Coffee Talk

Coffee Talk is a visual novel about listening to the troubles of people and helping them by serving a warm drink. It’s a game that portrays life as …

Coffee Talk

Accessibility Criteria for Video Games – Introducing the DVCM.

Version 0.0.0.1

The idea behind this document is to get a wider conversation happening about what we consider to be accessibility friendly or not in terms of video game accessibility. At time of writing, there is no guideline or regulatory body that says what a game should be labeled to inform buyers it is for a certain level of accessibility. This document is in an effort to make a dent into that space with people from all levels of accessibility and experiences coming together to organize the accessibility space better within gaming. 

Supporting its petition and sharing it around your network means that we can begin to sow the seeds of something bigger than ourselves in gaming. I believe that there should be a recognizable accessibility standard that developers should be adhering to and I want to be part of the discussion to make that possible. 

If you would like to have a chat with me about it you’ll find me in the comments and @ThisIsSpecious on Twitter.

This project is currently named DVCM.

D.V.C.M is named after the four main criteria of an accessibility review

D for Deaf & Hard of Hearing

V for Vision & Blindness and Hard of Sight

C for Cognition

M for Mobility.

The scoring system will be on a DVCM 0 – 5. 0 being the worst score and 5 being the highest. 

In order for a game to get a DVCM score, it must be able to have 1 point in each of the four categories. Ideally, these would be tiered to make a certain amount of logical sense. For example,  the next tier for subtitles [0] would be for the look and size to be changed [1]. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing

  • Audio Descriptions / Closed Captioning [0]
  • Subtitles [0]
    • Speaker labels for subtitles [1]
      • Changing look and size of subtitles [2]
  • Enemy location / proximity. [0]
    • Controller Vibration indicators [1]
  • Stealth/Hidden/Other indicators [0]
    • Controller Vibration indicators [1]

Vision, Blindness & Hard of Sight

  • Increase subtitle size
  • Increase UI size
    • Increase UI contrast
  • Colour blindness settings
  • Add screen readers
  • Add descriptions to your cutscences
  • Toggle visual effects on or off
  • Add options for adding additional contrast

Cognition

  • Highlighted words
  • Repeatable Tutorials
  • Clear Navigation markers
  • Toggling off/on motion blur
  • Allow for people to read at their own pace
  • Independent sliders for music, sound, dialogue

Mobility

  • Key remapping
    • Full key and button remapping for keyboard, mouse and gamepad
  • Toggle switch support
    • Toggles for all actions
  • Alternatives for QTEs
  • Difficulty modes
  • Inverting axis
  • Left handed option
  • No hardcoded keys
  • Sensitivity settings for all the controls and devices, be it mouse or gamepad
  • Allow both gamepad and mouse cursor controlled menus 
  • Adjustable hold times for actions
    • Or change to a single tap
  • Autorun function with toggle / hold options

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Game Accessibility Standard – A Review Visual

Example of visual checklist for accessibility reviews

As per my last post, I wanted to upload an example image of how reviewers can cover key points within a game that doesn’t necessarily require experience with the disabilities in question.

Try to remember that all of this is to aid the reader to see if there is even the first instance of accessibility tools being present in a game to begin with.

As you’re review or first preview might be the first window that a player has into seeing if the tool they require to play the game is present. These information drops will never be substitute for if these tools are any “good” but it is a way forward for us to normalise the process of this information being available.

There will always be space, scope, and voices for the people who will experience these features on the day to day and should then talk about it. Indeed, these people should be given priority. However, this is an exercise in knowledge transfer and normalisation. That doesn’t need to be any specific voice or a format.

We need to start trying to go with the purpose of getting the information out there rather than focusing on it being 100% right. Because by in large your audiences are gonna help you to dictate what information is important for them to have. Some may prefer long form round ups like Courtney Craven’s over at VG247, or a slightly more streamlined approach such as OllyWrites (tba! You’ll see soon).

It’s not going to be down to any one person to make this happen, but it is going to be down to every single person to normalise the information being shared.

https://www.change.org/p/commitment-from-gaming-journalism-outlets-to-cover-accessibility-in-games

https://myspecious.com/2020/03/29/accessibility-criteria-for-video-games-introducing-the-dvcm/

A Review Accessibility Checklist/Guide

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

This is meant to be a short guide on how to look for and present information for accessibility reviews. While covering for accessibility can seem vast and incomprehensible at first to wrap your head around. (given the fact that everyone experiences their disability differently) You will find that there are common threads to look for in order to look for in order to cover the crucial information required to help people with accessibility concerns make a choice about video game.

