“Instead, the team approached him from a playing perspective to see what situations or controls would benefit from the shortcut,” Zorrilla says. “Some situations could be solved by offering switches (like opening the wheel of a weapon or aiming), but successive pressures like jumping and hitting with a weapon or holding like a sail were good candidates for single pressure.”
In addition to the challenges of implementation switching against holding in specific actions, the developers were faced with the task of meeting the specific needs of each individual with a disability. Although more studies adopt accessibility practices, functions and settings can only accommodate that much. Each disability is unique and people with the same disability can have large differences in strength, sight, or hearing. As a result, Insomniac Games devised a new function specifically for Ratchet & Clank which could help alleviate physical and cognitive exhaustion.
“Initially we talked about how to solve each individual situation, which eventually turned into a global Game Speed option that can be used in any situation, and shortcuts seemed like the best way to give the player control over speed and time. “says Zorrilla. “This created a new challenge because adding three different game speeds meant they all needed to be tested, and both our development support team and PlayStation Studios QA were key to that.”
These accessibility initiatives are not exclusive to the PlayStation. Both Microsoft and Nintendo have hardware, software, or documentation to encourage the inclusiveness of internal studies. For example, in 2020 the Xbox launched Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAG) to encourage consistency across all platforms. While not necessarily a rigid checklist that must be strictly adhered to, this list allows developers to continuously monitor game accessibility performance through each stage of development, ensuring that their games do not lack key features. For the PlayStation, studios and developers have their own iteration of the guidelines, with the first version created in 2015. Mark Friend, a leading user researcher at CEE, acknowledges that guidelines like these not only raise awareness, but allow for consistent availability.
“The original document was an important moment because it helped put accessibility in front of people at a time when it was a much rarer topic of conversation in game development and provided a great resource for developers who wanted to know more about the topic,” says a friend. “It was also important for us to work with the developers at PlayStation Studios to inform the latest versions of the accessibility guidelines, to make sure that what we were outlining was achievable.”
And with Ratchet & Clank as proof, accessibility features can be incredibly unique to a particular game, despite coming from the same studio.
“Accessibility in game development has more than just following the proposed guidelines,” says Friend. “While there are generally best practices that can be transferred between games, every game released by PlayStation Studios is different, so our goal is to always ensure that support for our studios and their games is adjusted. Our proposed guidelines provide an excellent starting point for knowledge, but we also want to ensure that our studios are free to explore new and innovative ways to make their games more accessible. “
You don’t need an AAA studio with hundreds of employees to add accessibility features to the game. Regardless of the size of the development, accessibility is best addressed at the beginning of the project. Friend also advises developers to include players with disabilities as testers to ensure that these features and options work for them.
In addition to the logistical aspect of designing the game, the inclusion of features and accessibility options also comes from the commitment to allow everyone to play. No one should be excluded because of their abilities, and as Sam Thompson argues, hearing directly from people with disabilities how useful and important accessibility can be is not only rewarding, but also insuring developers.
“Empathy is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. With it, you can achieve more than you ever thought possible. It’s absolutely amazing how effective and motivating it can be when members of the A11Y community stop by the studio to share their perspectives and inspire your team to see things differently. You will be amazed at how much of an impact this will have on your team. “
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