A few weeks ago, here on Access-Ability, we published an episode of this show focused on The Last of Us: Part 1 on PS5, the first major AAA video game to attempt to include audio descriptions for major cutscenes, allowing sightless blind players a greater degree of ability to follow the game’s story while playing.
The Last of Us: Part 1, and its sequel, are both playable start to finish by sightless blind players, but the inclusion of an audio voice track which described cutscene visuals helped to ensure that those players were not left to rely solely on cutscene dialogue and spoken words to intuit the game’s wider plot.
While The Last of Us: Part 1 is notable, and worthy of praise for its inclusion of audio descriptions in a major AAA title, we said at the time that the game’s execution of audio descriptions was somewhat lacking.
The audio descriptions are cutscene exclusive, and even then they’re only for a very specific set of major cutscenes, meaning that for large parts of the game, sometimes hours at a time, the game featured no audio descriptions at all.
However, a really interesting indie game demo popped up onto our radar recently, during Steam Next Fest, for a child friendly point and click adventure game that contains, alongside other accessibility features, full audio descriptions for every cutscene, as well as every gameplay interaction.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be taking a look at the accessibility settings found in the demo for Stories of Blossom. We’re going to discuss the game’s support tools for sightless blind players, how its audio descriptions differ from those in The Last of Us: Part 1, and the template that this game presents for future point and click adventure games to be made more accessible.
Stories of Blossom is an indie point and click adventure game, designed to be approachable to players of a wide range of ages, and with a wide range of disabilities. It’s set in a world of stories, told between a young girl and her grandfather, about solving problems in a world of watercolour fantastical creatures.
As far as point and click adventure games are concerned, Stories of Blossom is a very mechanically simple game, with puzzle difficulty balanced to not limit progression for a wide range of players, who may have differing levels of reading comprehension, or lateral thinking skills. However, much of the work done to ensure that this game is accessible to disbled players could be applied to more challenging and complex point and click adventure games, or to narrative adventure titles such as the Telltale games series, or Life is Strange for example.
Let’s start by talking about perhaps the most important aspect of Stories of Blossom, its execution of full Audio Descriptions.
When playing through the demo for Stories of Blossom every moment, be it cutscene or gameplay, features fully voice acted audio descriptions. This is perhaps a little easier for Stories of Blossom than it would be for some other titles, due to the cutscenes being a series of still illustrations with voice acting, and gameplay taking place in set locations with static backgrounds and characters, but the execution in game is still really impressive.
Cutscenes will pause between lines of dialogue to describe who is speaking, where the conversation is taking place, as well as any actions taking place during a scene.
[Clara] Check, mate.
[Audio Description] A softly painted watercolour appears. Two characters are hapilly playing chess on a table by the warm glow of a fire.
[Grampa (Surprised)] Oh no! Beat me again have you?
When in gameplay, any new area explored will receive a visual description of the location upon arrival, and any time a new NPC is spoken to, or new item is interacted with, a description will be given to the player to provide context.
[Audio Description] Annie the Adventurer walks into a rural area. It is a calm spring day, with clear blue skies, and fresh green grass on hills. At the end of a long winding dirt path, the Crumble Village stands in the distance.
[Clara] Oh. That must be the Crumble’s Village over there.
When you compare this to a title like The Last of Us: Part 1, the differences are clear.
Stories of Blossom does basically everything that I’d hoped we would see from the Audio Descriptions in The Last of Us: Part 1 when they were announced. They are consistently applied to all aspects of your adventure, ensuring that every gameplay and cutscene moment is fully enjoyable without relying on visuals.
Moving on from there, let’s talk about how Stories of Blossom is controlled, and how other Point and Click adventure games could learn from this example.
While the default control scheme for Stories of Blossom is a traditional point and click style, there is an alternative option for players to instead cycle left and right through their available options, having each described to them using audio, and selecting the option that they would like to interact with. Using this method, a player who cannot see can use two buttons and a mouse click to effectively navigate all of their options, in a scene which was also audio described to them, and navigate their adventure that way.
Beyond that, Stories of Blossom still contains a bunch of interesting accessibility settings that are worth noting.
Volume can be altered independently for ambient noise, voice over, music, general sound effects, User Interface sounds, text to speech volume, and audio description volume.
Text to speech can be turned on or off, with multiple voice options available, [speed] and pitch are able to be altered, and you have the choice whether or not to have the game describe to you which inputs are needed to progress.
Subtitles can be set to automatically progress as dialogue finishes or be set to manual advancement only, there are options for non-dialogue sounds to be captioned, text size can be altered, text outlines can be switched on, puzzle hint words in sentences can be highlighted, speaker names are on as default, speaker intonation for tone of voice can be added to subtitles, and subtitle colours can be customised.
In particular, I am personally really happy to see the inclusion of speaker intonation options as their own custom setting within the subtitles menu. As an autistic gamer, I sometimes struggle to correctly pick up on tone of voice and intended emotion in dialogue, and I wish more games had an option for me to simply read in subtitles what emotion was meant to be conveyed by a line of speech.
Stories of Blossom is a really ambitious little indie game, and one that I think has a lot of potential to become a reference point that I regularly come back to on this show.
When I have conversations with game developers about accessibility in video game design, for a while The Last of Us has been the obvious example to point to for a game series that gets most things correct, and is pushing our industry forward. It’s rare to have a game I can point to that is doing some things better than Sony’s fungus outbreak shooter, but Stories of Blossom has added itself to that admittedly small list already.
If you’re a developer working on a point and click adventure game, or simply any video game where your interactions are largely selecting people to talk to, dialogue options, and items to use from an inventory, I highly suggest looking to the Stories of Blossom demo for inspiration of how to be more accessible to more players.
Stories of Blossom releases in Spring 2023, and I really think it’s going to be something special in terms of accessibility.