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Designing the soundscape for accessibility and immersion

BotagarBotagar Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
Us humans are funny little things.
Some of us are born with all things functioning and for one reason or another, parts of us degrade.
One of those common things is our eyes. In fact, I believe that there are members on the glorious AoC dev team that might have personal experience with something like this.
I believe most of us have heard of color blindness, and some of us the more specific types of color blindness.
I have full faith in the Ashes team that the game will be accessible to those who struggle to differentiate different colors.

The aspect I've not seen talked about too much is accessibility for those who are more generally vision impaired, or even blind.
Contrary to immediate gut reaction, it isn't fundamentally that hard (in theory) to accommodate hard of vision gamers.
Whilst I'm no game designer, I've implemented WCAG AA on websites and have a general interest in accessibility in IT.
I want to share some of the things that I've come across my time talking to visually impaired people, and things that I've read/watched by those who live in this world of fuzzy vision.
BEFORE YOU SAY "I CAN SEE FINE, AOC SHOULDN'T SPEND RESOURCES ON THIS OVER MAKING MORE GAME", accessibility baked in like this is helpful for those who are of full vision as well! Our brains react to sound cues faster than visual (150ms vs 200ms) (source). Good sound design can help with immersion and unconsciously help up navigate the world without needing to rely on visual aids like mini maps or compasses.
  • Sound should be directional when possible always.
  • Menu's should be keyboard only navigatable (a vision impaired person might not be able to reliably see the mouse).
  • Have a screen reader (text to voice).
  • Allow customisation of screen reader readback speed. (I've seen blind web users have the voice readback going so fast that I could not make out anything that was said, but they could easily understand all of it! It's really freaking bonkers!!)
  • In general, every important interactable should have a unique sound cue to locate them and to interact with them. This is something much easier said than done as what this cue is is very context dependent.
  • Out in the open world, there should be at least 1 sound based navigation point (ie a flowing stream, winds howling off a mountain peak, a far off waterfall etc..) in earshot at all times. The intensity of the sound would reflect how far the player is from that navigation point.
  • Each player movement/action should have a clearly distinguished sound effect (ie. footsteps, a "touch" sound when they bump into something, different movement sounds when weapon is out as to sheathed)

My own ideas:
  • In an area like a forest, you can make use of sound gradients between trees where the forest background noise is softer next to a tree but the creaking of a tree is fairly dominant, but when you're between trees, the sound from an individual tree is non existent but the background sounds are the loudest. These sound gradients don't need to be all that extreme. Technically a gradient like this could be generated with a voronoi diagram where the initial points in the plane would be the position of the trees.
  • With vertical movements, have higher pitch sounds to indicate "going up", lower pitch sounds for "going down" (ie. on a flying mount, when flying up, the wind rushing sound should be higher pitch, and when descending, lower pitch).

I would very much like to hear what others who've worked in the accessibility space have to say. I am by not means an expert in this field, only a dabbler.

Yours sincerely, a gamer who's just gotten lasik corrective eye surgery.
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