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A game breaking real social barriers
Published 2 years ago
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The first Playstation4 game specifically adapted for people with movement disorders
How did this adventure begin ?
The story of this game, I guess like many others, started in college, but not in a computer science university, this project was born at a Marketing University, Juan José Gonzalez, who has a degree in Marketing, was doing a Ph.D. based on the benefits of videogames for special groups of people, and how games can help develop or improve their skills, as he advanced with his thesis, he decided that the best way to support their project was to prove it, by developing an application or game that could help in any way children with special singularities, especially children with cerebral palsy, a group with which he was especially sensitive.
We knew Juan José for long and we worked together in the past and became friends, one day he came to us with a simple proposition; can you make a videogame for kids affected with cerebral palsy that they could control using only the playstation camera?
Our first reaction was a simple yes. The idea and project was really engaging and very interesting but we really didn’t know how we would do it and how the game will look like. But we said yes of course, and we started this adventure together.
The first Game Design concept
The first concept proposal we made, with all our good intentions and lack of knowledge of the affection, was based on games that were controlled by moving the arms, head and trunk movements, based on colorful scenarios, bright rooms, exploding balloons, combos and other fantasy scene, so common in children's games, the concept of making a game for children of this group as well as the design proposal were well received among Sony and other foundations, who promised to help us get this game going.
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We understood that once the project had its viability and also it’s deadlines, we needed to have an expert in cerebral palsy, a person that could provide the knowledge and direct the therapeutic part of the game, which movements to do... a person to set the rules, the boundaries, the limits in the control .... the seriousness and professionalism that will bring the game to a point so it will work for the group to which was addressed.
We found that person, it was a therapist specialist in children (and adults) with cerebral palsy, that was exclusively dedicated to them and who had devoted his career to it for the last 17 years, he was the perfect person to give us the therapeutic component of the game, because of his huge knowledge of this uniqueness
Involving Nacho in the project was the turning point, when we meet him, we told him a simple proposition, we wanted to do a game for children with paralysis.
The meaning of real integration.
Nacho joined the project just as fast as we did when Juanjo asked us, he soon took us to his clinic to meet some of the children that he treats, the kids were awesome, the first thing they taught us was not to pitty them, they are happy and have learned to live well and enjoy life like anyone else, they do live a life as normal as possible, and try to integrate into society like anyone else.
They told us straight that they have no problem, that we are the ones that have the problem with them, as we do not see them the same as the any other person, they make their life among others and enjoy with movies, games, sports and everything else like anyone else, they don’t appreciate or want people to treat them as special, they want to be considered just one more, due to this, when we asked what kind of game they like, the answer was, ‘all’, ‘any’ - I want to play with the playstation4, like anybody else' I want to play with my brother, my friends or my father a normal game”.
At that time, kind of mindblowed, we realized that our plan of making a special game for them, which we saw just as a gift, a special recognition for them, a moment of 'now you play with the playstation' was just the opposite of what they wanted, what we were planning will separate these kids a little more the rest, and putting more emphasis on its special status by making a game dedicated and exclusive for them.
Therefore the first change of direction was that this game has to integrate them into the world of video games and bring these guys closer to the rest, it had to be a game for everyone, that everyone could play, and that is also adapted to this group with reduced mobility so they could use it like any other player, and feel like one more.
We throw everything in the bin and sat down to think again with 4 basic premises
  • A game for all kind of players.
  • Adjustable for people with reduced mobility.
  • Usable for as many different degrees of cerebral palsy as possible, in this case children are able to be seated and facing forward, with or without power electric chair.
  • A control mode adapted that does not involve advantages or disadvantages for these players and they are equal.
The Game Design rethinking.
We sat down with the dev team in order to discuss and create a new design concept based on the 4 basic premises above and following the rules of functionality and simplicity that  was written on the blackboard and soon we came out with a view of ​​classic arcade games. Games that were known as fun, games that have worked for decades in arcade halls, games that did not involve mechanics too complicated and too long to develop, since most of those games do not involve a complicated game management and control.We decided to create a compilation of arcade games, six arcade games, in order to offer different experiences, different way of playing and bring some variety to the game experience. We started to review dozens of famous arcade games and discussed what games were the most suitable in terms of controls, contents and visual appearance since we also had to follow some specific needs:
  • The games could not be too frantic
  • Not too many elements on the screen that could disorient or confuse the kids
  • Not aggressive visual effects, like explosions or light flashes because most children affected with cerebral palsy are prone to epileptic episodes.
