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Double Fine: "Simple choices can have profound impact" on accessibility

Kevin Johnson reminded Develop Brighton attendees that "if you don't intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude"

At Develop Brighton yesterday, Double Fine Productions gave a talk about how the studio embraced mental health and accessibility in the development of Psychonauts 2.

Director of development Kevin Johnson gave an overview of how the studio approaches accessibility and, as part of his key takeaways, reminded attendees that "if you don't intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude."

"Knowing that, just that little checkbox, can open the door to thousands of people playing your game, is incredibly empowering"

He mentioned how Double Fine was able to attend inclusive design workshops and talk directly to gamers with disabilities to "hear from them about how they play games, what challenges they face, and what they wish they could get from games."

He highlighted how important it is to make the time for these conversations if you want to improve your projects' accessibility.

"It's giving us new lenses to look through, and also understand how simple choices can have profound impact," Johnson said. "One of the biggest ones being the ability to turn rumble off in your game. It seems like, 'okay, cool little checkbox, great', but for people who suffer from chronic pain, or people who suffer from sensory overload, this is something that can be the difference between playing your game, and not.

"And knowing that, just that little checkbox, can open the door to thousands of people playing your game, is incredibly empowering."

Johnson also encouraged developers to talk to their team so staff members can bring diverse perspectives. He experiences colour blindness himself and so was able to contribute first-hand feedback when Double Fine implemented colour blind options in Psychonauts 2.

"You want to learn from your team. I brought my knowledge of what colour blindness is, and we were able to address that; we had people on our team who suffer from motion sickness so they kind of formed their little strike team and went through the game and highlight parts of Psychonauts 2 that were triggering that motion sickness.

"We were then able to go in, tweak those areas, but then that led to us deciding: why don't we just give that option to the player? And so there's a slider in the game where you can control the amount of camera shake in the game, all the way to turning it off if that's something that you need."

Earlier in the talk, Johnson went through the trial-and-error process that led Double Fine to create a font from scratch for Psychonauts 2 to make sure it would be dyslexia-friendly. While this isn't something every team can do, he advised developers to look into fonts readily available that may serve a similar purpose, like OpenDyslexic. It's free and the licence allows for commercial use.

Finally, he urged developers to leverage the advice of professionals, with Double Fine having worked hand-in-hand with charity SpecialEffect.

"SpecialEffect have inspired us," Johnson concluded. "They've kept us on our toes. The work that they do is amazing. We can't do what they do. But we can do things in our game that make it easier for them to do what they do, to continue to open the doors to other people.

"And at the end of the day, just remember if you don't intentionally include you will unintentionally exclude. And that's really what this is about. It's about being thoughtful, understanding the impact of your decisions, and understanding the reason why you're doing or not doing a particular thing, and what that's going to mean going forward."

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Marie Dealessandri avatar
Marie Dealessandri: Marie joined in 2019 to head its Academy section. A journalist since 2012, she started in games in 2016. She can be found (rarely) tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate and the Dead Cells soundtrack. GI resident Moomins expert.
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