I’m a Ball Hog
I recently built a new PC, and have downloaded and played some games my old computer couldn’t handle. One of these games was Madden 20. Overall I have been very impressed with the newly added accessibility features everyone has been talking about. This post will not focus on the many things they are already doing right, but to give suggestions on what else could be done to make the game better for blind and low vision players. I’m not up to date on what is to come in Madden 21, but these are my personal thoughts on what accessibility improvements would be most beneficial in the next title.
What they are doing right
The short answer is a hell of a lot. For anyone who has played madden, it is easy to realize how spoiled we are with the game. The reason I had no interest in Madden 19 is the same reason I was very interested in Madden 20…self voicing menus. This is a complete game changer, and makes the game very blind friendly right off the bat. Gone is the days of using OCR and counting how many times you have to press down arrow for each option. This alone is the greatest accessibility feature added to any main stream game, and they deserve a lot of credit for it.
They have also added in some low vision accessibility with brightness and contrast options, enlarged on screen graphics, and color blind modes. When it comes to players without any sight the kick meter rumbles for power and accuracy, when you are running or passing, and when you are near someone who can be tackled. These are all good options, and a really solid foundation to build on. It just shows what can be done when there are people in studio dedicated to thinking up and adding in accessibility features.
The question now is what features will be added in Madden 21 regarding accessibility? I haven’t found much info on this. Some rumors of TTS reading your playbook, maybe some other menus which are currently not read being read, but no one really seems to know. After playing football games growing up, and playing Madden 20 I have some thoughts and ideas for ways of helping blind and low vision gamers get the best experience.
Low vision additions
The biggest issue for me when playing is the contrast of the field vs the players. Some stadiums have a dark grass while others have very light grass. I have a much easier time seeing my players when the grass is dark, and when it is light I cannot see anything happening on the field at all. It is even worse when the grass is light and the game takes place during the daytime. If there was a darkened fields option it would make a world of difference for low vision players. The same way high contrast allows many to use their computers or phones, this would help tremendously for madden 21. A dark playing background is the key, without that no amount of tweaking will make the game low vision friendly. If Madden 21 had the ability to make every field as dark as bronco stadium at night, I could feel confident playing on any field. As it stands right now, some stadiums like the Viking’s home field are just unplayable for me, and this severely limits my ability to play online. If the game takes place during the daytime, then we also have to deal with the impossibility of going from nearly black shadows which are perfect, to super bright light green grass which is unplayable. To truly be low vision friendly we would need a uniform dark field without shadows or light colors. Like with high contrast on a PC or phone, the darker the better.
Similar to field darkness, the player select circle could use some low vision adjustment. It is a wispy gray color, and this is not very low vision friendly. If we had the ability to change the color of the circle, and it’s density it would help out a lot. Before snap I would often fail trying to circle through players. many times I would go right past my defensive end who I wanted to play. This was because I couldn’t tell when they were selected in the first place. You really only get one chance to select the proper player since you have to press the button 10 more times to cycle back to where you want to be. There simply isn’t time to do this before the ball is snapped. If we could pick between denser brighter colors like white, yellow, orange, red, this process would be effortless for low vision players the same it is for everyone else.
The last thing about game play and contrast would be the ability to brighten up some uniforms. When playing as the patriots at home for example. If the field is darkened it may be difficult to see where your players are. This could easily be fixed by introducing a slider to lighten and brighten up the colors on your team’s uniforms. This would not be a problem for away games because you’ll be wearing white and it will be very easy to see on a dark field, but it could be a problem when playing against the aforementioned patriots when you are the visiting team. If it isn’t something that is possible, then a simple player ring under all p1 and p2 players would make this all perfect. If we could turn on a different color circle under all players for each side, it would make everything highly visible. It would just need to be a color not being used by any team uniforms or p1 player circles, custom would be best so it works for everyone. As it stands right now I’m very limited in the teams I can choose, mainly those with a bright home uniform so I can see my own players. This works out for me personally because I like the Broncos, but there aren’t many options in the game for low vision players.
Totally Blind Additions
Having a system to read the different categories of the playbook in a game along with descriptions of different plays would be the most beneficial addition to Madden 21. This could be difficult to implement for passing plays, but quite simple for run plays. Just knowing the direction, and if it is a run between tackles, off tackle, or wide would help out those playing with no vision. These are already high contrast friendly for those with low vision, but for those without vision the play calling is complete guesswork. The same could be said for defense as well. The addition of talking menus along with whether the selected play is zone, man, LB blitz, or corner blitz would make defense more interactive for totally blind players.
The next thing that hands down has to change is only for Madden on PC. The origin client which has to be used to download the game is completely inaccessible for screen reader users. I only managed to install Madden 20 with heavy use of my horrible eyes, my mouse, and a lot of repeated OCR that worked some times but not others. It was a major crap shoot trying to get the game installed. OCR was the only half solution, and that wasn’t a sure fire solution. NVDA’s review cursor is completely unusable, and normal navigation with tab is nonexistent. The issues with Origin make it so the vast majority of blind or low vision PC players aren’t able to even install the game in the first place. I’d really like to see some time spent on making the Origin client more accessible. Many people have complained about using Steam, but compared to Origin Steam is super blind friendly, and that says a lot.
Another thing that is obvious for all blind and low vision players is some cleaning up of what the built in TTS reads and doesn’t read. There have always been certain menus that were buggy, or simply didn’t read at all. Once these are cleaned up and all menus are readable it will take the Madden experience to the next level for blind players. It is odd, but since we were given the expectation of menus reading, when we encounter screens that don’t read, it is more disappointing than nothing in the game self voicing.
One of the biggest issues with playing offense is in the passing game. It’s a lot of guess work knowing if your receiver is open, or if you are going to throw right to a defender. This could be made quite easy for blind players by giving each receiver a tone. The tone could then be played where the receiver is on the field when they get a step or two on their defender. If a tone isn’t used then TTS could simply speak out the button that corresponds to that receiver. this doesn’t ensure a safe pass, but at least it allows for some ability to know who you should pass to, if you should pass, or if you should just throw it away.
Something on my wish list, but something I’m not sure about being implemented is to have some limited TTS voicing pre-snap live in a game. Having the built in speech read out the defensive formation when you are on offence, or the offensive formation when you are on defense would be very helpful. When you are on defense the TTS could simply tell you the offensive formation before you pick your play. This would allow a blind player to pick defensive plays the same as a sighted player. This would be especially true when calling audible’s, or when deciding how to rush with your line, or where to blitz your linebackers; Right now This is just guess work or going off a hunch when playing as a totally blind player. When on offense this would allow blind players to know what side of the field the defense has the most players, if we are running into a stacked box, or if they are playing pass. To allow for the football skill of a blind player to be used instead of guessing would be a game changer for lots of players, and would put them on a more even playing field when playing online against those with sight.
Madden 20 was the most accessible AAA title the blind world has ever seen. They have done a lot of things right, and because of that it would be nice to see them continue leading the charge, and not resting on the past accomplishments. We don’t know what to expect in Madden 21 yet, but I’m optimistic for the future. There are some finer details they could add in for blind and low vision players, and it would really take the gaming experience to the next level if they do. In my opinion if even one of the above topics is addressed it would be a major win for main stream gaming accessibility.
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