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How Playground Created Forza Horizon 5’s Groundbreaking Sign Language Support Creative director Mike Brown: “This is not a thing that we want to keep"

kingfey

Banned

A few years ago, a London-based teacher of deaf and hard-of-hearing children, Cameron Akitt was brought to Playground Games to participate in a workshop for the in-development Forza Horizon 5. Over two days, he spoke to numerous designers within Playground about his experience playing games with subtitling and captioning in video games.

At one point during the workshops, he gave a piece of feedback that he never expected to see implemented. He suggested that Playground could take a step beyond subtitles and captions, and include American Sign Language and British Sign Language as supported languages within their game.

“Subtitles and captions are okay,” Akitt says, speaking to IGN. “But if you are a sign language-first language user, if you are deaf and culturally deaf and your family's deaf and you only sign, then English is your second or even your third language, and reading in your second or third language is an exhausting experience at the best of times, and if that's the only way you can enjoy a game, then it's not peak enjoyment."

Akitt tells me that when he originally mentioned it to Playground, he understood it to be a bit of a pie-in-the-sky, unlimited budget, magic wand type of suggestion. He went home after the workshops and didn’t think much of it, until around two years later he got an email from Playground. It was implementing his suggested feature into Forza Horizon 5, and the team wanted him to return as a consultant to help make it happen.

Forza Horizon 5 ASL Sign Language Feature Clip


Now, on March 1, Akitt’s suggestion is being realized at last. Forza Horizon 5 will receive a free in-game update adding ASL and BSL language support to all of its cutscenes, with actors from the deaf and hard of hearing communities appearing on screen to sign the scenes in full.

Speaking to IGN alongside Akitt, Forza Horizon creative director Mike Brown says that their conversations with Akitt “turned on a light” for Playground. “As an English first language user, I'd always just assumed that subtitles were the solution to that problem,” he says. “And it was only from speaking to Cameron that I learned that subtitles were a solution, but were not the best solution.”

So Brown committed. He greenlit the feature “very early on” in Forza Horizon 5’s development, originally thinking the team would include it at launch as a language option like any other. But actually getting the feature implemented proved to be more complex and difficult than Brown ever expected.

It wasn’t that the actual tech of implementing a person signing over a game cutscene was challenging, Brown explains. In fact, that part was easier than he thought. Instead, the numerous challenges Playground had to overcome to implement the feature came up almost entirely because it's one of the first, if not the first, video game developer to try and incorporate such a thing at this scale.

Because no one’s done it before, there weren’t processes, people, or pipelines in place already as there are with other language options. Everything Playground did – finding actors, hiring consultants, interpreting English scripts into ASL and BSL, and so forth – involved building every system and connection from the ground up.

"Nobody is providing that service to offer sign language for video games. We had to create all of those relationships ourselves."

“If, for example, we wanted to add an additional spoken voiceover language to the game – let's say we wanted to add Hungarian as a voiceover language – companies exist in order to provide that service,” Brown says. "There'll be people that I can pay a certain amount of money, send them all of my dialogue and get back translated dialogue. And that'll be it.

“Nobody is providing that service to offer sign language for video games. And so we had to create all of those relationships ourselves. We had to find those interpreters… we had to make all those relationships, make all those contacts, find people that could provide us with a sign language actor or sign language interpreter and build it out. I think we were the first people to do that.”

That was one complication. Another was that translating English into ASL and BSL isn’t a direct, 1:1 translation by any stretch. As Akitt explains, ASL and BSL have their own grammatical structures that are influenced by facial expressions, lip patterns, and body language in the same way spoken words are influenced by tone of voice. All that must be taken into account when interpreting a script.

And that’s made even more difficult in video games, where scripts written for spoken language dialogue might not necessarily translate effectively into ASL or BSL. There were a number of lines, Brown says, where what the game was asking the player to do wasn’t immediately obvious in the written English script, meaning the intent needed to be explained to a sign language interpreter so they could then translate effectively. And Akitt adds that this became even more complex with certain more video game-specific concepts and terms.

“With oral languages, the vocabulary already exists that if you're translating from English to French, French will have an equivalent word or an equivalent idiom that expresses this concept,” Akitt says. “In sign, in video games so much of the vocabulary is new, that you have to think about how you're going to express something. You need to come up with signs, agree what the signs are going to be, check in with the members of the community, see what they're signing to try and get a consensus.

“When Overwatch came out, me and my deaf friends loved it, but we had to agree on signs for the maps, for the characters, for the ultimate abilities, for the Overwatch league teams and everything. So we're there physically agreeing on a lexicon in BSL that's never existed. And that takes time.”

