In New Yorkie City, the dogs are in control. This is a land of infinite fire hydrants to sniff, slimy frogs to lick, and sun-drenched naps. In this canine paradise, you can even dig holes anywhere you like. The world of SpaceBeagles’s upcoming explorer, Butt Sniffin Pugs, which launched its Kickstarter campaign last week, is truly a magical one, but it’s not just for the dogs.
What started out as a failed prototype designed with seasoned “gamers” in mind became a project dedicated to bringing video games to people regardless of their age, experience, or ability. It all began when SpaceBeagles showed off the game along with their controller prototype at the 2015 Game Developer’s Conference.
The controller, a giant tennis ball-shaped trackball accompanied by a pug butt button, was intended as a fun conference schtick. Since then, the controller has grown into a means to make the game accessible to people of all physical abilities.
“It was only after we showed BSP for the first time at GDC 2015 when we realized how advantageous accessibility can be for a video game,” says Gabe Telepak, SpaceBeagles’s director. “It was a totally happy accident, but thanks to both the accessibility of our trackball controller [and] the simplistic design of our game, everybody could play our game. It was then when we decided that we should design for the lowest denominator first and expand the depth of the design after so that everyone could experience the joy of Butt Sniffin Pugs.”
Butt Sniffin Pugs itself is quite a mish-mash of a number of games, drawing inspiration from games like Kirby, Banjo-Kazooie, and even Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector. Similar to games like Animal Crossing, Butt Sniffin Pugs is set in real time, so quests, events, and characters you might stumble across during the day won’t be around at night, and vice versa. Perhaps most importantly, Butt Sniffin Pugs tries to cater to folks regardless of how much time they’re able to put into the game.
“We want both the players who solve all of BSP’s quests AND the players who just visit Central Bark occasionally to both feel a sense of progression and discovery,” explains Telepak. “That’s why that pairing of time limitation and open task-based exploration is so important to us.”
Beyond that, though, Butt Sniffin Pugs is also welcoming to people who don’t play games on a regular basis, if at all. Video games are generally designed with an inherent language in mind, that only experienced players can parse — that includes anything from dual analog controls to how we approach solving problems in game.
SpaceBeagles took a different tact. “Have you tried handing your mom or your dad a PS4 controller? They’d probably get slightly uncomfortable, confused, and want to go back to their iPad, and for good reasoning!” says Telepak. “It always seemed silly to me how the majority of video games have to be played on these various joystick-based controllers that are only familiar to a segment of people.”
SpaceBeagles’s first objective was to make sure that the controls were a good fit for pretty much everyone. Once they had the tennis ball controllers down, they took a step back to consider gameplay. Rather than aiming for objective-based or competitive play, Telepak says that Butt Sniffin Pugs aims to celebrate the pure joy of video games — something that any person can revel in.
Designing a game for experienced players and newcomers alike wasn’t always an easy task, though. Simplifying the control scheme when you’re used to a certain form of play requires a mind-shift. “It’s really challenging to give speedrunners the complexity to perform poop cancel to fart boost combos and then try to reduce that to a two-button control scheme for accessibility,” notes Telepak.
“We were designing as ‘gamers’ and for ourselves … we didn’t have others in mind,” Telepak says of the game’s earlier prototypes. “That was a valuable lesson to learn … The gameplay depth for the gamers can wait, its more important to us to build all the pillars of accessibility in our game first so that we can flesh out the world and gameplay design after.”
Incorporating accessibility features into the game, too, brought its share of challenges. There’s no singular way to account for all accessibility issues, and solving some might even cause others to spring up. Some are incredibly easy to implement, but are just as easily forgotten if captioning, mouse sensitivity, or color blindness are not things that you deal with on a day-to-day basis.
But taking the extra time to consider people of all abilities is beneficial to everyone. “The silver lining to remember is that every accessibility option you add will help more people,” says Telepak. “The more options you add, the greater the range of disabilities your game will include [support for] which will eventually lead to a larger audience for your game.”
To reach that wider audience, the Butt Sniffin Pugs team paired up with AbleGamers. Specifically, the folks at AbleGamers consulted with SpaceBeagles to see that the controller prototypes are up to snuff, while ensuring that the game itself is playable for people with visual or hearing impairments.
SpaceBeagles is hoping to promote wider accessibility within games while simultaneously creating fun projects that push the boundaries of what video games can do. While there’s still a whole lot of work to do, we as a society are having more conversations about accessibility in games, and in collaborating with groups like Able Gamers, the future definitely looks bright. Telepak’s a believer, too.
“I think as we distance ourselves from our screens and controllers, and explore the possibilities [of what] games can really do … we’ll see the accessibility come forth,” Telepak tells Inverse. “Can you imagine what new accessibility implementations VR will bring?! It’s just so exciting to think that we’re at the beginning of a new horizon for video games and [I'm] just ecstatic thinking about how accessibility will grow from our future as well.”