Weekly Links #254: game accessibility edition



Hey, everyone. I had little to do this week but throw myself into work, for what little it's worth. And the first thing on my plate was to finally redo the homepages for Adventure Prompt and Ramus 2. Which took some thinking, but came out damn well, and enjoyed a warm reception. Now all that's left is to make download packages for both of them. Got many more ideas, but first the basics. And then there's my latest pet project, that I'm going to announce soon, either later today or else tomorrow. Spoiler: it's yet another scripting language.

In the way of news, this week we have in-depth coverage of the French Interactive Fiction Competition (in English, natch), via fiction-interactive.fr. It's fun to try and spot the unique flavor of the French school in a very well written analysis. In unrelated news, Gamasutra has a collection of quotes on accessibility from 2018. See also the extended news below, but one in particular struck a chord with me:

"If games didn't have subtitles, I wouldn't know English today, so yeah."

Many more are good though, so be sure to skim it.

As for extended commentary, there's a detailed review of Hyper Light Drifter, new regulation regarding accessibility in games, and a now-forgotten Star Wars MMO that once meant something. Details after the cut.

On Tuesday, among other things, Hardcore Gaming 101 tackles a modern indie game, something they don't do often. This time it's Hyper Light Drifter, one I knew little about, so this is welcome. And it turns out to be a 2D action-adventure influenced by classics such as the early Zeldas. Amusingly, the author asks why this genre of game isn't nearly as popular today as, say, Metroidvanias, only to go on and demonstrate exactly why: Zelda-likes are brutally difficult and full of annoyances. They require excellent reflexes and the patience of a kid who has little else to do besides play, and few games to choose from. People who grew up with them may look back through rose-tinted lens. They may even remember enough to play them well, if their fingers are still nimble enough at the ripe age of 35, or even 40. I have neither advantage, so to me the problems are all too obvious.

A good game designer may be able to correct some of the problems, as pointed out in the article. Most however are probably inherent to the genre. And that's too bad.

Via Sage from Itch.io we learn details about new US legislation that concerns anyone selling games in that market. Specifically, the CVAA as it's called mandates that in-game communication systems must be accessible to people with disabilities. It covers chat and messaging over a network (both voice and text), so only games with such a feature need to comply. But this can also mean a MUD for instance! Fortunately those are probably accessible already.

I mention this for two reasons: one, there's been some amount of fear surrounding the issue, apparently, and it's worth pointing out that requirements for compliance are both flexible and reasonable. Nobody's asking you to implement a mind-reading interface at this time! Second, because accessibility in games is already a concern in recent years, for anyone who cares about their fellow humans. That one of the world's largest markets now regulates one facet of it shouldn't be more than a reminder to double-check if we're doing everything right. But then, we're talking about an industry where often you can't even read the website unless you have a browser released yesterday, with Javascript enabled, good eyesight and the ability to track text that's flying around the screen like a bat caught in daylight.

Don't be that kind of developer. The rest is just a bit of extra work.

On Friday, PC Gamer posts a retrospective of Star Wars Galaxies, and it's an incredible story of cascading game design failures. Well, at least they tried, and that matters; the success of EVE Online proves that simulationist, player-driven MMORPGs can work. They're just really tricky to get right. Or did you think the genre shifted towards controlled, theme-park experiences because developers somehow enjoy churning out an endless stream of handcrafted content, at huge costs?

Worse, Star Wars itself is a tricky franchise to use in games. For one thing, everyone wants to play a Jedi, and Jedi are ridiculously overpowered by design. Which works great when they're the heroes of a story, fighting almost alone against overwhelming odds. Exactly what you need in a single-player game like Jedi Knight or Knights of the Old Republic (notice the pattern). Not so much in a MMO with hundreds of thousands of players at the very least. In one of those? Maybe if you focused on the exploits of fighter pilots and fleet commanders. But space shooters and strategy games in the franchise also tend to be single-player.

Go figure.

This concludes the first month of 2019 in gaming news. See you!


Tags: indie, game design, accessibility, mmo, rpg, interactive fiction