EA’s assistance was crucial, not only in offering suggestions but also in helping to refine occasionally troublesome settings. Edagawa notes that the development of specific features and designs, even though they were incorporated at the earliest stages, occasionally conflicted with certain aspects of Wild Hearts. However, since they were a core component of accessibility, developers continuously worked so disabled players could play their game.
“The hardest feature to implement was color blindness support,” Edagawa says. “As it’s a basic accessibility feature, we were careful from the beginning of the development process to ensure that the UX was not dependent on colors. However, there were some moments where using different colors could not be avoided, or it was easier to distinguish by colors though it could be distinguished by other factors. We continued to adjust color blindness support features until the very end.”
Hi-Fi Rush unexpectedly released in January to immense praise. Players found the rhythmic combat unique and entertaining, and disabled individuals had access to numerous settings that help players alleviate exhaustion, like Auto-Action Mode and difficulty settings. And this attention to accessibility isn’t new. Since the company’s 2014 release of The Evil Within, developers at Tango Gameworks have been working to make accessibility a core design principle. For John Johanas, Hi-Fi Rush is a culmination of years of efforts to welcome disabled players.
“The trend was kick-started in the US, where we see the effort put into accessibility and showing that it’s not about destroying your gameplay experience, but just allowing people to enjoy the experience that you’re trying to create,” Johanas says. “As we progressed—and this is pre-Microsoft, at least for Hi-Fi Rush—we had two accessibility things that we approached the title with. One was accessibility settings in a menu, things you can control and turn on if you want to play a specific way. The other was about just making the experience itself accessible.”
Hi-Fi Rush currently offers a variety of accessibility settings such as subtitles, control customization, a color-blind mode, and even options to visualize rhythms. But options alone are not enough for many disabled players. Johanas notes that he and developers looked to studios like Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games for inspiration, but including an overwhelming number of options wasn’t feasible for this specific title. Instead, his team needed to ensure that the game would still be accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals without extensive features.
“So we said, what can we do in the visual aspect to assist players who have issues with identifying rhythm or are hard of hearing in general,” Johanas says. “We looked at how things were interpreted, like how many types of subtitles were used, for example, to get the character interactions as visual as possible, as well as working into that every aspect of the visual, like UI, to make it so there’s lots of different ways that people can interpret the rhythm, even if they can’t hear it.”
These settings and design practices were not easy to implement. Johanas and his team wanted to create a balance between offering assistance while still providing an entertaining challenge for disabled players. Thankfully, Tango Gameworks received additional support from ZeniMax Media’s accessibility team. Through their own extensive knowledge and resources, as well as disabled play testers, Hi-Fi Rush launched in a playable state and continues to evolve in patches.