And then – yes, there was more! – there’s the added complication of Forza Horizon 5 being set in Mexico, with Mexican terms and phrases interspersed in the spoken and written scripts. “How do you sign the Mexican vocabulary in English?” Akitt asks. “Do you sign the English sign of the Mexican word or do you translate it directly? There's so many nuances.”

One notable choice I asked Akitt and Brown about was keeping sign language implementation to cutscenes – you’re not going to see an interpreter on-screen signing the radio dialogue while you’re driving. Brown admits there are technical limitations influencing that, but he and Akitt both agree that even if it was something they could reasonably add, it wouldn’t actually be that useful to players, who might accidentally crash a car into something while trying to watch an interpreter.

The main, cool new thing that we have in our campaign, and accessibility; they are of equal importance.

But Brown says that’s okay. The dialogue delivered during regular gameplay is written to be inconsequential in the first place – just in case a player, regardless of their language choice, is driving off a cliff when it happens.

“I already have philosophical views about the type of messaging given to players at different scenarios,” Brown says. “So when you are actually driving the car, I already keep the scripts down to things like, ‘Great job. You're doing great!'... and not, ‘Hey, you need this specific thing right now,’ because when you're in control and you're actually trying to play the game, even as an English user who can hear that dialogue normally, it's still a challenge.”

Brown mentions that a key reason this feature was possible for Playground in the first place was because accessibility has been one of the core pillars of Forza Horizon 5’s development since the start. Had sign language interpretation been an afterthought or something suggested and thrown together near the end, it might never have happened. But because Playground was asking these questions very, very early on, it had the time to gather resources, speak with numerous consultants, and devote energy, time, and budget to it alongside other critical accessibility features.

“When something is a pillar of the game, that is, as the word suggests, a supportive structure of this game that we can't cut,” Brown says, “we can't get to a point where it got a little bit too expensive and we can't do it anymore. Those are things that the leadership team has defined as being of critical importance to the game and therefore the team has to get behind it.

"Another example of that is our expeditions, which are one of our key new campaign features, one of the best, most fun experiences you have when you're playing through the game. That's a key initiative for the game. And when you put accessibility next to that and say, ‘These are two things that are of equal importance to the game: the main, cool new thing that we have in our campaign, and accessibility. They are of equal importance.’ Then it sets the tone for the team and it sets the expectation of what we mean.

“This isn't a thing that we're doing because it sounds a bit nice and it's a little bit of a good news story. It's a thing because we actually believe it's really important to the game and it's really important to our players. And that is the way that I tell my team to think about it.”

"This is not... a Playground Games secret. This is something that we want to be in as many games as possible."

With so many challenges overcome and the feature on its way tomorrow, Brown is very optimistic that the next time his team or anyone else wants to do something like this, it won’t be nearly so difficult, because Playground has already laid the foundation. He says that with a network of connections in place, it’s already been much easier to talk to the right people and ensure that sign language continues to be included as a part of future updates. And while he can’t confirm plans for future games either at Playground or more widely at Xbox, he encourages any developer or publisher who wants to do something similar in their own games to call him up.

“We've broken ground here and we've made a lot of these connections and we are available to assist any developer that needs help with this as well,” he says. “I think we will pick up the phone and we will provide all of the information that we've learned. This is not a thing that we consider a Playground Games secret that we want to keep for ourselves. This is very much something that we want to be in as many games as possible. And we will assist in any way that we can.”

Akitt tells me he’s looking forward to seeing what feedback other deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers give on the feature, and what the community makes of it. “I think that'll be really useful feedback either for Playground or any studio that looks into the future and thinks, ‘We'd like to do something like this. Who can we talk to from the community and what feedback do they have?’ It's like any design, it's a process of iteration, and it can only ever get better.”

Brown adds that, over the course of development, he found that his own perspective on Forza Horizon 5’s sign language interpretation has shifted. Initially, he says, he treated it as a language option like any other. But now, he sees it also as an inclusivity feature.

“It allows people who use sign as their first language to feel like they're represented in the game in the same way that people of different ethnicities are represented in the game, [or] people with prosthetic limbs can represent themselves in the game,” he says. “People who speak sign as a first language are feeling as though the game is for them. They are included in this game, and they're represented within the game. And that's the thing that I've actually found to be very powerful.”
 

coffinbirth

Member
"But if you are a sign language-first language user, if you are deaf and culturally deaf and your family's deaf and you only sign, then English is your second or even your third language, and reading in your second or third language is an exhausting experience at the best of times"

I'm all for this being an option for people, if needed, buuuut...this is...nonsense. You have to learn how to read before you can learn how to sign most words or phrases to begin with, right?
 