Accessibility concerns are most commonly categorised as follows (though this is not an extensive list):

  • Deaf & Hard of Hearing
  • Vision/Blind & Hard of Sight
  • Cognition
  • Mobility/Motion
  • Colour Blindness

Each of these have their own concerns with their criteria, but all of these have ways of easily finding key information for those who don’t suffer from said disability. While this is no substitute for peoples experiences; this is meant to be an easy way to illustrate accessibility points in standard reviews.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing

  • Audio Descriptions or Closed Captioning for events and sounds that are in game. For example; *tromp* *tromp* *tromp*
Example of Audio Description
  • Subtitles – this is the ability to see the games dialogue on screen. Subtitles can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Vision/Blind & Hard of Sight

  • Increase Subtitle Size – this is the ability for the player to be able to increase the subtitles size to a point where it is comfortable to read.
Example of Large Font options, Color Blind Modes, High Contrast UI and Menu Narration
  • High Contrast UI – this gives the player the option to change the way a menu is presented to them which can give them the ability to see menu options clearer.
Example of a before and after of applying a high contrast option for the menu’s UI

Cognition

  • Highlighted Words – this gives players the visual cue to take note of important concepts or actions
  • Clear Navigation Markers – using clear and visually distinct markers to highlight different and important aspects that the player needs to be aware of.
Example of clear visual navigation markers. The red dots illustrating enemies, the stairs icon for a stairs, blue dots for objects and green x’s for tiles.
  • Toggling On/Off of Visual Effects & Motion Blur – players who suffer from triggering of visual effects (like flashing lights for epilepsy) or motion blur that could trigger motion sickness would need the ability to switch these modes on or off.
Example of a motion blur effect from Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which at launch was not to switch on or off.
  • Tutorials – players with cognition issues may need to repeat tutorials or review specific elements of gameplay.

Mobility Options

  • Key remapping – the ability to remap any action key to a preferred key defined by the player
  • No Quick Time Events / Button Mashing / Option to help with QTE – For players with limited movement Quick Time Events can be nearly impossible to complete, having the option to skip or bypass them can be very beneficial.
Example from Spider Man of an Auto Complete Mode for Quick Time Events
  • Difficulty Modes – Having different difficulties level can make levels or battles that would take a considerable amount of physical effort for that barrier, that would be reduced.
  • Options to invert axis or have left handed modes – for those who are left handed or for those who have specific controller set ups that require the inversion.

Colour Blindness

  • Colour Blindness Options – this allows the player to change colour options to a way that makes them easier to see.

While these lists could go on and on (and this guide is not meant to be extensive) – it’s important to realise that a lot of these things reviewers would come across as they are reviewing a game. They’re in things you would interact with or come across as you progress, meaning all you would have to consider in terms of time is just keeping an eye out for these options and including them where possible.

If reviewers and critics find this helpful, please feel free to share this with your editor in order to incorporate these into your style guides.

Game Accessibility Standard

Commitment from Gaming Journalism Outlets to cover Accessibility in Games.

As we move towards a world that becomes more increasingly aware of the trials and tribulations of people with accessibility needs. Publications need to move forward in terms of their review criteria for gamers with different needs and requirements. The normalization of accessibility discussion is the key indicator to promote and encouraging change within our industry. It’s through the voices of other people’s experiences that we’ll hear of stories that would otherwise go adrift. 

I’ve heard stories of people with accessibility needs who do not know if a game will work for them on launch day because the reviewers from major outlets do not provide a review of any sort as to the ability to remap keys or increase the text size. 

We all have a passion for this industry, and could you imagine if your favorite franchise came out with a new entry into the series and they left you until months down the line for any coverage whether spend your hard-earned cash on something you don’t know if you’d even be able to play?

This is why it is imperative for major publications who are doing a public service by reviewing and critiquing games to incorporate the needs of other players into their review criteria.

https://www.change.org/p/commitment-from-gaming-journalism-outlets-to-cover-accessibility-in-games

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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX – Review

Having pumped double digits of hours into the new Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX, I can safely say beyond doubt that this is the most loving entry into the history of the franchise. It will charm old and new players alike. However, much like its first incarnation, there were several opportunities where developer Spike Chunsoft could have made moves to better plan a better player experience where it matters the most and that is within its dungeons.

Choosing your character  A selection of Pokémon appear before the character ranging from Bulbasaurs to Machops
Choosing your character.

It all begins with a Question

I remember when I picked up Mystery Dungeon for the first time. I was sitting in Eddie Rockets (Johnny Rockets to my friends in the USA) and when the game asked you to place your finger on the touchpad and begin your quest by answering a series of personality questions. I was hooked, hooked the same way I can remember being hooked playing Pokémon Crystal when the first female playable female protagonist was introduced. The same way I remember being hooked when I first started playing Pokémon Red. I knew that this would be a love affair that would last me my entire life.

Little did I know how right I would be, leaning into all entries regardless of version. A love that would lead me to buy multiple copies and keep old systems around just to go back to that world, that place. A deeper love than maybe the original Pokémon series had on me as the series was more formulaic in its iterations.

Mystery Dungeon was something special to me. Something unique. This wasn’t just a protagonist who I was aiming to be, shoes I was yet to fill. This was my own journey, with my answers, my solutions, with my friends.

So when I heard of the remake it thrilled me to bits to go back into this place, and I’m delighted to say that Spike Chunsoft (the makers of hit visual novel series Danganronpa) made a faithful recreation of the Mystery Dungeon world; with some beautiful ascetic changes.

