With no early release copies provided, DAGERS is using Destiny’s beta for disability accessibility takeaways in order to inform disabled gamers prior to the game’s release on September 9, 2014.
How well did Destiny fare with disability accessibility? It contained accessibility obstacles that are common with new IPs. Still, Destiny is essentially a console only MMO, and disabled gamers who want to participate in the new console experience should be mindful of its accessibility options.
Destiny is developed by Bungie, the creators of Halo. It centers on FPS gameplay with an RPG story combined with the exploration and gear grabs of an MMO. The beta showcased story based missions that are playable alone or with up to two other players for cooperative play and the Crucible which is the player versus player mode with standard multiplayer options such as Control in which players are split into two teams whose goal is to capture and hold control points.
From the title screen, it’s apparent that Bungie considered disability accessibility. Before the initial cut scene begins players are explicitly given access to subtitle options.
Subtitles appear during in-game dialogue and cut scenes but not for the Crucible’s voiced over instructions, audio cues, or the phrases spouted by the shopkeepers in the Tower. The enabled subtitles are yellow with a black outline. In well-lit environments as well as against lighter colors such as yellows and oranges, the subtitles are difficult to read. Any text color used is invariably unreadable against particular backgrounds without further contrast.
The subtitles weren’t timed well. Rather than scrolling during speech the subtitles appeared with all of the speaker’s text at once. In a game with an RPG style story, this often resulted in a paragraph of text appearing on the screen. A paragraph of text is difficult to read while simultaneously watching the accompanying video. Additionally, the subtitles were often obscured by onscreen notifications such as Grimoire unlocks.
Players are a Guardian, the last protectors of civilization against a growing menace, and choose from one of three Guardian classes: Hunter, Titan, and Wizard. The game begins with the player’s awakening by Ghost, the player’s AI companion, who opens doors, provides narrative exposition, and summons the Sparrow, a personal land vehicle. Immediately, the FPS gameplay begins. The gameplay’s hordes of alien enemies and no cover mechanic is reminiscent of Halo whereas the iron sights and special abilities differentiates Destiny as a new franchise.
Bringing the MMO genre to the consoles shows the roughest aspect of the transition in the gameplay. The difficulty is that MMOs on PCs have a wider variety of input options with a keyboard and mouse than is available with a controller. Therefore, every single button on the controller is utilized in order to incorporate both gameplay and social interactions. On top of a complex control scheme some features remain deep within the menus which prevents quick access for common function such as changing equipped gear or guns.
For players with fine motor disabilities the Destiny beta featured multiple controller schemes. While all of the controller layouts use all of the controller’s buttons, the configurations allows disabled players to prioritize preferred features.
The Stick options allows for swapping the sticks that control movement and the camera or to combine the control of movement and the camera. For the Button layouts, there are six available schemes – Default, Mirror, Green Thumb, Jumper, Cold Shoulder, and Puppeteer – and the option to swap the Triggers and Bumpers on any layout. The Button schemes combine both FPS gameplay and social interactions between players. As a result, functions are mapped to both Sticks that require pushing down on the Sticks, both Bumpers must be depressed simultaneously, and the D-pad controls four emotes – wave, dance, sit, and point.
The Button layouts most often move around Player Highlight which by default is mapped to pushing down the Right Stick to an easier to reach button. Jumper allows the player to activate the Super Ability, such as a limited time use of a very powerful Golden Gun for Hunters, with a face button press rather than the default of simultaneously pressing both Bumpers.
Overall, disabled Players can regulate lesser used features to the more difficult input options. The controller options are extensive but also reflect the struggle with making an intuitive control scheme and overall User Interface for the MMO genre on video game consoles due to both gameplay and social interactions.
Personally, I was unsure what Player Highlight was until late in the beta. I was using the Jumper button layout and ignored Player Highlight because the function required simultaneously pressing both Bumpers. However, Player Highlight is a social feature that enables players to assess and interact with others quickly using features like Join Fireteam, Invite to Fireteam and Send Friend Request. Being required to keep the cursor over another player and simultaneously pressing both Bumpers doesn’t assist with easy social interactions. Again, option changes require navigating multiple menus which makes a controller layout swap amidst the action difficult.
For visual disabilities, the Destiny beta featured a variety of visual cues with some more accessible than others. For example, the player’s HUD uses the profile of each weapon to denote which three weapons that player has equipped and the remaining bullet count is clearly readable in large numbers. Additionally, when the player positions their cursor over enemies a variety of information is clearly readable such as the enemy type, the hit damage dealt by the player, and the enemy’s health.
At the same time, the Destiny beta relied too much on color or a shimmer for looting and menu navigation. For example, in-game interactive objects had a clear glint. In the menus, a green background for equipment denoted superior gear while a clear shimmer highlighted new gear and recently unlocked upgrades. Additionally, the in-game mini map is at times difficult to see because it’s transparent. The mini-map has a small, white arrow that shows the player’s direction and red highlights within and along the circle’s perimeter appear as an alert of both the presence and nearness of enemies. But the mini-map is in fact mini and it is difficult to quickly assess its information.
The Destiny beta’s FPS gunplay is steady and satisfying which clearly showcases Bungie’s Halo roots. Yet, overall the Destiny beta showed why MMOs haven’t previously made a large scale appearance on consoles. The complexity of integrating combat and social controls onto the controller while maintaining friendly and usable menus is a difficult undertaking. Bungie clearly made particular efforts for disability accessibility from the subtitle option provided before the game began to the variety of controller schemes.
However, the Destiny beta was often simultaneously accessible and inaccessible for all disabled gamers. Disabled gamers should be aware that the complexity of bringing an MMO to the consoles brought traditional obstacles of video game accessibility that are namely based on an overload of information squeezed onto the controllers and the screen. Yet, particular features suggests that Bungie is aware of video game accessibility needs and the larger question is whether the inaccessibility will be addressed over the life of the game.