Our The Last of Us 2 Discussion on Accessibility and Blind Impressions

The Last of Us 2 is out on June 19 exclusively for PS4, and after learning that there were over 60 accessibility features available in the game, Naughty Dog went ahead and revealed every accessibility feature that is present in The Last of Us 2 at launch. I sat down with Courtney Craven from this very website, Can I Play That to discuss our first impressions.

Full disclosure, I was brought in to Naughty Dog’s studios to consult on the accessibility for The Last of Us 2 while it was in development. You can watch the video for both Courtney and my impressions on the game, and below that is a full transcript.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Steve Saylor. I’m blind. and if you’re wondering how I’m able to play video games if I’m blind, if you take a look at the video here, you’ll be able to see exactly what I see when I’m playing video games.

Today’s a very special episode of Blind Impressions because today we’re going to be talking about the accessibility in The Last of Us 2. But this game is so massive that I’m not doing this alone. I brought in Courtney Craven from Can I Play That, and we’ll be going over our impressions of The Last of Us and the accessibility settings in it.

I have to give a bit of a PSA. I, full disclosure, was brought in as an accessibility consultant to Naughty Dog to help work on the accessibility of The Last of Us 2. Now, for those who have been subscribing either just recently or have been here for a long time, you might have sort of seen the journey that I have made in Blind Gamer in this amazing journey that I’ve been on for the past five years. So when I say that this is a huge deal personally for me and a huge career highlight to be able to be brought into this beloved of a studio to work on the accessibility of this game, this is a huge deal for me.

Now, I know you probably are very skeptical about me talking about this game from an impression or even a possible review standpoint, but I highly encourage you to be able to continue watching this video because I think it’s worth it. I was paid to consult, I was not paid to review. I hope that makes sense and hope that you’ll be okay with that. If you are a longtime audience member of this channel, you would know that I am always above board and as honest and as transparent as I can be.

So yes, I did work on the game, but I am so happy to be able to talk about the accessibility of this publicly for the very first time. So with that being said, I hope you continue watching the video because it’s a great one. I’m just very, very happy. So let’s jump into the accessibility of The Last of Us 2.

The Last of Us 2 - Close up of Ellie's hands playing a guitar

Initial Thoughts

Steve: So this is an interesting video to start with because there is so much in The Last of Us 2 already. I’m just going to say it. It is the most accessible game ever. Like in all caps. What are your thoughts, Courtney?

Courtney: You know, the reason that I don’t finish games like this very often is just because there’s so much and I get so worn out trying to figure out ways to get around barriers. In this one, The Last of Us 2 is the first game that I’ve ever played where if I find something that I’m struggling with or I’m find something that is exhausting to me, I can just, oh, let’s go into the options and see if there’s a thing that I can flip on to go around that, and there always is.

There has not been one thing that I’ve run into across anything that I haven’t been able to find a work around or something that will at least make the experience easier for me.

Steve: Exactly. That’s one thing I noticed, too, is that there was always an option you could turn on or off at any given point that would allow you to be able to work with what you’re trying to do in that moment. Even this morning when I was sort of just figuring out what to really talk about, there was features that I hadn’t discovered.

I was like, oh wow, I didn’t even think that that was even in there, and it just was. It wasn’t like I found it as like, oh man, that would have helped me in this section, but it was something that I felt like, yeah, there were certain sections I was thinking of that it could help those people who are having trouble with it. Even just like there was so many subtle things in here.

The Last of Us 2 - Illustrating the High Contrast Mode with friendly characters in blue, enemies in red, and interactable objects in yellow.

Courtney: The thing that I’m finding about it is, like I mentioned in my The Last of Us 2 review, that I struggled in listen mode when you see the overlays of characters in the black and white. I tried your fix with turning on high contrast mode and they were just a brightly colored blob then. But then I realized, wait, there are like six more options if I go into the visual menu that I can try. So I still need to go back, even though I’ve spent like 15 hours in the game just messing around with options, seeing what does what, and still going back to try to see, okay, well maybe this will help.

