Train2Game was at the Eurogamer Expo, and while there we sat down for a chat with gaming charity Special Effect. Special Effect is dedicated to helping young people with disabilities enjoy computer games when it may not otherwise be possible. They use their expertise and adapted technology including eye control in order to make this happen.
In first part of a two part interview, R&D at Special Effect Bill Donegan tells the Train2Game blog about what Special Effect do, how eye control technology works and how they adapt games to use it.
Can you tell us a bit about the story of Special Effect please?
Special Effect was set up about four years ago. The main aim was to find ways to help people who’ve got some sort of disability, people who can’t use a computer in a normal way or can’t play video games in a normal way using a mouse, controller or keyboard, and find ways for them to play computer games and do other leisure activities if they can’t use the ordinary ways of controlling a computer.
So today we’re showing ‘eye control’ because we’re doing a world record attempt – to get the biggest eye control tournament ever – which I’m guessing is a new record! So hopefully we’ll make a record at least. And we’re also doing a fastest lap competition of the game we’ve got today, which is Trackmania Nations.
The way we’ve got it to work with the eye controller is we created a little bit of software with a volunteer called Tim Brogden, and that turns the mouse movements from the eye control into keyboard presses for the game.
How do you even begin the process of getting eye control into standard games?
It’s often quite tricky because basically what you’re doing with eye control is moving a cursor around the screen by looking around itin the way we’re using it. Obviously there are certain games you can do that with, by doing a left click for instance by blinking or just dwelling on an area.
Obviously point and click games, a lot of those can be played with this; but then if people want to play other types of games such as racing games, there’s only one to my knowledge that you can play using a mouse pointer. So, we came up with the idea of this software to open up lots of games to more people who use things like eye control or head control and can’t use the keyboard to play the game.
So how does Trackmania Nations work with eye control?
The first thing I’d do is…I’ve just sat down in front of the computer which is going to do a quick calibration. Basically this is just telling the computer it’s a different person to the one that’s just had a go on it.
So, I’m going to look at this target on the screen and then the mouse is flickering everywhere because we’ve changed the sensitivity settings to make it work better with this game. If you’re using it for a normal computer, you need to put some smoothing on to make it a bit more accurate but for this game it works perfectly well.
It looks like it’s working so I’ll just close the calibration down. That’s the alt controller running so what I do is press – we’re doing it in the physical form but you can put on screen buttons up to start the alt controller – so I’m starting that now. Now as I look around the screen the car will follow where I’m looking.
If I want to turn right I’ll look slightly to the right, if I want to turn left at this corner I’ll look to the left. And then if you look at the track you’ll basically accelerate, so if I look down I’ll come to a stop and then roll back down this hill. But it’s set up so you don’t have to look up at the sky to accelerate, you just look at the track ahead of you.
How difficult was it to bring the eye control tech into Trackmania?
It worked quite nicely. The main reason we chose it was because of the short levels, because for people who aren’t used to it it’s quite good just to do a short burst track and do it a few times. But the actual making the profile with the alt controller was one of the easier parts. Obviously it took some tweaking and we made some changes for the Eurogamer event because people aren’t used to using eye control, but it was fairly OK.
For more information about Special Effect, www.SpecialEffect.org.uk
For more information about Train2Game, go to www.train2game.com