Hello! Welcome to our ongoing series looking at accessibility in games. Today Ed looks at some wonderfully creative controller support.
"Git gud," say the gamers. After all, the Dark Souls games are all about difficulty. You're meant to struggle. But some struggle more than others.
That's why streamer Rudeism decided to play the entirety of Dark Souls 3 in Morse code using just one button. Not just to prove it can be done, but to prove that everyone can play games differently. Even Dark Souls.
"It's not just a matter of getting good, it's that no matter how good [some players] get, they just cannot react fast enough to this game that is very fast paced, and very reaction time based, and is designed for a standard controller. And based on the assumption that you are a fully able human being," says Rudeism.
For him, difficulty is a subset of accessibility options and should be included to open games up to a wider audience. Difficulty, after all, is subjective.
"Dark Souls is easy for some people, it's hard for others, it's impossible for others," he says.
"What is objective are the obstacles that are placed in front of you... the problem then becomes players' ability to cross those hurdles. And if they have some form of disability that makes it naturally harder for them to cross those obstacles.
"That's why difficulty options are necessary and why they make games more accessible because they can lower those obstacles so that people can get through them, not necessarily for the sake of just making it easy, but so that people can have a challenge that's scaled for them."
The one button Dark Souls 3 run Rudeism streamed on his Twitch channel wasn't the first time he's experimented with Morse code as an input. Previously, he played through Super Mario 64 with a similar control scheme, having had the idea to play a game with one button.
"I designed the controller, which to be fair isn't the most complex thing in the world. It's just a button in a box," he quips.
Dark Souls 3 has been beaten with Morse code! 🔴— Rudeism (@rudeism) October 24, 2021
19 bosses, 258,250 button presses. (DLC to come)
And just because it can be beaten with one button doesn't mean games like Dark Souls shouldn't have accessibility & difficulty options! 😁👌 pic.twitter.com/DporRqC15E
After experimenting with Doom Eternal, which was nigh on impossible due to the lack of lock-on while aiming, Dark Souls 3 was the natural next step as "the traditional hard game".
Firstly, Rudeism had to decide which moves would correspond to which inputs on the single button, be they short presses, long presses or whole sequences of presses.
"The way that I laid it out was that I made sure that the inputs that I'm using the most frequently are assigned to the shortest sequences, so attack and roll are the two biggest things that you probably do in a fight," he says. "So those are single button sequences."
Then there's character movement, camera lock-on, using items and switching weapons, with complex but little used actions set to a maximum of four input sequences. Learning those sequences was also tricky, although some inputs carried over from the Mario playthrough for which he used a cheat sheet. Eventually, over the course of a playthrough of around 60 hours, the controls felt natural.
"We're so used to our standard controllers now that we don't need to think about where B is or where A is, you just do it. And it kind of ends up being the same with a weird thing like the Morse code controller as well. You just do without thinking," he says. "It's just a different medium, I guess."
All of this is in the name of accessibility, to prove that alternative control schemes can work with a little ingenuity and time to learn.
It was the boss battle with the Twin Princes, the penultimate of the game, that really brought accessibility into focus due to the high speed attacks of the boss. The Morse code controller has a 250 millisecond delay to allow for input sequences to trigger, but in a game like Dark Souls that delay can literally mean the difference between life and death.
"I kept dying over and over again in the first phase because I just couldn't react fast enough to what was going on," says Rudeism.
That somewhat replicated the experience a disabled person may have playing Dark Souls. "There's going to be that built-in delay there, where things take a little bit longer than they might for a fully abled person," he says. "So when you factor that in, and you have situations like Twin Princes, it can become literally impossible. And I think that's where things like that difficulty option come in really handy."
Rudeism admits that difficulty is a core part of the Dark Souls experience, but being able to tailor that to a player's ability doesn't diminish the value of that experience. He cites Hades and Celeste as key examples.
"You have games like Hades and Celeste, which have straight up accessibility options, which can make the game trivial for somebody who doesn't need those options," he says. "But those games are still respected for their difficulty, and they have stories that are based around doing something that is impossible.
"I think that there's a lot of that in Dark Souls as well. But those themes in those stories aren't tarnished by the fact that there are accessibility options, it just means that more people get to play them.
"At the end of the day, we play these games, because they're fun, and I don't think there's anything wrong with sharing that fun with others."
Rudeism's interest in accessibility stems from designing weird and wonderful controllers for fun, like playing Untitled Goose Game in a motion controlled goose suit, or playing Rocket League with a Guitar Hero controller. "As I was doing it, things started to become apparent to me about how accessible certain games are, and how inaccessible other games are," he says.
Voice-activated honking. Motion-controlled flaps. Moving by waddling your feeties. 🦢— Rudeism (@rudeism) October 2, 2019
THIS is how Untitled Goose Game is meant to be played.
🔊 Sound on! 🔊https://t.co/zYmwx36Hkq pic.twitter.com/DJLigMw64J
Most recently this involved creating some very strange controllers to promote Far Cry 6, a game in which DIY weapons are forged out of odd materials. Rudeism created controllers for other streamers out of a waffle maker, a chainsaw, and a rice cooker, among others.
"The fun of it, for me, at least, is that it's awkward and inaccessible," he says. "Because I think that's just fun to deal with. Again, it's because I have the luxury to choose to deal with that stuff. I can just put it down and pick up a standard controller if I want."
What began as some fun tinkering with modding games has now grown into a passion for new control schemes, not just for promotional reasons but to highlight accessibility. Take the recent Forza Horizon 5 which doesn't allow for driving controls to be mapped to a mouse. With a bit of work, Rudeism managed it.
So @ForzaHorizon does great job with accessibility, but I noticed something missing - you can't map driving controls to the mouse.— Rudeism (@rudeism) November 16, 2021
I broke out the Arduino and rigged my own mouse up as a proof of concept on how it could be done - what do you think? pic.twitter.com/FXLNeuod9k
Yet he also accepts his privilege in this space and notes how exhausting conversations around accessibility can be, particularly for friend Stephen Spohn - senior director of charity AbleGamers.
"I think, like a lot of things on the internet, a little empathy goes a long way," he says. "If you think about it from the perspective of people who could really use that kind of thing, it doesn't take long to really understand that this is a good idea."
With a little empathy and understanding, everyone should have the chance to praise the sun.