Steve: And that’s it. Let’s start from the very beginning in that when you turn the game on, they have something that I had never seen before, there are three templates you can turn on. If you’re blind, you can turn on the blind accessibility template. If you’re deaf, you can turn on the deaf accessibility template. If you have motor disability, you can turn that template on. And it gives you a list of all the settings that it will turn on for each template. It’s the recommended settings.

Now I’m normally not a fan necessarily of recommended settings, because I feel like you should be able to customize your play experience however you wish. But just by turning those on, I think it was such an amazing experience just to be able to kind of jump in, and if you feel like you need to turn something on or off or adjust something, you can always go back and change different things, options, on the fly. What were your thoughts on that?

Courtney: I thought that that was pretty cool. For me, seeing that at the start of The Last of Us 2 and seeing just how expansive those templates, those presets, were, to me really spoke to their dedication to it. Because you know a lot of games, they’ll come with the dedicated accessibility menus, and then there’s like five options in it. There’s subtitles, there’s colorblind-friendly mode, there’s speech to text or text to speech, and that’s kind of it, right?

But here, it’s like you can tell that they really put in the time with play-testing and with consulting. I hope it sets a precedent for how every studio is going to approach accessibility, or at least triple-A studios, because I know it takes a budget to do that. But it was such a nice feeling to be like, they really put the work into this, you know?

They’ve been listening, they’ve been attentive. They obviously did a lot of homework and implementation and testing, and it pays off. Because like you said, it is the most successful game ever.

The Last of Us 2 - Illustrating the glowing overlays of enemies in listen mode.

Steve: Yeah. They have proven pretty much all of what we within accessibility have been pushing for so long. They’ve said that they’d started accessibility from the very beginning of the development process, and it shows. Also, we wanted to be able to customize our options if we needed to. That’s in here, and it shows.

They brought in play testers. Like I said at the beginning of this video, yes, I was one, and I consulted on it, but they brought in people to be able to help sort of customize it. They even made mistakes in the very beginning, but it was early enough that they could be able to adjust and adapt and work with it so that it was such a big part of their development process that it shows how much care they put into this. I think I even said it to you before, there’s more accessibility options than I think in the entire settings menu.

They all exist in other parts of the settings, so it’s not like they are gate kept in just the accessibility menu. But if you wanted to be able to customize your play session in a way that makes it so that it removes barriers for you to be able to play, that in and of itself just basically removes the frustration that we all have when we’re playing games, when we’re trying to battle the game as well as battle the story and the game play itself.

Courtney: Right. Exactly.

Steve: It removes that part of it and allows us to enjoy the story and the game that they wanted players to experience.

Courtney: The thing that stood out for me was a lot of times in accessibility and in the conversations around accessibility, it’s not like an intentional ranking of, okay, first we’re going to do deaf accessibility, then mobility, then vision. There’s always that order of an order of importance, so there’s always one group of players that’s probably going to be left out or find at least more barriers than others. This one, I think, will be the first game that there really isn’t, and I think that that’s amazing.

The Last of Us 2 - Ellie and Dina dancing

Steve: Yeah. Like even seeing this week with PlayStation putting out there basically the entire list of their accessibility options and then seeing Grant, again, I play that, react to it, just be able to use the thumbsticks and you don’t have to worry about one controls the other, it made him so happy. It was like, that’s why. It’s moments like that that make this game so special for disabled players. Again, this will set a precedent moving forward. Basically, there is before The Last of Us 2 and then there’s after The Last of Us 2.

This is literally a game changer in 100% the way. This moves the industry so much forward with regards to accessibility that we’re going to be very hard to ignore now.

Blind Accessibility

So let’s get into more of the specifics of The Last of Us 2. I’ll start with sort of the blind accessibility. With the accessibility settings for the blind in general, there are options that allows sightless players to be able to play The Last of Us 2 in such a way that technically anyone who is watching this who doesn’t have even a visual disability, you can play this with your eyes closed and you can still be able to complete the game.

