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Adding Accessibility to Remasters

In the last decade or so, the video game industry has become pretty enamoured with the concept of remakes and remasters of older games. Due to the rapid advancements in graphical technology available to developers, and the innovations in gameplay mechanics coming to new titles, many video games feel dated over time, and breathing new life into well loved experiences can be a profitable option for developers.

While remakes and remasters tend to look more impressive, and tweak gameplay mechanics to match modern tastes, one thing that is often overlooked is updates to accessibility settings and support. Over the past few years accessibility support for video games has seen major advancements, which are often ignored in remasters and updates.

So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about adding new accessibility support to remakes and remasters. We’re going to talk about some examples of studios that have added accessibility support to older tiles, the technical issues with adding accessibility settings to older games, and some of the more simple accessibility settings most remasters should be considering going forward.

Let’s start off today’s episode by discussing some of the hurdles for developers that come with adding accessibility settings to older games. A lot of accessibility support in games is much more easily implemented when considered from the start of game development. More complex accessibility support, such as designing your environments to be inherently friendly for colourblind users, either have to be considered at the start of development, or fundamentally changing how the game looks in ways that will reduce nostalgia for those who played the original. You can add colourblind filters over your game as an optional setting, but making the core design friendly to colourblind users is something that can’t easily be done to an already existing game.

Other accessibility options such as allowing players to highlight important items and pathfind a route to progression, or implementing visual signs to highlight the location and direction of audio in scenes, are pretty simple to implement when designing a game, but more difficult to go back in and add once your game is essentially finished. Some of these accessibility settings rely on certain hooks being built into game elements, and adding them later requires a lot of additional testing work to check proper implementation.

Accessible game design is ideally implemented at the start of the design phase, so that the game can be built around it, and shoehorning new mechanics into a game not originally designed for them can cause a conflict between the developer’s desire to quickly push out the remaster, keeping the feel of the original game faithfully recreated, and taking the time to make the game more accessible than it was originally.

That said, some accessibility settings are fairly easy to implement retroactively. Customisable subtitle settings such as alternative dyslexia friendly fonts, alterable sizes, customisable backgrounds, speaker tag colours, and speaker name additions are largely simple additions to games that most should make the effort to implement. Additionally, options such as autosaves, pause screens, content warnings, reductions in screen shake and visual flash intensity, or reduced head bob to help motion sick players can be implemented to many games post release without major difficulty.

Customisable remappable controls are pretty minimal effort for developers to implement, and the addition of difficulty modes is not a huge task. In an ideal world these sorts of accessibility settings should be added to most remasters, as in most cases they are a matter of adding new information and options to plain text, giving players simple control of which button links to which action, altering certain animations or visual elements, and letting players tweak numerical values without changing actual mechanics for custom difficulty.

While the addition of accessibility settings to remasters is still pretty rare, it is certainly not unheard of, and some of the best examples come from series’ where sequels have introduced new accessibility options to games created in the same engine as their past titles. A great example of this is the PS4 Spider-Man, where the Miles Morales focused sequel added a bunch of Sony’s more recent accessibility standards, and these settings were later added to the original game and its remaster as an update. In this case the development team created new accessibility settings for their newest title, then took the time to retroactively add those settings to their older title, to bring it in line with improvements and updates within the industry.

While this particular example was helped along by the fact the prior game’s remaster was based in the same game world and used the same engine for many of the same mechanics, making the settings additions easier to add into the older title and its remaster, the game’s accessibility settings still had to be added to a series that didn’t have them from the start. While adding accessibility options after initial development is more tricky than doing it from the start of the process, it can be done well, and it is worth the effort. We need developers to take accessibility additions seriously and see them as important additions, because the PlayStation Spider-Man games show it can be done if the time, budget, and developer desire exist.

While I don’t expect any time soon we will see every developer add robust accessibility options to every one of their remasters and past games, if we could see developers look at the accessibility settings in their newer titles, and at least consider adding them into their older games via post release updates, we might go some way to making our medium’s back catalogue more accessible to those who today benefit from the advancements coming to new releases. If a developer has learned a modern game is better with certain accessibility settings, the least we can expect is them to treat their remasters with that same degree of modern thoughtfulness.

When a video game gets remastered, we as gamers tend to expect a certain level of modernisation and improvement that justifies the game being resold. Right now as gamers, most of us expect visuals and core gameplay mechanics to be updated, but if more gamers start considering accessibility additions just as important, and made it known they expect that of their re-released titles, that’s the route to us seeing change.

Whether or not you are disabled, whether or not accessibility settings are useful to you specifically, you should consider keeping this in mind next time you see a game remaster announced. Look at what accessibility settings newer games from those developers offer, and common accessibility settings we discuss on this channel, and ask developers if they’ve considered the opportunity to make their remaster more accessible than the original game was.

Accessibility settings offerings are constantly evolving, and every time a game is given the remake treatment, that’s a new opportunity for people who couldn’t previously play the game to finally experience a story that people loved in years past.

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