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Inherited Inaccessibility

A couple of months ago I received Alice: Madness Returns and I popped the game in.  The game is bundled with the original 2000 title, American McGee's Alice, and after multiple references in Alice: Madness Returns to the events in the original game I switched titles.  Yes, American McGee's Alice is a 2000 title that is now 13 years old.  The graphics are dated, the controls are clunky at best (it is easier to take the hit walking on poisonous ground than to catch the ropes) but what led to me turning off the game is that while subtitles are provided for in-game dialogue but the cut scenes that propel the narrative are not subtitled leaving me confused at what is said in a franchise known for its plays on words.  Luckily, this problem does not occur in Alice: Madness Returns. 

You may know that I am deaf and my hearing loss is in the severe to profound range.  My hearing aids enable me to mainstream into the hearing world as best I can.  Video games', as my choice of entertainment, inclusion of subtitles, preferably captions, are a determining factor of whether or not I can play a game.  After all, the hearing do not buy a game with audio that cuts in and out or that does not have audio at all.

In-game subtitles with a clear distinction from the gameplay screen.  Only note, fancy fonts are pretty but require squinting for reading.

My experience with American McGee's Alice reminded me that oftentimes one game in a franchise sets a precedent that trickles into all ensuing iterations as the franchise template.  Franchises remain that require extensive research before a purchase due to past experiences.  The most egregious faults are often years behind us now.  Remember, that our baseline was no subtitles (or captions) whatsoever after the widespread use of voice acting.  From the model of nothing we are still playing catch up because anything was more than what we had.  How do these older titles impact my game buying today?

Bethesda: The Trickle Down Effect

The Bethesda developed and published titles Daggerfall, Oblivion, Fallout 3, as well as the published but developed by Obsidian Entertainment title Fallout: New Vegas do not include captions in the cut scenes.  All of these titles are time sinks that require tens or more likely hundreds of hours in order to experience the game with a marginal amount of time represented in cut scenes.  Most notably the opening cinematic and closing cut scenes are not subtitled.  Does it matter?

Of the Bethesda titles listed, I personally only played Fallout 3 which released in 2008.  A game's opening without the option for enabling subtitles or captions is panic inducing.  The cinematic plays while I am waiting anxiously and unable to concentrate on the sequence wanting only to know whether or not subtitles or captions are available at all.  Once the player is given access to the settings, the sigh of relief nowadays for turning on the subtitles or captions is the result of years without even the option of subtitles or captions for many games.  In this generation, games I have played that roll the opening cinematic without access into the game's options thus requiring a replay for subtitled viewing range from Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions (2010) to Mass Effect 3 (2012).

Ghoul and human relations, always a struggle.  Note the black background and bold found assisting with readability. 

In Fallout 3 I accredited the lack of subtitles in the opening as the same scenario, turned on the subtitles, and accredited the continued missing subtitles in my replay of the cut scene as one bug in a game rife with bugs so I jumped into the game.  I delved into the game for hours, even obsessing in The Pitt DLC for collecting all 100 steel bars in a mental fist pump of recognition for Pittsburgh.  After diverging from the main storyline on side quests and encountering a bug that prevented me from completing the Nuka-Cola Challenge, I returned to the main game becoming caught up in the story about my father and the nuclear wasteland.  As I made the game's final decisions and the impact of my choices began to flash on the screen as a cut scene and the subtitles disappeared.  My hundred hours of game time solidified into final moments that I could not understand.  Yes, searching the internet long enough I unearthed a kindly forum poster who transcribed the cut scene complete in a flow chart with each ending possibility included.  But I was unable to play as a gamer instead required to find alternative means for the same access.

The other frustrations I experienced in Fallout 3 became a part of a larger problem.  Most of the game I could not follow the clues and narrative depicted in the audio tapes because the subtitles did not pop up on the screen.  By accident I discovered the text deep in the Pip-Boy menu.  The in-game radio provided more than a musical atmosphere when wandering the wasteland but also contextualizes the story of the opposing forces by playing more than music but also radio shows that were not subtitled.  Additionally, in a particular required quest to progress the narrative a sound puzzle has no audio cues depicted in text.  There is an option for moving past that quest by bypassing the puzzle but that decision requires incurring bad karma in my good karma playthrough.   

Skyrim weddings are not well attended.  Free sweet rolls should be provided.  Note, the drop shadow on the white text makes it clear but the dense font runs the letters together.

One of Bethesda's latest, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim released in 2011, addressed the issue with no cut scenes.  All interactions in the game occur in-game and use the game's subtitles. Loving my time in Skyrim I looked backwards at Bethesda's line-up which led me to the Fallout 3: Game Of The Year edition and gifted Fallout: New Vegas: Game Of The Year edition in my gaming excitement unaware of the chronic subtitle concerns. 

