How Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games think about accessibility •

by AryanArtnews
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As part of an ongoing series on game accessibility, we contacted people working in the field at two major Sony first-party teams and asked them to talk a bit about their work. We spoke with Experience Director Brian Allgeier and Senior User Experience Researcher Michele Zorrilla from Insomniac Games, where the team did a great job with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Lead system designer Matthew Gallant kindly answered a few questions from Naughty Dog, who won the Accessibility Innovation Award at the 2020 Game Awards.

Probably the first difficult question to answer. What’s the biggest thing about game accessibility design that many people don’t understand or aren’t aware of?

Matthew Galant: Accessibility is orthogonal to difficulty. Offering a “very light” difficulty option may remove some players’ barriers, while others want to play with “ground” or permadeath enabled. Shout to Combat without eyesight!) Challenges and accessibility can co-exist in harmony with the right design choices.

To give an anecdote from the development of The Last of Us Part 2, we’ve prototyped a “tend to be invisible” option to adapt stealth gameplay for the visually impaired. For the first accessibility playtest, we asked consultant Brandon Cole to give it a try and provide feedback. We cheered to see him gain his first stealth skills while using it, and overall his impression was positive. However, he had one functional requirement. I felt that unlimited invisibility was too generous. Can I add an optional time limit?

The last of us on PS5 Part 2

What is the basis of accessibility for today’s games? Is there a set of features that I’m building all the time, or does it change from game to game?

Brian Allgeier: We first started developing accessibility features for Marvel’s Spider-Man, but at the time we could only make short lists. This meant that we should prioritize the ones that have the greatest impact. To accommodate the widest audience with accessibility needs, we focused on offering large subtitles, speaker notation, and the option to change the QTE button tap to hold. Later, they were taken over by Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, adding 28 features such as high contrast mode, controller remapping, and chase assist. Ratchet & Clank: In the case of Rift Apart, we were able to build on Miles and extend the accessibility feature list to 53. Not all features are available for each game, but the foundation for all future games.

Matthew Galant: Accessibility is basically a good design. Games usually have their own needs and challenges regarding accessibility features and implementations, but their choice is based on the principles of universal design.

The Access Design Patterns framework breaks this down very well. Some of the things that are particularly relevant to us are:

“Second channel”: Information provided through one channel (visual, etc.) must also be available from other channels (voice, tactile, etc.).

“Same control but different”: Allows players to remap the control scheme and provide button hold, mash, and code alternatives.

Clear Text: Allows the player to increase the size, color, and contrast of the text to improve readability.

We are blessed with Naughty Dog in that we own and develop our own game engine. In short, all the features you develop for one game are a permanent investment in technology and can be passed on to future projects.

Ratchet & Crank: Lift Apartment Review

How much do you work with the wider community of players with disabilities? What does this work look like? Of course, I think there is some overlap with the team!

Brian Allgeier: Working with players with disabilities is really the best way to understand how to make our game more accessible. Fortunately, we’ve worked closely with Apex Access’s Josh Straub to discuss many titles such as Marvel’s Spider-Man and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. We also receive feedback from employees with disabilities in Insomniacs and PlayStation Studios. This includes Jason Bolte, a senior designer at Insomniac and a person with poor eyesight. Jason not only provided his perspective as a player that low vision players could struggle with, but also provided his design expertise. As we continue to expand our capabilities and reach our audience, our goal is to increase the number of consultants and players with disabilities who can provide new insights.

Matthew Galant: While working with various accessibility consultants, we also receive informal feedback from various sources. For example, our team has several developers with obstacles who used and evaluated features during prototyping and implementation. This included motion sickness options, monaural audio modes, and one-handed control scheme presets.

You will also receive letters and emails from fans with feedback and feature requests. For example, in 2018, we received a letter from the God of War from a fan requesting adjustments for “camera shake” and “camera shake.” They were excited about The Last of Us Part 2, but worried that they wouldn’t be able to play without these options. Coincidentally, the debug menu already had these options, but never exposed them to the player.

Is accessibility beyond the traditional competition of the gaming industry? So is this a collaborative effort by the entire industry? Do you feel like you are working together?

Michele Zorilla: absolutely! Whenever a game releases or gets an update with accessibility features, it’s exciting and exciting for us. There is a sense of friendly competition, but it encourages the team to do more and do better. It also introduces the people in the studio and gives examples to get more people involved. One of the new games with accessibility features is another game that can be played by more people, making the industry more comprehensive.

