One of the articles I get the most traction on is me talking about Visual Novel accessibility. I’ve gotten numerous emails about people asking me how they can make their games accessible, and I think it’s fantastic. I love seeing people make an active effort to be aware of disabled folks, and considering what it would take to make their games be playable for all sects.
I re-read this article recently, and realized while I made a basic outline for what I’ve had trouble with access wise, I didn’t give any solutions. I know a decent amount about gaming access, being a blind gamer myself, so I’d like to just highlight some things that are easily doable, that I’d like to see implemented more in games for easy access.
These things are usable not only in other games, but I know they are doable in the Ren’py engine which is widely used for creating visual novels. So if you’d like more info on how to do these things, I suggest looking at the documentation. But now, onto the bulk of the article!
The biggest gripe I had with inaccessibility is not being able to read menu items. This often is because the developer decided to use a fancy UI, with a nice image based interface, and didn’t add image tags to the images in question. So you have things like a navigational map, or even the main menu screen and the self-voicing mode in Ren’py can’t read them, because image tags aren’t set in place for the menu items. All you need to do, is make sure if you’re using a UI that is image based, that you tag each item in the menu with a description. This description can be as basic as “Load Game” or “Inventory” or it can be as in depth as describing the image in question, and also stating the menu item. But, especially if you’re planning to use a custom background or splash screen on the initial screen of your VN, and you want it to be accessible with self-voicing mode, be sure to use image tags to describe the item, or what the image looks like if you’re so inclined. The main thing is the menu item being read, descriptions of images are just a bonus.
Stylizing your game is great. It adds tons of personality and flare to a game. But if you’re planning on making your game have drag and drop features, or things you have to click, make sure that there are alternative navigation features to this gameplay. So many times I’ve dealt with a game being half accessible, only to have to have a sighted peer do something finicky because I can’t use the mouse and arrow properly to click. So if you’re going to have navigation with mice, or touchpads, be sure that when moving the navigator things read as you scroll past, or there’s just keyboard access to move around with keyboard arrows.
Text to Speech Full Functionality
The self-voicing feature in Ren’py is a fantastic feature that can be well utilized. But if you as the developer do something to make that functionality not work, you need to compensate for it. Say you have voice actors voicing the dialogue in your VN. That’s perfectly fine, but are the menu items still readable? Was there somewhere in the code that somehow broke this, perhaps using images for menu choices? It’s important to make sure if you don’t want to use self-voicing in Ren’py, that there’s some sort of text to speech alternative built into your game you can have turn on and off for players. There are a lot of resources out there to make this possible, but I’m not well versed enough in coding to know how to do it exactly. I’ve seen it done in games though, and it’s always a breath of fresh air when you don’t have to worry that somewhere along the road you’re playing a game, and it just is going to stop reading for some reason or another.
If you’re going to have sequences in your game where you have to take control of a character to walk around, navigational queues are key. I’ve seen great success with a radar and beacon system, with sort of call and response noises relative to where you are, and where you’re headed. The sound beeps louder the closer you get to it, and when you reach the location, a text to speech voice reads the sign, or tells you there’s a doorway, or something like that. Of course, not every navigational system has to be like this, but I’m just giving a basic guideline of how something like this might work. The big thing is making sure there is some sort of audio feedback if you need to control a character and walk around with them. Same goes for item hunting, enemies nearby, attacking noises: all of these need distinct sounds a blind or VI gamer can use to know their surroundings as well as a sighted player would.
You can do the same with the atmosphere of the surroundings. Are you near a river? Make a running water sound apparent. Near trees and birds? Make birds sound overhead walking on some leaves. There’s so much creative sound design out there, and with the strides in binaural and stereo soundscapes, you can get majorly creative here. I know this probably won’t be as in depth with a visual novel, but for other games it’s definitely something to consider.
Those are the major things I’d consider important to me when asking for access in video games. It doesn’t tick every box of course, I’m only one disabled demographic. But as far as being a blind gamer is concerned, I hope this is a good launching pad for anyone who needs tips on what to get started with when considering to make your game accessible for the blind and visually impaired. I’ve seen such amazing strides in the industry as of late, so I hope this article can help whoever stumbles across it with their game development choices!