That’s how in depth the audio is in this. There are audio cues that tells you which button to push, also even the object you are interacting with. It gives you a sound effect of what that object is that you’re about to interact with.

Game: [Square button, scan for enemies. Circle button, scan for items.]

Steve: There is text to speech in every single piece of text that is on the screen. It has text to speech and it will read it out to you. There’s even an audio slider of volume that you can adjust just for that feature alone. If you want that to be a little bit louder than everything else, you can totally do that.

They also actually enhanced a feature that they’ve used before in Uncharted 4, they called it thief mode in the original, but they realized that it was such an amazing accessibility feature that they actually enhanced it for The Last of Us 2, and that was high contrast mode where it highlights your character and your allies as blue and the enemies as red and items as yellow. It kind of gives an outline and a bit of a glow to all the environments in it. So you can actually be able to see and distinguish what is what in the world that you’re in so that you’re not having to try to distinguish, okay, where are certain things in the world, and how far is that enemy away from me?

The Last of Us 2 Trailer screenshot Ellie shooting an arrow at an enemy

It’s just amazing. What’s great, too, is you can actually swipe left on the touchpad to turn it on and off at any given moment. So if you need that little extra high contrast, you can totally do that in this, and it just looks and feels absolutely amazing.

There’s also a feature in The Last of Us 2 that I was so impressed with. Everyone’s been saying on the PlayStation controller, the DualShock controller, that the touchpad is useless. There’s no one really using it, people just use it to go to like bring up a map of the game. You can use that touchpad to zoom into the screen, and you can zoom as far or as little as you want. It is so much better than the PlayStation zoom, and I will even argue to say, I enjoy using the zoom better than I have on Xbox Magnifier or Windows Magnifier.

Courtney: Really?

Steve: That’s not a knock against Microsoft. They have an amazing magnifier. But this was so intuitive to use you just double tap the touchpad and you can zoom in and you can see a cursor of where your thumb is and you can be able to move around the screen just based on that zoom alone. It doesn’t interfere with any other button press or any other thing you’re trying to do.

There was so much that was involved with the touchpad for The Last of Us 2. You can be able to swipe left if you have high contrast turned on to turn it on or off as you needed to. You can swipe up to be able to hear text to speech. It tells you whether or not you’re standing, crouching, swimming, whatever, and then it tells you how much health you have left. There is so much just even just that touchpad alone. It was so, so cool to see.

The HUD scaling. Not only does it increase the little like the bottom right corner where it shows you what weapon you’re using and stuff like that, but it increases the HUD of the crossbar when you’re having to switch weapons, it increases the size of the buttons and the text prompts and even just the text themselves whenever you’re reading notes, it also increases the font size in that, but it also reads out text to speech, the entire thing. There are some custom words in there that I didn’t think the text to speech would pick up, and yet it did. Oh, it swears. This text to speech swears like a mother.

The Last of Us 2 - Ellie playing her guitar.

Courtney: So it is not censored like Netflix?

Steve: It is not censored at all, and it’s great.

There is so much just in blind accessibility alone, that anybody who has a visual impairment can be able to play. I was able to play this game in a way that I’ve never been able to before. I was able to sit back and relax. I didn’t have to be so close to the TV screen. I could be further away. I could be sitting on my couch and I could play this game without having to worry about, wait, what does that text say? Wait, where is it, where is that enemy? I can’t see it.

There was no barriers to entry. Once I figured out my system of, okay, I’ll use zoom in this section, I’ll use high contrast in this section, the text to speech works here, there were so many things I just didn’t have to worry about that it removed all the barriers I normally would have and allowed me to play the game and enjoy it as the game itself.

