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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has become a foundation for new horizons to open up, and one player has become a driving force for lead gameplay designer Emilia Schatz. At the same time as redefining the role of accessibility in the game, the studio received a letter from an Uncharted 2 player who has been facing some difficulties with finishing the game. It was at the place where your task is to press a button repeatedly for a period of time in order to move further. “They were able to play all the way to that point and then they were blocked from finishing the game,” Emilia told the The Verge.

It was the fuel for the engine to move on, and the idea of accessibility in games reared its head, though not too fast. “In Uncharted 4, our accessibility options were actually pretty sparse,” says Schatz. “But we got a lot of community praise for it, and felt like we had a huge success with a very small amount of things that we did.” Naughty Dog chose not to give up and continued adapting its next game.

The Last of Us Part II is one of the most eagerly awaited games of 2020 and the most promising title from Naughty Dog. The story of the game takes place in an alternative, post-apocalyptic Seattle with the challenging and cruel world offering tense gameplay and a free-hand combat style. If there’s a history of gaming book written in the future, this game will definitely find a place on its pages. But due to the massive PlayStation 4 audience, the game should appeal to all people, providing them with different options of accessibility. Right now, The Last of Us Part II can offer to cross the world by sound, or zoom in on the screen if you can’t find an object. And the list of options is not finished yet.

The reason why the company is providing all the accessibility measures in the game is with the aim to engage players with the development process and encourage them continue playing and not get stuck at a difficult moment. According to Schatz, developing accessibility was intended as a clean-up job, removing barriers that can prevent players from finishing the game. “It’s not about dumbing down a game or making a game easy. What do our players need in order to play the game in parity with everyone else?”

If you were curious, you’d find around 60 various accessibility settings in the game’s menu attached to different sectors of the game: controls, visual aids, audio clues, navigation and traversal, and combat. There are more common settings, such as ability, to adjust the size of the UI or adapt the subtitles for color blind people. You can also find more advanced accessibility features; the text-to-speech feature which allows you to reproduce everything that’s happening on the screen, menus, the notes Ellie picks up during her journey, audio signals notifying players about a hidden item, and the place you should interact according to the plot. The Last Of Us Part II has also got an Uncharted 4 feature, so if you have low-vision you can switch on the high-contrast mode to transform the colors on the screen into light grey, and turning enemies into red and your allies into the blue. A touchpad on your DualShock controller can now zoom the picture on the screen in order to see objects closer.

Game designer Matthew Gallant discussed how the team could provide the project with so many options; it was a core element from the very beginning. “We absolutely had to plan these features early in production,” he told The Verge. “It was absolutely critical.” 

Such features as text-to-speech, fully remappable controls, and the high-contrast mode couldn’t have been implemented as an afterthought because you can’t insert a framework into the body. “We couldn’t have done this if we hadn’t, from the outset, said ‘This is a priority,’” he explained.

2017 was the year when searching for a hurting point began. Naughty Dog, together with accessibility advocates like Brandon Cole, entered the conference and conducted a mass interview of other developers and players. After processing the outcome, the testing began. Naughty Dog leapfrogged itself with this process, finding out not only which options can be useful but also how to demonstrate them to players which led to speculation among the team.

Primarily, Naughty Dog’s team had a plan to deal with peculiar areas, allowing impaired users to hear and also covering issues around motor control. This mode should instantly make all the related features work together at a time. “Instantly, we got feedback that ‘this is not what we want,’” Gallant explains. “‘We want to be able to dig into the menus, fine-tune things, adjust things, really get into the nitty-gritty of what these options mean.’”

The work wasn’t without sacrifices as the design team had to step aside from the polished, simple menu and create something a little messier. You can glide smoothly among all of the available settings and choose whatever setting you like to make a game experience better. But developers foresaw that creating categories of settings would make it easier for people to switch on only vision or hearing options. The most challenging part was to assimilate violence and traumatic moments of The Last Of Us II with enabled settings, because it’s exactly these things that make you feel the tension. 

The Last of Us Part II will be a fresh experience and a key for many users who previously couldn’t afford to play games because of their peculiarities. For the developers, this experience will be a key for further innovations that Naughty Dog can integrate into their games.

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