Last week, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jay Kidd from Wraith Games to discuss their new puzzle game Collapsus, their dedication to accessibility and some of the problems plaguing the industry today. AbleGamers first met Jay and the Wraith Games team at the Ohio Game Developers Expo in 2015, noticing their game Collapsus had some of the fundamental building blocks of accessibility. When AbleGamers asked about it, Jay responded that the team was designing their games with accessibility in mind so everyone could play their creations. What follows is a look at accessible game development from the inside of the industry, and what developers are doing so everyone can game.
Unstoppable Gamer – Tell us about Collapsus. What was the inspiration behind the game?
Jay Kidd (Wraith Games) – Collapsus started out as a student project I did back in high school (around 2006) before “Wraith Games” (in the form it is in now, at least) really existed. My mom was really into puzzle games at the time and since I was just getting into learning game design, I decided I wanted to make a puzzle game for her. It started off as a Bejeweled-style Match-3 game, at least, that was my intent. This was before those Match-3 games were everywhere, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’d never played one before. I was a Tetris kid. So going off of this vague sort of idea of what I thought one was supposed to look and play like (and all that tough-as-nails Tetris sensibility) I ended up making something completely different. It was pretty solid for a prototype, at least. I didn’t do anything with it, though. It just sort of sat in the back of my computer somewhere. I did end up dredging it up every year or so to make really tiny tweaks, but those were pretty much all graphical.
It wasn’t until I met my, then girlfriend (now fiancée) Kristy that I brought it out “for real” to try to impress her. She loved it, but I kept seeing all these problems with it. Little things. Awful things. At that time, Wraith was more like it is today. Somehow or another, while we were working on Physix, it got passed around to the team and Geoff, one of our programmers at the time, said that he felt it would be awesome on mobile. Well, with a lot more polish, that is. Believe it or not, that kind of inspired Kristy to take up programming. She’s now the lead programmer on Collapsus.
UG – What do you hope the final build accomplishes?
WG – We have quite a few goals in mind. Firstly, is content. Content is the name of the game on this one. Already we have the standard difficulties (with variants of each of them), 20 “special”, “plus” versions of all of those, 200 built-in puzzles, free daily puzzles, a puzzle editor/sharing tool, and an online versus mode. We wanted to make a game that was not only all about “more bang for your buck” but also taking the fairly simple mechanics we came up with and extrapolating on them in new and creative ways each time. Nothing is more disappointing than a content-lite game. Especially a content-lite game that already has you hooked.
Our second big goal is accessibility. We want as many players as possible to be able to play our games. Gamers of all stripes should be able to have fun with Collapsus! I have a feeling we’ll be diving into that topic a lot more here in a bit.
Third, I would say, is access: just how players can get ahold of our game. That’s why we’re trying to release not just on mobile or computer, but on all the mobile platforms and all the computer platforms. Being licensed Nintendo developers helps with that as well. We’ve always wanted to be on Nintendo.
Lastly is just giving our players something fun, new, and challenging to play. Something that really grabs them and steps away from the kind of the Candy Crush-clones that have flooded the market. Puzzle games are so much more than that.
UG – At what point in development did you decide to add accessibility options to the game? Was there someone on the team that championed the effort or was it a collective mission?
WG – We all really wanted to add accessibility options from the beginning, but none of us really knew what that meant or how we’d go about doing it. One of our team members, Ryan, was basically just sitting around doing nothing one day, so we passed him a tablet to play-test Collapsus (he was part of a different project). Almost instantly he just died. So I asked him what was up and he mentioned that he couldn’t differentiate most of the blocks from one another. It really opened our eyes (sorry for the bad pun) on the whole color-blindness issue. That’s when we added shapes inside the blocks. We figured that there was still more we could do, so we took to the internet to see how other developers were tackling this issue.
UG -If you can, give us a quick rundown of what accessibility features there are currently in the game and/or are planned on being implemented in the final build.
WG – Well, other than shapes we added, we found out that basically creating different palettes for the different types of color blindness could allow users to select the type of color vision they have. So if you have protanomaly, you can select protanomaly or if you have tritanomaly, you could select tritanomaly, etc.
These different palettes are set up to be different colors/shades/tints that are chosen to make each one distinct from the last. Not only that, but special care is needed to make sure that the colors chosen don’t clash. This can be a real problem for some color blind users, leading to headaches and such. You don’t usually think about stuff like that unless you experience it. In addition to colors, the different palettes have different patterning for each element. Stripes (for instance) really help.
One of the things we’re really interested in trying out are those “tactile keyboards”. The ones that raise right out of the touch screen. Some prototypes we’ve seen can form shapes, like braille, for instance. It may be quite some time before we can get our hands on one to test it out, but we’re really hoping to at least try to make a fully tactile version of Collapsus for blind and severely vision impaired people.
UG – What lessons have you learned so far from developing Collapsus? Both in regards to game design and accessibility. How will those lessons affect the way you develop games in the future?
WG – Tons! A really big one is about time management, never underestimating the scope of what you perceive as a “small” project, and the dangers of the dreaded “feature creep”. Those all really go hand in hand. We’ve also learned a lot about networking, marketing, and getting people as excited about your projects as you are. Sadly, there have also been a few lessons learned about dealing with team members leaving mid-project and what to do about that as well. To be honest, working on Collapsus has really provided some the biggest learning experiences out of all of our projects, despite being a rather “small” game at its core. It grew into much more of a “big” project, now, I guess.
What we’ve learned about accessibility is also pretty huge! I mean, we went from knowing basically nothing about accessibility, to making our accessibility options one of our favorite sets of features to work on! We learned so much about how the human eye and how colors and light work. About the way different people see, really. Stuff that you never think about, most of the time. There are all these little things that would seem like nothing (like the painful color combinations, for instance) that become so crucial.
