In Unseen Diplomacy you get to duck and crawl around like a secret agent, your body being the controller – but what happens if you are unable to do so? What if you find it difficult to be that physical due to having restricted movement?
We realised early on that we still wanted anyone to be able to play and enjoy the game, and turning away someone just because they are in a wheelchair or are colour blind wasn’t acceptable for us – so we worked hard to make sure that even in our jam game we would do what we could to enable everyone to have a great time.
So what did we tackle? We looked at deafness, colorblindness, and physical disability.
First was colorblindness. With 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women being colour blind, this would mean that in a week of showing the game at GameCity – around 25 people could have been colourblind. We wanted to make sure they could still play even if they had Monochromacy (could literally not see any colour).
To do this – we made sure that our doors had not just coloured feedback to say they were locked, but also symbols feedback above the doors with either an X or O on. On the switches we also had physical rockers, which were clear which position they were in with the same symbols on too. We then avoided any gameplay that required players to choose between coloured markers.
For the deaf, it was naturally part of good game design not to only rely on just audio feedback. When pressing on doors that are locked, we made the button close to the door means that it’s obvious to see it doesn’t open, as well as a negative audio beep. For the hacking sequence, we placed massive errors on the ingame screens when it’s time to change keyboard. And no instruction was audio only – everything also has text UI.
For physical disabilities, this was our hardest challenge and took up the highest proportion of our developer time when making accessible content. Most of the gameplay comes from the fun of actually crawling, dodging, running, jumping – so to a player that can’t actually do that as easily, then our levels would have been impossible for them. So, we created a set of alternative variations of levels so that if a player selected ‘Restricted Movement Mode’ when starting the game, the lair that’s generated for them would be playable for them.
Some of the levels were taken out completely – such as the crawling rooms – but some of the tweaks were pretty simple for the ‘Restricted Movement Mode’ variants. There’s a high ledge which players have to inch themselves around – for this we made sure the accessible version had a large enough ledge to fit a wheelchair down. For some of the laser rooms, we made sure players could still pass with good enough timing, without having to be on the floor. One room, players use tools to block lasers – for this we made a ledge at arms height, and the lasers, so that players in wheelchairs didn’t have to bend down to reach an item, and could block a laser with one hand while moving themselves under the rest. As for items – if they do drop them, pressing ‘i’ on the keyboard will make the items respawn in their original positions.
Not everyone’s disability is obvious, so just allowing the option to be decided by the player – without judgement, and not buried in option menus, means we haven’t had to make anyone feel uncomfortable and allowed all sorts to play the game. We have had plenty of ‘standing’ users use the ‘Restricted Movement Mode’, for example, John’s elderly father.
We can always improve though! We realised recently that you need two controllers to start the game as you have to have your head and both hands inside the box to begin. Obviously not everyone has two hands! So we need to work on that. Also – much of the game uses small spaces, very large spaces, and heights – all of which some people could be very afraid of. There’s still plenty more we can do with new levels and accessible content, and would love to play test with wheelchair users, so we’ll see what we can do in the future.
Hopefully this brief write up has been useful to you as a developer, just to see that with some changes it’s possible to make accessible VR content.
If you would like to buy Unseen Diplomacy, then it’s out on the 5th April for £1.99.