It’s 2014. Games have been around for… *checks*… a long time. Yet even though modern budgets for anything that hopes to be Christmas #1 stretch to millions of US dollars simply as a matter of course and we’ve got designers falling over themselves to motion capture anything that’ll fit in one of those ball-covered mocap suits (famously including a bleedin’ dog) by and large developers/publishers still struggle with the idea that maybe it’s not a safe bet to assume that all gamers (or people that would like to be gamers) have a fully functional set of limbs and senses.
Not all gamers have hands capable of operating the now standard twin analogue quad-triggered controllers our consoles and PCs expect us to use. Colour blindness can make some very simple puzzles almost impossible. High quality voice actors are a pretty standard inclusion in most mainstream games – subtitles are not.
So it was with some surprise as I browsed the latest patch notes for Final Fantasy XIV that I came across this little nugget -
I was as impressed as I was intrigued, so as soon as the game updated I hunted through the menus and had a go with Square-Enix’s attempt to cater for hard-of-hearing and deaf gamers.
As the patch notes say, sound is split into three distinct categories – music (blue), environment (green – anything your character can hear), and system (red). The following screenshots will hopefully show you how it works -
This screenshot shows a normal level of sound: there’s music playing and there’s some environmental noises (birdsong, people running about in the distance, etc.), but nothing in particular is going on -
Let’s contrast that with the following image – there’s still music playing, but it’s briefly drowned out by a very loud environmental sound that has just occurred close to my (the camera’s) right; in this case, someone successfully synthesising an item -
Lastly let’s take a look at sound visualisation in battle using probably the most extreme example available – a boss fight against Titan, Lord of Crags. As you can see from the image below not only is the music far louder than in any of the previous situations but Titan crashing into the ground has generated a sound so loud it’s completely overwhelming everything else.
It might look a bit distracting but in practise I found I soon got used to it and you can alter the transparency level if you do find the default setting too much to take in. As someone without hearing difficulties ultimately I really can’t judge if this is actually useful, but from my position of ignorance it certainly seemed to bring things to life and it’s good to see a big developer other than Valve at least trying to include as many gamers as possible.
Have you used this new feature? What do you think of it? Either leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter!