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!