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 One Switch lets everybody play the game

By Mathew Kumar

As hard as it is to believe, given the current state of the videogames industry (where we’ve grown to expect that the average game will demand us to shoot a hooker to accrue some “respect” so we can buy some “bling”), that there are independent developers at all — never mind developers who are interested in creating games for the whole family. And, more than that, that there are developers interested in making gaming inclusive enough that anyone can get involved.

Barrie Ellis’ One Switch Campaign intends to simplify gaming down to a single switch, making it accessible to all, regardless of physical ability. The website recently held a competition that managed to capture the imaginations of countless bedroom coders looking for a challenge, resulting in over 70 games – all single button recreations of classic titles such as Atari’s Star Wars and high concept titles such as the planetary physics-based Strange Attractors. I interviewed Barrie Ellis on the matter of fully-accessible gaming.

BP: Where did the inspiration for One Switch come from?
BE: I started working with a number of severely disabled adults in a day centre in 1994, where I discovered what accessible technology meant to people who needed it. This technology was often as simple as a large button. If a person couldn’t use their hand, then they could use their head or foot, having some control they wouldn’t otherwise.

Amongst the technology there was a BBC Micro with switch interface and games. These games were very simple, so I tried to seek out more accessible technology, and ended up frustrated by how little there was. I built my own switch interface for a Commodore 64 and Atari VCS.

The release of the Playstation made our technology seem creaky, but the new console was more inaccessible than ever. When I discovered Reflections’ Destruction Derby, I saw there were games that could be played by anyone. I thought, if this game can be made accessible, why not all racing games, and why not other genres? The campaign started.

How did the Retroremakes competition begin?
I was promoting the stall of accessible gaming we planned for Classic Gaming Expo UK on their forum early this year, and we received a response mentioning some single key games written for a competition. There were about five games written as a design challenge. I got in touch with the moderator to see if I could host them. A little later he decided to run a new single switch competition with prizes.

What has the response been like?
It’s been really positive all ’round. Hardcore gamers have mentioned Sentinella (a very atmospheric take on Robotron: 2084) and Scorch Went Bonkers, among others, as particular favourites. A number of disabled gamers have praised One Button Golf, Star Wars, Alice Amazed, Aurikon and Struck Gold among many others.

Are there any game mechanics or genres you feel particularly suit the One Switch design?
Race games with oval tracks can work well. Slower sport games such as darts, golf and 3D-shooters work well too, if there is some assistance with aiming. With so few single switch games out there, I’m happy to see any game come out that’s designed with some thought for accessibility.

Do you have a personal favourite game from the competition?
I really like the music and simplicity of the Russian game Stone Worm, I like the highly accessible nature and huge explosions of Aurikon, I love the atmosphere of Sentinella, and I love the hectic circular racing in Orbit Racers. But I play Alice Amazed the most with my daughter; it’s a fantastic single-switch, two-player game.

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