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Tipping Hats and Wagging Fingers

Welcome back to another installment of my colorblind-awareness series. Since last time I covered the basics of the issue at hand, this time around will be all about showing off some of the games that bring colorblindness into the spotlight, for both better and worse. The examples that follow either found a suitable way to allow colorblind gamers to enjoy everything the game had to offer, or were downright unplayable because of their unthinkable ignorance from development through QA testing. I flipped a coin to determine which group I’d write about first, but I’m just going to go with the unplayable ones anyway.

Because just like Dent, I make my own luck
(Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures)

For the games deserving of a wag of our fingers, I’m going to break this down into three categories to make it easier to digest: Stealth games, Puzzle games and everything else. (Don’t worry, the last section will be a brief list.) Doing things this way seems to make the most sense both because these genres tend to have the most difficulty in providing balanced, equal experiences for everyone; and because each section will then shed a uniquely specific light on a development issue from a colorblind perspective. Ready? And here. We. Go.

You thought there was going to be a Joker pic after that, didn’t you? Yeah, so did I. Oh well. Okay, back on track. Stealth games, a genre based on subtlety and subterfuge. These are worlds where color should matter little to those who hide amongst the shadows and strike with quiet precision. These games understandably rely on patience, visual cues, and often times, pattern memorization. This past year brought us Dishonored, a wonderful steampunk stealth-action fantasy that gave me all the tools I needed to complete a no-kill ghost playthrough. It is a wonderful example of how to provide distinguishable visual cues no matter what your color-deficiency is. You want to know a couple games that are wonderful examples of how NOT to provide visual cues? Splinter Cell: Double Agent and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Here’s why: Whereas the original Splinter Cell provided a meter on the screen to let you know how visible you were to enemies, DA decided a fun way to improve upon that would be a light that I’m told changes hue depending on how visible you are. Snake Eater cries “realism” as it’s excuse to drape everything in camouflage, including those one-hit-kill death traps littering the forest, but if that were actually true everyone who was red-green colorblind would think the game was a cakewalk. (See: My military sniping link from last week.) I say it’s just a miserable experience.

I assume they also decided to put a bicycle bell on his zip line and some chattering teeth in his backpack
(Photo Courtesy: Ubisoft)

Speaking of miserable experiences, I mentioned last week how every puzzle game should have to include a colorblind mode. I don’t see how a game that hinges on a singular gameplay element could exist without it. The fact that only some puzzle games include something like shapes or symbols to differentiate from whatever you're matching/stacking/shooting balls at is just ludicrous. While it’s true there have been efforts made and great strides taken, we still live in a world where some puzzle games are needlessly unplayable. I’m looking at you, Puzzle Fighter. If you’re going to use different shapes, why still include duplicate shapes of similar colors? Then there’s always PC game The Void, a game that uses color to represent everything from health and ammo to collectible resources. I don’t think I need to explain any further. Last, but certainly not least on the list of puzzle games deserving a good finger wagging, is the “classic” Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. They say time heals all wounds; well I’m here to tell you that’s a load, because not even eternity is long enough to forget this abomination.

Roboticizing cute, innocent woodland creatures, I’ll forgive. But for this, you rotund bastard, you’ll pay
(Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia Entry (originally from theghz.com))

Ugh, I hate that game. So now we’ve come to the proverbial rest of the crap. (Seanbaby is awesome if you’ve never read his stuff from either EGM or Cracked.) We’ll call this the rapid fire round, and how it works is I’m going to list a bunch of games and what they did wrong. Some of these grievances are specific to only one game mode (for instance, multiplayer) while others have flaws that render the game wholly unplayable to roughly 9% of the male population and .5% of all ladies. As a side note, I find this section becomes more enjoyable if you add the phrase, “Come on, Man!” to the end of every entry a la Monday Night Football.

1) Dirt Showdown 2: Uses red and green markers as waypoints during events. I’m also told the game goes on to taunt you using colorblind as an insult for poor performance. (Thanks to D’toid user Ian Hamilton for the heads up.)

2) Alpha Squad: The color of nametags and icons used to differentiate friendlies and hostiles in multiplayer is indistinguishable.

3) Shadow Complex: Color coordination is used to specify types of locked doors/breakable walls Metroid style. Red for missiles, green for grenades, blue for foam, etc. At least ammo isn’t too scarce.

4) Mirror’s Edge: Just follow the red line…

5) Red Dead Redemption/Grand Theft Auto: Choosing a point of interest shows a direct route to that location on the map, except it’s impossible to see from the mini-map. Trying to get anywhere becomes a classic road trip movie stereotype of having to “unfold” the full-screen map every few seconds.

6) Rockstar Games Present’s Table Tennis: The spin of the ball is displayed as colored streaks, so it is impossible to play with any sort of strategy or finesse.

