Color Blind Gaming

Armos Knights from A Link to the PastThe first game I got with my Super Nintendo when I was a kid was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and to this day I still haven’t completed it. Partly because back then the bosses scared the utter crap out of me. Those Armos Knights are one of the easiest bosses in the whole series, but they absolutely freaked me out as a kid. They’re huge, in comparison to Link, and they jump up and down in a way that seems to defy the dimensional space of the game. It was the first time I found myself actively stressed out playing a game and it was not enjoyable. But as terrible as the bosses were, it was the puzzles that actually were my roadblock. No, they aren’t hard. Honestly, the most you can say about a Zelda puzzle in terms of difficulty is that it might be confusing. It’s that a lot of the puzzles involve hitting various colored switches. Similarly, years later Paper Mario reduced me to tears with the “yellow, green, red, and then blue” blocks in the Toy Box.

Honestly, you’d be surprised how many games utilize color perception as a mechanic in some way. It might seem like a great way to create simple puzzles, but the reality is that it’s a very limiting and archaic way to do so since there really isn’t any cognitive reasoning behind such tasks. I’ve talked before about how colors are such a natural thing to us because we learn them at such a young age. Perhaps that’s why as a child it would frustrate me so much that something as simple as differentiating the color green was stopping me from progressing further in a game that I was tremendously enjoying. Call it stubborn determination, but I would try again and again to plow my way through these puzzles, spending hours stuck in the same place and/or resetting my game countless times. Sure, I could have just asked my parents to help me out, but I was too embarrassed to bring attention to the matter. Nowadays I can scour the Internet for a walkthrough to find a potential pattern for these puzzles or turn to my Twitter followers to aid with color choice options.

So, it was incredibly refreshing to hear a developer requesting color blind testers. After a bit of back-and-forth to confirm my complete lack of color perception wasn’t beyond their scope, I got a build of their game that crashed my computer. No, seriously, it was a pretty epic crash. I was quite impressed. By the time they got back in touch with me, the team had a new build to try out and this one did not eat my computer alive.

Contrasting colored tiles with distinct symbols from the game 404SightI had utterly no idea about the game before starting it up because I was too lazy to bother researching wanted to see how well I could use the game. This meant that I literally didn’t know what the heck to do and basically just wandered around the starting area. However, despite my inept playing, I did notice the different tiles on the ground. The team had done a wonderful job at making them distinct through the use of contrasting colors and identifying symbols. The tiles give the main character various abilities, though, all I could get her1 to do was randomly zoom into walls or fling about the screen like a ragdoll.

Anyway, what really stood out to me was that Retro Yeti Games had been thinking about player accessibility throughout their creation of 404Sight. That meant things like making sure it was color blind friendly were incorporated into the development of the game. And doing so, by their own assertion, “barely took any time.” I definitely join their bandwagon in wondering why more developers aren’t doing the same.

Last Dream tutorial showing the Dash commandYesterday I was reminded of all this when I finally followed the many recommendations I’ve received from people2 to play Last Dream. On the surface it sounds like exactly the kind of game I would instantly love. It’s basically an homage to all the retro JRPGs from my childhood. I can’t say whether or not I would enjoy it, though, since I got roadblocked by a color perception issue. My frustration and irritation at this was only compounded by the fact it happened in the tutorial! Yes, I could have utilized the aforementioned power of the Internet to get through this or reset the game and opted out of the tutorial. However, I could only assume, and the developer has since confirmed, that if color perception is being presented as a necessary mechanic in the tutorial it is present throughout the game itself.

The story could end there, but I sent an email to White Giant RPG, the independent studio that developed Last Dream and it’s forthcoming expansion and sequels, and they quickly responded with an apology and a refund. It was a grand gesture and I’m very appreciative. What truly made my day was their acknowledgement that they hadn’t thought about color perception when working on the game and were actively talking about how to improve the accessibility in the games they’re currently developing. Props to them; I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on their future work.

By the way, I know there’s been a lot of talk around here about video games lately and some of you must be wondering: “Why Bleu no blog about books or review movies?” I promise, I haven’t tossed all my energy into babbling about video games; it’s just that I haven’t run across anything that’s sparked enough commentary to write about in quite awhile. Yes, I could just post about whatever, but the idea is not to burn myself out because then you’ll just complain I’m not updating period.

  1. I didn’t know this then, but the main character is female.
  2. Not surprisingly, lately I’ve had a lot of contact from people suggesting various JRPGs to play. It’s awesome, even if most of them are games I’ve already played.

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