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Opinion News The Last of Us Part II isn’t just Naughty Dog’s most ambitious game — it’s the most accessible, too

IbizaPocholo

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The Last of Us Part II is arguably the most ambitious title to come out of Naughty Dog. It takes place in a massive post-apocalyptic world, including a staggeringly detailed rendition of Seattle, with much more involved stealth-based combat and elaborate cutscenes. It’s the kind of huge and detailed game you’d expect from the studio’s swan song on the PlayStation 4. But one of the most impressive things about the game is how large and varied its accessibility options are. You can now navigate the world largely by sound, or zoom in on the screen as if you were using a smartphone. There’s an astonishing array of things to choose from.

According to Schatz, while the accessibility options in the game are varied, they all point toward the same goal: keeping players from hitting those sticking points, whether it’s a difficult QTE or something else entirely. “Accessibility for us is about removing barriers that are keeping players from completing a game,” she says. “It’s not about dumbing down a game or making a game easy. What do our players need in order to play the game in parity with everyone else?”

There are around 60 different accessibility options in the game’s menu, covering things like controls, visual aids, audio clues, navigation and traversal, and combat. Some are fairly standard features, like being able to make the UI larger or tweak the subtitles for color blind users. Other elements are much more involved. There’s a text-to-speech option that reads out everything in the game, from menus to the notes Ellie picks up on her journey, and audio cues to indicate when there are items nearby or a ledge you can climb up. A new high-contrast mode changes the visuals entirely for low-vision players, rendering the world a light grey, and turning allies blue and enemies red. (This was inspired by the unlockable “thief vision” filter in Uncharted 4.) You can even use the Dual Shock controller’s touchpad to zoom in and get a closer look at the world.

According to game designer Matthew Gallant, one of the reasons the team was able to include so many features is that it was part of the design process from the beginning. “We absolutely had to plan these features early in production,” he says. “It was absolutely critical.” There were three features in particular — text-to-speech, fully remappable controls, and the high-contrast mode — that required large technical resources, and they wouldn’t have been possible without so much time. “We couldn’t have done this if we hadn’t, from the outset, said ‘This is a priority,’” he explains.

The process for finding those potential sticking points began in 2017 and involved a few different elements. Naughty Dog worked with accessibility advocates like Brandon Cole, attended conferences to speak to other developers and players, and, of course, did a lot of focus testing. This process not only led the team to new options to add into the game, but also how to best present those options to players, which was the source of a lot of internal debate.

Initially, the team at Naughty Dog planned to have modes that covered specific areas. There would be one for hearing impaired users, for instance, and another for issues around motor control. The idea being that you switch on that mode and all of the related features will be enabled. “Instantly we got feedback that ‘this is not what we want,’” Gallant explains. “‘We want to be able to dig into the menus, fine-tune things, adjust things, really get into the nitty-gritty of what these options mean.’”

The designers had to give up their nice, tidy menus in favor of something a little messier. Diving into the accessibility menu in The Last of Us Part II is almost overwhelming, with so many toggles and siders to choose from. It gives players granular control over their experience, but to make things a bit easier, the developers also created a handful of presets that can be enabled at the outset of the game, grouped under categories like vision and hearing. From there, players can still jump in and tweak the settings to better suit their needs. “The idea here is to give players a starting point,” says Schatz.

Another issue was the tone of the game. A big part of The Last of Us is its focus on violence and trauma; it’s an experience that intentionally makes you feel tense and uncomfortable. And the developers wanted to ensure that those elements still came through no matter what settings were enabled. “When we’re making an accessibility option, we wanted to match that tone as best as possible,” Gallant says. “We didn’t want to make something that felt off, or dissonant with the themes.”

In the high-contrast mode, for instance, figuring out what color to paint certain characters wasn’t all that simple. “One of the overall themes in the game is the gray in the middle, and who is friend, and who is foe,” says Schatz. “Especially at some of the more ambivalent moments in the story, when someone might be one or the other, what color do we make them right now?” The team also had to figure out things like the exact frame of animation in which death occurs, so that they could switch an enemy to a neutral color at just the right time. “There was a lot of subtlety that had to be worked out because of the tone of our game,” she explains.

