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March 22nd, 2006 - Game Developers Conference by Reid

Doom3[CC] in action at GDC 2006
Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose, California

Tuesday wasn't as eventful for Games[CC] as Monday was. Being free to do whatever, I attended a Game Design workshop by Ernest Adams. It went really well and my group was given the player goal to become a great chef. The game we designed was to use the Nintendo DS to its fullest capabilities. Use the stylus, choose your knives, cut vegetables and meat, drag them into a pot of soup and blow on the mic to cool it if it gets too hot. It sounds like a lot of fun I think. Each day in the game would require the player to make different kinds of soups for different groups of customers, with each day getting more complex for maybe food requirements or kitchen appliances not working and a work around must be created.

Even though Games[CC] wasn't scheduled to present or do anything with showing off Doom3[CC] I was still thinking a lot about what we can do to improve our activities. The day before, during the Game Accessibility Tutorial I talked with a lot of people. All of them inspired me in some way or gave me a piece of information I wish I had earlier. I now have a couple leads on organizations that hand out grants to various projects and at least one college that would be interested in helping me with using the grant money to develop specialized closed captioning software for games. This is something I've been trying to get started for awhile, but it's nearly impossible without funding to find a programmer with the skills, free time and motivation I need.

I heard a lot of ideas on how the Game Accessibility group can make our voice heard more. At times we feel like the industry doesn't care, doesn't want to listen to us because they can't see the potential monetary rewards or don't believe in doing the right thing. Some ideas were to get an industry super star (Will Wright, Warren Spector, etc) on our side to promote and push Game Accessibility. If they say its cool, you bet others will follow. Look at the fast adoption of procedurally generated content. Last year Will Wright gave a talk at GDC '05 and said, "This is the sh*t". Now, most games are utilizing procedural content to some degree, some are going to extreme lengths to use it in hopes that it can free up their content creators to make more specialized content. With how risk adverse this industry is, it took Will Wright to say it's great for games and it took an actual example of it being used to convince people it works. That's what we need for Game Accessibility. A game that exemplafies the benefits of including as many accessibility features as possible. With developers continually saying, "I can't justify the cost", we aren't going to see that game for a long time to come.

Other ideas were to launch a lawsuit against some major publisher of an MMO saying the game lacks accessibility features that are required by European countries for any kind of Internet related application. It's a stretch, but could work. However, that's not how I want to see Game Accessibility become standard. It's like twisting the arm of someone you want to love you. They may say, "OK Ok OK, I love you." Yet, deep down, you know they don't, they are only saying that to get you to stop twisting their arm. I'd rather the game industry learn to understand the value of game accessibility and to include it willingly in their games because they feel its good business to do so.

Reid demos Doom3[CC] to the attendees of GDC 2006
Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose, California

On to Wednesday, the morning started bright an early because I was scheduled to show off Doom3[CC] at 9am in the IGF open floor space at GDC. I saw Calimer and the Last Man Standing Coop mod team and introduced myself. They're a great group of guys who put a lot of hard work into the mod. Doom3[CC] went from 9am to 1pm and it was a fantastic time. My friend Nick Conte did a great job playing through Doom3 to demonstrate the mod while I walked up to curious onlookers to introduce myself and explain the mod.

It was funny, some people stood there for a minute, with quizzical looks on their faces as the text pops on and off the screen. It wasn't until I explained exactly what was going on that the light bulb went on. I guess when you work so close with this stuff, the strange becomes obvious. Many people were surprised to see a mod of this type and that games didn't already feature closed captioning. No one said, "What a stupid idea." It was the opposite. Many said, "This is so cool! I want this in my game! Why haven't I seen this before? Are you the first?" Many didn't realize that Half-Life 2 already features closed captioning. It's not something they looked for and it's not something that is advertised on the box, which should be, along with the system requirements and ESRB ratings. All game accessibility features should be listed on the game box.

