How To Make Games For People With Shitty Eyes

3 Dec

Start by never, ever using the colour green to connote ‘good/friendly’ in conjunction with the colour red to connote ‘bad/wants to shoot you’.

As far as spectrum-ruining goes, I got off pretty lucky – I only ‘suffer’ from deuteranomaly, a very weak form of red/green colourblindness. Still, while it’s not exactly causing me to violently misinterpret traffic lights, in the world of games it’s caused more than a few headaches.

Worst among these was probably Bioshock 2. Hacking – an essential skill used for opening doors and conning vending machines – involved hitting E (I think) to stop a swinging needle on a green section, while avoiding landing it on the red sections. Not the most involving hacking experience, sure, but remarkably easy if you were paying even the slightest bit of attention. And if you had two perfectly functioning eyes. For guys like me, all we saw was a thick strip of dull hue. Squint all you like, chump, you better hope your random keytap lands the stupid fucking needle on a green bit or you’ll suffer the same fate as anyone else who tries to cheat this medkit dispenser out of a small discount: painful electrocution.

(To be fair, some hacks included a tiny sliver of blue; scoring a hit would net some free goodies from whatever was being wrangled. Out of concern for my character’s health just as strong as the desire for freebies, I trained myself to get pretty damn good at hitting the blues.)

More recently, Bethesda decided to not bother with the majority of Skyrim’s potential compass functions, so no markers for allied or neutral NPCs would appear (there’s no way to tell if a distant figure is friend or foe until you’ve sent an arrow flying into their spine, either starting a pointless fight or coldly extinguishing the life of an innocent bystander, one who may have even been interested in purchasing your butterfly wing collection) nor would the colour used for enemy markers be as clear as the bright, searing red of Fallout 3’s equivalent. Instead, it’s a colour that could be best described as indescribable to anyone with similarly inadequate eyes to mine. Does it stop being a problem after a couple of hours, when you realise that nothing other than aggro’d enemies appear on the compass, despite that being useless for anything other than clumsy stealth mishaps? Pretty much. Would the entire problem have been easily avoided if they’d just used a slightly brighter shade of red? I hear there are, in fact, quite a few available.

To be abundantly clear, I don’t consider these passing annoyances to be a problem in the same leagues as those affecting gamers with serious disabilities (fixed key bindings, lack of subtitles etc.). But it’s still an easy fix. Modern Warfare 3 added an excellent colourblind mode to multiplayer, changing the colours of both minimap icons and the names that float over each player’s head from red and green to orange and pale blue. On at least one occasion I had casually strolled past a teammate, only for them to suddenly and fatally spray me with gunfire – they were never an ally, I just saw their username as being vaguely greenish. That may sound famously stupid, but MW3 online is no afternoon walk in the Nordic tundra – pausing for ten milliseconds to take in the pretty colours or even the faction uniform of an approaching player is usually a big enough hesitation to give away the edge in a fight.

So, here’s how to make games for people with shitty eyes: don’t use red and green (or blue and purple, for that matter) to represent opposite meanings. If you do, make them brighter than the goddamn sun. It’s an absurdly simple workaround to something that negatively affects millions of people, from the near-blind to barely-affected whiners like myself, and as such, probably generates a lot more goodwill than you might think.

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