It would appear that Insomniac Games is quite committed to having their forthcoming entry into the Ratchet & Clank franchise inducted into the accessible video games masterclass.
The list features a handful of difficulties, which is often the first level of Accessibility found in games, but it also features several visual, auditory and tactile options that disabled gamers have come to expect from their virtual experiences. And Insomniac Games is inviting people to reach out with any ideas they feel are mission or could use more clarity.
Now, I wanted to take some time to break the list down for those who are maybe less experienced with judging accessibility options in video games. I’m going to be doing so in terms of four categories: cognitive, visual, auditory and tactile.
Let’s start with cognitive:
Cognitive abilities perceive how we play
As the title reads, cognitive accessibility settings help a user understand or perceive a game in a way that is free of barriers.
Difficulty modes are sort of a base for cognitive abilities. Not all of us can juggle fighting 12 minions at once or a boss that hands us our ass on a silver platter after one hit. That can be totally overwhelming! This is a large part of why lower difficulties in games do things like thin out the number of enemies and lower damage outputs.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has the following difficulty settings:
- Rookie Recruit – Perfect for beginners.
- Rebel Agent – A balanced choice for more experienced players.
- Resistance Leader – For those who seek a greater challenge.
- Renegade Legend – For those who wish to battle the most brutal foes.
Notice how the wording seems to suggest that the challenge is coming from the brutality of foes. That’s pretty standard in terms of difficulty settings. A big point I would like to suggest to you is that disabled gamers aren’t asking to play a different game than non-disabled players. We want to fight the same foes because that connects us to the overall experience we can all share. Sometimes, we just want the grace not to be overwhelmed! Or if you’re me, you don’t want a single muscular spasm to be your end, but I’ll get more into that in the “tactile” section.
Something I found interesting in terms of cognitive accessibility here is the ability to turn off tutorials. Tutorials are an aspect of gaming that a lot of forward-thinking developers are paying mind to these days. I am sure many of your reading this can appreciate that having hours-long tutorials either at the start or throughout games can be as annoying as tutorials for mobile app gacha games.
Seriously though, tutorials are an interesting aspect of accessibility because some disabled gamers are asking for the ability to turn them off and figure out things at their own speeds and others one them to pop up frequently, say a how to double jump reminder or a button association on how to parry a forthcoming enemy attack. Having tutorial and reminder options is such an important part of cognitive accessibility.
Picking settings for the camera is one of those times where there’s intersectionality between ability types. First off, here are Insomniac Games’ camera control options
- Invert Up/Down – Inverts Up and Down on the camera controls.
- Invert Left/Right – Inverts Left and Right on the camera controls.
- Invert Flight Up/Down – Inverts Up and Down on the flight camera controls.
- Invert Flight Left/Right – Inverts Left and Right on the flight camera controls.
- Flight Stick – Choose whether to use the Left or Right Stick for flight controls.
- Camera Sensitivity – Adjust the camera control sensitivity. Lower settings move the camera more slowly, while higher settings move the camera more quickly.
While most of these appear to help purely visually, it’s important to remember that we all think differently when it comes to direction. So that’s how things like inverted controls promote cognitive accessibility.
Game speed options
A really interesting one I was surprised to find is the option to play the game at 70%, 50% or 30% of normal speed. Anybody who’s ever tried to learn music or language by ear can tell you how important speed is to cognitive ability. This is a really cool feature that has really only appeared in the most accessible of games so far.
Let’s move onto visual options, shall we?
Visual options often inform how we see accessible gaming
First off, I am sorry for the pun! It’s baked right into the title, video games are a visual source of communication and entertainment. So having the option to make it easy for you to see is key for the growing number of gamers with vision-related issues. Let’s break down some of what Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is going to do.
The standard things like HDR, brightness and contrast options will be making appearances, but Insomniac Games is also following the incredible work studios like Naughty Dog and Ubisoft have done in providing visual accessibility through things like shaders. For those who don’t know what those are, they are outlines and colour patterns intended to help players with less visibility to identify the worlds we immerse ourselves in when we game. Here’s a great example of shading from Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II.
- Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will have several shaders present to help you see the world in solid colours. They include:
- Contrast Options – Enable various shader and high contrast options to help with visibility. Use presets or customize each setting individually. High Contrast Background – Enable a high contrast background for assistance with the visual clarity of some elements.
- Hero Shader – Apply a solid single-colour shader on the Hero to improve visibility.
