EA’s assistance was crucial, not only offering suggestions, but also helping to refine the occasionally problematic settings. Edagawa notes that the development of specific features and designs, although incorporated in the early stages, occasionally conflicted with certain aspects of wild hearts. However, since they were a core component of accessibility, the developers continually worked to make their game playable for disabled players.
“The most difficult feature to implement was color-blind support,” says Edagawa. “Because it’s a basic accessibility feature, we took care from the beginning of the development process to make sure the UX didn’t depend on colors. However, there were some times when using different colors could not be avoided, or it was easier to tell them apart by color even though it could be distinguished by other factors. We continue to fine-tune the color blindness support features to the end.”
hifi fever released unexpectedly in January to immense praise. Players found the rhythmic combat unique and entertaining, and disabled people had access to numerous settings that help players alleviate exhaustion, such as auto action mode and difficulty settings. And this attention to accessibility is not new. Since the company’s launch in 2014 of the evil within, the developers at Tango Gameworks have been working to make accessibility a core design principle. For Juan Johanas, hifi fever is the culmination of years of efforts to welcome players with disabilities.
“The trend started in the US, where we see the effort put into accessibility and showing that it’s not about destroying your gaming experience, it’s about letting people enjoy the experience you’re trying to create,” says Johanas. “As we progressed, and this predates Microsoft, at least for hifi fever—we had two accessibility things that we approached the title with. One was accessibility settings in a menu, things you can control and turn on if you want to play a specific way. The other was just making the experience itself accessible.”
hifi fever currently offers a variety of accessibility settings such as subtitles, control customization, color blind mode and even options to display rhythms. But the options alone are not enough for many disabled players. Johanas notes that he and the developers looked to studios like Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games for inspiration, but including an overwhelming number of options wasn’t feasible for this specific title. Instead, his team needed to make sure the game remained accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing people without many features.
“So we said, what can we do on the visual side to help players who have trouble identifying the beat or have hearing problems in general?” says Johanas. “We looked at how things were interpreted, like how many types of captions were used, for example, to make character interactions as visual as possible, as well as working on each visual aspect, like the user interface, to make it as visual as possible. there are so many different ways that people can interpret the beat, even if they can’t hear it.”
These configurations and design practices were not easy to implement. Johanas and his team wanted to create a balance between offering assistance while also providing an entertaining challenge for disabled players. Fortunately, Tango Gameworks received additional support from the accessibility team at ZeniMax Media. Through his extensive knowledge and resources, as well as disabled game testers, hifi fever released in a playable state and continues to evolve in patches.