I had one guy that made me laugh, after explaining that the mod was for hard of hearing/deaf players he gave me the strangest suggestion I've heard yet. "You should make a talkie version. Ya know, so the characters talk." My brain crackled and popped as it tried to make sense of what I just heard. I remained focused and said, "Oh the game already has characters that talk, the mod adds text descriptions for the dialog." He then replied, "A talkie version would be better." and walked away. I thought to myself, "OK, thanks for the suggestion, have fun with your 'talkie' adventure games." Ah, the joys of meeting random people! :)

At 12pm Nick and I stopped demoing Doom3[CC] so we could head over to the Ron Moore talk on "Building a Better Battlestar". That was really good I thought. I have Season 1 on DVD and it's the ONLY DVD set I've seen that features subtitles for bonus material. Often bonus material gets the shaft and isn't captioned. After Ron's talk I wanted to walk up to the stage and thank him personally for that, but he left rather quickly.

After that, Nick and I went to see the Experimental Gameplay Sessions which was interesting. Following that, Nick and I headed back to the hotel room so I could get ready for the IGF Choice Awards ceremony. Even though we had a couple of hours I still felt rushed, anxious and just totally happy that Doom3[CC] was nominated. I got a text msg from my older brother Grant wishing me luck which was awesome! I got another text msg on my phone from Michelle wanting to get everyone to gather around the GDC fountains to wish Matt of Strange Attractors and I luck in the awards show. Matt's game, Strange Attractors was up for the Innovation in Game Design award. He should have won, dang it! Unfortunately, the Strange Attractors team, Nick and I couldn't find Michelle and the others from the Game Accessibility group. It turns out I had forgotten my pass to get into the Awards show, so Nick had to run back to the hotel (real close) while I panicked even more as the start of the show drew closer. We finally got in and made our way to the table. I looked at the sign and it read, "Doom3 and Double Fine Productions". I gasped and quickly looked around for Tim Schafer. Yup, he was nearby, at the next table. I geeked out a little bit inside but stayed calm and cool on the outside. I recently played through a bit of Psychonauts. Even featured it in my talk on closed captioning because it did something that frustrated me. I really wanted to talk to Tim and see if he would like to include CC in future games. I know Tim is a great writer and takes much pride in it. Yet there are many gamers like myself that are not able to appreciate his wonderfully witty dialog and detailed characters, unless there are subtitles. Sadly, the opening cinematic for Psychonauts is NOT captioned, so when I play the game, I'm a little lost as to what's going on and I don't really care much about the characters. It takes a lot longer for me to catch up and figure everything out when that was the role of the cinematic to begin with. Needless to say, I didn't get a chance to talk to Tim Schafer, he was, pardon the expression, very inaccessible! :) There's always email right?

So, the moment came quickly to announce the winners of the Doom3 Modding competition. I had this whole entire speech I wanted to give if I won. I was repeating it in my head all day long. Scared to death that I would forget it, or botch it up while on stage. I was getting more and more nervous about the speech and then I heard, "Last Man Standing! Congrats" from Tom and Dave on stage. My heart sank. I started thinking I jinxed myself, expecting to win, spending a week on the acceptance speech. I really I did think I was going to win. I thought the Doom3[CC] mod was something special, unique, never before seen in the history of gaming. Something that should wake people up with a swift kick in the ass. I wanted the Games[CC] team recognized on an international level for their incredible dedication to the volunteer project. I was sad for Games[CC] and everyone involved. Then a little fire started to spark inside of me. I became a little angry, but in a good way. It added fuel to the fire and I left that night with more inspiration than ever before to do what I can to promote closed captioning in games. It's something I know is right, is a must and it will happen. It all depends on me quite honestly. There's no one else that I know if that is advocating for CC in games. That's fine, I'm ready for the challenge and I'm ready to succeed.

Later that night I went to dinner at Original Joe's which was excellent and then to a LucasArts recruiting party. As a new Designer recently hired in February I wanted to go and mingle with people I had seen at the office but still didn't know their names! It was a lot of fun, though I missed out on the Indy hats they handed out to the first 50 people. :(

I believe it was afterwards that Nick and I crashed at the hotel, I dreamed of winning the IGF award for Best Doom3 Mod and giving a flawless acceptance speech.

"I want to quickly thank everyone that has supported us and helped us to get here tonight!

As an industry we spend millions per project because we want to share our labor of love with the rest of the world. Yet we fail to do that when we don't add accessibility features to our games.

Please support game accessibility. Not just for the hardcore, causal or dormant players, but for those not as able. You can be sure they are just as willing, if not more so, to play some great games! It's up to us to deliver those games. Thanks everyone, goodnight and game on!"

I also dreamed of what the future was to bring for Games[CC].

-Reid


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