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Coloring Outside the Lines

Hello.

Let’s talk about game accessibility. Team Retro Yeti wants to make our game playable by as many people as possible, and that means doing some research and thinking about them as we’re working through our design process.  Research may come naturally to a group of graduate students, but it can get lost and easily forgotten in the dizzying ups and downs of game development. Looking for good ways to make a game more user friendly for all users might seem like an extensive task, and sometimes it can be, but it’s not difficult. There’s even a handy website that suggests different ways a game can be made more accessible to different populations of players – the Game Accessibility Guidelines. Some of the considerations are so easy to implement, especially if you’re in the early stages of design, that we wonder why more studios don’t follow the suggested basic guidelines to make their games more available to players with different needs.

But rather than going on a diatribe about that, let’s just focus on color blindness and what it’s like to play games when you have color deficiencies . Let’s talk about how easy it is to make our thesis game playable for colorblind players. Let’s talk about resources.

Color blindness (or color vision deficiency) is the inability to see or discern certain colors or differences in colors. (If you want to know more, you have the entire internet at your fingertips.) Color blindness affects many people, but it’s predominantly men that inherit this genetic mutation. There are many forms that color deficiencies take, but the most common is red-green. The current estimates show that 8% of  men and 0.5% of women with Northern European ancestry have the red-green defect. The condition is less prevalent in other populations. According to research from PopCap, about 10% of casual male gamers are red-green color blind. How does that translate to actual in game experiences? Take a look.

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If you were asked to complete that task and you were red green color blind, do you think you’d be able to? Similarly, if you were playing our thesis game and were told that the green squares were good and the red squares were bad, do you think you’d be able to successfully run through the level without stepping on the bad squares? We designed our tile system to use colors to distinguish between them, but we quickly realized that a change was in order.

AbilityDemo TileCB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully there’s a few resources out there that make life easier for those trying to simulate the deficiencies and ensure that their color palette is functional. The image on the right is a concept sketch that Rachel did in early development, and the image on the right is that same screenshot that’s been run through the color blind filters that Adobe Photoshop offers users as part of its color proof options. We’ve used that tool in the past to determine the color viability on other games, but it turns out there are many others out there. We tested our colors again in Color Oracle, but we quickly realized that simply testing colors in static simulation wasn’t enough. It struck us that just changing the colors was only the first step in making our tile system more user friendly- we opted to add simple symbols to identify them. This design decision was helpful, because now the symbols serve two very useful functions: they show what tile type it is, and they show the player which direction to go.

We decided to send out a call for colorblind playtesters to see if our system was functional in action in addition to our simulation efforts. The more eyes we could get on our game, the better. Changing the colors and running a simulation was fine, but what would our tile design look like in motion? We reached out to the Moran Eye Center here at the University of Utah to see if motion could affect color perception, though we’re still waiting to hear back. We didn’t want to take any chances.

Then, thanks to Ian Hamilton, who reached out on twitter, we learned something that made out lives infinitely easier: the new and improved Unreal Engine 4 we’re using actually has a built in real time colorblind simulator (and it recently became free for students!). The difference between this and the static tools we used previously is that the UE4 simulator lets us play through our levels in real time and more accurately experience them from a color blind player’s point of view. This gave us a really simple way to run through our builds to ensure that the colors work – no fuss. It never occurred to us to search for this tool, and it wasn’t readily apparent in the menu system. Here’s how you find it:

UnrealCB1

Step 1.

 

Step 2 - Electric boogalo.

Step 2 – Electric boogalo.

 

We can now say that our thesis game is color blind friendly. It sounds like a lot of work, right? All it took was changing the colors, adding some symbols, running it through static simulators, a real time simulator, and testing by a dozen wonderful playtesters. Time is increasingly short as our alpha date looms, but we made it a priority to make our game as accessible as possible. There’s a dozen people on our team and this entire process barely took any time away from the development of the game itself. It makes us really wonder…why aren’t more developers doing this sort of thing?

 

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