Swift Spotlight: How accessibility and design impact play

Aardvark Swift speaks to INT/NIGHT’s Craig Allen on why UI design must be considered early on and is at the core of making games more accessible. This article was created in collaboration with Aardvark Swift

There’s a lot that goes into game design. Sure, the moment-to-moment gameplay needs to be fun, but if the user interface is garish or convoluted, the player might not make it as far as that. Ensuring that the player understands what they’re doing and where they are going within a game is half of the battle. A finely tuned map, heads-up display and menu all contribute to a positive experience that is more than the sum of its parts.

UI is ideally considered from the start of development. “When a UI Designer is brought in too late, they’ll often be faced with many legacy issues already embedded in the game. This leads to a stream of bug-fixing instead of mapping out a clear path and creating a streamlined experience,” says Craig Allen, UI Designer for INT/NIGHT. Working through historic issues can be a real headache and will prove troublesome to any optimisation efforts. The user interface is how the player accesses and interacts with the game, and is the embodiment of accessibility. But how does the video game industry handle accessibility, taking into account things such as visual impairments when it comes to UI design?

“If a game requires a few colour-coded elements, it’s fairly easy to create a small palette of colours which can still be distinguishable to a colour-blind person. Beyond this, using heavily contrasting colours and shades can really help many sight-impaired players.”

There are a number of things to consider when it comes to legibility for people with differing conditions.What may not be obvious, is how much thought and care can go into other areas of UI, such as font selection.

“Dyslexia-friendly fonts should always be used. There are no strict rules on whether a font is or isn’t dyslexia friendly, it’s simply a few things to consider when choosing a font,” explains Allen.

When questioned as to what stage accessibility is actively considered for certain conditions, Allen replied “sadly, very late.” The increasing prevalence of accessibility patches are a welcome addition to the dev-cycle. Implementing these early on or building these systems around the core game from the outset is what we need to be working towards as an industry.

This push for accessibility won’t end at just support for sight and hearing impairment, the physical limitations of gamers will have to be considered.

“Things like button-mashing and gestures will either have to be phased out or accessible alternatives will have to be offered. VR could be a great opening for advancements in this field,” recommends Allen. Big inroads have been made in recent years thanks to charities such as GamesAid and Special Effect, but there’s still work to be done!

There’s a number of features that are distinctly lacking in the UI accessibility field, closed captions being one of them. “Closed captions (where sound effects are included in the subtitles) are something that can be very easily added, but very rarely are. Games rely heavily on audio cues to guide or warn the player, but these are lost to the hard of hearing or anyone who simply needs to play with the sound muted.”

We’ve covered a lot of potential shortfalls, but what is it that makes UI design great? “A good UI shouldn’t patronise or insult the player’s intelligence. Players aren’t stupid, and don’t need to be constantly reminded how to left click the mouse or press the A button.” Maintaining that barrier of shepherding the player too closely can actually prevent them from learning the game and can lead to frustration. Competent and engaging UI design is a careful balance, and one that can only be refined by rigorous playtesting, a solid plan from the start, and by weaving inclusion throughout.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer, joining the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can regrettably be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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