- Enemy Shader – Apply a solid single-colour shader on the Enemy to improve visibility.
- Interactable Shader – Apply a solid single-colour shader on interactable elements to improve visibility. This includes weapon vendors, traversal objects, Speetles, health and ammo crates, and computer consoles.
- Hazard Shader – Apply a solid single-colour shader on hazards to improve visibility. This includes explosive crates and other things that may cause damage.
- Collectible Shader – Apply a solid single-colour shader on collectible items to improve visibility. This includes items like Raritanium, Spy Bots, and Gold Bolts.
How many visual effects you have in your game goes a long way to visual accessibility. When you have trouble perceiving movement, things like screen shakes and depth of field can be extremely disorienting. But for those with colour blindness and troubles with contrast, settings like chromatic aberration and the ability to add film grain can make it much easier to keep an eye on the objective. These are all settings Insomniac Games will be offering. Here’s some more on them:
- Motion Blur – Adjust the blurring effect created by camera motion and fast-moving objects. Lower settings have less blur, while higher settings have more apparent blur.
- Depth of Field – Turn ON or OFF the blurring effect for objects that are out of focus with the camera. When enabled, the farther away an object is from the camera’s focusing point, the less sharpness in detail it will have.
- Chromatic Aberration – Enable Chromatic Aberration. Provides a filmic effect where colours appear slightly shifted and out of focus at the image’s corners.
- Film Grain – Adjust the intensity of the film grain visual effect. The 0 setting is the lowest and the 10 setting is the highest.
- Fullscreen Effects – Turn ON or OFF fullscreen visual effects during gameplay such as lens flare, heat shimmer, on-camera rain droplets, and gas effects.
- Screen Shake – Turns camera shake ON or OFF during gameplay.
The HUD system in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is getting several cues and colour options to improve visual accessibility. This is, of course, great for people with vision issues, but it also goes back to cognitive abilities in helping to guide you and prompt you as to when something can be interacted with in the world. Once again, here’s a great example from The Last of Us Part II.
It would appear that Insomniac Games is aiming to do the same with the following HUD options:
- Waypoint Display – Display Waypoints on screen with a button press or always on.
- Rift Tether Prompts – Display icon button prompts on Rift Tethers.
- Icon and Prompt Size – Set the size of in-world waypoints, icons, and prompts.
- UI Parallaxing – When turned OFF, Heads-Up Display (HUD) and Pause Menu elements will stay in place on-screen.
- Emphasis Text Colour – Set the colour for emphasized text.
- Aim Arc Colour – Sets the colour of the arc indicator for throwables and weapons.
- Target Arc Colour – Sets the colour of the arc indicator for throwables/weapons when highlighting a target.
Now, let’s move onto audio because for those hard-of-hearing, tweaking audio settings makes the difference when it comes to true immersion and missing out.
Don’t be Pokemon Sword and Shield
Game Freak was forced to defend itself from the ire of many Pokemon Sword and Shield fans when they decided to hide audio controls behind an item in-game that took an amount of progress to get and could also totally be missed. Don’t do that! It’s a terrible game design that will anger people. If you need evidence of this, look at the edit this Redditor made to their post about this. RIP to the inbox!
In many cases, an audio menu and narration menu should be the first menus you are met with upon starting a game.
While I have yet to confirm with Insomniac Games about this, there appear to be several auditory options present in the menu including:
- Master Volume – Adjust the overall volume of the game.
- Music Volume – Adjust the volume of the game’s music.
- Speech Volume – Adjust the volume of the game’s dialogue.
- SFX Volume – Adjust the volume of the sound effects (SFX) while in-game.
- UI Volume – Adjust the volume of the sound effects (SFX) while in the game’s menus.
- Midnight Mode – Reduce the range between the quietest and loudest sounds. Not available when Audio Output Device is set to Headphones.
- Controller Speaker- Allow certain sounds to play through the controller speaker.
- Controller Speaker Volume – Adjust the volume of the audio that plays through the controller speaker.
Let’s get to tactile accessibility and call it a day!
Touching on how we physically feel games
Rad, another sick pun! Honestly, tactile accessibility is my domain. As a person with persistent muscle spasms, I often find myself needing things like snap-to aim assist, hold button inputs and lowered drag on my sticks. However, tactile accessibility can go as far as allowing you to control everything with one hand. Take Playground Games’ Forza Horizon 4, which allows players to totally customize up to 5 control profiles and even drive one-handed with a controller.
