“Video games do more than just entertain the disabled.”
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the most accessible Uncharted game so far, and it’s largely because of one person. Last year, Josh Straub contacted Naughty Dog UI designer Alexandria Neonakis, asking to meet at GDC to talk about accessibility in games.
Straub is the Editor in Chief of D.A.G.E.R., or the Disabled Accessibility for Gaming Entertainment Rating System. The site is dedicated to reviewing and discussing video games through a lens of accessibility.
“What developers need to realize is that video games do more than just entertain the disabled,” Straub says in the video. “First of all, they provide an escape from sort of the – the doldrums of being disabled. And second of all, they provide a social space where, instead of being judged by physical appearance, we’re purely judged by the actions that we do and the things that we produce in the game.”
Straub told Neonakis about his love for the series, as well as his inability to finish Uncharted 2 because of button-mashing QTE prompts towards the end of the game. “I was faced with the reality that I had played this entire game,” he shares, “I had spent $60 on it, and I could not get any further without the help of an able-bodied person.”
After their meeting, Neonakis brought what she had learned to Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, Uncharted 4’s creative director and game director. The team began working on new features that would bring Uncharted 4’s adventure to as many players as possible. There’s now the option to hold buttons rather than press them continuously, meaning players can perform actions like lifting heavy doors or melee combat without repetitive button-mashing. Many efforts focus on the ability to play without much use of the right analog stick, such as an improved camera and lock-on assist.
“One of the big things in terms of accessibility is let more people enjoy the experience that you are also experiencing,” says UI scripter Andres Ortiz. Working on the multiplayer team, Ortiz realized the red and green team members weren’t distinguishable to people who, like him, have colorblindness. “So I asked them, ‘Can I just change it to red and blue?’ and I went ahead and changed it in code and nobody ever questioned it.”
“When I turn on a game like Uncharted,” Straub concludes, “I’m not, you know, confined to a wheelchair. I’m a swashbuckling, ne’er-do-well treasure hunter like Nathan Drake. That brief period of escape is why accessibility is so crucial, because the more games that offer that, the more people with disabilities will be able to escape and have better lives.”