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Color Blindness Accessibility in Video Games

As an educational game developer, our games must be inclusive and enjoyable for players with diverse needs. In this insightful interview, we delve into Filament’s recent steps toward colorblind accessibility. Featuring Shawn Baxter, UI/UX Designer, and Kylie Gilde, Gameplay Engineer, this interview sheds light on their collaborative efforts to integrate customizable colorblind settings into Filament’s game design process. From the early stages of development to the intricacies of the user interface and player experience, this discussion reveals their thoughtful approach that enhances the accessibility of the learning gaming landscape!

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To start, briefly introduce yourself and your role at Filament. How does your role contribute to colorblind accessibility in our games?

Shawn Baxter: Hi! I’m Shawn Baxter, a UI/UX Designer at Filament Games. At Filament, we work hard to emphasize how players with color blindness will see our games. We strive to meet contrast standards and test our designs by running them through color blindness simulators to ensure everyone will be able to play our games without missing anything.  

Kylie Gilde: I’m Kylie Gilde, a Gameplay Engineer. I write the code that makes our games work. That also means that when my UX designer has an idea that needs code – like with accessibility – I work with them to figure out the best way to make it happen.

Does creating these customizable colorblind settings begin during a game’s development? Is this something integrated from the early stages of design or later?

SB: We specifically took time to develop this tool so that the entire studio could use it on their projects. Because of the hard work Kylie put in, the tool is very easily integrated into the project when the UI artist is ready.

KG: Shawn came to me when I was between projects and wanted my help building something that could be added to future games. The original idea was to adapt an existing tool, but it ended up making more sense to start from scratch so I could customize the entire experience for our designers.

As for integrating it into a game, I’ve done my best to make that possible at any stage in development. It’s probably a bit easier to do it later in the project, once the UX designer knows all the different colors and elements that will need to be added.

Can you describe the key features or adjustments you’ve implemented into this tool to make games more colorblind-friendly? What specific changes can players expect when using colorblind settings in the game?

SB: Aside from this tool, we always test for the legibility of the information that’s crucial for the player. Often this impacts what fonts we use, our iconography design, and our color palettes.

As far as the settings when in a game, the UI designer can set up as many color palettes as they’d like to give players plenty of options. Typically, we’ll have a default color palette, a high-contrast color palette for users who need high visibility, and palettes for deuteranopia, protanopia, and tritanopia

Our color blindness tool also has a feature that gives the player the ability to change any of the colors in those palettes. They can pick from a set of swatches or even create their own custom swatch. This way, a player can select any of the main elements in the game, like font color or button color, and adjust it to what makes it most visible for them.

Could you walk us through the steps in designing the user interface and accessibility menu for colorblind settings? What elements are typically included?

SB: When we first began talking about designing this tool for Filament projects, we did a deep dive into how other games handled color blindness settings in their own games. We found that most games just don’t support any color blindness features at all. Many of the games only apply a color filter to the entirety of the game, which doesn’t always solve the issues a colorblind player may be facing with the game’s content. So, our mission was to create a concept that gave more control to both our UI designers and the people who play our games. 

The tool we ended up creating allows our UI designers to add this color blindness feature to text, cameras, lights, materials, shaders, and particle systems. Once added, any of those elements can be adjusted by the player in the game’s color blindness menu.

KG: At first the tool was just going to work on UI elements – so buttons, images, text, that sort of thing. But I had so much fun making it that I kept adding more features! Now it can also be used, like Shawn mentioned, to adjust colors on lights, camera backgrounds, 3D objects (including custom shaders), and particle systems.

For the settings interface, the original was designed by Shawn as an example, with the expectation that each UI designer would match the style and theme to their game when adding the tool. I made sure that it could handle different numbers of palettes, color swatches, and preset custom colors so that designers could hook up as much as possible with minimal engineering support. 

We also thought it was important for the menu itself to use the tool, so that when players adjust the color for, say, the main background, they can see the background of the menu change in real-time. That way they can see an example of the colors without having to back out of the menu, check against the main game, and come back for adjustments.

What are the common types of adjustments that players can make using customizable colorblind settings? How do these adjustments impact the visual aspects of the game?

SB: The UI designer can add this color blindness feature to nearly every element of the game if they want to. In most instances, this will mean that any key information or interactions in the game will have this element on them. Text, buttons, indicators, dialogues, backgrounds, and so on are all customizable by the player. The tool will allow the player to customize any of these colors’ hue, saturation, and contrast within the color blindness menu.

