Whilst doing research for "One Switch 100", and having just finished reading the excellent Atari Inc. Business is Fun, I was reminded what an early trail-blazer Atari was for accessibility in computer games. Here's a short list from the 20th century in no particular order.
1. Touch Me was one of the earliest audio-games (1974), playable by blind players following the "Simon Says" sounds or deaf players following the light patterns.
2. Special Feature labelling was used on main-stream games to mark out some extra accessibility. Used on Atari VCS games at the height of Atari's success (1981-82), such as Missile Command with its specially slowed down version.
3. Colour and B/W TV Type options were more a product of the times than anything else, but this alone ensured colour-blind players had a good chance of being able to play.
4. Difficulty level switch and game variations enabled players to find fairer or easier ways to play. This started from day one with the Atari VCS and the pack-in game Combat (1977). Fat slow plane vs. three quick small planes with three times the fire power springs to mind.
5. Atari Controllers employed an interface method that Commodore and others followed. This lead to a huge range of compatible controllers across multiple gaming platforms. The standard is even compatible with some ranges of wheelchair joysticks (such as MERU's Moozi). Additionally, Atari also promoted the adaptation of their controllers for disabled gamers (see left-handed gamers, Ken Yankelevitz and John Dutton), although this wasn't a service they provided themselves. They even prototyped mind-control and voice-control for the VCS.
6. Vidcom was a portable communication aid first developed and sold in 1978 for people without clear speech, enabling face to face and telephone communication with words and sentences. Namco would follow this path of a games company creating AAC communication devices to this date.
7. Steeplechase would be the first one-switch video game playable by six players in 1975. This would later be pirated and played in Communist Russia.
8. The Atari Kid's Controller was probably the first alternative game controller built by a main-stream developer, built for additional accessibility. Aimed at very young children struggling with the standard joystick controllers, and supported by a small range of specialised games. Atari also brought on board a child psychologist and Sesame Street to galvanise their efforts.
9. Cheats and gaming aids - VCS Space Invaders had a well-known cheat giving double-bullets. Third party hard-ware developers created auto-fire in-line adapters to make shoot-em-ups easier. This stuff made a difference.
10. San Francisco Rush 2049, featured a mode whereby people with no use of their feet could still race. It was also Atari's swan song in amusement arcades.
Labels: One Switch 100