Tommi84

Member
I'm all for this being an option for people, if needed, buuuut...this is...nonsense. You have to learn how to read before you can learn how to sign most words or phrases to begin with, right?
You learn to read at around the age of 6-7, sometimes earlier, but generally,at around that time. By no means,this is fluent. It's rather simple words that you read letter by letter at the beginning.

You learn to speak at around 1.5year (first words) and you are able to speak with basic sentences at around 3yo. You can convey most of the things, can't talk about physics and some words are not the proper one, but that's fine.

By no means I'm a specialist, but it's pretty common for parents/kids to use some sort of sign language when the kid is not yet litterate (showing that one is sleepy by putting palms next to head, showing numbers by using fingers or saying 'bye' by waving). I can believe it's true what that person is claiming.
 
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Dr Bass

Member
You learn to read at around the age of 6-7, sometimes earlier, but generally,at around that time. By no means,this is fluent. It's rather simple words that you read letter by letter at the beginning.

You learn to speak at around 1.5year (first words) and you are able to speak with basic sentences at around 3yo. You can convey most of the things, can't talk about physics and some words are not the proper one, but that's fine.

By no means I'm a specialist, but it's pretty common for parents/kids to use some sort of sign language when the kid is not yet litterate (showing that one is sleepy by putting palms next to head, showing numbers by using fingers or saying 'bye' by waving). I can believe it's true what that person is claiming.
Uhhh, just no. That is WAY late.
 

coffinbirth

Member
You learn to read at around the age of 6-7, sometimes earlier, but generally,at around that time. By no means,this is fluent. It's rather simple words that you read letter by letter at the beginning.

You learn to speak at around 1.5year (first words) and you are able to speak with basic sentences at around 3yo. You can convey most of the things, can't talk about physics and some words are not the proper one, but that's fine.

By no means I'm a specialist, but it's pretty common for parents/kids to use some sort of sign language when the kid is not yet litterate (showing that one is sleepy by putting palms next to head, showing numbers by using fingers or saying 'bye' by waving). I can believe it's true what that person is claiming.
Sure, but beyond those basics I assume you would have to be able to read to learn how to sign anything depicted in a video game cutscene. One would also assume that reading and writing would be a much more vital form of communication with hearing and speech removed from their repertoire.
 

dem

Member
Bull. I was reading full children's books at 3 years old. 6-7 years old? Kids are not stupid, though they can be neglected. You're in first or second grade at that point. I was reading completely before I entered kindergarten. Recognizing simple words letter by letter ... at 7? Get outta here with that crap haha.

Well ok.. if you say so.

(But you’re wrong… and you read exceptionally early.)
 
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nush

Gold Member
Anything that helps inclusion is good and should be praised, i don't know anyone that would benefit from it, but there's millions of people that will
There's a lot of languages in the world that will most likely never be supported in games, at least this way the deaf people that speak those languages will be able to understand the game.
 

Dr Bass

Member
Well ok.. if you say so.

(But you’re wrong)
I do say so:


"Some learn to read at 4 or 5" (I was 3 like I mentioned)

and

"Most get the hang out of by 6 or 7"

Get the hang of it. Not just starting out and able to sound things out. Again if you're at that stage at 7, you're behind. Give me a break.
 

dem

Member
I do say so:


"Some learn to read at 4 or 5" (I was 3 like I mentioned)

and

"Most get the hang out of by 6 or 7"

Get the hang of it. Not just starting out and able to sound things out. Again if you're at that stage at 7, you're behind. Give me a break.

You should use that big brain and read the page you quote.

Early Reading vs. Reading Fluency​

While children may be able to decode the words they read on a page, this is still different to reading fluency. Reading fluency occurs when a child has developed the knowledge and skills to recognize words automatically, accurately, and quickly. This usually develops at ages 7 to 8.
 

Dream-Knife

Member
I'm not deaf, so I can't say to understand this point of view at all, but it seems pretty backwards to me. I always wondered why governments would have someone signing when there could just be subtitles.

I have to use subtitles if the person is speaking British English, Indian English, Afrikaan English, etc.

I do say so:


"Some learn to read at 4 or 5" (I was 3 like I mentioned)

and

"Most get the hang out of by 6 or 7"

Get the hang of it. Not just starting out and able to sound things out. Again if you're at that stage at 7, you're behind. Give me a break.

When I was 6 we were all reading Goosebumps. When I was 7 I moved up to the Alfred Hitchcock collections.

