For a while now, Sea of Thieves has been quietly and consistently making accessibility improvements to its core gameplay loop as part of regular game updates.
The Xbox and PC multiplayer pirate adventure simulator has a lengthy history of not only adding new accessibility settings to the game over time, including options such as Auto Move, Single Stick Navigation, and Auto Centre Camera, but also including elements of inherently accessible design, such as picking colours designed to be inherently discernable to colourblind players without filters needing to be applied.
I haven’t really taken the time to dedicate an episode of Access-Ability to Sea of Thieves in the past, but it’s one of those games that I know I am long overdue giving a moment in the spotlight, as it is one of the best examples out there right now of a live service game, several years post release, that is still making efforts to improve accessibility over time, often in innovative ways that are not simply following another game’s blueprint.
Last week, as part of a video sharing Sea of Thieves update news, it was revealed that Sea of Thieves would be getting a new setting called Audio Aim Assist, designed to help partially sighted and sightless blind players engage in Sea of Thieves’ first person shooting gameplay without sighted assistance.
Here’s how the new system works – When players have their gun out and aimed with this new setting active, and there is an enemy nearby, they will hear a clicking noise. Wearing stereo headphones, the clicking noise will be panned to either the left or right to tell the player which direction they need to aim, and the clicking will get faster as the reticle gets closer to the enemy. If the player needs to aim up or down, the clicking will raise or lower in pitch to communicate that, with a solid single click when the reticle is aimed at the enemy’s position.
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This is certainly not the first game to attempt to include audio cues to indicate directions to players, Street fighter 6 earlier this year introduced new assist features for blind players that worked on a similar principle, and the upcoming Forza Motorsport will have a similar system to assist blind players in driving around race tracks at high speed. Audio Aim Assist in Sea of Thieves is similar in execution, but because it focuses on a player aiming at targets that may be higher or lower than the player, the changes in pitch system is needed to add an extra dimension to the information provided.
As someone who doesn’t play a huge amount of Sea of Thieves myself, the main reason I follow the game is because of the developers ongoing efforts with accessibility. I struggle to play the game myself, but there are a bunch of disabled gamers I know who absolutely love the game, and find that it’s offering the kinds of support they need to not only game, but play a multiplayer game with a seemingly lovely community. It might not be a game I get on well with, but I can certainly respect what it’s achieving.
From mono audio, which is really useful when I sometimes find my hearing quality drops for a few days in one ear, to options for translating voice chat or making the X where treasure is buried more visually prominent, there’s a lot of features I value in Sea of Thieves, and it’s always exciting when something new gets added to the list available.
Sea of Thieves is a game that has been making strides for years in terms of making a 3D open world online adventure accessible to disabled players, including sightless blind players. This new system is an exciting step along that road, and I honestly can’t wait to see what the developers come up with next.
I hope Sea of Thieves sticks around as a game for a long time, because it constantly strives toward improved accessibility, and that deserves to be supported.