Some of the features are also about more than simply making it possible for most people to play the game — the team also wanted to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. For some players with low vision, for instance, having to stay close to their TV just to read text can be uncomfortable. A feature like the touchpad-enabled magnification is designed to help alleviate some of this strain. “We think a lot in accessibility about making the game playable,” Gallant says, “but there’s a lot to be said for comfort as well.”

Schatz and Gallant both say they’re excited to see some of the unintended ways players utilize these features, and they hope that experience can inform new options for whatever Naughty Dog’s next game is. But the process of working on The Last of Us Part II has also shown them that these kinds of features are vital to opening up the studio’s games to a much broader audience.

“It feels like a failing on our part if a player reaches a part of the game that’s inaccessible to them in any way,” says Gallant. “It’s incumbent on us to be the ones to find the solutions. Accessibility just makes these games better.”
 

Hobbygaming

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The work Sony and Naughty Dog did on this game is astonishing

Multiple options inside the difficulty like adjusting the damage Ellie takes

Making AI seem like real people that have friends

Improved melee/the most realistic melee

Injury system: If Ellie gets shot with an arrow she has to get out of danger for enough time to remove the arrow or the damage gets worse
 
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webber

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RokkanStoned

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This is actually pretty good. Accessibility options is a great thing and what it's about. Difficulty has nothing to do with accessibility. Though there's always limits to how far you can reach in terms of accessibility, as it could easily overshadow your product itself if it takes too much focus. But if you have the budget, then it'll add not only for those who need it, but also for those who don't need it. Like how a complex sound design enriches the experience of gamers, as well as providing help in terms of accessibility.
I remember being amazed at the blind guy that played Abe's Odyssey and how important sound design can be in terms of the accessibility of a game.
 

Miles708

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This is actually pretty good. Accessibility options is a great thing and what it's about. Difficulty has nothing to do with accessibility. Though there's always limits to how far you can reach in terms of accessibility, as it could easily overshadow your product itself if it takes too much focus. But if you have the budget, then it'll add not only for those who need it, but also for those who don't need it. Like how a complex sound design enriches the experience of gamers, as well as providing help in terms of accessibility.
I remember being amazed at the blind guy that played Abe's Odyssey and how important sound design can be in terms of the accessibility of a game.

I agree, indeed one of the good things about these features is that the benefits trickle down also for people who don't need them, or need them in a much lighter way.
Like your example with audio, but also simply having subtitles that can be read from my damn armchair.

There's no downside in taking care of these aspects, so it's great seeing big companies try to establish some kind of trend, or at least an acceptable baseline, for basic accessibility.
 
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teacupcopter

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This is awesome. I get some games and some disabilities are just never going to play well (a tough as nails bullet hell shooter being slowed down for people with mental impairment and slow reaction times, etc) but the majority of games can be modified or have options like this. It’s just like closed captions- what’s the harm in having options for people!?

mark brown from game makers toolkit on YouTube did a disability miniseries a bit back and it really shows what games can do and the interesting ways they can help less abled gamers enjoy the same games we do.
 

peter42O

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All amazing but I still wish they would have allowed us to turn off "listen mode". Hoping I can assign it to a directional button as I rarely use them.
 
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REE Machine

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I hate that there are no difficulty trophies, the fact they have in-depth accessibility means they should still have difficulty trophies
 
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Moogle11

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Sounds great to me. I'm all for story-driven games being as customizable as possible so most people can see them throw. I'm also for games like Souls/Souls-likes being hard as balls as there's little story there and the challenge largely is the point of the game. But for story-driven games I think it's good to give players a lot of options from the start to make it easier or harder so more people can enjoy it the way they like.

As for difficulty trophies, I'm fine if they have those. I'm not someone that cares about trophies or chasing platinums. In terms of providing users a lot of difficulty options I don't imagine most people who want options to make games easier care about trophies much either and that most that want to make games harder would enjoy chasing difficulty level-based trophies. So it makes sense to still have those IMO.
 