A whole lotta games for playing and maps for hanging.  Probably not a purchase for me. 

The announcement of The Elder Scrolls Anthology that includes Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim left me internet searching for whether or not the subtitle concerns are updated or otherwise addressed in the older titles.  Such information is not readily available and the most likely answer is no.

Halo: The Problem Is The Developer

Before Halo 3, a 2007 released game, was available for free on Xbox Live Games With Gold a friend loaned me the title.  The gravity defying gameplay against the alien invasion is a favorite genre of mine and obviously the franchise is widely celebrated in the gaming world.  I am not often a melee player but the Gravity Hammer made me laugh jumping across the screen at my foes. 

The mighty hammer.  Venting my inability to understand the in-game conversations on alien invaders.  I have no remorse. 

But that famed relationship between Master Chief and Cortana or even simple game directions were not subtitled.  In a reverse of my difficulty with Fallout 3, only the cut scenes were subtitled.  In my initial few hours of gaming, I was unaware that the constant onscreen conversations were even occurring until I picked out the occasional word amidst the battle sounds.  Frustrated, my internet power searches resumed and resulted in a common Halo problem stretching to the original Halo that lacked subtitles (granted many games of the Xbox/Playstation 2 generation did not include subtitles making it my least played generation thus far).  Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo Reach only include subtitles in the cut scenes with none whatsoever during the gameplay.  Bungie, the Halo game creator and developer, is responsible for the ongoing oversight.  Their last Halo title, Halo Reach, released in 2010, a mere 3 years ago and continued the franchise subtitle oversight.   

Available for the deaf to play 11 years later.  The update is much appreciated 343 Industries. 

343 Industries' takeover of the Halo franchise resulted in the 2011 (a single year after Halo Reach) Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, an HD update of the original Xbox title that included subtitles for both cut scenes and in game dialogue for a 2001 title.  11 years later deaf and hard of hearing gamers are given the same access and 343 Industries' second Halo title, Halo 4 also featured both sets of subtitles.  Only now I can confirm all of these details and now, long after the release of both games, am I interested in the purchases because my borrowed copy of Halo 3 taunted me until I finally gave up feeling as if I was not included in the game.

With the next generation almost here I have stayed far away from news about Bungie's much anticipated next generation Destiny.  As a Bungie game, I have no trust in the quality of subtitles included.

A mode that made me consider pre-ordering Halo 4.  A forum on the internet provided transcribed text for the cut scenes.  At least I know if I decide to buy the game.

When we spend so much time coming from a place of no accessibility such as no subtitles or captions we remain in a catch up race.  Now, in 2013 Halo: CEA and Halo 4 are available to me but Halo 4's much anticipated Spartan Ops, a single player/multiplayer hybrid campaign, does not have subtitles for its cut scenes.  I do not blame 343 Industries.  The multiplayer arena remains largely underserved by captions or subtitles even for in-game instructions.  During my brief time in Mass Effect 3's multiplayer I spent most of my time following other players unsure what the voiced over instructions required us to do.

2013: Here And Now 

The Wolf Among Us, I anticipated this title throughout the summer of 2013 and after the announcement of the release date for Xbox 360 I counted down.  Based on my experience with Telltale Games' The Walking Dead I understood what I was spending my money on.  Both on gameplay and the quality of the subtitles for a narrative driven game.  TWD had frustrations with cutting off or hiding the subtitled text for a still talking character while the conversational choices were displayed but the problems did not result in game breaking inaccessibility.  When the opening sequence of The Wolf Among Us played my excitement soured.  Despite enabling the subtitles a spoken radio show (not music) was not subtitled and more difficulties ensued. 

This is the text color coded for each character and with a black outline.  Imagine spending an narrative intense game depending on text going in and out of readability. 

I wrote a review of the game for GIO's Josh Straub's website DAGERS that you can see here.  But my self-serving purpose of linking the content is not for my page hits but for a request.  With the remaining 4 episodes still in development if we speak up Telltale Games will know our desire for accessible changes to the franchise.  Read the review and if you agree with our efforts leave a comment with your support and with luck too perhaps we can inspire change now instead of waiting for next year.  Not as an angry internet video game mob but as a request that all of us gamers are allowed to opportunity to decide whether or not a talking pig should be drinking alcohol.

Thank you again for stopping here to read, especially a particularly long piece.  Keep gaming and may the money be in your wallet when you want to buy next generation fun or when the Black Friday deals gifts us all with new games.     

Have the lack of accessibility features ever stopped you or someone you know from enjoying a game?

Do you recommend Halo 4?

What is the best change in a franchise from one game to the next for you?

 

 

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