Industry Research

For a recent essay, I was required to interview industry professionals to get some insights into the gaming industry. By contacting professional game designers, it allowed me to get an idea of the current state of accessibility within the industry and professional opinions on the potential for improvements in this area.

Richard Warner – Avalanche Studios

Richard is a Lead Artist at Avalanche Studios, Stockholm. He has been in the games industry for eight years, starting at Stainless Games on the Isle of Wight, then moving to Sweden to work at Starbreeze and then Avalanche.

Do you think that the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Richard talks about ‘enforcement of the CVAA law’ and how the ‘games and technology industry include a base line implementation of accessibility features within their products.’ He goes on to talk about Microsoft’s companywide standards for games and platforms making them‘champions for accessibility.’He also sent me links toMSFTEnableandXbox Guidelinesas they are ‘great resources for what Microsoft wishes to allow their users to change for a comfortable experience.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

Richard says that Avalanche studios adhere to the above standards at launch but that‘current live projects are adding these features through updates.’He goes on to say that they‘actively follow the Game Accessibility Conference.’ This is a source I will keep a close eye on during my MA.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how we as an industry could be more inclusive to our disabled players?

Richard suggested ‘employing staff who are affected by disabilities and will help promote a more inclusive product. This can be developers who have dyslexia, ADHD, colour blindness or other mobility disabilities.’ This is an idea I can whole-heartedly support, and I agree that consulting and hiring people with these conditions is an invaluable help to the games industry.Richard also suggested consulting‘advocacy groups and charities like Able Gamers and Special Effect will ensure standards are met.’ Another brilliant idea to get insight into how to expand gaming to be more inclusive.

Alex Bellingham – Freelancer

Alex currently works as a freelance UX/UI designer. He worked for Sony Playstation defining UI practices for VR that have now been adopted by most VR studios. Since leaving there he has ventured into designing UI for VR, web and mobile for companies such as Red Bull, IBM, CT, Cisco and Burberry.

Do you personally think that player-based customisation through UI would be a valuable and achievable step in improving accessibility?

Alex states that he wishes ‘all games had the option to customise all aspects of UI’ but that it should not just be for disabilities. He believes that game developers should ‘allow players to augment the player’s own individual experience’. I love this idea of personalisation for a better experience.

He goes on to say that achievability is ‘another question entirely’. He said that considerations must always be taken ‘on the size of the team’ and their ‘capacity to implement and account for every case’. When paired with ‘milestones, tight deadlines, budget restrictions and user testing’, this can create a multitude of issues in a company’s ability to meet accessibility guidelines.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how we as an industry could be more inclusive to our disabled players?

Alex’s advice for this was centred around ‘doing as much research and planning as possible up front before development even begins’. He said that the focus should be to ‘figure out what users you’re designing for, which accessible features are achievable, how long it will take to implement, and how long it will take to test’.

He then goes on to say that ‘this is dependent on the context, project, and specific disability; sometimes you simply can’t make it inclusive’. Alex said that, no matter how controversial ‘sometimes you have to consider that making something fully accessible can actually be detrimental to an experience’ and that ‘in some cases the question has to be asked; is it better to have a bad experience or no experience at all?’ This is the unpleasant truth behind accessibility in gaming and that sometimes you must accept that you cannot please everybody.

Nicola Hynes – White Paper Games

Nicola is a Junior 3D artist working for the indie studio, White Paper Games. She has been working for White Paper for around 6 months and focuses on creating gameplay assets for the game world.

Do you think the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Nicola believes that‘there is always room for improvement.’ She thinks that the influence of games on connectivity between people and even its teaching capabilities make gaming‘without a doubt one of the best things for downtime and taking a break from hard times in life.’ She concluded by saying that she would ‘love for as many people as possible to have access to it.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

She listed all White Paper Games current accessibility tools; I have included a screenshot of these below:

Do you think that improving accessibility through player-based customisation would change the way you design games?