What I love, too, was that it kept the challenge of The Last of Us 2 alive. I was so afraid that these settings would serve just to make the game too easy and it would just not allow you to be able to play it, or it would just allow you to kind of like breeze through all the encounters, but it was still a challenge. There were still moments I’m like, okay, how do I defeat this one section? How do I get past these people? How do I survive this encounter? It was so much that it just removed all that, but still kept that challenge alive.

That’s just a fraction of all the accessibility settings that I found just within the blind and visual accessibility options.

Deaf Accessibility

Courtney, what about you? What did you discover in the deaf and hard of hearing accessibility options?

The Last of Us 2 - Showing the subtitles at their default size.

Courtney: You know, a thing that I don’t think I have ever mentioned this in any of the hard of hearing deaf reviews that I’ve done before, but a large part of being a hard of hearing person is that you spend all of your time when you’re interacting with anything that makes a sound actively listening. That level of having to give things your undivided attention is mentally and physically exhausting. You know? So that’s a big part of where fatigue comes from playing games for me.

With this, I didn’t have that issue because I didn’t have to sit there and actively listen, like, okay, let me tune the world out and make sure that I’m listening so that nobody’s going to sneak up on me, I’m not going to get blindsided by an enemy, I’m not going to die and have to constantly save so that, oh well, this enemy is going to sneak up on me, I’m probably going to die, I better save. So there’s that habit of saving constantly.

With this, it was the first game that that level of exhaustion from having to actively listen was minimized. Because yes, there are all of the basic deaf and hard of hearing accessibility features, like there’s massive subtitle options and they’re nice, big, and there was vibration feedback. Everything that is standard in most games is done so well in The Last of Us 2 that it makes that standard in every other game feel like, okay, well, you didn’t do this so… You know?

It was so cool too, and then be able to dig further into the menu and play around with, okay, well maybe this setting will help me out, or maybe this one will make this easier.

Because you know, there is still that issue. You’re always going to be a hard of hearing player playing a game, right? There’s going to be things that you’re going to struggle with no matter how great the accessibility is. There’s always a workaround. Always. And that really changed it for me from being yet another game that will take me like a year to finish because I need to take breaks from it because it’s just exhausting, to one that I will play straight through before I give my attention to anything else. Which that’s the game changer for me.

The Last of Us Part 2 - Ellie hiding behind a tree and bushes, looking toward a distant flame in a camp

The other thing that I really loved about the deaf and hard of hearing settings in The Last of Us 2 was that little arrow that’s in the corner to show you who is speaking and from where. That’s something that is never included. Like never, in any game. And so you view cinematics and it’s like, okay, well, there’s someone speaking off screen, where is he? You know? Because if you can’t get that spatial audio, you’re missing a big part of the immersion, like if somebody is echoing because they’re far behind you or anything like that.

It was just so cool to see that it wasn’t an issue because that little arrow, even if the person is off screen, even if you’re playing in the world and you have a follower and they’re quite a ways behind you, or the scene suddenly changes, that arrow is always going to be there to pop up and to show you exactly where people are speaking from. I think that will add a level of immersion for deaf and hard of hearing players that I don’t think any game has achieved so far. Because it’s so easy to overlook the immersion aspect of video games, and they really didn’t in this one, and it was just so cool.

The subtitles are so well done. Because in a lot of games you see, it’s voice acted one way and then scripted another. They’ll use shortened words or speak with an accent. In this, it’s all included in the subtitles. There wasn’t any formal, perfect English in the subtitles. It all fits the characters, and the ways that they speak are mirrored in how their subtitles.

Steve: How did you find traversing the world? Or even in combat, did you have anything that stood out in that?

Courtney: You know, the thing that really made a surprising difference was, what is it? The L1 to dodge, that prompt?

Steve: Mm-hmm.

The Last of Us 2 - Ellie with someones hand covering her mouth

Courtney: That made a huge difference. I noticed that it was in the presets, and I’m like, okay, well, how’s that going to help me? If there’s a dash prompt, I’m obviously going to be able to see the enemy coming at me. I had never realized how much listening is involved in that. So when there’s a prompt, it’s automatic. You don’t have to think, okay, well, what it that sound? Did I hear something? Was that outside my apartment or was it in the game? There’s that dodge prompt that is indisputable. Okay, get out of the way.

