Interview: Mike Ducarme of Berzerk Studio on Accessibility
A couple of weeks ago, I got to test Quebec City trio Berzerk Studio‘s forthcoming Metroidvania, Infernax. And while it transported me back to Hyrule of old and Dracula’s Castle in a way that I welcome, it also challenged me with a lack of button remapping and sensitivity sliders that I look for when I first drop into a new game. If we were back in the days when demos primarily happened on trade show floors, I would have taken the opportunity to get accessibility info right then and there. But because cons are still not a thing again in Canada, I had to get creative to get shit done. So I went over DM to Mike Ducarme, the guy at Berzerk who purports to get shit done.
Mike reiterates that the 80’s games that Infernax takes influence from aren’t always kind. In fact, more than a few of them downright fucking suck in terms of accommodating the player! Infernax will try its best to challenge the player when it comes out on February 14th, but it will also offer a fair amount of mercy as well.
Luke: For those of us with disabilities, we often don’t appreciate when games hide content behind or base achievements on difficulty level. In my time with Infernax so far, I haven’t really been able to discern how making the choice to take a casual restart will impact the experience. Could you please enlighten me?
Mike: The demo didn’t showcase it, but we did add accessibility features to the main game to help alleviate the technical platforming and help with the difficulty. In the game wizard, you can toggle them off and on. And they give you infinite jumps and invincibility. It’s not perfect, but a big part of it for us what that is needed to fit the spirit of retro games, where you’d use codes to help with harder games; like, I’ve never beat Contra without the 30 lives codes personally.
The casual mode doesn’t change the difficulty itself. It adds checkpoints in dungeons, so you don’t have to do the thing in a single go without dying. A lot of the difficulty of the game is based on knowledge and piecing that knowledge together in a single string of events. We tried to make the casual more about being lenient on that aspect, give the player more chances at trying smaller strings of events, rather than make the longer string easier. We feel it respects the player’s time and effort more than just tone it down, especially coupled with the codes mentioned previously.
Luke: How you interact with a game is always personal, but for disabled gamers, it involves a significant amount of personalization through customized captions, text speeds, colour filters and, for myself, button remapping and controller sensitivity. This wasn’t part of the Steam build I’ve been playing. Is there a menu with such options on the way?
Mike: Personalization was a big hurdle for us; it’s a retro game designed to look and feel like a retro game; and as you and I know, game design in the 80s wasn’t even player-friendly, much less mobility impaired friendly. We did talk to a few experts and tried to implement as much as we could. Controller remapping is in, we’re touching up our photosensitivity options too. We’re having a meeting about a couple of features you just mentioned in an hour, actually, but things like granular control of the UI would take us a lot longer than we can actually afford to do right; we don’t want to put something half-ass out there just to say we did if we’re going to do something, we’re going to whole ass it.
Luke: Are there any options that you think could really change accessibility that is present in Infernax? To build upon that, any options you think could be cool in the future? I think about how games featuring slow-time mechanics like Megaman 11 have really become strong accessibility features in Metroidvanias likes Infernax?
Mike: Thinking about accessibility in design is pretty new to us. For background info, we had been doing 1 button mouse games for 8 years where your only concern was to make sure nobody is having seizures before we got into console games, so I don’t think it would be right of us to say that we’ve created any game-changer, we’re new to this and we’re learning something new every day. Right now, our focus is more to make sure that we’re at least up to speed with what’s out there. I am hella interested in knowing what Megaman 11 did, though. First time I hear of it! We do want to go in having it more in.