Perhaps kids are getting dumber? Wouldn't surprise me.
 
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Dr Bass

Member
You should use that big brain and read the page you quote.

Early Reading vs. Reading Fluency​

While children may be able to decode the words they read on a page, this is still different to reading fluency. Reading fluency occurs when a child has developed the knowledge and skills to recognize words automatically, accurately, and quickly. This usually develops at ages 7 to 8.
Of course I saw that, and what you're describing is different than sounding things out slowly like you're just beginning, which is what was claimed. And again age 7 (or 8 which sounds like a disaster to me) for those who are late I guess.

Your flippant attitude is bizarre. I refuse to believe kids are, in general, that slow unless they are neglected by their parents. That was not my experience growing up. So kids are doing multiplication and long division while just learning to read? wtf.

When I was 6 we were all reading Goosebumps. When I was 7 I moved up to the Alfred Hitchcock collections.

Perhaps kids are getting dumber? Wouldn't surprise me.
Not sure if this is sarcasm, but I assume not ... we were reading in early grade school. I agree with what you're saying. I also didn't grow up in a time of rampant entertainment everywhere. You HAD to read or play outside if you were going to do something.

Maybe you're right and current standards are just different. If that's the case, that is sad.
 

ProLogY

Member
Imagine playing a game with the sound off. You can't hear the voice lines, but you can still read the subtitles.

Sure that is a functional way to play the game, but you would prefer to hear the voice acting right? This is the sort of the same thing, essentially localizing the game to be enjoyed in the preferred form of communication for the user. It's a nice option and I'm sure there's gamers who appreciate it. I think the ability to read subtitles is rather irrelevant in this situation.
 

Dream-Knife

Member
Not sure if this is sarcasm, but I assume not ... we were reading in early grade school. I agree with what you're saying. I also didn't grow up in a time of rampant entertainment everywhere. You HAD to read or play outside if you were going to do something.

Maybe you're right and current standards are just different. If that's the case, that is sad.
No sarcasm at all. Kids growing up in the 90s could read. No racist, but most of the African-American students had severe difficultly reading for whatever reason, and that continued even through high school. Perhaps it's a parenting thing.

Goosebumps were huge from 94-97ish. Then I remember Harry Potter came out and everyone loved that. I think that was the big book/series in 4th or 5th grade (8-10).
 

dem

Member
When I was 6 we were all reading Goosebumps. When I was 7 I moved up to the Alfred Hitchcock collections.

Perhaps kids are getting dumber? Wouldn't surprise me.

They teach kids letter sounds in kindergarten here. That’s it.

Kids start kindergarten at 4-5.


Of course I saw that, and what you're describing is different than sounding things out slowly like you're just beginning, which is what was claimed. And again age 7 (or 8 which sounds like a disaster to me) for those who are late I guess.

Your flippant attitude is bizarre. I refuse to believe kids are, in general, that slow unless they are neglected by their parents. That was not my experience growing up. So kids are doing multiplication and long division while just learning to read? wtf.


Not sure if this is sarcasm, but I assume not ... we were reading in early grade school. I agree with what you're saying. I also didn't grow up in a time of rampant entertainment everywhere. You HAD to read or play outside if you were going to do something.

Maybe you're right and current standards are just different. If that's the case, that is sad.

That’s the case.

My kid is in grade 2 and they have not touched on multiplication.
 
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Dream-Knife

Member
They teach kids letter sounds in kindergarten here. That’s it.

Kids are between start kindergarten at 4-5.
Where are you? USA? We has word cards in kindergarten here. We also started writing in kindergarten. First grade you were expected to be able to read.
 

Dr Bass

Member
They teach kids letter sounds in kindergarten here. That’s it.

Kids start kindergarten at 4-5.




That’s the case.

My kid is in grade 2 and they have not touched on multiplication.
I find that very discouraging. Well you mentioned age 8, and that was third grade for me, and that's when we were doing multiplication/long division.

Either way ... seems different (and behind) from my experience. But I believe you in what you're saying and I guess I was just wrong.
 

Tripolygon

Member
I'm going to be generous and assume this is in response to the misleading "this is not something we want to keep", while leaving off the all important qualifier "to ourselves".
You could be right. Always give the benefit of the doubt instead of being pessimistic

Faith in humanity is restored by 0.000000001%. Thanks, mate.

Incredible level of inclusivity. Apparently theres a patch coming out with down syndrome racing drivers too. Should be a hoot!

Faith in humanity drops 10% again.
 
