Lab Zero Games’ Mike “Mike Z” Zaimont Updates Skullgirls Encore to Enhance Accessibility for Blind Players

By on January 31, 2014 at 8:49 am


The connection Lab Zero Games has with fans of their popular indie fighter Skullgirls has been well documented, but nothing showcases their dedication to the community than some of the latest updates made to Skullgirls Encore on Steam.

While the title is already pretty accessible by blind players thanks to its sound design, one community member in particular contacted the developers awhile back to discuss a specific problem he was having with his optical character recognition program, which reads the contents of the Windows clipboard out loud.

The player kickstarted the initiative when his text-to-speech translator couldn’t read Skullgirls’ font, and because the game wasn’t projecting all the words, he couldn’t understand most of the in-game text, navigate through the menus, accurately select characters and assists, or know his opponent in the lobbies without additional assistance.

Upon receiving the community member’s feedback, Zaimont got to work, taking about a day (spread out over a single week) to patch in special functionality. During that time, he edited the code to work in conjunction with programs like ClipTrap and ClipReader, which respectively keep a log of all clipboard data and read that text aloud, before reediting with new input from the player after each nightly update.

Now almost all of Skullgirls’ texts –  except the credits screen, art gallery, and minor accents on letters – can be transposed by text-to-speech programs. Blind players should also have an easier time inviting friends to the game and selecting the the yes-no dialog boxes.

In speaking with us, Zaimont made sure to mention that this player was also the catalyst behind their fixing of a bug that made it so users couldn’t invite friends to play from their Steam contacts list, another problem for those with impaired sight.

Blind players, surprisingly, aren’t all that rare in the fighting game community, often becoming acquainted with their games of choice with the help of their siblings or through sound effects like Mortal Kombat player KH.OBS|Rattlehead.

In a Gamestop article from 2009, Blind Adrenaline owner Che Martin commented on why mainstream developers are unresponsive to sightless communities. “There’s not enough money in it for the mainstream developers to make their games blind-accessible, so they don’t even worry about it,” he said. “I’ve got a friend working in LA doing graphics for a video game company, and I had him run it up the flagpole with the folks he knew there about putting in some accessible features. They weren’t even interested.”

In comparison, Zaimont said the only difficulty was getting the clipboard unicode to work.

“I’m pretty surprised other PC developers haven’t done this. Most text and informational things are already updated on screen so you don’t have to write special code to generate new text for most situations,” he said. “It takes very little time, and if more people can potentially enjoy your game, there’s really no reason not to do it.”

Past anecdotes and Martin’s comments show the amount of love and effort Zaimont has for his community, but this week’s patches aren’t the first example of how he has made accommodations for Skullgirls players. It’s been mentioned that he also spent time testing Skullgirls with colorblind players prior to release to make sure they could distinguish between the various effects. His commitment is a story that our community, as well as mainstream game developers, should definitely take note of.

Skullgirls Encore is currently available through Steam, with console versions arriving on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the near future.

Source: Steam Community, thanks to JJK for the tip!

  • Cephrien

    … I didn’t even know blind people played video games.

    • Victor Thammavong

      Dude, blind players are freakin’ insane. This blind dude raped all the Japanese players in Mortal Kombat: Deception (can’t seem to find that video right now). There are other tournament moments I’ve seen where blind players have dominated. Can’t remember which games they were. But you can’t underestimate ’em.

      • Chose

        I don’t mean to sound insensitive or whatever but I really hope he mained Kenshi.

        • Victor Thammavong

          LOL! I’ve just found the video I was talking about. There are also really good blind players that play Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Mortal Kombat 9 and stuff. For some reason they’re never just decent players.

          • was that tokido at the end there?

          • Victor Thammavong

            Can’t tell. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was since Tokido plays everything.

    • Exy

      There are blind martial arts practitioners out there. Blind video game players aren’t much of a stretch.

    • Eric Nguyen

      A blind teen beating Ed Boon in MK:D.

    • void

      their are many blind players who have even beat legend of zelda ocarina of time.

