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Accessible Video Game Options Menu

Project Type

Accessibility Review & Design (Group Class Project)

Role

Research & Design

Duration

6 Weeks

For this project, our team of 5 wanted to understand the barriers that players with visual impairments face when playing indie video games. We chose to use the game A Short Hike to study how indie games use options menus and how they can be improved on a budget for accessibility.

 

We learned that it is possible for indie games to design and test for accessibility by looking at what big-budget games have done well, and by building rapport with users with consistency, patience, and respect.

Credit: A Short Hike by

Adam Robinson-Yu

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Context

Video games have a wide range of users, each with their own abilities and accessibility needs. With smaller teams and tighter budgets, indie game studios do not have the resources that larger companies have to research accessibility. 

A Short Hike is "a little exploration game about hiking up a mountain". Players control Claire, a bird who can run, fly, climb, dig and swim through a calm island landscape as she tries to reach the top of Hawk Peak, meeting other campers as she does so. 

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The options menu is easy to open and has great contrast against the backdrop, but has other issues to accessibility that need to be addressed. There is no discernable hierarchy to the menu screens, which layer on top of each other rather than replacing the previous screen. This makes it difficult for people with low vision to focus on the menu they are interacting with. Some labels, such as the settings for pixel size, are vague and difficult to understand. 

Research

Our initial plans included a card sort with gamers with low or partial vision loss, but our efforts at cold recruitment proved to be unproductive. We pivoted to a comparative analysis of other games’ accessibility features, and meeting with an industry expert to learn about their processes.

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Comparative Analysis

We then conducted a comparative analysis of the accessibility features of two indie games that had been praised for their accessibility features and one game from a large studio that had received high positive feedback for their features.

Eagle Island

Low-effort yet consistent community input via twitter 

Result: Informed iteration on important features, pleased users

The Last of Us II

Breadcrumbs and labeling for all options menus

 

Result: Better navigation and reduced player confusion 

Lair of the Clockwork God

Dedicated accessibility menu instead of features sorted by audio/visual category

 

Result: Players won’t have to ‘scavenge’ for features 

Card Sort

We planned to conduct a hybrid card sort of the menu options of A Short Hike. We recruited over discord and on social media, but over several weeks we were not able to recruit a single participant.

Card Sort Template

Card Sort Template

This was disappointing, but enlightening: disabled user groups have been historically left out of the design process and when they are included, their feedback may be ignored.

Without consistent rapport or compensation, our target users had no reason to engage with our studies. 

Expert Interview

To replace our card sort, we met with Ashley Papineau, User Research Analyst at Ubisoft. She was able to explain her process for testing for accessibility, what sort of design choices she makes to improve usability for disabled players, and advised us on ways we could improve the original menu design for A Short Hike.

 

Her suggestions were: 

  • Set the options menu as the introduction to the game

  • Improve hierarchy by setting the most important options first

  • Use a dyslexic-compatible sans-serif font

  • Use breadcrumb navigation for options menus

  • Edit vague or ‘funny’ labels for clarity

Redesign

Our research allowed us to pinpoint specific areas for improvement in the original menu design while ensuring the redesign complemented the casual and pixelated aesthetic of the game itself. 

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Final Design: Graphics

Theme 1: Hierarchy & Context 

We gave the page a sense of hierarchy by labelling each menu with a heading and using a ‘breadcrumb’ navigation to give players a sense of the path they took to get to the screen. We made sure it was clear which menu screen the player was interacting with. 

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Final Design: Gamepad  Controls

Theme 2: Font & Colour Contrast

We changed the font to give the menu greater readability and allow for the font to be reliably scaled up. We also included the option to increase the size of the UI. We made sure that all menu elements had a 7:1 colour contrast ratio.

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Final Design: Language

Theme 3: Additional Accessibility Features

We added a new menu screen titled ‘Accessibility’ for features that we wanted to set apart from the detailed ‘Graphics’ options. Here, we added options that allowed players to outline characters or interactable elements, select a colourblind mode that works for them, or turn on audio subtitles.

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Final Design: Accessibility

Lessons

Meaningful research with marginalized users takes time and effort. People from marginalized groups are often asked for their expertise with little offered in return. Building rapport with communities that you would like to learn from is something that has to be done on a genuine and continuous basis. 


You are (usually) not the first person to solve a problem. Being able to reach out to experts to ask them about their experiences working on similar issues and look at our design allowed us to connect to a wider pool of knowledge.

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Acknowledgements

This project was completed Fall 2021 for Accessibility and Inclusive Design at the University of Toronto iSchool, taught by Professors Catherine Tunney Braeken and Jane Motz Hayes alongside TA Adrien Petterson. My groupmates were Lauren Keum-Mi Baek, Kevin Carr, Srishti Sheshadri, and Jiayin Xu. 

A Short Hike was created by Adam Robinson-Yu and is available on PC, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Images were taken from the press kit or stills from the game. Our group loved A Short Hike and highly recommends it, but our project was not affiliated in any way with Robinson-Yu.

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