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XXL

Member
If You Say So Reaction GIF by Identity
 

CuNi

Member

We get you, it's okay.
I too would be intimidated by this long op post if my reading ability were below average. We're inclusive on this forum though so please don't lash out, this is a safe space for people like you too.
 

Orta

console wars 2020 - participant
Incredible level of inclusivity. Apparently theres a patch coming out with down syndrome racing drivers too. Should be a hoot!
 
There's a lot of languages in the world that will most likely never be supported in games, at least this way the deaf people that speak those languages will be able to understand the game.
I read there's more than a hundred different sign languages. If so, I doubt deaf people across the globe can understand the signs in this game. This feature is a nice inclusion, but it is quite limited.

Call me a hater, but I'm personally not entirely convinced this was a necessary addition. Yeah, it's nice when a game's in your native language. For deaf people that'd be sign language in many cases. But it's not like it's a required to enjoy the game. Most deaf people can read perfectly fine. Is it worth it to dedicate so many resources to a relatively unnecessary feature? Translating the existing text to another written language would probably help more people enjoy the game.
 

nush

Gold Member
This feature is a nice inclusion, but it is quite limited.

Call me a hater, but I'm personally not entirely convinced this was a necessary addition.

There was a time when people said the same things about Japanese developed games offering dubbed or subbed options. Now it's pretty much a standard.

I don't understand Japanese but I'm a subbed all the way gamer.
 

GHG

Member
My wife is an early years teacher in Canada.
You’re wrong.

Some kids will take an interest and read early.. most won’t.

Lmao we're giving kids a choice now as to when they should and shouldn't start learning to read?

Ridiculous. The earlier you get kids familiar with the concept of reading the better. 6-7 years old is far too late especially when you consider the fact that it will allow for accelerated learning in all other areas.

In this situation "interest" is irrelevant, they are learning to read whether they like it or not.

No wonder we're going backwards.
 
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dem

Member
Lmao we're giving kids a choice now as to when they should and shouldn't start learning to read?

Ridiculous. The earlier you get kids familiar with the concept of reading the better. 6-7 years old is far too late especially when you consider the fact that it will allow for accelerated learning in all other areas.

In this situation "interest" is irrelevant, they are learning to read whether they like it or not.

No wonder we're going backwards.

Meh.. I’m no education expert. I just work in the education system and my wife is a teacher. Just telling you what I see.

Afaik kids dont even start school until 7 in Finland… and they seem to do great on testing. My wife insisted we hold back both our children so they would start Kindergarten late (late birthdays). It’s actually pretty common now.


but this is getting far off topic for the gaming forum :messenger_winking:
 
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01011001

Gold Member
uhm... subtitles? ever heard of them? wouldn't that be way less awkward to use than having a big chunk of the screen covered with exactly the same information you also get from reading subtitles?

not that the game needs either because who the actual fuck listens to that absolutely awful dialog lol. I usually have spotify blasting while playing this
 
There was a time when people said the same things about Japanese developed games offering dubbed or subbed options. Now it's pretty much a standard.

I don't understand Japanese but I'm a subbed all the way gamer.
I really don't see the comparison between a feature that can be appreciated by anyone, depending on their taste, and one that can reasonably be appreciated by less than 2 on a thousand of the population under 8 year...
 

GHG

Member
Meh.. I’m no education expert. I just work in the education system and my wife is a teacher. Just telling you what I see.

Afaik kids dont even start school until 7 in Finland… and they seem to do great on testing.

The age a child starts formal schooling is of little importance provided they are given an environment in which they can learn and develop. The fact that kids in Finland don't start formal education until 7 doesn't tell the whole story:

Importantly, early years care in Finland is designed and funded to ensure high take-up: every child has a legal right to high-quality pre-school care. In Franzenia, as in all daycare centres, there are children from a mix of backgrounds. Fees, subsidised by the state, are capped at a maximum of €290 (£250) a month (free for those on low incomes) for five-day, 40 hours a week care. About 40% of 1-3-year-olds are in daycare and 75% of 3-5-year-olds. Optional pre-school at the age of six has a 98% take-up. Initially envisaged in the 70s as a way of getting mothers back into the workplace, daycare has also become, Marjoniemi says, about “lifelong learning and how we prepare young children”.


There are systems in place to ensure kids have the right environment in order to springboard them in to formal education.

Beyond that, if anyone is relying/waiting on school to teach their kid how to do basics like reading/writing/speaking/maths then I'm sorry to say, it's unlikely to end well.
 
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Had this been for a story driven game maybe I'd see the point but FH has the most pointless cutscenes in the history of the world. They should add a skip button instead.
 
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