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[Eurogamer] How Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games think about accessibility

kyliethicc

Member
"It's a true frontier of game design."

"Challenge and accessibility can coexist in harmony with the right design choices."


As part of our ongoing series looking at accessibility in games, we got in touch with some people working in the field for two of Sony's big first-party teams and asked them to tell us a bit about their work. From Insomniac Games, whose teams have done brilliant work with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, we heard from director of experience, Brian Allgeier, and advanced senior user experience researcher, Michele Zorrilla. From Naughty Dog, who picked up the award for innovation in accessibility at the Game Awards in 2020, lead systems designer Matthew Gallant was kind enough to answer a few questions.





Possibly a hard question to answer to start with: what is the biggest thing about accessibility design in games that a lot of people don't understand or aren't aware of?

Matthew Gallant:
Accessibility is orthogonal to difficulty. Providing a "very light" difficulty option may remove barriers for some players, but others want to play on "grounded" or with permadeath enabled. (Shout out to SightlessKombat!) Challenge and accessibility can coexist in harmony with the right design choices.

To give an anecdote from development on The Last of Us Part 2: to adapt stealth gameplay for blind players, we prototyped an "invisible while prone" option. In our first accessibility playtest, we asked consultant Brandon Cole to try it out and give us feedback. We cheered as we watched him get his first stealth kill while using it, and overall his impressions were positive. However, he had one feature request: unlimited invisibility felt too generous, could we add an optional time limit?


What is the cornerstone of accessibility in games at the moment? Is there a set of features that you always build out from, or does it change from game to game?

Brian Allgeier:
We first started developing accessibility features for Marvel's Spider-Man and at that time were only able to do a short list. This meant we had to prioritize the ones that would have the biggest impact. To address the widest audience with accessibility needs, we focused on large subtitles, speaker notation, and providing an option to change QTE button taps to holds. Those later were carried over to Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales where we added 28 more features like high contrast mode, controller remapping, and chase assist. For Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, we were able to build off of Miles and expand our accessibility feature list to 53. While not every feature can be used from one game to the next, we continue to build a library of features that provide a foundation for all future games.

Matthew Gallant: Accessibility is fundamentally about good design. Games typically have their own unique needs and challenges in terms of accessibility features and implementation, but those choices are guided by universal design principles.

The Access Design Patterns framework breaks this down really well. A few that were particularly relevant for us were:

"Second Channel": any information provided through one channel (e.g. visual) should also be available through other channels (e.g. audio, haptics).

"Same Controls But Different": allow players to remap their control schemes, and provide alternatives for button holds, mashes, and chords.

"Clear Text": allow players to increase text size, colour, and contrast to improve legibility.

We're fortunate at Naughty Dog in that we own and develop our own game engine. This means that any functionality we develop for one game is a permanent investment in our technology, and can be carried on to future projects.
 

kyliethicc

Member
How much do you work with the wider community of players with disabilities? What does this work look like? I am assuming there is overlap with the team as a matter of course!

Brian Allgeier:
Collaborating with players with disabilities is truly the best way to understand how to make our games more accessible. We've been fortunate to work closely with Josh Straub of Apex Access who has consulted with us on many titles including Marvel's Spider-Man and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. We also receive feedback from Insomniacs and PlayStation Studios employees with disabilities. This includes Jason Bolte who is a senior designer at Insomniac and is someone with low vision. Jason offered not only his perspective as a player -where low vision players might struggle - but provided his design expertise as well. As we broaden our features and continue to expand our audience, our goal is to involve more consultants and players with disabilities who can offer new insights.

Matthew Gallant: While we work with a range of accessibility consultants, we also get informal feedback from various sources. For instance, we have several developers with disabilities on our team who used and evaluated the features as they were being prototyped and implemented. This included our motion sickness options, mono audio mode, and our one-handed control scheme presets.