One of the things I really jumped out about accessibility design is that it has to be a really compelling form of problem solving. I have these things that need to be translated for different players and I need to figure out how to do them. .. Is it correct or did I desperately make it romantic?

Michele Zorilla: That is really the core of it. What barriers do players face and how can they be removed and the game experienced? Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has a wide variety of weapons, busy combat encounters, and quick traversal areas. It’s big, colorful and wonderful. However, players can be overwhelmed by these situations. Initially, the team was trying to figure out how to handle the individual sections, but that wasn’t feasible. In one of the accessibility reviews, Mike Daly (game director) suggested the speed of the game. The tutorial has already slowed down the game, so why not use it elsewhere? It was a breakthrough for us! We couldn’t solve everything, but it gave players control over when to use it and how slow it was, which was useful in many places throughout the game.

Matthew Galant: Accessibility is certainly a very exciting design space. Talking to a consultant during a playtest will bring up many great ideas. To give a few examples:

While discussing useful features for low vision players, consultant James Rath took out the iPhone and introduced you to the various features you use on a daily basis. When he realized that the DualShock 4 also had a built-in touch screen, he was demonstrating using gestures to zoom the phone screen. This created a “magnifying glass” feature. Seeing Steve Sailor’s fun reaction to this feature in later playtests was a big highlight of the development!

Magnifying glass function of Last of Us Part 2

During a playtest with Fine Motor Accessibility Consultant Paul Lane, we experienced another breakthrough. He had a hard time arranging a series of jumps through a tricky traversal sequence. Ironically, we designed a feature to help players adjust their jumps, but it was bundled with an audio cue and intended as a visual accessibility feature. Paul loved the aid, but of course didn’t want the unwanted accompanying audio. This has taught us two valuable lessons. First, don’t guess who will use accessibility features. Next, fine-tune accessibility options so that players can tailor them to their needs.

The conversation with Brandon Cole caused another design breakthrough. We have designed two features for the visually impaired to navigate. “Navigation Assistance” presses L3 to point the player at the critical progression path. Enhanced listen mode allows players to scan the environment for items and enemies and fire a spatial audio cue when pinging. Brandon had the great idea of ​​integrating these two features to allow players to set navigation goals for items or enemies they just scanned. The combination of these two features has significantly improved the gameplay experience for the visually impaired.

One of the great things about the latest ratchets was the step of expressing a central character with prosthetic limbs, as well as perfectly good accessibility features. When you’re thinking about game accessibility, are you thinking about expressions? This has always been a bit of a leader for Sony, and seems to be looking back at something like Sly Cooper.

Brian Allgeier: It is important to create a world that players can identify and connect to and feel inclusive with relevant characters. Part of the way to achieve that is to partner with a professional consultant who brings these characters to life with the actor’s amazing performance and provides advice throughout the process. Miles Morales introduced Haley Cooper, a hearing-impaired street artist living in the neighborhood of Miles. This was also drawn by the hearing impaired Natasha Ofili. It was very important for us that the sign language used was an accurate representation, so we got the help of an onset ASL consultant.

Ratchet & Clank: For Rift Apart, I consulted with to find out how to best portray the two protagonists with disabilities. This included cranks that lost arm and leg use at the start of the game, and rivets that had prosthetic hands before the story began. consultants help identify areas of the story where character disabilities can be negatively perceived, giving them the opportunity to show that they are witty, multifaceted, and heroic. I made a suggestion. It’s amazing to see the love for these characters, especially from the disabled community. We are excited to continue to create a world that expresses characters from a wide range of backgrounds, and we hope that you will sympathize with our fans.

What do you think will happen to accessibility in the next 10 years? What are the big challenges and big opportunities?

Matthew Galant: A major accessibility challenge is the lack of a silver bullet. Every game has its own accessibility design challenges that need to be evaluated and playtested individually. However, games that advance the cutting edge of accessibility will benefit the industry as a whole. Future games can replicate proven features at much lower risk and cost.

A great opportunity for accessibility is that it is a true frontier in game design. There was little precedent to tackle when designing complex action / shooting game features for the visually impaired. But this gave us a completely blank canvas to try anything we could imagine. In a way, it feels like the designers were working on basic questions like “how to move the camera”, as in the early days of 3D control in the PS1 era.

We hope that accessibility features will become the standard for all video games over the next 10 years (preferably within 10 years). This is noteworthy and seems inadequate if it does not exist. We believe that this demand comes organically from players who are accustomed to the universal benefits of good accessible design.

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