  • Inclusion of a main character which will be handled by the players accordingly with their movements in front of the camera, since the kids needed a clear reference onscreen
  • We wanted the game to have some sort of story mode, something closer to put a list of games to choose from, this also meant creating a character
​Having all these all we choose 6 classic mechanics to recreate and remake in 3D, which were as follows: 
  • Arkanoid
  • (the classic of classics, necessary) 
  • Pong
  • (simple and the first game that was created, one more!)
  • Space Invaders
  • (a game where you get to shoot something, shooting stuff is fun, one more)
  • Pacman
  • (has all our requirements, is not frantic, has a character, continues to thrive ... in)
  • Snake
  • (this game we knew thanks to Nokia old phones, it made the time spent on public transport to become a pleasure, no explosions and flashes, it’s in)
  • Frogger
  • (another great classic that was top of the list and it made sense for character, elements and management mode, and that’s six.)
We decided to create Jake as main character of the game, a kid who will be controlled by the players in every game.
And we also decided to integrate all the six games, and Jake in an exotic and floating temple island called ARCADE ISLAND (this is how we come with the final name of the game)
The camera development nightmare
Developing minigames control mode via the command playstation was not too complicated, the team was familiar with Unity and although everything we had done was for mobile platforms and never for ps4, it cost relatively little to put the games together with a menu navigation, points system, lives, screens, levels, implement 3D art and adjust camera angles, light and others to stay on track with the therapeutic requirements.
Implementing the camera mode control and calibration was somewhat more complicated due to the weaknesses of the hardware camera playstation, and the accuracy of the body tracking of it since it seems more thought for someone standing in front of the camera, than sat on the chair, with all the edges that the chair generates, we needed some pretty good accuracy of tracking for the head and body trunk to make this work.
The real game testing
With a beta version of the product and a playstation testkit, we went to the clinic to show the game to the kids with paralysis and see how they play, how they like it, check the control accuracy on them and receive as much feedback as possible.
Click here to watch the testing section : http://youtu.be/lOreiy41UkM
The kids had a good time playing the game but most of it by the mere act of playing with the Playstation4, but there we detected some issues like:
  • Some games were just too fast
  • The colors were too light in several games
  • The ball was too small.
So after some more testings we also learned a little more about cerebral palsy singularities.
Children with this condition do not learn like us, they often have difficulties distinguishing similar color contrasts between elements and background, and also they tend not to pay attention to some elements if those are not clear in the screen, in size and color.
Based on testing feedback and adding Nacho’s specific recommendations, we made the following changes and adaptations to the game, in order to really adapt the game experience and control mode to people with movement disorders.
a) The use of mate colors that do not generate strong lights but help see well each key element of the games and avoid sudden changes of screens and within the action.
b) Implement a simple system camera adjustment (calibration) available at any time in the pause menu, to ensure camera accuracy if the player changes his position
c) Option to adjust the speed of each game in order to adapt the speed to the capacity of response of each user, to make it playable for a large number of people with reduced mobility issues.
d) The option of inverting the horizontal axis to allow people in wheelchairs to control the game by moving themselves using the electrically assisted chair, with its drive joystick.
e) The possibility of activating a visual aid in some games like The Bridge and Pong, for example a flashing arrow that indicates the position of the ball and facilitates focus and attention on the object. This option was implemented after testing the games with the kids in the clinic, where we realized that it was hard for them to focus the attention on the ball moving around the scenario.
f) In the case of The Core (Pacman) if the camera control is chosen the scenario will be more illuminated and not as dark as the normal mode. This option was seen necessary to note that in several cases the children had difficulty seeing the limit of the walls and therefore, the possible routes.
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g) In the case of The Yard (Snake) if camera control is selected, we decided to remove obstacles that comes with the increasing levels, as we realized the walls in the middle of the field were a way to difficult obstacle for the kids
The PR impact in Spain
We had the opportunity to organize a public launch event together with Playstation Spain and the event had huge local PR coverage and very positive comments about the concept, and the social impact of the game and in the videogame industry as surprisingly, it was the first time someone try to add a espcial collective into the console gaming universe. You can see a nice TV coverage of  the press event clicking in the link below:
http://www.rtve.es/noticias/20160415/arcade-land-videojuego-creado-para-ayudar-personas-paralisis-cerebral/1338342.shtml
In Koth Studio, we are very proud about the final quality of the game, taking in account the short time of development and limited resources we had, and we felt that, after launching more than 500 videogames in our careers within another major videogame companies, this is for sure the most special game we ever made.
Arcade Land is now available at Playstation Store in Europe and America and we hope the game has a good reception and play with the affection with which we have done and lived.
http://store.playstation.com/#!/en-us/games/arcade-land/cid=UP1169-CUSA05615_00-ARCADELAND000001
 
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