Hacked! @BOM

Me & Karen in front of the poster for the Hacked! Games Re-designed xhibition

Diving head-first into the ocean of the art world and integrating with the diverse ecosystem has been such a brilliant, motivational and educational project. I’d say that my main exposure to art originated from my love of beautiful imagery in comic books & graphical splendour in gaming.

For the past few months, I’ve had the great pleasure to collaborate with the Birmingham art gallery BOM as a guest curator selecting videogames to feature in their Hacked! Games Re-designed art exhibition.

Front enterance of BOM, words Where art, technology and science collide.

Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Front entrance of BOM, the sign says ‘Where art, technology and science collide’.
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

BOM is completely wheelchair accessible, has free entry and a fantastic café. Located on the vibrant Dudley Street in Birmingham. For more details about the Hacked! exhibition please go to https://www.bom.org.uk/event/hacked/

Working in partnership with Karen Newman the Director of BOM and the whole BOM team has been a wonderful experience. It all began through the power of social media, thanks to the disabled artist Abigail Palmer suggesting to Karen that I’d be the best choice as curator.

Sign for the Hacked! Exhibition 
 Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Sign for the Hacked! Exhibition
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

The Hacked! exhibition celebrates the innovative world of accessible gaming by capturing a unique moment in time when game developers are designing for all ability gamers. Improving user experience by removing unnecessary barriers in order to lead us towards an altogether more inclusive future where enjoyment has no limits.

Closeup of an Xbox Adaptive Controller, 2 switches & 2 PDP joysticks loaned by Ian Hamilton
 Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Closeup of an Xbox Adaptive Controller, 2 switches & 2 PDP joysticks loaned by Ian Hamilton
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

We had to publicise the BOM exhibition through social media, so on the 10th September, I had the chance to spread awareness of the preview event by appearing on BBC West Midlands afternoon ‘Sunny and Shay’ show. Sunny and Shay were lovely people, slick radio hosts and super supportive of the whole exhibition. It was a great experience to speak with passionate genuine people who could take a ribbing. I’m looking forward to appearing on the show again in December to discuss the progress of Hacked! and give the lowdown of the best accessible games to buy for Christmas.

“We believe that when you do not intentionally deliberately include, you will unintentionally exclude. Xbox recognizes that tradition game controllers can’t be used by everyone, so we made the Xbox Adaptive Controller to empower gamers with limited mobility to play.”

Bryce Johnson (Inclusive Lead for Microsoft Devices)

On the 12th September, the BOM had its grand preview event of the Hacked! exhibition which runs until 21st December. Seeing people enjoy your collective hard-work with a smile on their face is priceless. It was my first art gallery exhibition and it was a roaring success, 100% better than I ever imagined it would be. It’s definitely due to BOMs peaceful atmosphere, the lovely energy of the BOM team and a great accessible environment.

Talking to Peta from the Art Council with people enjoying the Exhibition in the background 
 Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Talking to Peter from the Art Council with people enjoying the Exhibition in the background
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

Hacked! takes you on a journey to discover the hidden depths of accessible devices offering radically different ways to interact with games. The Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) is the big star of the show showcasing its flexibility to allow varying micro-light switches and joysticks to be plugged in. Also, highlighting the ingenuity of the hacker movement to create controller hacks, accessible switches, mods & instructables. Ultimately benefiting the wonderful work of specialist gaming charities like Special Effect and OneSwitch.

“For some there’s no such thing as a one size fits all controller, and no such thing as an easy mode. Accessibility features allows the controller and gameplay to fit around the gamer”

Barrie Ellis (Creator for One Switch)

Magic Moments, disabled gamer using a switch setup by Special Effect
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

It was the first time that I actually had to put my skills and knowledge of accessible gaming into something tangible, it wasn’t the words that counted it was the action plan. I had to choose games with limited violence, artistic flavour and showcasing accessibility. Games with great accessibility but with violent content like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Fortnite, Uncharted 4, Gears of War 5, God of War all ended up on the cutting floor. It pushed me to investigate deeper into accessibility not just relevant to me but for all types of disability or impairments. The eclectic selection of games have beautiful artistic styles and chosen to  highlight great accessibility solutions ranging from big AAAs titles:

Horizon: Zero Dawn (developed by Guerrilla Games) plunges you into a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by animalistic machines as Aloy trying to uncover her mysterious origins. This award-winning game not only broke down barriers for accessibility but for female representation. Aloy isn’t typical to previous videogame heroes, she is non-sexualised, independent and compassionate. Or jump into the exhilarating web-swinging world of Spider-Man (developed by Insomniac Games) Developed-1 with an accessibility mindset, allowing options to skip minigames and auto-complete challenging Quick-Time events involving fast button presses for gamers with motor disabilities. Insomniac used their great accessibility power with great responsibility.

Both games showcase the flexibility of the XAC to connect to any console using the Titan Two adapter, we utilised the XAC ports for 2 PDP controllers & a multiple switch setup.

