Designer Diary 5 - Aiming for Accessibility

I love making puzzles, but they mean a lot less without other people. The best part of creating an experience for others is their experience. Watching someone enjoy a game and feel triumphant for solving something is immensely satisfying. It creates a two way dialogue between the creator and the player, and I want to have that dialogue with more people.


While designing Tale of Ord I considered potential accessibility issues and tried to adapt the puzzles and hint system so that it would be possible to move forward in the game even if you could not complete a task. With The Emerald Flame I started thinking about this earlier on and designed the game with intention to make it accessible for a broader audience in several different ways, illustrated below. **Please note this post contains some minor spoilers about The Tale of Ord and The Emerald Flame.**


Disabilities


The Tale of Ord had two puzzles that involved audio clues. One of them included a transcript, but it wasn’t possible to add that to the other one, so the transcript was in the hints page. I steered away from using audio clues in The Emerald Flame so that everyone would have the same experience.


It is common to see puzzles that involve color. Board games and video games designers often suggest using a symbol along with a color to help colorblind people identify colored elements using the shape. But what about when that doesn’t work for a puzzle mechanically? How do you even know what it will look like to a colorblind person? I found a phone app and a desktop app that are meant to simulate different types of color-blindness and used them to look at my color-dependent puzzles as I put them together. (I encourage other designers to use these as well!)


How did that help resolve my color puzzles? For one, The Emerald Flame has a puzzle involving crystals, which originally just had names written underneath. Since there were 8 colors, it did indeed become difficult to distinguish some of the colors while looking at them through the app. That was solved simply by writing the colors along with the crystal names. Another puzzle could not have been revised that way, but needing only 5 colors, I chose my shades very deliberately so they would contrast with one another. Dark blue and purple looked too similar, so I switched to light blue instead. When red and green looked too close I switched to orange, etc. I hope this will make it easier for colorblind players to solve the puzzle without resorting to hints.



Computer Literacy


People have different degrees of computer literacy, and I would hate for those who have less experience with certain interfaces to feel left behind. For example, one puzzle in the Tale of Ord required awareness of HTML, but not everyone knew how to access it or that it was necessary to do so. The Emerald Flame is much tamer in its use of technology. There are a couple links to follow and a place to submit answers, both very easy to use and require no special knowledge (besides opening a browser). There is also no outside research; I wanted to keep most of the game on the table.


International Players


The Tale of Ord had one puzzle that involved a phone call to a U.S. number. This created a hindrance for some players outside the U.S., and so the new game does not include any location-specific puzzles.

The Tale of Ord also had some language-dependent puzzles that were most likely a little harder for non-native English-speakers. Of course one would need to have some knowledge of English to play The Emerald Flame, but it uses more visual cues, and even if clues are written in English, there is little to be lost in translation.


Difficulty and Length


The Emerald Flame is shorter than the Tale of Ord and has a lower level of difficulty. That is not to say it is easy, but I believe it is much more streamlined and approachable for people that are new to puzzles. I always love introducing puzzles to curious non-players, and I hope this game can be closer to a gateway into the genre than Tale of Ord was.


Affordability

The Tale of Ord was a special handmade game with a limited run and components sourced from North America. That made it not only very time consuming but especially costly to produce, and I was not so comfortable with the high price point it required as it created a barrier for those with less disposable income. I came to decide that the number and complexity of the components in my next project may need to be toned down in order to produce it for a more affordable cost.


How do you make your games more accessible?

What can I do to make my games more accessible?

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