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 Human - Computer Interaction Laboratory

Game Over!

"Game Over!" is the world's first (and hopefully only) universally inaccessible game. This practically means that it is a game that can be played by no one. But why was such a game created? Well, the goal of Game Over! is to be used as an educational tool for disseminating, understanding and consolidating game accessibility guidelines.

Motivation and Rationale

Accessibility guidelines constitute a key instrument for designing accessible games. Unfortunately, as was discovered by several studies regarding the use of standards and guidelines in the field of HCI, plain text is a very ineffective medium for propagating design wisdom and successfully putting it in good use. Although there are several reasons this fact can be attributed to, the ultimate problem is that guidelines typically come in an abstract, context-independent form. This means that, in order for them to be used in practice, they must first be "translated" by taking into account the intrinsic characteristics of the current specific design space. This task is not trivial, since it requires a very good understanding of: (a) the (negative) situation that each guideline aims to remedy; and (b) the (positive) state that it endeavors to achieve. In other words, the developer who employs the guidelines must first have a concrete idea - preferably through hands-on experience - of what each guideline is about.

In this context, Game Over! aims to provide game developers a first-hand (frustrating) experience of how it feels interacting with a game that is not accessible due to the fact that important accessibility design rules were not considered or applied. The game was developed in the context of the Universally Accessible Games (UA-Games) Activity of ICS-FORTH.

The Game

The theme of the game is a reversal of the stereotypical space invaders scenario: the player assumes the role of an alien (named Resol), hopelessly struggling to protect the universe from the merciless invasion of the terrestrial invaders. The game's title is actually a pun on the "Game not Over" motto of the Game Accessibility SIG of the International Game Developers Association, while the subtitle is a paraphrase of the Game Accessibility project's "because everyone wants to save the Universe" slogan. The gameplay is quite simple (see Figure 1). The player controls a flying saucer that is located near the top of the screen and can move left/right and throw bombs in order to destroy enemy spaceships, while at the same time is trying to avoid incoming fire.

Figure 1: Indicative Game Over! screenshot

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The game comprises twenty-one levels, each of which violates a fundamental game accessibility guideline. An overview of the title, gameplay and violated guideline of each level is provided the "Game Levels" section of the site, while screenshots from some of the levels are illustrated in Figure 3. The player can select to play the game from the first level, or directly jump to a specific level. At the beginning of each level, its title is presented along with some guidance (e.g., the controls that can be used, the player's goal). In order to move from one level to the next one, the player must first lose three lives. Each time that a life is lost, one hundred points are subtracted from the player's score. At the end of each level, a famous quote related to the level's content is recited (a "punch line") and the guideline that was violated is displayed (see Figure 2). At the end of the game, a summary of the level titles and the corresponding (violated) guidelines are presented.

Figure 2: Example of a punch line and guideline displayed at the end of a level Table 1: Overview of the title, gameplay and violated guideline of each game level

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Figure 3: Screenshots from some levels of Game Over!:
a. Die (not so) Hard; b. Low Budget; c. Groovy; d. The Bright Side of Life

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Developing Game Over!

Although it might sound as a counterintuitive fact, in order to create a universally inaccessible game, a universally accessible game had to be designed and developed first! This is because each game level should be able to violate a large variety of guidelines with very diverse contents and goals, while at the same time, it should be possible to easily experiment with several combinations of alternative game parameters, so that they best reflect the effect of the violated guidelines. On top of that, the game had to be extensible, so that more levels could be added in the future.

Thus, during the process of developing Game Over!, a game entitled "Terrestrial Invaders" was born. Terrestrial Invaders is packed with accessibility features and can address most of the accessibility guidelines that Game Over! violates.

Game Over!, was developed in a preview version of Actionscript 3.0 using Adobe Flash® Professional 9 Public Alpha.