Look at Breath of the Wild or Stardew Valley for examples of how great games can inspire a ton of copycats. It’s almost unheard of for a company to divulge the secret sauce to its rivals. However, this rule is steadily being broken by accessibility. Let us discuss the GOD OF WAR RAGNAROK BREACHES VIDEOGAME PRINCIPAL RULE
The God of War Ragnarok, the ninth entry in the venerable PlayStation franchise, is the most approachable game in the series thus far. It continues the 2018 adventures of the grizzled warrior Kratos and his tween son, Atreus. The team at Santa Monica Studio turned to Naughty Dog, known for its ground-breaking innovations for players with auditory, visual, and motor differences, to help realise that vision.
Lead UX Designer Mila Pavlin asserts that the Santa Monica Studio team isn’t interested in keeping the more than 70 accessibility innovations in God of War Ragnarok a secret because it goes against the spirit of open collaboration.
“Accessibility has a very unique place when it comes to cross-collaboration because it is the one set of features where we want that innovation to spread. We don’t want to contain that just to one franchise,” Pavlin tells Inverse.
“If we can develop a feature and then someone else were to implement a very similar feature based on our work, that would be a bonus to the player overall. That’s something that we want to encourage, that the community for accessibility is sharing that information,” she adds. “Accessibility is for everyone. It’s not a race. Regardless of who comes out with a feature first, the player is really the winner at the end.”
Naughty Dog’s ground-breaking innovations for 2020’s The Last of Us Part II, which includes a wide range of tools to customise the experience to a person’s preferences and needs, impressed Pavlin and the team at Santa Monica Studio, along with the rest of the gaming industry. At that time, Ragnarok was already well into its development. However, the development team was eager to include some of those innovations in the upcoming God of War title. Naughty Dog was pleased to comply.
“They shared information about consultants they had brought in and players they had consulted with. We were fortunate enough to have one of their team members join our team as an accessibility designer, which especially helped us with some of the motor functions and many of the combat accessibility items. It gave us a direct connection into the accessibility community,” Pavlin says.
The accessibility features in God of War Ragnarok cover four main categories: hearing, motor, cognitive, and vision. Notably, the game expands on the high-contrast visual mode invented in TLOU 2, enabling users to assign more than a dozen vibrantly coloured filters to more clearly distinguish between enemies, loot chests, NPCs, and bosses. According to Pavlin, player feedback served as the direct inspiration for the depth and breadth of those options in Ragnarok.
“THAT IS A HAND-DONE, HAND-WRITTEN, HAND-TAILORED KIND OF EXPERIENCE.”
The objective wasn’t just to make Ragnarok simpler; it was also to increase player enjoyment, regardless of whether they were playing their first God of War game or were seasoned veterans of taxing encounters with Valkyries and trolls.
“We’ve had some of our low-vision players say that they wanted to play on Give Me God of War [the series’ highest difficulty], but they just had trouble understanding what was happening on screen,” Pavlin explains. “Adding features like high contrast made it approachable in a way that didn’t significantly change the experience.”
A number of quality-of-life improvements, like automated item pickups and reversible subtitles, are also part of Ragnarok’s accessibility options. More subtly, the game incorporates this philosophy of ensuring players have the best experience possible.
One of your companion characters may offer a hint, such as “maybe you should try your axe,” if you struggle for a while to solve a puzzle. Better yet, those same companions will flat-out say “we should come back later” rather than allowing you to bang your head against the wall for thirty minutes if you notice a prominent object that begs to be played with.
These additions cannot be turned on or off like settings. It takes a lot of work to produce and script each situation separately, which may benefit series newcomers but is unlikely to be noticed by devoted fans.
“WE DON’T WANT TO CONTAIN THAT JUST TO ONE FRANCHISE.”
“What we’re trying to do is create an experience where you can organically learn things and experience that world, so as you become more confident, we can step back a little bit and let you go wild,” Pavlin says. “That is a hand-done, hand-written, hand-tailored kind of experience. That’s one of the things that makes the game so great, the love and care that has gone into this.”
In order to make Ragnarok more approachable for more players, some of the game’s fundamental mechanics from 2018 had to be completely rethought. To support larger text sizes, the team completely redesigned the user interface and reworked the control layout to support button remapping. Additionally, the team added options for fewer button inputs where they felt it didn’t detract from the experience in “flavour moments” like quicktime events and traversal.
With all of those adjustments, Pavlin hopes to create a game that more players will enjoy.
The number of people who can play Ragnarok now compared to the 2018 game is much higher, she claims. “I believe that people will be genuinely surprised by the expansion of accessibility.”
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