A couple of weeks ago on Access-Ability, we published an episode all about remasters of old games offering a unique opportunity to add accessibility support into older games that were released at a point in time before accessibility best practices were commonly followed in the video game industry.
While the video touched broadly on the idea that we should expect remasters and remakes of older games to add in modern accessibility support options, this past week provided a real world example of how you can take a decades old game and make it more accessible.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be looking at some of the accessibility settings recently added to Quake’s enhanced edition, 26 years after the original game was released. We’re going to discuss the accessibility settings added, who they support, and why this is a standard we should be holding other developers to with remakes and remasters.
Let’s start off by talking about which settings have been added to Quake in this new update. Perhaps most immediately noticeable, when in menus, Quake now features both High Contrast and Alternative Font options in menus, in order to make setup easier to navigate.
High Contrast mode replaces the game’s default menu backgrounds, which feature blurred gameplay, with a plain black screen. This contrasts well with the new alternative font choice, which is a clean and easily readable white text that replaces the classic game’s stylised pixel font.
As these two accessibility options are designed to make the game’s menus easier to navigate, it’s important to note that if you buy Quake today and start playing on a fresh profile, an accessibility settings menu opens up on first boot, with almost all of the game’s accessibility settings turned on by default. We will talk about the one exception a little later in this video, but by default the game assumes all of its accessibility settings are important, and presents players the option to turn them off if they are not needed, while demonstrating them in use first to ensure they’re given a fair shake at being used.
In terms of other accessibility settings added, the new update also adds three separate settings designed to make in-game voice chat in multiplayer more accessible to a variety of disabled gamers. Read Chat out Loud takes any typed game chat and reads it to the player in a synthesised voice. Transcribe voice chat takes any spoken voice chat and turns it into text presented on screen to the player. Lastly, Speak for me in voice chat allows the player to type text in chat, and reads it out in voice chat using a synthesised voice to players in voice chat.
These three options, all switched on as default, help a variety of disabled gamers to engage with voice chat in multiplayer, from deaf and hard of hearing players, to those with reduced vision, to further examples including non verbal autistic gamers.
The game also has two other accessibility settings, the only settings in the game that don’t default to their most extreme levels of accessibility support. One option allows players to increase how long text based messages appear on screen, and the other allows players to reduce on screen flashing effects, from the default position of full flashing effects, incrementally down to zero.
While I understand the desire to default screen flashing effects to the levels seen in the original game, and I recognise that most photosensitive players will likely be aware enough of their own needs to check for that setting and notice it needs reducing, it’s a bit of a shame to see a lack of unity in this accessibility menu’s design. I can see a world where a player glances at this accessibility menu, sees all the options at the top are defaulted to their most accessible settings, and without properly looking doesn’t notice flashing effects are an exception to this design format. If flashing effects were the first setting offered up top of the settings list that might make the setting’s default position more immediately noticeable, which feels like it could help ensure it is noticed at a passing glance.
What I really like about this update to Quake is that not only does it add in these accessibility settings to the game, but it follows a lot of best practice for their execution. I’ve long said on this show that in a perfect world accessibility settings would be presented to players on first boot of a game, ideally default to their on positions so that leaving them on isn’t seen as a failure, and that we should expect accessibility updates to be just as routine a part of a game’s lifespan as any other gameplay tweaks and balances.
Sure, in a perfect world, games should release with accessibility settings thought about at launch, but in a world where most games are constantly internet connected, making accessibility changes a routine part of game updates is honestly the next best thing.
Quake is a 26 year old game, and its remastered port added in a decent set of accessibility features as a routine update, following modern best practices, making a part of gaming history a little more accessible to modern audiences. This is exactly what I want to see become standard when developers remake and remaster their titles. Look at what new knowledge exists today regarding accessibility, consider your game’s original design, think about which elements you could trade a little nostalgia to modernise, and make your game playable by more players.