KB: Shawn’s covered almost everything! When a UI designer creates a palette, they add different color swatches. Anything that the designer links to a given color swatch will use that color, and if the palette is changed, it will use the corresponding color there as well. Anything the designer adds to the palette can be customized by players.

How do you ensure that the customizable settings are effective and provide an improved gaming experience for players who have color blindness? What role has player feedback played in this process so far?

SB: When it comes to creating the various palettes for different cone deficiencies, we run screenshots of the game through a color blindness simulator. For each of the different types of color blindness, we make adjustments to the necessary elements and their colors to maintain high legibility across the game’s interactions. Our first project to launch with this tool is iCivic’s game Neighborhood Good, and we’re looking forward to feedback from our players!

How do you prioritize the user experience while integrating these settings? What steps are taken to make sure the process of adjusting settings is user-friendly?

SB: As far as creating the main features of this tool, we spent quite a bit of time ensuring that the process of integrating it into our projects would be as easy as possible for our engineers and UI/UX designers. For the UI designer, it’s as simple as adding a component to the game object they want to have adjustments for color blindness. The UI designer can easily create as many color palettes as they need, with as many color swatches as the game needs.

For the player, it’s as easy as going into the menu and opening up the color blindness feature. From there, they’re able to pick any of the palettes and change any color they desire. Much of which they can see happening live, right inside of the color blindness menu.

KG: I put a lot of thought into the user interface for the tool itself so that it can be used by anyone with a general knowledge of Unity. My goal was to make it easy for UI designers to make any game – 2D or 3D – more accessible. The easier and faster it is to set up, the more games can become accessible and the more players can enjoy our work. 

If the tool is too complicated to use or requires too much extra work, it might be hard to fit into projects with tight deadlines. I’ve used Unity’s powerful custom editor tools to make everything as clearly labeled and easy to understand as possible. For most elements, there’s just one component to add, and once the designer sets which color swatch it’s using, they’re ready to go. The only thing the game’s engineer should have to do is integrate the color tool’s save data into the rest of the game’s data.

What are some best practices or guidelines when it comes to creating customizable colorblind settings? Are there industry standards you adhere to?

SB: Ultimately, this is pretty uncharted territory for games. As I mentioned before, it’s rare to find games that support color blindness in meaningful ways. Thankfully, that’s changing, and we’re seeing more and more games and studios supporting it in some way.

For Filament, we check our games through color blindness simulators and contrast checkers, making adjustments so that as many players as possible can enjoy the experiences we make.

What developments or innovations do you anticipate in the field of colorblind accessibility for video games in the near future?

SB: I hope that more studios start developing tools like ours, where a player can adjust the colors of the game to what is most usable for them. Some larger studios are beginning to as well, so it definitely feels like a new standard is being set. I’d love to see color blindness features in games become a standard for every game, with options for anyone with a vision deficiency to play and have fun.

KG: I completely agree with Shawn. I think there’s been a greater call for accessibility options in recent years, and I don’t anticipate it going away any time soon. Not every game can be made fully accessible to everyone, but allowing color adjustments is a relatively simple way to increase the number of people who can play. 

We’re also already seeing patterns, shapes, or labels being used alongside colors to identify objects, and I think that’s only going to become more common as developers start to understand that not everyone sees color the same way.

For fellow game developers interested in improving colorblind accessibility in their projects, what advice or best practices would you offer to ensure their games are more inclusive? 

SB: Definitely use color blindness simulators and contrast checkers for any meaningful interaction or information in your games. Some websites will allow you to check various types of color blindness and vision deficiencies, so it can be as easy as taking screenshots of those parts of your game, uploading them, and checking which areas require adjustments for someone who may have a type of color blindness. In the end, any effort you can put into making your games more accessible will be appreciated by players who normally wouldn’t have these types of options available to them.

KG: Sometimes it can be frustrating to add accessibility options because a lot of the tools available aren’t super robust or adaptable, but it’s still worth the effort. As game developers, we want as many people as possible to play and enjoy our work. Making accessible games means more people can participate. It’s a way of showing your players that you care about them.

With a focus on creating tools that empower both designers and players, we hope to set a precedent for the integration of colorblind settings as an industry standard! Shawn and Kylie envision a future where such features become commonplace – their insights and best practices serve as a valuable guide for fellow game developers eager to enhance the accessibility of their own projects.

Interested in creating a fun educational game with a serious impact? You’re in the right place. We want to hear about your project and how we can help bring it to life. Contact us today!

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