Releasing in a couple of weeks on August 10th 2023, Stray Gods is a musical adventure game in which you play as Grace, a college dropout accused of killing Calliope, the previous Muse to the Greek gods.
As someone newly granted divinity, Grace must use her new powers, and her musical ability, to convince the rest of the gods of her innocence, and find Calliope’s true killer, in under one week, through the medium of a dramatic stage musical.
Summerfall Studios, the team behind Stray Gods, recently created an accessibility page on their website for the game, which details a lot of very promising accessibility settings options and design choices, while being realistic about the limitations of the games accessibility efforts at launch.
The game looks really interesting, so let’s dig into its accessibility settings and design choices.
As Stray Gods is a choice based narrative adventure game, it’s worth noting up top that players can turn off choice timers in game, if time limits are a barrier to play. Songs in the game will pause to give the player time to react, rather than the default of requiring them to select an answer before the song naturally progresses.
Stray Gods contains optional subtitles, which are displayed at the top of the screen. They’re presented by default in a Sans Serif font for easier legibility, and can be increased to a larger font size.
You can also pause Stray Gods at any time, even during choice timers, and text will continue to appear on screen, meaning that if you need to pause to think over a choice, you can look at that choice text on screen to keep context while you mull things over.
Stray Gods contains a series of audio sliders for changing the audio mix of the game, as well as support for something that they call “night mode”, which reduces the peaks and valleys of the volume of the audio, so that loud sounds are less loud, and quieter sounds are less quiet, for a more consistent audio volume experience.
While this is aimed at making sure that people playing at night don’t disturb other people, and can hear all of the audio, it’s also going to be really useful for people with audio sensitivities such as autistic players.
Summerfall Studios do not claim that Stray Gods is fully accessible for blind players, but it may be playable for certain blind players, with specific caveats.
Stray Gods does feature audio descriptions, pausing the game to have a text to speech narrator describe on screen visual events to blind players, but the game does not support feature text to speech or screen reader support currently for menu text, or narrative choice text.
A sightless blind player may need sighted assistance to navigate into the game itself, and may need to rely on context clues to navigate narrative choices unassisted.
During songs, when narrative choices appear, the choice on the left will always be what the game calls “Charming”, the top option will always be what they call “Kickass”, and right option will always be what they call “Clever”.
This consistent position means that a sightless player may be able to make these choices unassisted, but they will be missing context on exactly what they’re about to say, beyond simply the general tone of an answer. Sighted players can read on screen text to see what they’re about to say.
Summerfall Studios staff are aiming to improve this in the future, but this is the way this is going to be at launch. There is some hope that it might change in a post launch update.
While not perfect, it is positive to see audio descriptions being included in Stray Gods. While they won’t make the game at launch playable without sighted assistance for all sightless blind players, they will improve playability for those with partial sight, or sighted assistance available, or those willing to push through with a little bit of guesswork to make the game playable. If nothing else, for me as a sighted gamer who plans to stream the game, it means that I can ensure my streams are more accessible for sightless viewers, ensuring that they get more information about what’s on screen, and I really appreciate that.
All controls in Stray Gods can be remapped, and the game does not require any button mashing or lengthy button holds by design to complete. You don’t have to go into the settings and turn those off.
No information that’s vital to completing Stray Gods will be conveyed via only audio or only colour, with traits for example always being conveyed by both a colour and a matching icon, to ensure colourblind playability.
While Stray Gods does contain some Visual FX that cannot be switched off, and some scene transitions that are fades between scenes but might appear to flicker for some players, the developers have apparently put a lot of effort into making sure that Stray Gods contains no repeated flashes, as well as minimising the sizes of any flashes that do appear on screen, as well as trying to follow best practices to minimise the risk for photosensitive players where they can.
This is not a promise of safety, but an awareness of the issues that photosensitive players experience, and an attempt to minimise risk.
This is really important messaging, because it’s really dangerous to label a game as safe for photosensitive players, because there are so many very varied potential photosensitivity triggers. It’s really good that they’re talking about this in terms of “We’ve minimised risk, but we can’t promise you it’s safe”.
Players can at any time go back to an earlier scene in Stray Gods to change their narrative choices, but they will need to replay the game from that point forward due to changes they’ve caused due to narrative branches.
Lastly, the Stray Gods Accessibility page lists a handful of content warnings for the game. While there are drop down options to read more information, these provide minimal additional context as to when they’re going to come up and exactly what’s going to happen. This is one area where I wish that the accessibility page could be improved, as specificity is really important in proper content warning support.
Examples of games that handle specificity really well in terms of content warnings include Tell Me Why, which went into deep spoiler specifics about the context and content of content warnings weeks ahead of the game’s release, or Ikenfell which included that same sort of level of specificity and a skip scene option in game when these scenes were about to occur.
Still, content warnings full stop are still rare in gaming, and their presence on this accessibility page is appreciated.
You can check the link in the video description to read the little bit of specifics that there are, but in broad terms the game will include themes of Alcohol Use, Violence, PTSD, Death, and Suicide.
One thing that I really appreciate about the accessibility page for Stray Gods, beyond it simply existing weeks before the game’s release which is really positive and still very rare, is the fact that the game’s developers are acknowledging up front the areas where their accessibility support may not be sufficient for certain players.
They recognise that they, at launch, may fall short of things like their blind player support aims, while still detailing what settings they do have available, without beating themselves up over the progress that still needs to be made.
They acknowledge that their accessibility efforts could, and should, improve post release, something that I’d love to see more developers acknowledge up front in their pre release accessibility communications.
Not every game is going to be perfectly accessible, and being aware of that and addressing what things you know about, and what things you’re still planning to work on, is really important.
Stray Gods releases on August 10th, and seems like it’s going to be exactly my kind of game. I’m excited to give it a play through on stream, with Audio Descriptions active to make sure that more people can join me in enjoying the story.
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