We also get letters and emails from fans with feedback and functionality requests. For example, in 2018 we received a letter from a fan requesting the "camera sway" and "camera shake" adjustments from God of War. They were excited for The Last of Us Part 2, but were concerned that it would be unplayable for them without these options. Serendipitously we already had these options in our debug menu, it had just never occurred to us to expose them to players.


What would you like to see happen in accessibility in the next ten years? What are the big challenges and the big opportunities?

Matthew Gallant:
The big challenge for accessibility is that there is no silver bullet. Every game has unique accessibility design challenges, and must be evaluated and playtested individually. However, games that advance the cutting edge of accessibility benefit the entire industry. Future games can replicate proven functionality at much lower risk and cost.

The big opportunity for accessibility is that it's a true frontier of game design. We had almost zero precedents to work from while designing complex action/shooter game features for blind players. However, this gave us a completely blank canvas to try anything we could imagine. In some ways it feels like the early days of 3D controls in the PS1 era, when designers were grappling with fundamental questions like "how do you move the camera"?

Over the next (hopefully less than) 10 years, I would like to see accessibility features become the norm for all video games, something that seems noteworthy and deficient when absent. I believe that this demand will emerge organically from players who become accustomed to the universal benefits of good accessible design.
 
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Kuranghi

Gold Member
Yeah its nuts in TLOU 2 especially, I've been waiting for it to hit <£20 so I can get it just to do a run with infinite ammo (read: explosive arrows) + invisible when prone + the slow motion shortcut. Its gonna be a mentally disturbing feast for the eyes.
 

XTA

Neo Member
TLOU2 has some seriously impressive accessibility-focused features for sure. They don't necessarily apply to me in most cases, but I appreciate them none-the-less. Actually, TLOU2 is one of my go-to games for remote play on my phone (with PSPlay app, because Sony's own remote play app sucks in comparison, on almost every level) - because, while I prefer playing at high difficulties for a challenge when I'm actually playing on a TV... when I'm playing via remote play, even that tiny little bit of added latency (which is extremely mild via PSPlay compared to Sony's own app...) is enough to throw me off sometimes... and being able to tune the experience for remote play on the fly and without losing out on anything has been a real joy.
 

kyliethicc

Member
Yeah its nuts in TLOU 2 especially, I've been waiting for it to hit <£20 so I can get it just to do a run with infinite ammo (read: explosive arrows) + invisible when prone + the slow motion shortcut. Its gonna be a mentally disturbing feast for the eyes.
Just buy the game its incredible
 
A lot of games read the menu by default now it seems. FH5, MK11, SW Squadrons all come to mind. I’m trying to figure out who that is for when text exists.
 

kyliethicc

Member
What, For real?... how a blind person is supposed to play a video game? I thought this is just for people that have reading problems.
As mentioned in the article in the OP, @SightlessKombat is a blind guy who does consulting work on games about accessibility.

He consulted with Naughty Dog on TLOU2.




He has a site called Can I Play That? where he writes about this.




Steve Saylor is another blind guy who plays games and does consulting work on accessibility.





Brandon Cole, another blind guy who consults on games about accessibility. He also worked with Naughty Dog on TLOU2.


 
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As mentioned in the article in the OP, @SightlessKombat is a blind guy who does consulting work on games about accessibility.

He consulted with Naughty Dog on TLOU2.




He has a site called Can I Play That? where he writes about this.




Steve Saylor is another blind guy who plays games and does consulting work on accessibility.





Brandon Cole, another blind guy who consults on games about accessibility. He also worked with Naughty Dog on TLOU2.


Bit of a stretch to call the guy in the first set of vids “blind”.
 

Dane

Member
Bit of a stretch to call the guy in the first set of vids “blind”.
If you think being blind means not seeing anything at all as if it was just a black screen, you got all wrong. A blind person does see the enviroment, but at very blurry degree to the point where he/she can only see details at only few centimeters from the eye, other issues include extreme sensibility to light, which is why they may use sunglasses. Also there are definitions in each country where it makes a person legally blind.

I've sold a microphone once for a man who I realized it was blind, he needed to use a special lens for the cellphone screen.

 
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