Nicola states that ‘accessibility needs to be a focus throughout the design proves of a game to make sure it is implemented properly.’ She goes on to say that accessibility options ‘need to work well with the original intent of design and not be forgotten about because it is not the default setting.’

It is clear from these answers that Nicola and White Paper Games place high value on accessibility. The fact that UI accessibility does make a difference to a 3D artists’ workflow, but this is viewed as a standard challenge in the design process gives me hope that we can continue to improve on accessibility.

Jack England – Deep Silver Dambuster Studios

Jack is a Junior Level Designer at Dambuster Studios. He has been working for Dambusters for just over half a year and mainly focuses on overseeing development on quests in game and liaising with seniors on how to improve these.

Do you think the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Jack believes that ‘the game industry could always be more inclusive for people with disabilities.’ He went on to say that despite ‘big steps on this front in the past decade, the industry should strive to make gaming accessible for everyone.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

He states that ‘as a junior [he is] not aware of the steps going on behind the scenes to improve accessibility, though it is something that has and is being discussed throughout the development process.’ I had not considered the lack of information for juniors, but this is something I feel should be taught early in designers’ careers. The sooner accessibility considerations are learnt, the more normalised those considerations become.

Do you think that improving accessibility through player-based customisation would change the way you design games?

Jack says he believes that ‘there is a limit to what [level designers] can do to help improve accessibility.’ He went on to say that he thinks ‘areas such as technical design and game design are more involved in those processes.’ It would be interesting to contact people in these job roles so I can also gain their opinions on accessibility.

Catarina Martins – Supermassive Games

Cat works as a Level Designer. She started work at VR studio, nDreams and worked there for 8 months before moving to Supermassive. She has been in the industry for just over a year now.

Do you think the games industry could be more inclusive when it comes to players with disabilities?

Cat believes that ‘people with disabilities don’t get to enjoy games like everybody else mainly because of the lack of in game options to support it.’ She explained that this can also sometimes be ‘due to the design itself’. She gave the examples of ‘puzzles that require audio queues’ and ‘platforming without alternate routes or difficulty adjustments.’

Do you or your company currently do anything toward improving accessibility in games?

She said that while she ‘can’t speak on behalf of [her] employer’ she can speak as a player. She gave examples of Supermassive game, Man of Medan. She mentioned the accessibility option to ‘hold QTE buttons rather than mash QTE buttons’ in timed events. She said that there is also the option to ‘disable the QTE timeout.’ These subtle options can drastically change a disabled player’s experience.

Do you think that improving accessibility through player-based customisation would change the way you design games?

Cat thinks that accessibility would affect her work due to the ‘broad amount of different customisations to help each individual’s needs.’ She goes on to say that it is important to have ‘a design that gives a similar experience regardless of the option chosen.’ These design options would mean that a player with a disability would not ‘feel less challenged/rewarded because they chose an option to help them play the game.’ She said that it should be ‘a balance to make sure accessibility doesn’t compromise experience.’

Fantasy Sword HUD

With an MA deadline approaching, I was going through my work and found a couple of HUD designs that I had forgotten to post.

I decided to go online and search for game screenshots. I found this and decided to create a HUD with no context or ideas about mechanics. I wanted to focus purely on the aesthetics of my design working with the aesthetics of the game. 

I really wanted to try out a fantasy style HUD which incorporated weapons into its design. I found some beautiful sword hilts on google and added coloured bars to the blades to form health and stamina indicators. I also added a money widget in the lower corner for the player to keep track of their loot.

I wanted to keep the design as simple as possible and not crowd the screen. As game graphics improve, designers add less and less clutter to their HUDs. This gives the player a more immersive experience of the game and allows them to really sink their teeth into the huge and beautiful worlds presented to them. 

Overall I think this design went quite well. Designing the swords was a challenge as the proportions and angles had to look right but it was a lot of fun and I am very pleased with how they turned out. I really enjoyed the challenge of working out of context with only game art to work with. I look forward to using this method for more designs in the future.

