Train2Game News: A visit to Special Effect

Kirsty Payne from SpecialEffectI had the great pleasure of going to visit SpecialEffect at its headquarters in Oxford on Wednesday. The charity held a get together to thank supporters for their work during the Art Charity Auction back in December.

As I arrived at the building I was struck by how incredible it looked. I drove up a long road, flanked by trees all the way up to a Manor building where SpecialEffect is housed. I parked around the back and entered the easily accessible building where I was met by Hannah Whittaker, who works at SpeciaEffect.

As I entered the office I was greeted by Gavin Tan, who is a developer for the charity. I chatted with Gavin for a bit about games, that is the reason we are in this industry, and he then showed me some of the controllers they use to help disabled people to be able to play games.

The first controller I tried was the “EyeGaze”. This is a device which tracks your eye movements and lets you do all the things you want on a computer using nothing but your eye movement. Following a quick calibration I got to play racing game, Dirt. To control the vehicle you moved your eyes to the top of the screen to go faster, to the bottom of the screen to brake and reverse and direct your eyes left or right to turn. I am normally terrible at racing games but using the EyeGaze I managed an average time which pleased me!

Following on from the EyeGaze I got to experience voice activated controls in Street Fighter. A control was set up which is used for movement and can be controlled by your chin with a sensitive microphone for the voice commands. The commands were simple like “Punch” for an uppercut, “Kick” for a spinning kick and “Move” to do a Hadouken.

Seeing and experiencing these controllers for myself really showed me how helpful these can be for people trying to get back in to gaming and back playing games on a level playing field. It truly is an amazing thing that the people at SpecialEffect do.

Over the next half an hour several games industry people turned up to the office for the event. There were people there from Sega, Warner Bros, and Take-two. Once everyone had arrived it was time for the main event.

Everyone was welcomed to the event by Kirsty Payne, a Vice President of SpecialEffect, who can be seen in the picture above. She gave a quick run down of the event in December. The art auction featured games art from across the industry and was held at the London City Hall and was visited by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. The auction managed to raise over £30,000!

The floor was then given over to Dr Mick Donegan, founder of SpecialEffect, who showed where the money will be going and who is being helped.

After the presentation SpecialEffect offered us drink and food. It was lovely just being able to talk with some of the games industry people who do so much for our industry and hearing their opinions on the games industry at the moment.

It was an incredible day and I will continue to do what I can for this amazing Charity! I will leave you with this amazing video of a young man called Alex who has been able to play games again and has used Special Effects help to be able to become a Train2Game student!

Enjoy!

Train2Game News: Mid-week Round up

Train2Game student Fiona Stewart has been featured in The Sun. She talks about how she moved from traditional art to digital art and how it has affected her life. The Sun also featured an article about Daniel Gent, a disabled student of Train2Game who uses a voice activated computer.

Microsoft are bringing Atari’s extensive back catalogue to tablets and browsers. The new portal is called Atari Arcade and it’s opening with eight titles: Asteroids, Combat, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Pong, Super Breakout and Yar’s Revenge. The rest of the games are set to be released over the next few months.

343 Industries and Microsoft are releasing eight different pre-order incentives for Halo 4. Depending on where you order the game from you get a different in game item. The in game items include: Different Armour sets, Avatar Items and multi-player Emblems.

Humble Bundle Six has been released. The Humble Bundles are great for picking up some of the top indie games whilst helping charity at the same time. You pay what you want for the bundle but need to pay a minimum amount to get the game Dustforce. Other games included are: Rochard, Shatter, S.P.A.Z, Torchlight and Vessel.

Sony are releasing two new thinner PlayStation 3s. These new consoles are 25% slimmer than the current models and one boasts a 500GB hard drive the other is a 12GB flash memory model but a 250GB hard drive will be available.

Sony are also launching PlayStation Mobile in October. It is a new store for games to be released for mobile devices. An SDK for the store will be released in November opening up a new market for games developers.

Nintendo has come to an agreement with Unity. Developers can use the engine to create games for the Wii U. Unity users will have to pay for a license to develop for the Wii U, just like with the other platforms.

EA will support the very first GaymerCon. The convention is for the LGBT community to come together through their love of gaming. Their website says its purpose is to educate and inform “the gaming community of the presence of sexuality in our digital lives and promoting acceptance and social change through gaming.”

Finally a big congratulations to the winning team at the weekends world record winning Game Jam. RetroMetro won with their game, Royal Rush. I hope you enjoy your prizes and I hope everyone who attended the Game Jam had an excellent time!

Developing for the disabled gamer

Last Thursday, I had an unfortunate incident on my bicycle which resulted in a strapped up broken finger and the misfortune of needing to wear a sling for a few days. Naturally, this caused me some problems – I could only type using one hand making updating this Train2Game blog and the Train2Game Twitter account a slow affair, cooking became a pain, and worst of all I was extremely limited to what video games were available to keep me entertained over the weekend.

With only one functioning hand, it was impossible to hold a console controller which meant continuing my ride through the American west with Red Dead Redemption was out of the question. It also meant that I couldn’t get my usual fix of Team Fortress 2 on the PC, after all a person needs to move by pushing keys with the left hand and look around by using the mouse in the right. (Or indeed, doing this the other way around if you’re left handed) Thankfully, I managed to keep myself from going crazy in a temporarily game free world thanks to the point and click interface of Dragon Age: Origins which kept me happy for hours on end.

Thankfully I’m out of the sling now and though I still can’t hold a PlayStation controller due to my fingers remaining strapped together, I’m back to happily fragging my clan mates on Team Fortress 2 online servers.

Luckily for me, not being able to play any video game I want is a temporary issue. Unfortunately for the significant minority of people who have disabilities, not being able to play a wide variety of different games is a permanent problem.

However, slowly but surely this tide seems to be turning, with small groups of Games Designers, Games Developers and Games Artist & Animators working with scientists to provide research into – and create – video games for those with disabilities.

Last year, Duke University in North Carolina conducted research into modifying Guitar Hero that allowed it to be played by man with an amputated arm. BBC News reporter Flora Graham explains how it works better than I ever could.

“To play the game, users wear electrodes on their residual muscles, such as those found on their chest and shoulder. The system translates the signals from the electrodes as if they were coming from the game controller, allowing players to strum along, despite not having any hands.”

The researchers also realised that the movements in the game were similar to those required when learning how to use a prosthetic limb, essentially meaning Guitar Hero could in theory be used to teach people how to use their new arms.

In May this year, a video game project called VI Fit was revealed that allows blind gamers to keep in shape. Researchers at the University of Nevada modified a Nintendo Wii for the project which according to Gamesradar;

“Features two games – VI Bowling and VI Tennis – and both can be downloaded for free at vifit.org. The game utilizes Wii remote controllers and a Windows PC with Bluetooth support. Players are instructed throughout the game with the use of both audio and vibrotactile cues”

EA have even got involved with developing games for the disabled, by helping VTree LLC, create a Madden powered title called My Football Game for players such as injured war veterans with physical difficulties.  These are just a handful of a variety of projects that aim to develop games for those with disabilities, there are plenty more of them out there too!

There is a significant audience of disabled people– and according to Popcap, they make up 20% of ‘casual’ gamers – who just want to enjoy their hobby in the same way that the rest of us do. It raises an important issue for Train2Game students, be they Games Designer, Games Developer or even Games Artist & Animator – Do you consider the needs of disabled gamers when you create your games? Or would you like to work on a game designed to be played especially by those with disabilities?

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this once, so as usual, leave your comments here or on the Train2Game forum.