Andresen, “Playing By Ear: Creating Blind-Accessible Games”

In this fairly fascinating gamasutra.com article, Andresen makes the case for, and lays out his team’s process of, creating blind accessible-games. He also argues for paying attention to sound in game design (at least more than the average designer does), in general:

So what if you’re not creating games for visually impaired players? Even if you are creating another first-person shooter with a target demographic of able-bodied 18-to-34-year-old males, you should still consider using audio for more than just gunshots, grunts, and death screams. No matter what type of game you are creating, paying careful attention to the audio user interface and 3D audio environment will enhance the player’s experience.

One, particularly interesting point Andresen raises relates to what might seem like a minor issue—what voice to use to narrate a game’s menus. The main character in his team’s game, “Momo the monkey, has a distinct, silly accent. Using Momo’s voice for the initial game-setup menus was a great way to introduce the player to Momo and to set the right mood for the rest of the game.” Reading “discoveries” like these makes me wonder how much of game design is determined by the instincts of its creators. Though maybe as the field/industry has developed over the years, maybe instinct gets replaced more and more by something like research and testing?

I also appreciated the consideration’s Andresen’s team gave to truly detailed audio design:

We follow a couple of general design principles to ensure our game is fully accessible to blind players. First, we make sure that if two items look different, they must sound different. That isn’t usually a problem; most objects in the real world make unique sounds, if they make any sound at all. We just avoid populating our game with items that make no sound. We also make sure that item or game state changes are accompanied by audio cues. For example, items make a “grabbed” sound when they are picked up. Pick up a chicken and you hear it squawk. While it’s in your hand, it will make a disgruntled clucking noise, instead of its normal, “I’m a happy chicken” noise.

It would be interesting to see how this line of thought and work has progressed in the decade since this article was written.

Reading this piece made me (re-)consider the sound design of some of the games I play. Of these, I think Skyrim is the only one I won’t—or really can’t—play with the sound off. You miss too much if you’re not listening. You’re also in greater. The depth of sound in that game really does help you orient yourself—and it adds to the story and the overall experience in significant ways.

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