Insomniac Games has put a great deal of attention into how those with tactile challenges like myself can modify combat and traversal as well as button remapping – often the most crucial of tactile accessibility in games. As someone with frequent loss of control due to spasms, I’m thrilled to see the ability to toggle falling off ledges. This is an element of platforming that I struggle greatly with!
There’s also a hefty selection of automatic settings that can be applied to flying, shooting and traversing that is key for those with less dexterity or muscle tone, which is great to see! the ability to map all traversal options to a single button is a huge addition to the Ratchet & Clank Series because traversal in these games’ landscapes has always been vital and having the ability to make this possible with a single button will help a lot of players who don’t have the dexterity for multiple inputs.
Here’s a rundown of tactile options in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart:
- Default – Weapons fire depending on weapon type. May require button taps, holds, and/or releases.
- Hold – Weapons fire repeatedly on the button Hold. Slow firing, low ammo weapons such as grenades will remain Single Fire.
- Toggle – Weapons fire repeatedly when toggled on and will continue firing until toggled off. Slow firing, low ammo weapons such as grenades will remain Single Fire.
- Aim Mode – Sets the Aim action as either toggled on/off or a button hold.
- Default – Automatically adjusts the camera speed and reticle to help keep the target in the center of the screen.
- Strong – Increased aim assist.
- Auto Aim – Turns the camera towards the nearest enemy when firing.
- Lock On – Automatically targets and locks onto an enemy when aiming.
- Melee Mode – Sets Melee action as either toggled on/off or a button tap.
- Weapon Wheel Mode – Sets Weapon Wheel action as either toggled on/off or a button hold.
- Off-Screen Ledge Guard – Prevents inadvertently falling off on-screen ledges.
- Auto Glide – Automatically glide whenever you’re in the air.
- Hoverboot Auto-Pump – Automatically pumps to max speed when using the Hoverboots.
- Sprint/Hoverboot Mode – Sets Hoverboot action as either toggled on/off or a button hold. Functions as Sprint before Hoverboots are acquired.
- Swing Mode – Sets SWING action as either toggled on/off or a button hold.
- Speetle Boost Mode – Sets Speetle Boost action as either toggled on/off or a button hold.
- Flight Assist – Automatically levels out during flight sequences.
- Simplified Traversal – Moves all traversal actions to a single button input. This includes Rift Tether, Swingshot, Phantom Dash, and Hoverboots.
- Controller Remapping – Fully Customize your control scheme or choose between presets.
- Show Objective – Press to show your objective and waypoint icons.
- Weapon Quick Select – Equip the weapon assigned to this shortcut. Weapons can be assigned to the shortcut buttons via the Weapons Menu.
- Melee Combo – Press to perform a 3-hit melee combo.
- Melee Slam – Press to jump and then slam down with your melee weapon.
- Melee Throw – Press to throw your melee weapon.
- Auto Glide – Press to toggle ON the ability to automatically Glide whenever you’re in the air. Press again to toggle OFF.
Vibration Setting and Adaptive Triggers:
- Experiential – All vibrations are enabled; feel everything from the wind blowing through your hair to the gravel underneath your feet.
- Functional – Only vibrations that provide useful cues for gameplay are enabled: taking damage, collecting health or ammo, etc.
- Off – Controller vibration is disabled.
- Vibration Intensity – Adjust the overall intensity of controller vibrations.
- Adaptive Triggers
- Experiential – Feel vibration and resistance on the L2 and R2 buttons to match the action of the game.
- Functional – Lowers L2 and R2 button resistance and disables L2 and R2 button vibration.
- Off – L2 and R2 button vibration and resistance are disabled.
Sony’s commitment to accessibility
There’s been a real push with the big console makers over the past couple of generations to ensure that there’s greater accessibility built into the base systems. As a gamer with a physical disability, I’ve always used sliders and remapping for controls, and they’ve always been great. But it’s great to see that cognitive accessibility options like controlling tutorials, highlights and prompts and difficulty settings catching up. It’s important as a designer to think in terms of all your senses stretching to the visual medium of gaming. There’s also been a large focus on leading by example when it comes to accessibility options in games produced by their first-part partners. I hope that this list has convinced you that studios like Insomniac Games can create for larger player bases. It doesn’t have to stop there and there is much work to be done. Studying lists like this one is a great way to inform all the ways we create and play. Here’s hoping more studios take the approach Insomniac Games does by communicating with disabled gamers to make them a part of the action.