Watercolour Masterpiece. Pikachu and Bulbasaur by a forest lush with watercolours straight from a childs book.
Watercolour Masterpiece

Watercolour Masterpiece

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX is stunningly beautiful in its depiction of the world. It’s the closest thing I’ve come to going “this is exactly what I had in my brain when I was young”. The watercolor imagery captures all that is whimsical, bright and alive in this world. It is bright without being overbearing, a brightness you could stare out at for hours without needing to avert your gaze. Thankfully there are instances in the games where you can pause for a moment to take in your surroundings. Even going so far as to have a dedicated art mode viewer on the main menus.

I’m grateful for that tiniest of little touches to take your time and appreciate the world that you’re in. It encourages a place to go and gather yourself, place your feet firmly on the ground and take your time to get to grips with everything that the game has to offer. It is deceptive in its ability to surprise you. Especially as the game starts to get into the deeper aspects of the story.

Many to one. Your team vs a load of enemies
Many to one

Not so Mysterious Dungeon

Formulaic is the kindest word that I can find to describe the gameplay, although a more accurate word would be boring. The dungeon part of Mystery Dungeon is easily the weakest part of the game. Which is unfortunate – as it is the most predominant part of the game. The premise of the mystery dungeon title is that every time you enter a new dungeon it is different from the last one you enter. This means you can only go so far to prepare for what lies ahead of you.

This has its pros and cons, naturally. Pro’s being it does keep the gameplay from being completely dragged down by the sameness of having to go through the same layouts on repeat and you will encounter different sorts of Pokemon on each run you do. Giving you more opportunities depending on rare qualities a likelihood to recruit them onto your squad for more adventures.

Cons, unfortunately, outweigh the pros. You invariably are trying to do quest markers more often than you are doing a quest to boost your rescue teams’ rank because you just can’t bear the thought of having to do any more dungeons. I was doing so many dungeons at one stage I had to take a break because I was getting headaches. That’s not the best sign in the world that your gameplay is engaging or keeps you in a rewarding loop. The items you get from dungeons are, most times, are either completely useless to your objectives or essential items that you need for dungeons; like apples.

The Kecleon Shop that you have access to in the Pokemon main square or occasionally popping up mid dungeon has an uninspired array of items. Apples are essential for longer dungeon runs, as getting hungry will invariably lead to your party fainting if you can’t get some sustenance. The shop only selling one of these a go at any one time just isn’t useful. You have to bank on the ability to either find them in dungeons as they spawn or that the shop in dungeon spawns more than just a single-use item.

What is the biggest gamble of these mystery dungeons is starting them in the first place. There are no hard and fast rules for level requirements and you will find out super quick if you are under the level required for it and with that loss comes the loss of all of your money as well as your items. So if you have had a set of equipment and are fully prepared for your dungeon you could get wiped out in one go by just having an unlucky encounter or worse, a monster house.

Silver linings in unlikely places

Auto Mode allows the player with one click to move around the dungeon
Auto mode

There are some incredible accessibility modes that more developers could do with taking on board. Some of these are unique features and others are just sheer thoughtful input created from a thoughtful development process. There is quite literally an overabundance of them. Some of which there has been no fan fair or notice through other outlets, but I can’t tell you how much these things matter for players with disabilities.

Auto Mode

Auto mode is a mode where, as the name would imply, allows your character to explore the dungeons without you needing to toggle or hold down buttons in order to explore. The auto mode only ceases when there is an enemy in sight, allowing the players to make a decision on what to do from that point on.

Move Sets

For players with Cognitive difficulties or simply new players who wouldn’t know what the best moves are. They can simply press the A button and the game will make the best decision as to what move to use in order to get the upper hands on your opponents.

Highlighted Text

One of the best things that I have seen in accessibility tools is the ability to look into highlight words by simply hovering over the words. Each is colour coded into their specific categories so they are distinct from each other at all times. This gives the player the ability to review at any time what is going on or what item will have an effect etc.

Audio Captions

Something that goes so understated in video games is the ability to read captions. Thankfully, Spike Chunsoft has been experts in their field when it comes to visual novels. All that experience comes into play with the way that they have used text in this game. Not just in the way that they have used highlight text, as per the example above. But their ability to capture sound in text to tell a story. This level of storytelling should be standard across all titles, as this is a level of care that you take to include people from all backgrounds, levels, and experiences in being able to enjoy your game fully. I can think of no higher praise than this. It is a sheer masterclass of accessibility and something that developers from all around the world can learn from.

A Storys End

Camp Corner with Wigglytuff and our protagonists
Camp Corner

There is an awful lot to like about Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX. You can feel the love of the source material from the Spike Chunsoft team and the care that went into developing this game. Using their length and breadth of experiences to breathe new life into a franchise that was feared to be left in obscurity. However, even with the quality of life improvements as well as some stellar accessibility features – it doesn’t stop the game from having some fundamental flaws where it matters the most and that is in its gameplay.

It leads to a larger conversation around remakes, how close should you stay to the sources material in order to maintain its truest self? With other remakes of significance lurking around the corner like Final Fantasy VII, I’m sure this will only be the start of the debate to come. All I know is that I’d appreciate the intention but am sad for the opportunity missed to tweak some mechanics or to expand on what made the series iconic, to begin with.

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