Zanagrams: The road to an accessibility triumph

Zanagrams: The road to an accessibility triumph
| Zanagrams

As we collectively recover from the holiday season, we can reflect on the season of giving. For avid gamers, the best present of the season is the release of the annual game awards across a variety of gaming platforms. Passionate players will debate the merits of each contender and argue over the ultimate voting outcome. In recent years, game accessibility has become a focus of the gaming awards season. Gaming is based on inclusiveness and comradery which is a natural fit for accessibility programming.

As the Game of the Year awards trickle in, it is clear that an unexpected accessibility winner is emerging. This month, Dark Horse Games Studios’ game Zanagrams has swept the accessibility award across multiple platforms. Zanagrams is a captivating anagram game that incorporated accessibility design from the outset of its development. In fact, the game developer founded Dark Horse Games Studios with the mission of creating accessible games for the sighted and visually impaired.

Zanagrams stands as a beacon of determination, ingenuity, passion, and inclusiveness. Both Zanagrams' accessible gameplay and the riveting story of the game’s creator vaulted Zanagrams into the winner’s circle. In the aftermath of losing his sight, Zach Tidwell founded Dark Horse Games Studios to develop a game where all players could compete equally.

At the outset of the company, Zach had no computer programming experience. However, he did have heart, passion, and determination. Zach spent the next two years learning to code in Swift. After teaching himself the nuances of the programming language, he ventured forth to develop an anagram game.

As a blind game developer, Zach knew that accessibility needed to be a core tenant of the game’s development. Zach leveraged his personal experience and infused that knowledge into the accessibility development of Zanagrams. However, Zach wanted to create a game that both sighted and blind players could play together.

Therefore, he ensured that the visual presentation would satisfy sighted gamers. At its core, Zanagrams is a word puzzle game designed to challenge a player’s intelligence and linguistic skills. In each round, the player is presented with 6 clues. The player must combine tiles of 2 or 3 letters to spell the answer to the clue. When the player answers all 6 clues, there will be no tiles remaining.

Zanagramms’ game mechanics are thoughtfully designed to efficiently navigate using Apple’s Voiceover functionality. In addition, Zanagrams implements audio cues, haptic feedback, and customized settings to create an accessible interface. This attention to an accessible user experience allows Zanagrams to reach gamers regardless of their visual acuity.

This award season, Zanagrams secured the AppleVis 2023 Golden Apple accessibility award and the 3rd Annual Game of the Year from Mobile Accessible Games. Zach’s conviction to teach himself programming with the vision to deliver an accessible gaming experience is a testament to what is possible with determination and tenacity. Zach and Zanagrams have rightly earned this season’s accessibility accolades.

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