So that really made a big unexpected difference for me in how infrequently I died. So instead of like 30 times throughout The Last of Us 2, I think so far I’ve maybe died twice. One time was just because I fell off a ledge, which there is even a setting for that.

Steve: Yeah. Yep, there is a setting that if you’re close to a ledge, if you’re going to fall to your death, it’ll not only just like play a sound that will like say, hey, you’re near an edge, but it also will kind of physically stop you from getting past that edge.

How’d you find it when there was like enemies kind of around you? How did you find the combat for that?

Courtney: That was amazing. I’ve applauded a lot of games like Ubisoft. Ubisoft? I don’t think we ever determined how you say it. They really kind of led the way with that with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Origins, and I think that Naughty Dog has what others have done really well in enemy proximity and location and perfected it.

Because the difference between other games that have that feature and The Last of Us 2 is any time in the game you have these big open areas where there are multiple enemies and it’s a shootout, every single enemy that is in that area, whether or not you can see them or hear them or anything, if they’re an enemy that you have to kill, no matter how far they are from you, if they’re there and you have to kill them, there is a indicator for the enemy. But it’s just helpful enough to make it perfect.

The Last of Us 2 Ellie holding a gun with her eyes closed, waiting

Motor Accessibility

Steve: That is really, really cool. Before we kind of summarize our thoughts, I do want to mention that there is a lot of motor disability accessibility settings in The Last of Us 2 as well. We couldn’t touch on it in this video, but stay tuned to Can I Play That for review coverage of that coming up very soon. We just couldn’t have it for the review date for this video to come out. So there’s a lot of settings in there for more disabilities, and we’re looking forward to be able to discovering more as we go. There’s just a lot we couldn’t even touch on in this, so stay tuned to Can I Play That for all the details on that.

Final Thoughts

To kind of summarize in general what we said before, when we say this is the most accessible game we have ever played, it’s not the 100% most accessible game, but it’s pretty damn close.

Courtney: Yeah.

Steve: There’s still little tweaks that they could be able to do. But it felt like that they just sort of, in a way, turned on all the settings that they have as a developers to adjust certain things and they gave those settings to the players to adjust it for themselves.

Oh my God, we didn’t even touch on the difficulty settings.

So, okay. Real quickly, there are difficulty settings in this, like in the last one, and they have a pretty decent sort of like difficulty level, depending on how hard you want the game to be or how easy you want the game to be, based on if you want the story or full on like hardcore mode. But what was so cool was that, yes, you can be able to set those difficult settings, you can not only adjust those difficulty settings at any given point in the game just by going to the options, but you can also customize certain aspects of that difficulty.

If you’re like, I want stealth to be a little bit easier, you can make just the stealth easier and the rest is all moderate or hardcore. If you want to make your health not decreased so fast, you can change just your player difficulty so you’re not taking so much damage. It’s so granular and so customizable that you can literally create your own custom difficulty setting that works best for you.

That is just one of the most amazing options I’ve seen in this.

I have Courtney here because she’s doing the deaf and hard of hearing review for Can I Play That. I’m the media editor for Can I Play That as well. I know that it sounds like because I consulted with Naughty Dog that it sounds like I’m just basically becoming like a corporate shill at this point. But I am not kidding. There are many times I was surprised, I was shocked, I wept at certain points of just small things that just made this game so much more of an enjoyable experience to play.

In summary, I mean, that’s kind of where I want to take this, is that as much as we’re saying that this is the most accessibility settings we’ve ever seen in a game, this is a game-changer, it really comes down to how it affects someone who has always kind of brushed off these kinds of games because they were too difficult to play.

I would encourage you if you want to sort of like as a recommendation, Courtney, you can give your thoughts as far as your official deaf review, but in my particular thoughts as far as whether or not to recommend this, 1000%.

