The Vale: Shadow of the Crown Raises Bar for Accessibility

The Vale: Shadow of the Crown is an action-adventure game that takes players through medieval-style towns in a fictional kingdom. There are missions to undertake and bandits to thwart in battle. It may sound like many other games, but Valley It has a key twist: there are no graphics. The entire game is told through audio.

The story centers on Alex, an intensely brave and blind princess, and her partner, Shepherd, and their journey to save their kingdom from destruction. There’s a title card that illustrates the main character, but the game’s visuals are largely a dark screen with animated abstract locks that change color and move when the environment changes.

It is designed to be accessible to blind or low vision players and has engaging narrative and storytelling that does not require the stereotypical storyteller. Vale’s emphasis on history and accessibility above all else is what makes it one of the most special digital experiences of 2021. And it’s just one example of how the industry is making games more accessible. for all players.

A new vision

While Valley is a milestone for accessibility, with the game even Earning a nomination at this year’s Game Awards, its creator and studio director Falling Squirrel, Dave Evans, admits that the initial impetus for creating an audio-based game was not entirely “altruistic.” Much of his work experience was writing for film and television, but he had no design background. Evans tells Tips Clear that he wanted to “specifically play with narrative and character development on a scale that he could pay for.”

a black screen with particles in the vale: shadow of the crown.

Evans traveled to Toronto and met Martin Courcelles, an accessibility consultant then working for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

“Our first conversation was essentially sitting in the cafeteria talking about a game that didn’t exist, and how they would approach it and what they would focus on,” Courcelles, who went blind at age four from retinoblastoma, told Tips Clear. .

The query went deeper than simply how to make audio sound clearer for blind and low vision gamers. There were questions about terminology, as if the blind community used words like “see” and “look” in conversation.

“We look and see in a different way, but we still do,” Courcelles said.

Audio narration

Siloing character development, actions, and narrative elements just wasn’t an option for the first Flying Squirrel game. For example, Evans created a limited amount of weapons and equipment to use as an opportunity to guide players to the blacksmith and meet his character.

Evans said that one of the most accepted forms of adaptation for people who are blind or visually impaired is audio description. But just having that feature and a storyteller wasn’t good enough.

“I wanted to be more immersive, so I really wanted everything to unfold in the moment,” says Evans. “That was the biggest challenge ever to find a way that the player could say things very naturally, express things that maybe the player couldn’t feel.”

a menu screen in the vale: shadow of the crown.

Gathering information from the blind and low vision community was vital to the development of Alex, who needed her partner’s help to navigate physical spaces, but was never put off by being blind. She was raised to believe that her disability never limited the way she experienced the world around her.

Pushing for change

SightlessKombat (who asked Tips Clear to keep his name anonymous) is a blind gamer who acts as an accessibility consultant in games. He tried Valley at various stages of its development cycle, offering feedback.

“Many times, blind characters are apparently portrayed as evil or just flat and one-dimensional,” he tells Tips Clear. Alex is not plagued with fear due to his lack of sight. In fact, it felt enriching to kill enemies who underestimate her.

“(The Vale) is very fascinating,” said SightlessKombat. “It attracts you.”

SightlessKombat, who has been blind since birth, regularly streams video games live, often with a friend. Your search for truly affordable options has not been as successful as you would have liked. He says that the experience of playing video games can be depressing. Remember trying to play Battlefield 2042 and not even being able to overcome the user agreement.

“It’s a deep frustration,” he says. “That is really the crux of the matter, because you are excluded from all these popular cultural experiences.” Some of these popular but inaccessible games include Phasmophobia, Among us, Apex legends, Y Fortnite.

the last of us part ii
Sony interactive entertainment

Last year’s groundbreaking launch of The last of us part 2Considered one of the most accessible games ever, it set a new bar, especially for AAA developers. Totally blind gamers like SightlessKombat have been able to enjoy and complete the game with little to no help. That drive for accessibility in major games continued into 2021. Recent releases like Far cry 6 Y Infinite halo go directly to the accessibility menu when players install the games for the first time. Forza Horizon 5 has on-screen interpreters for American Sign Language and British Sign Language.

Lukáš Hosnedl, another blind accessibility consultant for Valley, recognizes that making games accessible can take a lot of extra work, particularly open world games. Still, Hosnedl notes that there are simple changes developers can make to accommodate a low vision gamer.

“In general, just add some magnification, colorblind modes, high contrast,” Hosnedl said. “You don’t need to come up with several dozen additional sounds.”

What can studies do

SightlessKombat and Courcelles emphasize the need for early research into the adoption of accessibility features, even if a game is years away from completion. Hosnedl says developers should take the path Evans did and go directly to an organization that advocates for people with disabilities and get them involved. The key solution is to make sure the game creation process involves deep engagement with the community and not just a superficial introduction.

“You need to get together and talk and show them the real deal (and) how it’s done,” Hosnedl says.

SightlessKombat went one step further, urging studios to allow disabled gamers to test builds no matter how accessible the game is, whether remotely or in person. That could lead to new discoveries that push developers to add more accessibility considerations early on. Plus, games are just better when you’re looking for different perspectives.

“The more comments you have, the better your game will be because of those different experiences,” he said. “Because as much as we have the same perspectives, the fact is that we have lived differently, which then shapes our comments and opinions about what we are doing.”

Evans hopes that the combination of storytelling, character development and accessible gameplay will transport all players, sighted or not, to a place they have never been before, a place that is “more immersive and communicative.”

“Making games more accessible generally adds value to everyone’s experience,” he says.

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