Naughty Dog’s magnum opus Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End makes the series more accessible to disabled gamers than ever before, without sacrificing quality or gameplay.
If you haven’t yet picked up Nathan Drake’s latest outing on the PS4, I’ll have a full review for you in the near future. Spoiler alert, if you haven’t used the Internet in a month or so: it’s undeniably brilliant. But what’s more, it’s also just as good for people functioning with an array of disabilities. In a video posted to YouTube, Naughty Dog developers Emilia Schatz, Andres Ortiz, and Alex Neonakis elaborate:
Disabled Accessibility for Gaming Entertainment Rating System (D.A.G.E.R.) editor-in-chief Josh Straub approached Emilia at GDC to talk about his frustrations with Uncharted 2 — namely, his inability to complete the game’s “Quick-Time Events” toward the end of the game, due to his disability. This in part prompted the team to take a deeper look into how people with disabilities might better enjoy the game.
As a geek with no small amount of medical drama of my own, I can relate to the need for a virtual escape from the special trials of daily life. Naughty Dog’s attention to detail isn’t just pandering to a demographic, it is a conscious and significant step forward for people who can most appreciate the opportunity to be an able-bodied action hero. In Straub’s own words:
When I turn on a game like Uncharted, I’m not, you know, confined to a wheelchair. I’m a swashbuckling ne’er-do-well treasure hunter like Nathan Drake. That brief period of escape is why accessibility is so crucial, because the more games that offer that, the more people with disabilities will be able to escape and have better lives.
Alex Neonakis on the multiplayer side of development is red-green colorblind and couldn’t tell whether players were actually on his team or not during matches. He asked whether the teams could be changed from Red vs. Green to Red vs. Blue. Then he went ahead and did it, and “nobody ever questioned it.”
Aside from allowing buttons to be held down instead of mashed, and reducing the need for control of the right stick on the PS4 controller, Uncharted 4 also includes various settings for aiming and camera movement.
The initiative began with Naughty Dog’s previous post-apocalypse action-horror romp, The Last Of Us. “Let’s make this for a wider audience,” Schatz proposed, “but how much wider can we make it?” The team seems to have succeeded. And while making it “[playable] with a head switch” might be a bit unrealistic, Josh Straub asserts that if you “make the controller flexible enough” then you’ve already done a lot.
It’s a big payoff for just a little bit of extra time and attention, and an investment in gamers that anyone can get behind. With any luck, other major developers will take note. All things being fair, though, I’m not sure anyone can adequately account for Polygon’s particular issues.
Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.