Near Earth Accessibility

As N.E.O – Near Earth Objects nears the final phases of its development cycle, I think it’s time to talk about the game.

The game itself is to me, the logical conclusion of what would happen if I were to tinker with its fore-runner Press Space forever. Maybe. When I added touchscreen controls to Press Space, I was very proud of them; indeed, I had figured out a way to control a fast-paced arcade game with a single-finger touch. And yet, this control system was a little wasted on what I call my ‘sketchpad’ project (so named because it tends to be the project in which I test and implement new things I have learned).

Last public version of Press Space has a background that reacts to the music.
Last public version of Press Space has a background that reacts to the music.

N.E.O – Near Earth Objects was created with this kind of one-finger accessibility in mind; literally with Press Space, if the player has a touchscreen device, they do not even need two hands to play it, and play it well. Accessibility has always been at the forefront of my mind when creating N.E.O; despite its obvious trappings as an intensely-challenging ‘hardcore’ arcade shooter, I thought there may be players who wish to play this kind of game that may for some reason be unable to. Indeed, at time of writing it mimics Press Space’s keyboard layout (W,A,D and arrow keys) to enable players to play one-handed with either their left or right hand. Because, as someone who had to spend a year re-training their muscle memory from ‘southpaw’ console FPS controls to the default right-handed ones, I know how frustrating it is when there isn’t the option.

But why stop there? Since all Near Earth Objects’ game content is all finished (bar the testing/tweaking ‘alpha’ phase) and the front/back end is next to develop, I may as well put remappable controls in there, right? After all, I have already instituted the following accessibility switches:

  • Music on/off — this has been a standard in most of my games for a while, as music can distract some players that are hard of hearing or have auditory processing difficulties.
  • Screen blur on/off — although I love the screen blurring effects, I realise they’re not to everyone’s tastes and can hamper the experience for players with sight difficulties.
  • Screen shake on/off — screen-shake effects (among other camera movements) can actually provoke motion-sickness in some players.
  • Flashing sprites on/off — a big one because I feared that N.E.O’s aesthetic would exclude players with photosensitive epilepsy. Well, now it does not. This makes all the flashing sprites just one solid colour and removes the white screen-flashes that accompany large explosions.

One thing I have not designed N.E.O for, however, has been colour-blindness. This is a thing for which relatively little information and resources exist on the Internet, and there is little to no common understanding of. I have, however, been looking into how colour-blind players may perceive N.E.O:

Near Earth Objects, as viewed by most people.
Near Earth Objects, as viewed by most people.

Part of the aesthetic of Near Earth Objects is an adherence to the old CGA magenta/cyan palette to flavour the game and give it uniqueness; I am not adhering strictly to CGA limitations, just using the palette. This makes it a colourful game, but limited in that colour, and quite distinct. I recently happened upon a tool called Color Oracle, which overlays a filter to the screen to produce a static image in one of three ‘modes’, approximating the experience of the image to persons with different types of colour-blindness. I have re-created the results:

Protanopia and deuteranopia are very similar.
Protanopia and deuteranopia are very similar.

Protanopia and deuteranopia both filter out the red portion of the magenta, rendering it blue; whilst seemingly removing colour value from the cyan. This makes N.E.O actually a very blue game to those of these particular types of colour-blindness. Unfortunately not ideal, but this is actually not too bad; I used luminosity values of such contrast that the action is very likely still discernible.

Tritanopia isn't so different from the original image.
Tritanopia isn’t so different from the original image.

Although rarer than the other two types, tritanopia doesn’t perceive the image so differently; just shifting the magenta to become more red. This screen is actually to me a thing of beauty, and I (almost) wish I’d have gone for this kind of colour scheme; were it not for the fact that it wouldn’t translate so well to the other two types of colour-blindness.

What I can learn from this is, that the cyan/magenta palette may be pretty, but it doesn’t really function so well for colour-deficient eye types. As ever, I consider a great litmus test to be a completely-desaturated image; although monochrome eyesight is incredibly rare indeed, focusing on an image’s shape, form and tonal value more than the hue can help overcome these obstacles.


And, you know, I don’t think that’s too bad.

In all, I look forward to being able to release N.E.O – Near Earth Objects as a game that, although isn’t perfect in this area by a long shot, is pretty accessible.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s