way and I'm using the butt of my palm in order to turn and this for something that requires you as a user to make quick turns and quick movement changes it really screws things up - so Valve has made the hardware of the sensors available so you can partner with them and modify the sensors to create your own controllers and that's really going to make it very easy for people to come up with personalised controls, so there's no reason that you can't go to your local maker-space with a 3d model of a controller and build it. And that's going to make it a lot easier if you need to design controllers that have straps on them to strap the controller into someone's hand because they don't have the grip strength in order to keeps a controller to their hand. Or if someone needs to have larger buttons, because they have less motor control those these things, the hardware solutions are there. It's just building them.
It becomes important to understand what are the base actions that you're trying to accomplish, and then allowing for the possibility of end users being able to remap those actions to different inputs.
And the great thing with VR is it allows for a lot more inputs to just happen naturally. So, you can use gaze, you can use head position, gaze will get even more higher fidelity when we actually have eyeball tracking… it's a puzzle. And I've seen some people experimenting with interesting gameplay designs where the hand controllers are intended for a second or third player and the main character only uses the headset. We can get incredibly creative here.
2016. Making AR and VR truly accessible. In GDC Vault, edited by GDC. U.S.: YouTube.
The USW Audience of the Future research team is compiling a summary collection of recent research in the field of immersive, and enhanced reality media