  • Piotr Machacz

    I’m a blind skullgirls player and I’m really happy about this update. This is actually the first “mainstream” game that has speaking menus, which normally have to be memorized by blind people, which usually works but of course you don’t get access to every piece of information that way. So hats off to mike!
    TO wrap up here’s a video which was done by the 2 people who came up with the idea on just how blind people play the game.

    PS: the CEO of blind adrenaline’s name is Che Martin.

    • Exy

      VVVVVV has an option to assist color-blind people. That should be next.

      • That’s neat, but what in VVVVVV requires the ability to differentiate colors? I thought everything in it was just solid-color-on-black.

    • OnDrawnWings

      That’s really cool.

      I watched about half of the vid. Maybe you already said this, but how do you know which side of the screen your opponent is on?

      • Piotr Machacz

        Stereo sound, basically. Anything/anyone on the left of the screen comes out from the left speaker and vice versa. As a sidenote, Skullgirls was initially mono and stereo sound was another feature requested by blind players. Even if the game wasn’t in stereo if you have good memory you can keep track of where you are, which is why games like Mortal kombats before MK VS DC were all still playable, despite having mono sound.

        • OnDrawnWings

          I bet it would be good if there was a slight variation between the sound of the footfall if a character lands on the right side of the screen vs. the left side of the stage?

  • Ryan Marsh Thunder Fairweather

    So is the xbox version ready in February now?

    • Exy

      Speaking of the 360, it’s kinda funny how circumstances allow him to go out of his way to accommodate players who need features like this, yet publisher stupidity doesn’t allow him to give the same courtesy to 360 owners.

      • Michael Zaimont

        If only consoles had a button I could click to put out updates like Steam does…a man can dream…

  • Exy

    How hilarious would it be if we could get Microsoft Sam to do all the in-game voices?

  • Carl Bernroth

    I had no idea blind people played video games, that’s the coolest thing I’ve heard in a long time. This brightened my day up. Also, big props to Lab Zero for giving this the attention it deserves.

    • Kaihedgie

      I recall there being a blind person who played Deadly Alliance quite well

  • Koiyuki

    Excellent to hear that those without certain abilities can also enjoy spreading the salt around. This makes me wonder if someone would use all this to make blindfold matches more viable, though

  • Michael Zaimont

    I always love when sites say Mike “Mike Z” Zaimont and Mike “MikeRoss” Ross…it has to be on purpose at this point. :^)

  • Clement Chou

    I’m also a huge fan of fighting games. While I’m not a tournament-level player, I enjoy them more than most people would assume… because fighting games are the deepst games available to someone with no sight. Huge props to Mike and the team for making these improvements. And accessibility has been unintentional in the past… Street fighter x Tekken reads the characters names as you scroll past them, and Jojo ASB has voiced menus if you know Japanese. Blind fighting game fans are definitely out there… we’re just a smaller number than I would like to see.

  • pootnannies

    very interesting. i had no idea how blind people played fighting games but this pretty cool.

  • void

    mike is awesome. the real reason why developers don’t make these games easier for blind players is because everyone is afraid to get beat by a blind person. im not going to lie, if i was sitting next to a blind pro in any fighting game i’d be scared shitless.

    • DukeMagus

      It’s like those kung fu movies where the old blind challenger is secretly a master of a forbidden style…

      Scary indeed

      • void

        yes! it got me thinking: what if our sight is our weakness? in fighting games i like to play characters like slayer(guilty gear) or unknown(EFZ) where i use teleaports to trick my opponents. however i doubt those mind games would work on a blind gamer pro because they can’t see me but they can hear what i’m doing….. idk i never played a blind pro nor do i want to.

        • Victor Thammavong

          The only way to evolve to the next level of fighting games is to play blind. Uses a combination of your ears and execution to defeat your opponent. Vergil / Teleport mind games will no longer be a problem. Sounds interesting…

  • Andrew Olson

    This is awesome and everything, but I’m still waiting for Encore to reach the consoles. I got interested in Skullgirls just around the time that the publisher demanded that the game be pulled down, and now I’m still unable to buy it. Reminder: it’s officially February now, Lab Zero…..