Often only small changes are needed to make games more accessible, such as allowing for subtitle options to be personalized, yet, more often than not, these simple lifelines are ignored by the industry at large. It seems, however, that developers are slowly becoming more aware of the basic accessibility features that they should integrate into their games to put more gamers in a better position to enjoy them.
Notably, late in 2o2o, The Game Awards debuted their “Innovation in Accessibility” category, highlighting the developers that were stretching options beyond their usual video and audio set-ups to include settings that opened up games to wider audiences. It’s encouraging to see the issue reach a mainstream event as we all benefit from increased accessibility, and the showcase no doubt pushed the issue forward. Here are some of the games that have risen to the occasion of providing more accommodative experiences:
10 The Last of Us Part II
Okay, let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. The Last of Us Part II is the game that made all the headlines after it won the first-ever award for Innovation in Accessibility, and was unquestionably deserving of it. The sequel to Naughty Dog‘s 2013 opus came packaged with over sixty configurable accessibility options, going above and beyond all standards, setting a high benchmark for what AAA studios could achieve in terms of opening up their games to wider audiences.
Unsurprisingly, Naughty Dog’s sequel earned perfect scores in a Deaf/HoH review on “Can I Play That?”, an important resource for games with disabilities, with features like directional subtitles and high contrast settings that can be toggled on and off by a swipe of the touchpad earning a lot of praise. However, now gamers are calling on Naughty Dog to not neglect to add in similar options to the remaster of the original game.
The Last of Us Part II wasn’t the only game that championed accessibility last year, however. The Game Awards were only able to recognize the category due to the significant strides developers were making from AAA to independent studio levels. While Naughty Dog represents one extreme with its huge workforce, Hyperdot personifies the humbler side of game development as it was developed by a single person: Charles McGregor.
Like a true underdog, Charles showed huge studios that every game has the potential to be made with accessibility in mind. He did this by starting a “HyperDotA11y” program that opened up channels for gamers to provide direct feedback to him. This allowed him to prioritize solutions for prevalent problems. Dan also implemented Xbox Adaptive Controller support, eye-tracking controls and made progression requirements less strict once he discovered certain visuals hindered some gamers more than others.
8 Sea Of Thieves
Rare has similarily opened up their 2018 multiplayer pirate adventure game Sea of Thieves to feedback in its Season 2 overhaul. Now, players facing accessibility-related bugs can issue support requests directly to the relevant teams that can take action.
It’s the latest in a string of accessibility updates that the developer has rolled out since the games’ launch and it’s inspiring to see that new content isn’t the only thing that’s being added to the game. One more unique addition was added to tackle the underwater phobia of deep water, called Thalassophobia. They did this by adding the option “Always Float In Water.” Though likely simple to implement, its implementation means so much for anyone affected.
Celeste is another indie darling that launched with accessibility options, despite its precise platforming verging on the difficult side. A much-celebrated “Assist mode” exposes some key variables that can be adjusted to suit the needs of a range of gamers. As well as allowing for Invincibility and infinite stamina, the assists even allow for the core speed of the game to be augmented, slowing down the action for people who need it.
Noteworthy though is how the developers learned to adjust the language used in their assist menu when it was pointed out to be patronizing, as well as eliminating a previous visual branding of game saves that utilized game assists. Both of these served only to further stigmas that accessibility options regularly face, by othering players. However, a Twitter exchange changed all that, with a new description updated to reflect that lowering difficulty for accessibility‘s sake doesn’t make games less challenging, but gives those who need it a fighting chance.
6 Gears 5
Back in the world of AAA-developed games, The Coalition’s latest installment in the Gears of War series set a high bar in 2019 for more contemporary releases to follow. While it may be unexpected of a hardcore franchise, the devs believed they could still make the effort to make Gears 5 as approachable as possible, without disappointing their fanbase.
The Coalition decided to consult with gamers who might need more accessibility features, including Cherry Thompson, and discovered ways in which they were needlessly limited. Thanks to their help, the game came to support options such as full button remapping, aim toggle, single stick movement, and Xbox Adaptive Controller support. A drone called JACK was even added and made playable. Due to the team’s efforts, Gears 5 became the first AAA title to receive a perfect Deaf/HoH review on “Can I Play That?”
5 Way Of The Passive Fist
In 2018, Household Games released an arcade brawler that also saw much praise for its accessibility options. Unlike most other titles, however, Way of the Passive Fist started thinking about these qualities at the beginning of the game’s development, rather than allowing them to become an afterthought.
Having become acquainted with the plights of gamers with disabilities, the team decided not to follow standard conventions of game development that they knew would discriminate but considered how welcoming any feature would be before creating it. This led to a dynamic difficulty wherein enemy health, combo mastery, resourcefulness, and encounters can all be adjusted by a slider. A unique name is then generated for the difficulty level, eliminating any hint of implied shame.
4 Marvel’s Spider-Man
Insomniac Games‘ take on the Spider-Man franchise has become synonymous with providing a wealth of accessibility options, which may seem surprising given that their core gameplay revolves around precise web slings and fast-paced navigation. The original 2018 game became one of the first AAA games to allow for Quick Time Events to be skipped and even gave the same treatment to puzzle sections.
There was plenty of room for improvement beyond this feature, however, and more settings were offered in the remastered version of the game, plus the Miles Morales sequel which offers the most welcoming experience of the franchise. New options like Menu Cursor Sensitivity, more extensive Controller Remapping, and narration of American Sign Language lines weren’t available in the remaster.
While Hades isn’t wildly acknowledged for its accessibility features, its Godmode provides a revolutionary angle on how to tackle the sore topic of difficulty while delivering an authentic roguelike experience. While Game Over screens are a regular sight of this genre, Supergiant Games saw an opportunity to flip the frustration that comes with them around to not deter anyone from experiencing the game’s fantastic story.
Godmode essentially grants a damage resistance buff that increases a slight amount every time the player dies before capping at 80%. Basically making death more desirable. The feature doesn’t make Hades instantly easier though and can be toggled on and off whenever.
Another contender for the inaugural “Innovation in Accessibility” award was Obisidian Entertainment’s survival game Grounded, but unlike other nominees, one rather unique feature took prominence. Although Grounded has substantial subtitles options, a colorblind mode, and text to speech, its Arachnophobia Safe Mode was an interesting addition.
Naturally, a game dealing with being shrunk down to bug size poses a huge risk of freaking out many players with its creepy-crawly enemies. The developers decided not to take this lightly though but allowed for the appearance and sounds of spiders to be altered dramatically via the use of a slider. This alteration is purely aesthetic and has no bearing on gameplay or damage, but does a lot to lower anxiety and unease for those affected by the phobia.
1 Lair Of The Clockwork God
Lair of the Clockwork God is a 2020 indie offering that may have flown under your radar. As a hybrid of platformer and point-and-click adventure, the game is unsurprisingly rather text-heavy. To tackle the problem this posed, extensive customization options were implemented, including a dyslexic-friendly font.
Game director Dan Marshall was surprised by how little effort some of the adjustments took, and managed to implement nine important changes in under five hours, including some recommended on Twitter. Elsewhere dyslexic fonts are slowly gaining traction and are also available in Paradise Killer and Tell Me Why, but basic text/subtitle options remain wildly neglected by the industry at large.
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