Recently, a project arose to create a list of game accessibility guidelines in the form of a living document style website. In the last couple of weeks it was released as the very appropriately titled www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com. Accessibility in games isn’t something that’s regularly covered here on thatgame’s(ux), but it’s super important. The site references a recent survey in which 15-20% of casual gamers reported some form of disability.
So gameaccessibilityguidelines.com gives game developers a simple, understandable checklist of ways to improve the accessibility of their games, ranging from easy to hard. This is awesome particularly for disabled gamers, but implementing many of the guidelines will benefit everybody. I’d like to take a quick look at a few of my favorite guidelines that I wish more games had just for the sake of usability.
Provide an autosave feature
One of the things that I appreciate most about EA’s NHL series of games is the autosave. I don’t have any evidence that they were the first major sports game to support autosave, but they were definitely it was the first series that I remember relying on autosave for. I know for sure in Madden 12, after every week I’m forced to manually save my progress, and it asks me to confirm every time, and I always say yes. It’s a crazy thing, I don’t understand why every game doesn’t implement this (particularly sports games).
The only time I can think of that autosave has caused me drama was in Mass Effect 3. When the Extended Cut DLC came out, like everybody else I wanted to re-play the ending. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that the game auto-saved me right at the very end of the last mission, and when I restarted the last mission, it overwrote the autosave meaning I had to play the entire last mission again. About that time I gave up and just watched the endings on YouTube – a much easier task, indeed. Regardless, autosaves are awesome.
Allow the game to be started without the need to navigate through multiple levels of menus
Here’s something that I touched on a little bit in my article on game title screens. MLB 2K12 actually does a good job of getting players to start quickly…once the main screen finally loads. Braid is a good example of a game that bypasses the main menu entirely and drops players off right where they need to be. Grand Theft Auto IV (and possibly previous titles?) is a bigger title that does the same thing. If I have a save game, yes, 99.9% of the time I want to continue that game, so just do it!
Allow all narrative and instructions to be replayed
It took me years to finish Final Fantasy VIII because I could never remember what I was doing last. A few weeks would pass between play sessions, and I would totally forget where I was going, what my goals were. If only there were an option to replay the last narrative, if not all narratives up to this point.
Here’s a sad story told by one of my co-workers. The (first) climax of Red Dead Redemption happens in the mission “And The Truth Will Set You Free“. It features the game’s protagonist, John Marston, in a dramatic shootout, followed by Marston riding back home to see his family which has been the whole point of the game. And on your journey home, you’re treated to some background music with vocals for basically the first time in the game. The unexpected music for the long ride home adds up to probably the most touching, dramatic, emotional scenes that I’ve ever played in a game.
So my co-worker had heard about this scene, and was pretty excited to hear the music start playing. Unfortunately, he accidentally dismounted his horse, which inexplicably causes the music to stop (as does accessing the pause menu). And there’s no restarting it. There’s no way, short of re-playing the whole mission, to enjoy this piece of video game cinematic awesomeness first hand. Maybe this doesn’t exactly count as replaying a cutscene or a narrative, but the point remains to help all gamers experience the fruits of their labor on their own time, even if they want to watch it three or four times over.
Provide an option to adjust contrast
Here’s another complaint that I have with Red Dead Redemption, among other titles: it’s just too dark. I know that a lot of games try to go for that realistic and “moody” effect, because if you were in a dark cave, you wouldn’t be able to see anything right? I got turned around a number of times in the upstairs of dimly-lit houses in Red Dead Redemption, having no clue where I am because it’s too dark to see my character much less doors in and out.
It’s become one of my staples of setting up a new action/adventure title – go into the settings and jack up the contrast so I can actually see something. Maybe it’s not 100% realistic, but you know what, I don’t move around with a joystick and a TV in the real world either.
Games that don’t offer contrast options force me to mess with the settings on my TV – and that means when I’m watching Wheel of Fortune, all I see is a big white blob for Pat Sajak. And nobody wants that. This is a control that games absolutely should implement; don’t make me mess up my TV settings, for Pat’s sake!
The Game Accessibility Guidelines site is an amazing resource for game developers. In this article, I’ve selfishly focused on things that would make my life easier. At the end of the day, I may complain about some parts of your game, but I can still experience it. But there are a huge number of gamers out there that implementing these suggestions offers the difference between a game that they can experience, and one they have to sit out. And that is truly a sad story.
What do you think about the guidelines? Are there any pet peeves of yours that are on the list?
Many of those “intermediate” guidelines are quite hard to implement. I don’t think they’re worth the trouble in most cases unfortunately.
There’s a problem with adjusting the contrast in-game: colors becomes washed out. I tried it with Demon’s Souls and in the end I reverted back to the default value because it looked worse. Besides, my TV saves display settings for each input independently so it wasn’t an issue.
I turn brightness all the way up on most titles these days – especially shooters. Nothing pisses me off more than the level of darkness they impose for mood. I never adjust my TV because I’m just too damn lazy for that.
The only thing that really struck me from the guidelines was the inclusion of handicapped play testers. If you actually have a first-hand experience (or perhaps it’s second-hand in this case) I have reasonable faith that the right adjustments will be reached for that particular game/experience without going through that exhaustive list.