Dark Souls Inspired HUD

With an MA deadline approaching, I was going through my work and found a couple of HUD designs that I had forgotten to post.

I decided to go online and search for game screenshots. I found this and decided to create a HUD with no context or ideas about mechanics. I wanted to focus purely on the aesthetics of my design working with the aesthetics of the game. 

I used the Dark Souls HUD as my inspiration. I created health, magic and stamina bars in the upper left, a weapon wheel (console d-pad) in the lower left and a money widget in the lower right. 

The screenshot shows ornate walkways and swords which hints at fantasy themes; while the glowing armour and fragmented braziers show a more futuristic or sci-fi theme. I wanted to balance this by creating a clean and simple design that would balance both themes. I feel like I achieved this with a minimalistic design to the elements. 

The red banners and drapes in the screenshot instantly made me think of Asian culture where red is a prominent colour for success and power. I wanted to bring this into my design so I decided that the player’s sigil in the upper left could subtly reflect this.

Overall I think this design went quite well. I really enjoyed the challenge of working out of context with only game art to work with. I look forward to using this method for more designs in the future.

Customisable Layouts Visualisation

In my previous post, I came up with a concept in which players would have the ability to enter the options menu in their game and drag and drop interface components into different slots. This design would then show in-game and allow the players both creative freedom and increased accessibility if needed.

I decided to create some very basic visuals of how this options menu and slot customisation would look in the Valheim recreation I made.

Players will be able to drag and drop each predesigned component from the side of the screen into their desired slot. This will update the UI within the game and allow players to play the game with their own customised layout available to them.

Customisable Layouts Concept

After working on the Valheim UI, I realised that I made many creative decisions that were very different from the original design. Be these subjective or objective changes, there were many elements that I moved to different locations around the screen.

I realised that, while these changes to location made sense creatively, not everyone would agree with my placement decisions. These placements may also cause issues in terms of playability. For example, my design may subconsciously cater to right handed players, as I myself am right handed. This layout would not be as user-friendly to left handed players who may find themselves at a disadvantage during intense, game changing moments.

I started to think on how I could change this in order to benefit all players and maximise accessibility. The problem I found is that you can’t please everyone – there will always be one person who dislikes or disagrees with your design. 

But what if we could let players design for themselves?

What if there was a game option to drag and drop menus and toolbars around the screen? 

What if players could customise their own game space to their exact needs? 

I realised that this ability already exists in design software that I myself have used since I was a child. Programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and XD; the Unreal Engine; Autodesk Maya, etc… It is common for programs to allow their users to drag interfaces wherever they need during their design process. 

UI designers would create menus and toolbars in a default location that they consider to be optimal. Players would have the choice to keep this design if they are happy with it or change it if they prefer. They would then have the ability to enter the game options menu and drag and drop each component into their desired slots. This design would then show in-game and allow the players both creative freedom and increased accessibility if needed.

If we brought this ability into gaming, we could completely change our players’ experience. This would allow for limitless customisation and advanced accessibility options for handicapped players. It would even allow for players to set up their game interface in a way that avoids overlaps with livestreaming overlays, such as camera boxes, subscriptions and messages.

Valheim UI Redesign Summary

I have finally finished my Valheim UI redesign!

I really like how this one has turned out. As somebody who played this game a lot, I feel I have a reliable opinion on flaws within the game’s interface. While these opinions are entirely subjective, I know through multiple discussions with friends that they share the same issues with areas of the UI. I have created a simplified version of the interface that is far more easy on the eyes than the original.

It is also worth noting that during my design process, there was an update for Valheim which actually recoloured the interface into a grey tone, like I did!

Overall, I believe this project has been a success. It has been a lengthy process and is my largest UI project to date. I had a lot of fun with it and I think that it has been a great experience in terms of learning even more about the capabilities of Adobe XD. I look forward to more redesign projects in the future!