Gamer playing Spider-Man using a XAC switch setup
 Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
A gamer playing Spider-Man using an XAC switch setup
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

Explore historic Britain in Forza Horizon 4 (developed by Playground Games) the driving game with an amazing fleet of accessibility options. Forza Horizon 4 was developed with disabled gamers and accessibility consultants, the plethora of options available are tuned to work in harmony with the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Forza has simple controls designed to be playable with the XAC so the game only needed 2 switches for accelerating and braking & 1 bespoke joystick.

Watching a gamer play Forza Horizon 4 using the Xbox Adaptive Controller with switches and joystick 
 Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
A gamer playing Forza Horizon 4 using the Xbox Adaptive Controller with switches and joystick
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

It’s not all about the big developers though its time to praise the indie developers similarly displaying creative out-of-the-box solutions and pushing the field forward:

Blackbox (developed by Ryan McLeod) twists the mobile puzzle genre conventions with inventive puzzles solved by discovering and exploring the device’s hardware and operating system without even touching the screen. It won the 2017 Apple Design Award for innovation and excellence in design and accessibility.

Display for Black Box developed by Ryan Mcleod
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Display for Black Box developed by Ryan Mcleod
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

” … I used to only communicate everything needed to solve the puzzles visually but now the game has an additional sonic interface in addition to Voice Over support throughout. There’s still work to be done here but hopefully it’s proof that nearly any game can be made accessible.”

Ryan Mcleod (Creator of Blackbox)

Eagle Island (developed by Pixelnicks) A beautifully modernized pixel art aesthetic with falconry-inspired gameplay and innovative layers of accessibility features. Friendship is the key to survival as Eagle Island can be challenging. Player feedback shaped Eagle Island’s accessibility journey, multiple difficulty settings allow players to blast through the game with no barriers. The innovative and unique technical advance in the platformer genre allows you to slow down the speed of the game to continue playing Quill and Koji your way.

 Talking to a gamer playing Eagle Island with a keyboard
 Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Talking to a gamer playing Eagle Island with a keyboard
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

Sequence Storm (developed by Special Magic Games) An Extreme Rhythm & Racing game where you press buttons in time to music to build up speed, power & special abilities. With accessibility options for colour-blindness and options to slow down gameplay, fully remap controls, generous timing mode so the game can be played without ever needing to press multiple buttons at once. 

Gamer playing Sequence Storm wearing headphones
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Gamer playing Sequence Storm wearing headphones
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

Bubbles the Cat (developed by Team Cats & Bears) Leap and blast your way through over a hundred levels of retro pixel art 1-button platforming action!   The multi-layered and challenging levels unlock clever special abilities which are easy to pick up but difficult to master. Invincibility and infinite jump accessibility features allow you to explore and plan your DIY journey. If you’re a hat collector then this is the game for you!

Guest playing Bubbles the Cat
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
Guest playing Bubbles the Cat
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

“Bubbles was designed from the very beginning to be a game with accessible controls and options as a core pillar of the game’s design… the game’s ‘boost’ features… had depth and challenge but also presented a way that allowed everyone to progress, practice and experiment with the game. I want as many people as possible to be able to play my games, so accessibility will always be a cornerstone for all of my games”
Team Cats & Bears (Creator of Bubbles the Cat)

Mood Pinball where you become a pinball in a virtual machine, entering the world of the neurodiverse artist, Edie Jo Murray.

People enjoying playing Mood Pinball
 Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM
People enjoying playing Mood Pinball
Pictures credited to Alison Baskerville / BOM

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to feature the imaginative Crip Casino fruit machines designed by Abigail Palmer. Through pulling the slot machine lever players can learn about the daily energy level gambles that people living with disabilities have to make.

Innovative musical instruments accessible for everybody are displayed in the space upstairs, from the Haptic Baton allowing blind or visually impaired musicians to sense the conductors baton movement through haptic feedback, Touch Chord (2015) designed by Human Instruments to be played using a mouthpiece & the Monome with buttons that when pressed plays musical patterns designed with school students to provide calming activity during ‘time out’.

Without the assistance of the following people Hacked! would not have fulfilled its brief of showcasing innovative accessibility devices. Gratitude goes to Ian Hamilton for sending us 2 PDP joysticks, multiple switches and providing valuable advice. Barrie Ellis from One Switch for lending us 2 bespoke joysticks and a special switch setup. I want to thank Ryan McLeod, Team Cats & Bears and Pixelnicks for supporting us with free download codes for Blackbox, Bubbles the Cat & Eagle Island. Finally, I want to thank all the game developers that for creating such wonderful accessible worlds and supporting inclusive gaming. 

2019 is the year of accessible gaming so I can’t wait to see what advances are in the pipeline for the future of the gaming industry especially in the field VR technology.

If you want to visit the Hacked! Games Re-designed and I highly recommend it then for more details please go to https://www.bom.org.uk/event/hacked/. BOM is wheelchair accessible, has free entry and a fantastic café. Located on Dudley Street least then a minute walk from Birmingham New Street train station (South-side Exit).

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