Double Fine: Small Decisions Can Significantly Influence Accessibility

During the Develop Brighton event yesterday, Double Fine Productions discussed their commitment to mental health and accessibility in the creation of Psychonauts 2.

Kevin Johnson, director of development, shared insights on the studio's accessibility strategies and emphasized that failure to deliberately include can inadvertently exclude individuals. He pointed out, "Knowing that, just that little checkbox, can open the door to thousands of people playing your game, is incredibly empowering."

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

Johnson elaborated on their participation in inclusive design workshops and their direct dialogues with gamers who have disabilities to understand the challenges they face and their desired changes in games.

He underscored the necessity of dedicating time to these discussions to enhance a project's accessibility. According to Johnson, seemingly minor adjustments, such as the option to disable rumble, can significantly impact players with conditions like chronic pain or sensory overload.

He spoke about how empowering it is to provide features that make games accessible to more people. Additionally, he encouraged developers to engage with their teams to leverage diverse perspectives. Sharing his own experience with color blindness, Johnson contributed valuable feedback on adding color blind options in Psychonauts 2.

Johnson shared, "You want to learn from your team. I brought my knowledge of what color blindness is, and we were able to address that; we had people on our team who suffer from motion sickness. They formed a strike team to identify parts of Psychonauts 2 that triggered motion sickness."

"We then adjusted those areas and decided to offer that choice to the player. Therefore, there's a slider in the game to control camera shake, right down to turning it off if necessary."

Johnson detailed the trial-and-error journey that led Double Fine to develop a font specifically designed to be dyslexia-friendly for Psychonauts 2. While this may not be feasible for all teams, he recommended exploring commercially available fonts like OpenDyslexic.

He concluded by advising developers to seek advice from experts. Double Fine collaborated closely with the charity SpecialEffect throughout the development process.

"SpecialEffect have inspired us," Johnson stated. "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 doors for others."

"At the end of the day, remember if you don't intentionally include, you will unintentionally exclude. This is about being thoughtful, understanding the impact of your decisions, and knowing why you're doing or not doing something, and the implications of those choices moving forward."

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