Andrew James, Brand Manager of Life is Strange: True Colors explains how the central new game mechanics – the use of the emotions of others through the use of luminous, colored auras – was made accessible to the broadest possible audience.
The power of empathy
Alex Chen, the new protagonist, can see, hear and experience the strong emotions of others as if they were her own – a supernatural, supernatural force. The Deck Nine Games team knew from the start that this ability would manifest itself in the form of colored auras around NPCs.
The look and feel of the game’s four emotional auras – blue for sadness, red for anger, purple for fear, and gold for joy – have changed over and over again over the course of development, but never strayed far from the team’s creative vision.
The developers also focused on the question of how a game that uses color as an emotional narrative can best support and involve players with color vision impairment (CVD).
An accessible range of colors
There are approximately 300 million people worldwide who are color blind and have one of the three main types of CVD. The team developed a number of three specific, customizable filters that can be found in the Accessibility menu and cover the main types:
- Deuteranopie: A filter that makes it easier to distinguish green tones from red tones.
- Protanopia: A filter to better distinguish between red and green tones.
- Tritanopia: A filter that makes blue and yellow easier to distinguish.
During optimization, players can see examples of the filters in action in all four auras and adjust the strength of the filter to suit their personal taste. They can also be adjusted at any time during the game.
Of course, improving the accessibility of the auras wasn’t just about the filters. Other aspects of the accessibility of the colors also included the development of the unique texture design of the auras so that they can also be better distinguished from one another in grayscale.
Create nova moments for everyone
This is especially true of the “hero auras” players will interact with during the key emotional scenes of Alex’s journey – scenes that begin with what the team calls “nova moments”: moments when the strength of emotion is so strong that the world around Alex deforms to reflect the character’s inner emotional reality.
Scenes like the one in which Alex has to help Ethan overcome his fear in a frightening and life-threatening situation, or when she has to find out the real cause of Steph’s grief so that she can help her heal.
This is where the characteristic properties of the various auras become most evident – such as the dark, winding tendrils of fear or the pulsating, ocean-like waves of sadness.
The user interface also plays a role in every moment of power: the interaction symbol changes its style to show the respective emotion when Alex approaches and triggers her abilities.
With all of these ingrained narrative resources inherent in the story of Life is Strange: True Colors, it was even more important to make sure the experience was accessible to everyone.
Rebeccah Bassell, Producer at Deck Nines Games notes that accessibility isn’t just the work of a single department that only comes in after the rest of the game is done:
“It’s a multi-discipline effort from the start, from art direction to the user interface to programming and of course QA testing,” she explains. “As with anything in a game, it is the result of the entire team pulling together to deliver something that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Testing accessibility during a pandemic
Traditionally, the near-finished code is tested by small groups of focus testers around the world to ensure that everything works as planned, with the audiences for whom it is intended. Since this option was out of the question due to the strict lockdown, the teams turned to one of Square Enix’s greatest resources – its own staff.
Developing better accessibility is a primary concern for all development teams around the world, as Améliane Chiasson, Accessibility Lead at Square Enix West, confirms:
“The Accessibility Department is new to Square Enix West and we’re still learning and working on making games more accessible. We were therefore very pleased that we were able to support the Life is Strange: True Colors team. But we are also aware that there is still a lot of work ahead of us. These insights are very important and will help us in our mission to make our experiences more inclusive. It’s a journey and we are very grateful for our community of disabled and non-disabled players who take the time to give us feedback and report barriers. “
Life is Strange: True Colors – Making Empathy Accessible:
But our accessibility options don’t end with color filters. From customizable subtitles, text sizes, and fonts to being able to adjust the speed at which you have to make temporary dialogue decisions, there are many aspects of the game that can be tweaked.
Create accessibility beyond the game
Working with the Xbox team, we researched even more ways to add accessibility to the game. Speaking to Katy Jo Wright, Gaming for Everyone Director at Xbox, she shared her vision of how developers like Deck Nine Games can have a huge impact on so many avid gamers:
“When we consciously focus on those who cannot experience the joy of a game and try to find solutions for them, we often inadvertently open a door for many others who want to step in and join in,” she says. “This inclusive and accessible design is a core tenet of Team Xbox because we want to provide experiences that anyone can play. It’s always inspiring to see teams like the creators of Life is Strange: True Colors go beyond regulatory compliance to create an enjoyable experience for all players. “
At the end of the development process, the game was subjected to the Microsoft Game Accessibility Testing Service (MGATS) to receive detailed feedback on all accessibility features. Anita Mortaloni, Director of Accessibility at Xbox, also spoke about the possibilities of the program and what it means for more and more accessible games in the future:
“It’s now so easy to get quality accessibility feedback from both an expert and players with disabilities, all with the common goal of making titles more accessible to our communities. We want to make it known that our program and other similar programs exist, and we are pleased that more and more developers are making use of it. “