Jbomb19

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serious question: i've never chased trophies or platinum or anything like that but is there any other reward you get besides the satisfaction? Do you get a special icon or PS store points or something?
 

DeepEnigma

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His story:

Credited DForce DForce

Game got a 10 from caniplaythat.com, a site that specialises in gaming for people with handicaps.
It goes over the options for people who are deaf/hard of hearing. I'm not familiar with the site but maybe they'll do other reviews based on other handicaps later?



It's reactions like that, which instantly connect my empathetic side to those who suffer from certain disabilities. It also makes it far easier to understand why having accessibility options are important, since most of us take for granted having to not "worry about" them being there more often than not outside, of various color blindness.

Bravo, Naughty Dog. You're a good dog!

Now ignore me, I'm not welling up, I was just chopping some onions for dinner!
 
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KOS MOS

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Now if only video game devs could start making larger text sizes in these modern games for people like me who are deaf without an inner ear in my left ear (means hearing aids are pointless) and have 30 percent hearing loss in my right ear. the more modern these games become, the smaller their text is. I still can't read anything in Control on the ps4, and they even DID try to fix the text size. It's also why I have a hard time with some stealth games that require character abilities based on hearing.
 

Moogle11

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Great to see (no pun intended). These huge budgets and guaranteed money printing IPs should be as accessible as possible, especially the narrative/character development driven ones.

They have the resources and profit margins to do it and good stories and character development are enjoyable regardless of whether it’s consumed via playing a game, watching a movie or show (or listening with the detailed audio for the blind) or reading or listening to an audio book.
 

ianhamilton_

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Now if only video game devs could start making larger text sizes in these modern games for people like me who are deaf without an inner ear in my left ear (means hearing aids are pointless) and have 30 percent hearing loss in my right ear. the more modern these games become, the smaller their text is. I still can't read anything in Control on the ps4, and they even DID try to fix the text size. It's also why I have a hard time with some stealth games that require character abilities based on hearing.

They did, the game has options to increase the size of the whole interface, including all the text. Details here -

 
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ianhamilton_

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What is that supposed to mean?

It's a reference to the enemies in the game, when an infected's infection others to the stage where the fungus covers their eyes and they naivete the world through echo location, they are called clickers.

It's not an accurate comparison as Steve is legally blind, not completely blind. This means that he can see, but has low enough vision that it significantly impacts his life. So he makes use of features like the game's high contrast mode.

However people who are completely blind can play the game too, through options to turn on extra audio cues.
 

PanzerAzel

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Naivete = navigate. Why can't I find an option to edit posts.
Look under the (...) to the right of the report button, bottom left. Neo members can only edit for something like five (ten?) minutes after OP then it’s final, this restriction is lifted when you become full member.
 
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Business

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What is that supposed to mean?

Trying to be edgy making fun of a blind man. Some animals and even some people with poor or no vision use echolocation to navigate their environment, like the clickers in the game do. So this blind guy playing a game with clickers, is a real life clicker, hur hur.

edit: beaten
 
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Rien

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Trying to be edgy making fun of a blind man. Some animals and even some people with poor or no vision use echolocation to navigate their environment, like the clickers in the game do. So this blind guy playing a game with clickers, is a real life clicker, hur hur.

edit: beaten

Not really true tho.. there are in fact blind people that click with their tongue to calculate their environment their in. The reflection of the clicking sound makes them able to ‘feel’ their environment. They are amazingly skilled in this and I think they are the core of the idea of the clickers in TLOU
 
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Business

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Not really true tho.. there are in fact blind people that click with their tongue to calculate their environment their in. The reflection of the clicking sound makes them able to ‘feel’ their environment. They are amazingly skilled in this and I think they are the core of the idea of the clickers in TLOU

I wonder what's not really true and if you realize what you describe is what I said in the very post you quote. Unbelievable.
 
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