7) The Fifa Series: Multiplayer differentiates players with small, colored triangles. Good luck keeping track of who is who when teaming up against other players.

8) X-Men Origins: Wolverine: “Feral senses” mode tells you how to progress. It does so by making everything a blurry glow of light and then marks points of interest with red and green.
Now these aren’t of course the only offenders, but this list offers a good range of possible issues colorblind gamers run into when playing a typical new release that doesn’t feature a colorblind mode of any kind.

Just follow the red line… Come on, Man!
(Photo Courtesy: ESPN)

Now that we’ve seen how NOT to make a video game, we can get on to the main event; praising those developers that not only “add in” a colorblind mode after the fact, but more often than not simply develop games from the ground up with colorblind folks in mind. Here are, according to my own experiences, the top three developers that are great at making colorblind-inclusive games: Valve, BioWare and PopCap games.

It should come as little surprise to see Valve in any list that praises the gaming industry, and why not? They’re an excellent, devoted team who knows exactly who their audience is, and how to best interact with them. They have developed games across multiple genres; from the beloved Half Life series, to the multiplayer chaos that is Team Fortress 2, and most recently a couple small games you may have heard about featuring a perfectly sane robot named GlaDOS. But you want to know what’s crazy? (Besides GlaDOS, I mean.) I’ve been able to enjoy every single game they’ve ever put out without ever feeling like being colorblind was a hindrance. Sure, there is a petition going around because people feel the “colorblind mode” in TF2 is insufficient, and that’s fine. I take the fact that people are asking that this game be playable by folks suffering from monochromatic colorblindness as a sign that they’re doing things right. Most developers can’t even make a game without relying on red and green, let alone using no colors at all. I tip my hat to you, Valve.

As if you needed another reason to love Valve
(Photo Courtesy: Valve)

BioWare is always very vocal about their stance on being all-inclusive. They come under a lot of fire for their Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’ openness to same-sex relationships/romance options, but that’s another issue. So, simply focusing on the playability aspect of BioWare developed games from a colorblind standpoint, they deliver. A shining example here is the original DA, Dragon Age: Origins. The options menu in Origins allows just about any type of configuration you can imagine; including everything a colorblind gamer needs to enjoy the entirety of the game. In fact, the game did such a great job, it won the AbleGamers Foundation’s 2009 Accessible Game of the Year. Hard to argue with that.

Both Valve and BioWare are pretty big dogs in the yard of PC/console gaming, but considering the popularity of the ever-growing casual market, it’s also necessary for developers of mobile-focused games to do their part. Now PopCap Games is by no means just some casual developer, but their games do manage to reach a wide audience regardless of “core” status within the gaming community. As such, it’s their responsibility to make their games as accessible as possible, and boy do they deliver. Just look at their list of games. From Plants vs. Zombies, to Feeding Frenzy and all the various incarnations of Bejeweled, PopCap can take any genre and develop a game that anyone can play. Perhaps the most obvious way to show what makes them great is a simple screenshot of the colorblind mode featured in Peggle. Mixing more vibrant colors with added symbols within shapes, this mode takes an otherwise unplayable game, and makes it totally accessible. Kudos, PopCap, you are certainly worthy of a tip of my hat.

An easy, effective way for puzzle games to add a colorblind mode
(Photo Courtesy: PopCap Games)

And with that, lads and lasses, we reach the end of another segment. Next week will feature the things developers can do to build a colorblind-inclusive game from the ground up. In the meantime, I encourage anyone looking to learn more about colorblind-gaming awareness, or those just curious to read more about the issue or connect with fellow gamers and share experiences, to join my new Google+ community: Colorblind Gamers Unite! The best way to encourage change is to simply get people talking, so let’s talk! Thanks for tuning in.
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About MarvelFan89one of us since 11:20 AM on 01.02.2013

I guess I'm the typical, modern day nerd. I was raised right on Batman: TAS and old-school TMNT. I've been a core gamer since I was 2 years old (I was beating Mario before I could finish sentences) and haven't thought twice about it since. My favorite game genre is RPG for sure. I love the advent of channels like Nerdist and Geek and Sundry, and will never turn down an invitation to a Con. (Though I don't cosplay... yet.) I hate not owning the latest and greatest gadgets and aspire to find my place in the world of game journalism.

Favorite Games: The Mass Effect trilogy, Super Mario World, the BioShock series, the Ratchet and Clank series, anything featuring Nolan North.

Favorite shows: FireFly (Browncoats, unite!), Bones, Castle, Spectacular Spider-Man (RIP), Transformers Prime. Anything featuring the voice talents of Steve Blum, Gina Torres, Ashley Johnson, or Yuri Lowenthal.

Favorite Comics: Amazing Spider-Man (Thanks for the memories), most things featuring Batman, any one where Green Arrow makes an appearance.