Tools of the Trade
These days those that are physically-challenged have plenty of options when it comes to making games playable for them. I’ve been a Quadriplegic for over twenty years and I’ve been playing games on Macs for nearly that long. Here’s some of the more recent tools I’ve used to accomplish this, plus a few I haven’t but think might be useful.
For me it all starts with AssistiveWare’s KeyStrokes. No single piece of software has been more useful to me than KeyStrokes. As long as KeyStrokes is visible I have a chance to play any given game. It’s not guaranteed, particularly with action-orientated games like Call of Duty 2, but at least there’s a chance. Unfortunately some games make KeyStrokes vanish when in full-screen mode. Even the "Game Mode" in KeyStrokes is unable to overcome this is some cases. However, fortunately most of these games can be played in windowed-mode, either through some in-game option or by actually editing the game’s .ini file by adding a line that looks something like "fullscreen=0".
KeyStrokes also has several different layouts to choose from and multiple ways to customize the way it looks and responds. You can even drag the KeyStrokes window to any size you wish. And the just-released KeyStrokes 4.0 adds LayoutKitchen, which gives you the ability to actually design your own keyboard. So in theory you could literally design keyboard layouts for individual games that only have keys required for that game. That’s really cool! KeyStrokes is a must for any physically-challenged gamer that needs an onscreen keyboard.
Now in order to use KeyStrokes you’re probably going to need some kind of head-pointing device. For me it’s been the Headmaster Plus. The Headmaster Plus uses an infrared signal that transmits between the top of the headset and the control box (usually placed on the top-center of your monitor). It’s not wireless, but the cord is long enough that you have all the freedom you need. (Note that the Headmaster Plus has been discontinued, but there are several other infra-red head tracking devices.) I also use the pneumatic switch option which allows me to make mouse-clicks with a single puff on a tube that’s attached to the headset. Since the Headmaster Plus is an old device it still uses an ADB connection, which most people don’t have anymore. That problem is easily solved with Griffin’s IMate ADB to USB adapter. The Headmaster Plus may be old but it’s extremely accurate and durable.
Two other options out there that I’ve heard good things about are the HeadMouse Extreme and TrackerPro. (Read a comparison by a head tracking user here.) If you choose not to use some kind of switch with any of these devices you could make use of the Dwellix technology found in KeyStrokes. When this option is turned on you can perform mouse-clicks by simply "dwelling" in one spot for a defined period of time. I’ve used this feature on occasion and it works quite well!
A neat little utility I’ve used a few times to help me play certain games is One Finger Snap from Old Jewel Software. One Finger Snap is a Preference Pane that brings up the contextual menu whenever you click and hold down the mouse button for a user-defined period of time. So it essentially emulates a "right-click". I used this utility to play both Fallout 1 & 2. Both games only played in fullscreen mode and blocked out KeyStrokes. Fortunately both games are entirely mouse-operated but do require a right-click for certain actions. One Finger Snap solved that problem!
Finally, I have to mention MacSpeech Dictate. Some of you may be familiar with MacSpeech’s popular iListen, which has been the speech recognition solution for Macs for years now. Well Dictate is suppose to be much better. Powered by Dragon from Nuance, this award-winning engine runs at the core of MacSpeech Dictate. The accuracy is suppose to be amazing. MacSpeech Dictate was just unveiled at the MacWorld show and should be out in February.
While some of the "tools" mentioned in this article are what I’ve been using the truth is I’ve just scratched the surface of available tools out there that can assist you with your Mac gaming needs. There’s a multitude of different hardware devices and software programs that can assist you. Those mentioned in this article should be of great help to anybody who is physically-challenged in some way. Happy gaming!