The Access-Ability Summer Showcase featured the latest in accessible games

Running concurrently with Summer Game Fest, the Access-Ability Summer Showcase redresses what gaming events leave out. Organized by accessibility consultant and critic Laura Kate Dale, it’s a reaction to events designed to build hype and how disabled gamers too often have to temper excitement with caution over whether revealed games will be accessible. A frustration, Dale told The Verge, driven by “the industry’s unwillingness to be open and transparent about gaming accessibility.” 

Now in its second year, the showcase continues to push back against a lack of inclusive gaming events as it grows — it includes a dedicated Steam page this year. Already, developers are not only viewing it as an opportunity to show off their games, Dale said, but also as encouragement to implement accessibility earlier in development to be ready for the event. “The idea that a place to proudly promote their accessibility would help push developers to have more features ready at earlier milestones makes me feel like the show is having a tangible impact,” Dale added.

The showcase aired on Twitch and YouTube (with the latter including ASL, BSL, and audio description) on June 7th, which is available to watch right here if you missed it live. A rundown of everything we saw can be found below.

Roguelikes continue to embrace accessibility

The showcase began with a look at Elsie, a “retro-inspired, bullet hell, action-platforming roguelike shooter” from Knight Shift Games. Despite its many categories, it will release in a crowded genre, where Elsie carries on the good work of Dead Cells in creating a roguelike that’s approachable for as many players as possible. Elsie includes a range of features to help parse fast-paced combat, like the ability to customize how the player character is highlighted, as well as ways to make combat more user-friendly.

Increased accessibility for blind and visually impaired gamers

At least half of the games highlighted at the showcase also demonstrated significant considerations for blind and visually impaired players.

The most unique of these was Periphery Synthetic, a nonviolent, first-person Metroidvania from shiftBacktick that’s designed to be played entirely through audio cues. A startlingly robust soundscape supports this, and though it can be played completely unsighted, it includes curiously beguiling voxel visuals and is one of the most interesting blind-friendly games I’ve encountered. Periphery Synthetic is one to watch leading up to its release this summer. 

Text-to-speech and narration are two features vital to blind and visually impaired accessibility, and two citybuilders were among the most prominent to include them at this year’s showcase. Dawnfolk, from Darren Keller, is envisioned as an entry point to the genre and driven by simplicity in both gameplay and visuals. Cellular City, introduced by Callum Deery, is a similarly interesting take on the genre that challenges the player to think about the relationship between certain structures and which can and cannot coexist. Both feature robust text-to-speech and narration systems.

Accessibility that extends to narrative games

As part of a wider showcase of Fiction Factory Games’ accessibility considerations, we had a brief look at The Shadow over Cyberspace, in which the Cthulhu mythos meets Y2K. As a text-driven game, it’s made playable by blind and visually impaired players through audio description, closed captions, and text-to-speech, while visual considerations make complex, moving imagery customizable for players who need it.

A love letter to the old internet, Videoverse builds on similar ideas with its varied soundscape but also includes clear, high-contrast, and readable interfaces, which, as Alex Leone’s Upheaval demonstrated, is vital to text-based gameplay. Upheaval is a “text-based open-world” adventure and, along with Videoverse, eschews the current trend of absurdly small UI text with clear, customizable interfaces and large text. Something that stuck out in Upheaval’s showcase was its inclusion of text-to-speech functions and the ability to integrate existing, and preferred, external text-to-speech software.

It’s not all 2D

Whitethorn Games is a publisher that has established itself as an industry leader in accessibility. Its upcoming Slime Heroes, developed by Pancake Games, is another soulslike embracing making this genre more user-friendly. More akin to Another Crab’s Treasure than Dark Souls, Slime Heroes offers welcome mitigations for movement — including a toggleable double-jump — and its soulslike combat. This is great for players who struggle with reaction times (like me) and mobility. But one of the most interesting features on display was the ability to toggle on visual representations of hitboxes, making it easier to avoid those soulslike whiffs.

Two other 3D third-person adventures followed. Siro Games’ Wéko the Mask Gatherer bears a resemblance to The Legend of Zelda, and its major features appear to revolve around navigation, both in-world and in its menus. Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is an action-platformer about recoloring the world, which makes its focus on visual accessibility apt. It particularly focuses on colorblind accessibility, using multiple visual cues to clarify interactable elements, including colors, icons, and animation. It also deploys navigational features, including automatically focusing on objectives when returning to Billy’s ship, a major boon for those with cognitive disabilities. 

Mobility in focus

Magical Delicacy is another Whitethorn joint: a 2D adventure that feels like a mix of Treasures of the Aegean and Howl’s Moving Castle. For players with reduced mobility or who need to use one hand, Magical Delicacy can be played with no buttons at all. That’s a focus for detective narrative game Space Boat, too, which has been designed from the ground up to be entirely playable with one hand.

The Darkest Files, from Paintbucket Games, is another investigative game, this time based on true crime. Its first-person narrative loop can be controlled with a mouse alone — though it also allows for switching between input devices on the fly, which is great for adaptive controller users — and includes surprisingly discreet difficulty customizations outside of the usual presets to aid its detective gameplay.

Taking your time is the most welcome trend of the year

The most appreciated theme of the showcase was just how many games removed time constraints and fail states to better accommodate players’ ability to move at their own pace. Trash Goblin is a medieval American Pickers. You take trash, chip away the dirt, and upsell it as treasure. It’s another game with no fail states or time limits, and this works in concert with ways to mitigate the game’s repeated inputs — a bane for players with chronic pain — to the point you can even make them automated.

One of the standouts of the entire showcase for me was Fishbowl. Rhea Gupte walked us through this cozy slice-of-life sim from a two-person development team from India. While its non-stressful puzzles and chill story are emblematic of the value of designing an experience that’s accessible at its core, Gupte also highlighted Fishbowl’s accessibility options. There wasn’t a wide range on show, but it was heartening to see a host of features planned for the immediate future and the duo’s dedication to adding more. With how often well-resourced studios erroneously claim adding accessibility is impossible, it’s great to see a studio doing everything it can to make its game approachable.

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