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Double Fine: “Simple choices can have profound impact” on accessibility


Yesterday at Develop Brighton, Double Fine Productions talked about how the studio approached mental health and accessibility in the development of Psychonauts 2 .

Development Director Kevin Johnson explained how the studio approaches accessibility, and as part of his key takeaways, he reminded attendees that “if you don't intentionally include, you inadvertently exclude.”

“Knowing that just that one little checkbox can open the door for thousands of people to play your game is incredibly empowering”

He explained how Double Fine was able to attend inclusive design workshops and speak directly to gamers with disabilities, “hearing from them how they play games, what challenges they face, and what they want to get out of games.”

He highlights how important it is to make time for these conversations if you want to improve the accessibility of your projects.

“It's giving us new lenses to look at, and understanding how even simple choices can have a profound impact,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing is that you can turn off the rumble in your game. It seems like, 'OK, nice little checkbox, great,' but for people who suffer from chronic pain, or people who suffer from sensory overload, this is something that can be the difference between playing your game and not playing it.”


“And knowing that, just that little checkbox, can open the door for thousands of people to play your game is incredibly empowering.”

Johnson also encouraged developers to talk to their team so staff members could bring diverse perspectives. He experiences color blindness himself and so was able to offer direct feedback when Double Fine implemented color blind options in Psychonauts 2.

“You want to learn from your team. I brought my knowledge of color-blindness, and we were able to address that; there were people on our team who suffered from motion sickness, so they formed their own little strike team and went through the game to highlight the parts of Psychonauts 2 that were triggering the motion sickness.

“We were then able to go in and improve those areas, but then we decided: why don't we give the player that choice? And so there's a slider in the game where you can control the amount of camera shake in the game, and you can even turn it off if you need to.”

Earlier in the conversation, Johnson went through the trial and error process that led to Double Fine creating a font from scratch for Psychonauts 2 to ensure it would be dyslexia-friendly. While this isn't something every team can do, he advised developers to look at readily available fonts that could serve the same purpose, such as OpenDyslexicIt's free and the license allows commercial use.

Finally, he urged developers to take advantage of the advice of professionals, including that Double Fine has teamed up with the charity SpecialEffect.

“SpecialEffects has inspired us,” concluded Johnson. “They’ve always kept us on our toes. The work they do is amazing. We can’t do what they do. But we can do things in our games that make it easier for them to do what they do, so that opens the door for other people.

“And at the end of the day, just remember that if you don’t consciously include you will inadvertently exclude. And that’s really the essence of it. It’s about being thoughtful, understanding the impact of your decisions, and understanding why you’re doing or not doing a particular thing, and what that will mean going forward.”



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