We also learned about what kind of an effect just having these features can bring to a project. At first, we never knew that this was something that so many people wanted; what they needed. Being able to bring this to them, something so simple, yet so helpful, really helps get a game out there. It’s almost sad that it does help your game stand out, though. It’s because so few games offer these options. You’d just think it would be the norm. Accessibility options will certainly be something we include in all of our future projects.
UG – We see a lot of games, both AAA and Indie, launch with a lack of accessibility options. In your opinion, what is the most difficult factor or obstacle keeping game developers from adding things like control remapping, colorblind options, etc.? (Does it depend on genre, budget, time constraints, something else)?
WG – Certainly different genres are harder to work with than others and both time and budget probably do play a factor… to us, we’re pretty sure that there are two major factors: Lack of knowing that the need exists, and lack of knowing where to start. For some accessibility options, at least. Designing for those who are truly blind or who have mobility based disabilities has far more obstacles that need to be considered, of course.
It feels weird to say, though. Like, most of us have at least one color blind friend, family member, coworker; it’s not rare. For some reason, though, when it comes time to develop for color blindness, people just don’t think about it. Deafness, on the other hand is a bit rarer, but not by much. It’s a lot easier to accommodate deaf players, however. As such, there are far more games with subtitle and/or closed captioning options than colorblind accessibility options. That’s probably because deafness is a far more serious concern (and it’s often in the forefront of the public consciousness). That being said, they’re still not enough support for deafness in my opinion, though. Not by far. Luckily, implementing accommodations for either have fairly easy fixes, you just have to be in that headspace first.
So not only is identifying that need in the first place an issue, but there is relatively little information on the topic of accessibility in games. We had to do a lot of Googling when we took our first steps. Hopefully, with game designers coming from all walks of life now more than ever, with it will come more of an understanding of how to address these concerns and more/better dissemination of information on the topic. That’s our hope, at least.
UG – In an age where big budget game and movie studios are playing it safe by relying on remakes and sequels, do you think it is Indie developer’s responsibility to keep pushing the envelope and offering their audiences new experiences?
WG – Oh, absolutely! It’s not particularly controversial to say that right now the AAA portion of the industry is so bloated that even with a game selling millions of units, making obscene amounts of money (and being fairly popular to its fans), a game can still “fail”, leading to the loss of jobs. This leaves bigger companies terrified to deviate from anything other than projects that appeal to the lowest common denominator. Games really suffer from that. They somehow become less art; less of an experience and become more of a sterile “product”. That’s one of the big reasons that sequels and remakes of already “proven” games exist. They’re a safe bet.
That’s why it’s so good to be an indie. We’re not held back by that sort of thing. Most of the time our budgets and team sizes are small. Heck, often our budgets are literally nonexistent and our teams can be as small as just one person. It doesn’t take much to keep an indie studio going; and so (usually) a failed project or two isn’t the end. It’s just a setback. Anyone with a good premise, a bit of technical and/or artistic skill, and the dedication to see it through to the end can make something amazing! It’s so wonderful. It’s like writing a novel rather than filming a blockbuster. Novels have the luxury of being smaller, more personal, exploring really out-there themes if they want… a blockbuster can’t, really. It’s all about getting butts in seats. That’s not necessarily a problem, there’s room in the world for both, but they’re different.
This freedom drives us indie developers. We can latch onto a really crazy idea and just run with it. Gamers are everywhere… you can find an audience for anything. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but what I’m saying is that a niche exists somewhere for even the strangest, smallest, most personal, most artsy of games. That’s just the internet for you. It’s all about that “niche culture”. That’s one of the most wonderful things imaginable.
UG – In the same sense, how important is it for independent developers to ensure their game is accessible and able to be played by everyone?
WG – It’s one of the most important responsibilities we have as creators. There’s no excuse for not doing it. People who are differently abled deserve the kinds of experiences we have to offer. They sure aren’t going to get it from the AAA space… at least, not in any meaningful way. What do we have to lose? Really think about it. What do we have to lose!? Just by taking those extra steps to be inclusive, we can only gain by it. We can gain lifelong customers. Who doesn’t want more customers? More importantly than that we’re making fans. We have the potential to touch lives in a real, tangible way. It doesn’t even have to be a big way. Even if your game isn’t some sort of high concept think piece or something, even if it’s just a simple little puzzle game about breaking blocks, you can touch someone. Isn’t that worth putting in a little extra effort?
UG – Lastly, just tell everyone what they need to know about Collapsus. Where can they get more information? When should they expect the game?
WG – Collapsus is an action-packed block-crunching puzzle game for mobile devices, PC, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo platforms coming out later this year. It’s our first “big” project (we’ve had several much smaller games before this) and is being developed alongside its even bigger big sister, Physix (and a couple smaller projects as well). Collapsus was nominated for SlideDB’s “App of the Year” awards where it reached the Top 50.
Collapsus offers challenging gameplay through the use of a unique risk/reward-based resource management mechanic. In it, you break blocks you don’t want (permanently) by clicking on them and try to line up columns and rows of four or more like blocks as the field collapses around them. The game features tons of modes for nearly infinite hours of gameplay. Some of these modes include special challenge modes that shake up gameplay, a puzzle mode complete with a puzzle editor, and an online versus mode.
We have a Kickstarter planned here soon. We begin filming after our studio is finished being remodeled near the end of March or the start of April. The campaign should launch before summer. The game will be up on Steam’s Greenlight as well shortly after that. Free weekly builds of the game will be playable on the web starting during the time of the campaigns.
You can get more information on our website www.wraithgames.com where you can read our blog and sign up for our mailing list.
And on SlideDB: slidedb.com/games/collapsus