Marvel’s Spider-Man released exclusively for PlayStation 4 on September 7, and it’s not only one of the best games starring Peter Parker in recent memory, but a great example of accessibility in the AAA space.
Since its launch, people across the world have been applauding Insomniac Games for its work on options that make playing Spider-Man a welcoming experience for everyone. These settings can be found right before starting the game, in a window in the main menu that lets players customize their experience beforehand.
It includes features such as skipping Quick Time Events and Puzzle sections, changing button taps to button holds while performing specific actions, turning on a big subtitles mode with an option to enable background voice lines, and modifying the HUD so all elements are fixed or disabled altogether.
We reached out to gamers who benefit from these settings to discuss the importance of accessibility in video games, how it should be introduced, and if there’s any room for improvement.
A new standard
Recently, several studios have placed a focus on providing a more accessible experience for as many people as possible. Colorblind modes, larger subtitles, and button remapping have become frequent in games, and some developers have built in new settings that can help modify the experience.
Indie games like Celeste or the recently released Shadow of the Tomb Raider provide customizable difficulty settings that help ensure the best experience for as many people as possible. All things considered, it’s Spider-Man’s quality of life improvements that have become the new standard going forward.
Brendan Sinclair, North American Editor for GamesIndustry.biz, found the option to skip puzzles useful after realizing he didn’t enjoy those segments in Spider-Man. He was even more surprised with the Midnight Audio setting, which dynamically adapts the volume for late night gaming sessions.
“I mostly play games after my kid’s in bed, and it’s always annoying when I’m watching a TV show or playing and having to constantly crank the volume up for quiet conversations and then back down again whenever the action picks up or dramatic music swells,” he explains.
“Most of these accessibility options offer quality of life improvements and address irritations I might never have even consciously articulated before.”
“Spider-Man feels like the first game that’s taken everything we’ve been asking for and found a way to make it work.”
Subtitles have been a concurrent topic throughout the year, both for their correct and incorrect uses. For Susan Banks, a disabled writer who does deaf game reviews that highlight their accessibility, customizing subtitles is a must. She explains that indie developers are usually the ones reaching out on social media for feedback — but Insomniac Games set a new standard for AAA games.
“Spider-Man feels like the first game that’s taken everything we’ve been asking for and found a way to make it work. I loved that there was absolutely nothing in-game, no cinematics or anything, that happened before you had the chance to tweak the options to suit you,” Susan says.
Although her review of Spider-Man was a very positive one, there’s still room for improving subtitles. Susan wished it would have been possible to add captions for citizens that interact with Spidey when asking for selfies or high-fives, as well as some additional font size options.
“The sizes available aren’t a problem for me, but I don’t think two options is quite enough to call them fully accessible subtitles.”
For many others, these accessibility features became a lifesaver when approaching the overwhelming experience that is Marvel’s Spider-Man. A fully explorable New York City, a fast-paced and complex combat system with stealth sections, and numerous moments that require you to act fast, both in and out of story make it a lot to learn — and one of the best PS4 games of 2018.
Instead of running the chance of missing out on events like stopping a high-speed stolen car or rescuing civilians in street accidents, options such as changing tap to hold, deactivating quick time events, and skipping puzzles became a choice from the get-go.
A signal boost
Shou is a streamer born with cerebral palsy who has been streaming for five years now, and he can use only two (and occasionally three) right-hand fingers. “I don’t let that stop me. Spidey’s accessibility options and those in similar games are a humongous step forward,” he explained.
“Spidey’s accessibility options and those in similar games are a humongous step forward.”
Shou uses a controller adapter with paddles that are remapped to L2 and R2 buttons.
“Really, this is the only ‘special’ thing I use: a $40 add-on that just clips onto the Dualshock 4 controller. That being said, I did also have to remap L1 and R1 to the D-Pad.”
He still had an issue with the L3+R3 combination used in Spider-Man to activate special attacks unlocked by Spidey’s suits. This year’s God of War also made use of this same button combination to activate Kratos’ Spartan Rage.
Nonetheless, Santa Monica Studio’s latest update integrated a few of the accessibility options present in Marvel’s Spider-Man, something that the streamer Laukidh has wanted for years. “I am disabled with chronic pain and have a lot of trouble with my hands, and I raved about switching taps to holds in both games as it can be painful for me.”
Nicadoodles is a disabled artist who, with the increase of software and hardware capabilities, would like to see voice input options for people with motor function restrictions, and less use of the blur effect in games to prevent motion sickness.
She found the option of disabling quick time events vital, adding “we just want to be able to play along with the rest of the community. We want to escape and have fun! I know for a fact that having games in my life is what makes my ‘low spoon’ days bearable.”
“As someone who was born without the lower half of their right arm, seeing the game’s accessibility menu before the first cutscene rolls is not only a major step in making games more accessible, it provided me with an important sense and feeling of acknowledgment.”
Spider-Man’s accessibility options have even encouraged players who are usually wary of approaching big and complex open-world games, including people who haven’t touched the game. Jesse, a scholar and bioanthropologist with dyspraxia, often finds navigating through game worlds and puzzle sections extremely difficult. Spider-Man seems to be the exception.
“When you place settings under an accessibility menu you might be over-promising on what they can do.”
“I’d love to be able to skip something that’s obstructing my enjoyment or completion when I’m being impaired from understanding it due to my disability,” they said.
Cherry Thompson, Accessibility Consultant and Streamer, was glad to know about the accessibility options in Spider-Man but thinks that separating these settings isn’t the right path onwards.
“With the advent of accessibility specific menus, it’s starting to get confusing about where to look for particular settings like controls, subtitles, [and] video or audio settings that were traditionally under other menus. ” Cherry explains.
“There’s also the issue that a lot of people who benefit from these kinds of settings may not think they need ‘accessibility’ and as such won’t find them. For some of us … when you place settings under an accessibility menu you might be over-promising on what they can do.”
Insomniac Games has set a new example for AAA games of the importance of settings that can adapt to each player’s capabilities and tailor a game to fit their desired experience. While there’s still plenty of room for improvement, people that were always distanced from these kinds of games are finally able to truly enjoy them.