Forza Horizon 5 introduces sign language support in all game scenes

Knowing that there are actors signing on Forza Horizon 5 means she won’t have to turn to her family to ask what she’s been missing out on.

“There are so many people with disabilities and deaf people. And, there are many closed doors every day. And what I mean by that is that we are constantly and constantly confronted with the inequalities that exist. The fact that I can be on equal footing with them means I’m not focused on a closed door. I am not trying to resolve an inequity. I am present with my family and there is nothing more important to me than that,” she says. “It’s communicating with me as a deaf person. Gambling is an important aspect of everyone’s life, now more than ever, as many will continue to be socially isolated given the pandemic.

The game played a big role in healing a traumatic injury for Tara Voelker, who leads accessibility for Xbox Game Studios. She was 10 when she was hit by a car while walking home from school and had a long recovery period.

“I couldn’t go out, do things with my friends. I loved playing video games anyway, so during that time video games allowed me to continue being a kid while I recovered, to be able to continue doing things with my friends,” says Voelker, who remembers playing the original Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. “It was my only life for a few months, but the impact on me is still there. I know how important the game can be.

A few years ago, Voelker led an inclusive workshop at Playground Games — which had been committed from the start of Forza Horizon 5’s development to getting feedback from people who are deaf and hard of hearing — and tapped into his network of people from around the world. disabled community in the UK. She reached out to Akitt and other subject matter experts and got them together in the same room as the developers working on the game.

Accessibility Workshop for Forza Horizon 5 (Photo by Tara Voelker)

“It set the tone for the whole product going forward,” says Voelker, whose background includes developing games, including BioShock Infinite. “They made it part of the development process.”

For two days, the developers learned from people in the disability community, rotating in rooms where people shared their experiences with games and what kept them from having the same experience as their non-disabled peers.

“We were able to talk to them and understand what they were struggling with in the game,” says Tarnya Smith, Playground Games Producer for Forza Horizon 5. “For me, it was an eye opener. we think captions are great and help everyone, they’re actually not that helpful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing who rely on signing off. That was a big wake-up call for us.”

Playground Games then made the decision to accessibility a key pillar of the gamewhich won the Innovation in Accessibility award at The Game Awards 2021, as well as two Can I play this? Accessibility Pricing the same year.

“And we realized that it was possible to help people enjoy our games more by adding this feature,” says Forza Horizon 5 Creative Director Mike Brown. and protected.”

The team also understood the deeper need for these accessibility features.

“Games demand things from you in order to experience them. And when you do that, then there will be players who find different things, different levels of challenge,” Brown says. “I think we’re going to keep pushing and solving these issues for people for a long, long time. The complexity of games, which is their strength, also leads to a whole series of challenges that we, as creators, must find a way to solve.

Forza Horizon 5 screenshot (courtesy of Playground Games)

It was a learning curve for Playground Games, but they corrected the course along the way.

Smith says the first thing they did was hire a company run by deaf people to hold auditions and help choose actors for scenes. Then they realized they needed more people: an interpreter to communicate with the cast and crew as well as the actor and a consultant to make sure what the actor signs is up to standard. and in good language.

For Playground Games, the focus on accessibility prompted a whole new process to get everything into the game and then test it to make sure it works properly. The studio constantly consulted with the deaf and hard of hearing community, like Akitt, whom they invited to play the game and gauge their reaction.

For Akitt, the update sets a precedent for other game studios and the game industry in general.

“It really sets a precedent; it sets the bar. It’s kind of like new territory because if a company like Playground can do it, why can’t other big studios do the same? Akitt said. “It will be interesting to see what happens. Will there be a standardized format, will other studios imitate? And what opportunities might there be for the deaf and hard of hearing community? »

Brown says the commitment to all players is ongoing.

“I think it’s easy to go through the development of a game like this and start thinking maybe you’re an expert in the accessibility space,” he says. “I think we have to have real humility and the ability to keep going, asking questions and trying to be better.”

Top photo: Forza Horizon 5 screenshot (courtesy of Playground Games)

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