One of my most anticipated video games released in 2020 was a metroidvania title called Carrion, in which you play as a tentacled flesh beast trying to murder your way to freedom, and escape a scientific facility you’re trapped inside.
The problem is, I have a condition called aphantasia, which limits my ability to play this genre of video game without accessibility support.
To simplify an explanation, aphantasia is a condition where a person lacks a visual imagination or memory. I cannot close my eyes and visually imagine an object that is described to me, and I struggle to recall visual details of objects or people I have previously seen. This has knock-on effects, such as making it difficult for me to mentally orient my position in space, and remember where I am relative to other locations.
This was a problem in Carrion, because among other issues the game lacked even a basic map, making it difficult for me to keep track of my location, and backtrack across the game’s map when I unlocked new abilities, which could open access to prior progression routes.
Over the past few years, there have been some video games that have done better than others at making this genre of video games accessible, when it comes to my having Aphantasia.
Metroid Dread for example released in 2021, and featured an in game map that marked paths the player could not yet progress through, with colour coding, and changed those markings when a new power was unlocked, to show where was now accessible without relying on remembering past locations, and how to retrace your steps to return to them.
However, the upcoming Prince of Persia: the Lost Crown, due to release in early 2024, seems like it might be going above and beyond to be accessible for players who, like myself, struggle with visual memory.
Now, before I dig into the specifics, I want to quickly say something that is important.
While I believe that Ubisoft, the game’s developer, does incredibly important work for furthering accessibility in the video game industry, it is also important to note that workers across Ubisoft in 2020 reported systemic harassment and abuse from executives at the company. Reportedly, 25% of staff across Ubisoft had experienced, or witnessed, harassment within the workplace, a figure that undoubtedly justifies calling the issue widespread. Workers repeatedly found that HR staff would protect the accused from consequences, and many reported that this did not change in the twelve months following the news coming to public attention.
Workers groups such as A Better Ubisoft demanded that Ubisoft management commit to a list of demands, such as ensuring that executives accused of harassment were not shielded, and that there be better transparency about the outcome of abuse investigations. None of those demands were met, and many workers at Ubisoft report little has changed since then.
The average Ubisoft worker has not done anything wrong, but I feel it important to acknowledge when praising the publisher’s accessibility progress, that many workers at the company do not feel properly protected from abuse by upper management. Some at specific studios report seeing improvement, but others feel the situation is still dire.
That said, let’s get to talking about Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, which I believe is making some genuinely important strides forward for accessibility in exploration titles for players with Aphantasia.
So, first of all, The Lost Crown will reportedly feature an optional setting called Guided Mode, which will mark objectives on a map, alongside markers for blocked or open paths. This sounds very much in line with the solution seen in titles like Metroid Dread, and is a great sign for accessibility.
However, the more exciting new feature discussed is The Eye Of The Wanderer, which allows players the option to take a screenshot at any time, and pin it onto their map for referencing.
As someone with aphantasia, I often struggle with puzzles based on visual memory. If I, for example, need to remember a series of glyphs carved into a wall, and later type them into a console, I struggle to recall that visual information. This would, in theory, allow me to screenshot that information, pin it to my map, and reference it without having to go back and check what it was I previously saw, referencing it at the location it needs inputting.
This is incredibly useful, as it basically fixes one of my biggest issues with playing these sorts of games with aphantasia.
While some game consoles offer screenshot functionality on a system level, often checking those screenshots means leaving the game, navigating to find the screenshot, then remembering that information as I navigate back to the game. Being able to keep that information physically within the game for easier retrieval is a really nice idea that I hope works well in concept.
In addition, I do want to give Ubisoft credit for detailing their accessibility plans for the game seven months before the game’s release, within hours of the game’s Summer Games Fest reveal, covering both accessibility settings, but also design choices made to ensure the game is accessible by default where possible. This is incredibly rare, and to be commended.
Outside of the Access-Ability Summer Showcase, this is one of the only examples during Summer Games Fest 2023 where a game’s developer was open about accessibility this close to a game’s announcement, and this far away from its planned launch.
While I feel it important not to forget that Ubisoft as a company has not properly addressed the concerns of some of its workers in the aftermath of allegations levied in 2020, I think it’s important to still acknowledge the positive work being done at studios within Ubisoft to improve accessibility in video games. Ubisoft is consistently impressive in this regard, and The Lost Crown in particular is offering new settings that I wish more games in the genre would consider, to help improve my ability to play these kinds of games.