2020-11-10 20:35:55

Hello, I'm Joonas Muukkonen, lead programmer of Kilta and the main figure behind all accessibility related functionality in the game. Here I'd like to go over some accessibility related topics and some reasoning on why the early access version of the game won't immediately launch with accessibility features.

Many people coming from the blind and visually impaired community might be familiar with AudioWizards. AudioWizards is an audiogame developed by myTrueSound, which initially was launched on mobile platforms and later got ported to PC. In AudioWizards, the audio game experience was the main development focus: fun to play and fully accessible audiogame. Now, I'm using AudioWizards as an example because it's important to differentiate between arcade style mobile game and fully-fledged strategic RPG game aimed to PC platform. The scope of the game correlates with how challenging it is to implement the accessible functions. And Kilta is way bigger game than AudioWizards.

In AudioWizards the accessibility could be divided into two parts: the menu navigation and the gameplay interactions. The menu navigation was quite straightforward, as most of the menus were handled with buttons and maybe some sliders here and there. The gameplay interactions were also relatively easy to implement, as you only needed to give players the information about the selected spell, the amount of lives left and the super spell timer.

By contrast, in Kilta the accessibility is divided into three parts, each of them being multiple times harder to tackle than anything found in AudioWizards. The three parts would be menu navigation, guild management and battle mode.

To start off with the menu navigation related challenges, the biggest issue is just the sheer amount of user interface dedicated to the navigating around the game. There are progress screens, new game screens, dialogue scenes, recruitment overlays, help pop ups, many different types of tooltips and multitude of custom graphical elements to display varying amount of relevant information to the player. Actually, in Kilta there is more source code for the user interface alone than all the source code in AudioWizards! And each time some menu element is changed, moved or altered in some way, the accessibility of the said element needs to be tested and, in most cases, re-implemented. Even though Kilta is utilizing this ready-made plugin called UAP ("Unity Accessibility Plugin"), most of its features are designed for mobile market first. Adding accessibility to the more dynamic menu elements found in Kilta is going to be a very time-consuming process.

The second set of challenges comes from the guild management. The main design principle for the guild management was to make it as easy to use for sighted audience as possible. The way you manage your heroes and items is handled via mouse drag & drop. Player can see also all the details of an item or hero when you hover the mouse over the draggable graphic. This system was completely custom built and since it doesn't utilize any of the Unity's default UI navigation components, I had to custom made all the accessible navigation of those components. During the early development time, we considered a second option of making a completely different user interface for the guild management that would be utilized only when the accessibility mode of the game was enabled. But the downside of that option (and why we didn't choose it) was that it would essentially double the work required when any new guild management related feature was implemented. I like my code to be efficient, and programming two times the same thing was horrifying. Definitely, the guild-management related accessibility is one of the main contributors to the fact that the early access launches without the accessibility features. Some of the new gameplay mechanics that we implemented during the last weeks were additions to the guild management system.

The last part of the accessibility related challenges are found in the battle mode. Some of the remaining accessibility roadblocks present in the current state of the game are located there. First off, there is a completely custom-built system where you position the heroes inside a 3x3 grid at the beginning of each battle. The gameplay during the battle mode takes place in this environment and uses pixel art hero and enemy sprites. The accessibility had to once again be tied to this select and deselect system implemented for sighted audience, which ended up taking quite a much development time to get just right. Once the battle starts, it's not yet fully clear how much we want the text-to-speech to deliver information about ability usages, hero or enemy incapacitation, status effect timers, and all what is going on in the screen. For sure we want to share with you all what is going on during the battle, but there is so much going on simultaneously, that we need to do that efficiently, and not only using text-to-speech tools. Overall, most of the information during the battles will be decipherable from the sound design, as there are different sound effects for different damage amounts and damage types for example. However, there are still multiple events taking place during the battles that will need some sort of text-to-speech solution.

All in all, I hope the above text gives some insight on the decision to not launch the early access without accessibility features enabled. There is still certain amount of work left to do for our compromise to make Kilta fully accessible to all audiences. I hope you understand now a bit better, and also support us considering the size of our company and our resources, why the main development focus has been to get out as stable version of the game as possible.
Nevertheless, I’m sure you will have the chance to play this game sooner or later. I promise to bring you further updates of the status of the accessibility after the early access launch.

mytruesound.com - we hear the difference

2020-11-10 20:38:01

Disclaimer: The above message was written by Joonas Muukkonen, the lead programmer and accessibility expert in myTrueSound, but I published it from my profile. All merits go to him

mytruesound.com - we hear the difference

2020-11-10 22:07:49

Very understandable, thank you for the explanation.
I wonder if an end of turn battle log such as in A Hero's Call or Tactical Battle would help with the TTS spam?  You could use as many easily recognizable abbreviations as possible and cut down the verbosity by removing unnecessary connecting words.  For a detailed and nicer looking overview the battle log would always be their for those who wanted it.
I suppose that the drag and drop guild interface was considered necessary to give the game an up to date feel so that it didn't look as if it was lagging behind the industry standard, but damn that has got to be hard to deal with accessibility wise.
I know this is going to take allot more work and already has, so Joonas I just want you to know that we appreciate it and wish you luck!

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2020-11-10 22:24:23

I echo defender's thoughts here, it's perfectly understandable why the addition of accessibility will take longer to implement, and I do appreciate that it's being written into the interface in such a way that new content updates for the game will not require a full accessibility rewrite.

While none of the game UI elements you mention sound insurmountable from an access perspective, I can see that simply including the extra screens and so on will take more work.

My only miner concern, is that in the games development, changes in the UI design won't essentially back accessibility out of the running.
I can think of two occasions previously, star traders 2 and an old game called empires and dungeons, where access was promised and never materialised because in further developing the UI and exploring gameplay options, accessibility had to fall by the way side, and this after, in the case of star traders 2, the game had already gone through a kickstarter campaign on the basis of that accessibility (though in fairness to the developers, they did return the money I'd contributed to the Kickstarter campaign when accessibility wasn't happening).

So, while I'm absolutely okay with waiting, I do hope the waiting won't be fruitless, and in the tumult of a first release, bug fixes, reviews, reports, immediate content updates and so on, that directions won't be lost as far as accessibility goes.

With our dreaming and singing, Ceaseless and sorrowless we! The glory about us clinging Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing; O men! It must ever be
That we dwell in our dreaming and singing, A little apart from ye. (Arthur O'Shaughnessy 1873.)

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