If you’re the kind of person who owns a VR headset, or follows VR game development, there’s a good chance you’ve come across one of Owlchemy Labs VR games before. One of the first developers to really jump onto the technology, their silly, comedic, family friendly titles have consistently been highly rated.
Best known for titles such as Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator, the team have also been working on a VR game called Cosmonious High, about crash landing in an alien high school and trying to avoid chaotic misadventures.
During last week’s E3-Ish Upload VR showcase, it was revealed that Cosmonious High has now received an accessibility update, focused on making the game more playable by a wider range of disabled players. Given how popular developer Owlchemy Labs games are, and how inherently inaccessible VR games often are, I was surprised by just how positive their newest accessibility update seems to be.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Cosmonious High’s new accessibility update. We’re going to talk about what it gets right, what we still hope to see fixed, and how these kinds of changes help disabled gamers play VR titles.
First up, before getting into any of the specific changes in the update, I want to note how nice it was seeing Owlchemy Labs acknowledge in their trailer that accessibility options need to consider both players with permanent disabilities, as well as those with temporary or situational disabilities. We recently published an episode of Access-Ability all about that very topic, and it’s rare to see that directly acknowledged by game developers.
So, what changes does the update actually make to Cosmonious High? Well, one of the major changes provided in the update is a one handed mode option, which allows the entire game to be played start to finish using a single controller rather than two. This comes alongside a bunch of situational changes to the game, so that even if a player is not explicitly playing the game using only one controller, scenes are often by default complete that way.
Additionally, to better support seated play, Cosmonious High now includes handles on every table, desk, or similar surface, allowing their heights to be changed on the fly. This helps to ensure that players do not find themselves in a situation where an item, interactable, or button is out of their reach, or line of sight.
Iconography has been changed and improved to help make navigating the game easier for anyone who struggles with reading in game text, and more visual tutorials have been added to help any player who finds it easier to learn by following along with visual prompts.
Beyond those changes, the newest update also makes character pronouns more clearly visible next to character names while playing.
Now, all of the changes in this update are really positive, but it is still important to consider them in the wider context of VR gaming, as well as Owlchemy’s other releases.
At present, these new accessibility updates have only been added to Cosmonious High, Owlchemy Labs most recent release, and not to any of their back catalogue of VR releases. While I recognise that would require an investment of development resources, it would be really nice if we saw these updates added to more of their back catalogue of titles.
Additionally, it is important to remember that while an individual VR game can make moves like this to improve accessibility, there are many fundamental aspects of VR game design which can be limiting for a number of disabled gamers. These are positive steps forward for Cosmonious High, but within the limitations of a game exclusive to hardware that expects motion controlled gameplay and stereo vision from players.
I am really happy we’re seeing a high profile, family friendly VR game developer like Owlchemy Labs tackle accessibility solutions in Cosmonious High, and hope that other VR developers look at some of the accessibility support options here as examples of things that should ideally be standards in the space.
My main hopes that we see Owlchemy Labs commit to bringing these updates to their other VR games in the future. These new options are very appreciated, and hopefully given time their whole game library in VR can become more playable by more people.