Courtney: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Steve: Because there’s always something in some option that if you’re having trouble with, you can try to certain aspects of it that from all different areas of accessibility that could possibly help you and play this. If you feel like the template is just not enough, there’s always more.

If you turn on accessibility settings, basically it’s going to send that information to Naughty Dog and Sony so that they know how to be able to improve upon that and what features you did use the most, what features you didn’t use. They said they’re going to be able to tweak this as they go and I hope that they share this data.

But like one thousand million percent, but this game. Courtney, your thoughts?

The Last of Us 2 Ellie in combat

Courtney: I mirror that. Even beyond that, if this kind of game isn’t your game or isn’t your type of game, you don’t like the genre, get it just to see the progress that’s been made, especially if you’ve been working in this industry for a while doing Ally work. I have never felt so validated by a game. I’ve been doing this for six years, just doing mostly deaf accessibility before we branched into all of it with Can I Play That.

And I know I said this about Gears 5, and Gears 5 was still an amazing game, but literally everything that any reviewer for Can I Play That has ever complained about being a barrier, they have addressed it with this game. It’s amazing to see what barriers can be brought down when you really commit to making an accessible experience, you prioritize inclusion instead of we’re going to make the prettiest game ever. Then the icing on the cake for that is they did. The Last of Us 2 is gorgeous.

Steve: Oh, God, it is amazing to look at.

Courtney: Yeah. I mean, the voice acting is amazing. The whole thing is just stunning. But knowing that on top of all of that, they also put the same amount of work into accessibility is awesome.

Steve: Yeah. This is a true masterpiece in all sense of the word. We’re going to be talking about this for decades to come.

This is a real touchpoint. Not only just within the video game industry but in the accessibility community in general. I hope that we can come back to this conversation five, ten years from now and be able to say that this was just the beginning.

The Last of Us 2 Ellie's mouth and neck

Courtney: Right. You know, I think, who was it? John Knowles from Trenton or Playground? Forza. Forza John. He had said, I think it was at GA Conference, that accessibility is a race that we all win. And it’s like we have a new front runner in the race, and it’s going to be so exciting to see every other studio, especially the big ones that have already been so committed to it, to see that race of innovation of, okay, how can we do this and do it even better?

Steve: Yeah, I can’t wait. I seriously can’t wait. Even after, like if you’re watching this video and its way after the game has already been out for a while, just go to Can I Play That and search for The Last of Us 2 to see all of the information of accessibility for this game. Because there’s a lot, and guaranteed there’s going to be a lot more stuff we’re going to discover as we go.

So thank you so much for watching. I really do appreciate it. Again, if you have any questions about the game, make sure you leave it in the comments down below, or ask both Courtney and I on Twitter. I’ll have a link to Courtney’s Twitter in the description down below. If you liked this video, give it a big thumbs up.

Give a thumbs up for just accessibility in general, because this is a pretty cool achievement. I’m so happy for The Last of Us 2 to exist now. If you want to see more content from myself or from Can I Play That, make sure you hit the subscribe button, and also hit the bell notification icon so you’ll be notified as to when new videos come out.

Thank you so much for watching. Courtney, thank you so much for joining me.

Courtney: Thank you.

Steve: I really appreciate it. We’ll see you in the next video. As always, I remain… Actually, as always, we remain obediently yours.

The Last of Us 2 is available for PS4 on June 19, 2020.

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Steve Saylor

Steve Saylor is a Toronto-based podcaster, radio host, Blind Gamer, YouTuber, Twitch Streamer, Graphic Designer, Content Creator and College Professor all while being blind! Starting in 2015, his entertaining YouTube series “Blind Gamer” fuses humour with his passion for playing video games. In just a few short years he is considered a thought leader on accessibility in gaming and an advocate for developers to push video game accessibility forward. Steve is the top Blind Gamer in Canada and has worked with prominent clients in the video game industry.

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