Before trying a game, I always have a surge of anxiety and dread because I don’t know if a game will be fully accessible before buying. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us 2 is an exception thanks to the extensive accessibility features implemented into the game. But otherwise, my choices in fully accessible games are limited.
More often than not, these inaccessible games will have an unlabeled button, or a few. However, the bulk of the game is playable, but there are some small annoyances. Screen readers don’t focus on dialog boxes, interactive elements are not clearly identified, or sliders never work.
There are indie developers that make their games fully accessible from the
start and build upon that foundation of inclusion, making sure to take into account the usability experience screen reader users will have.
Timecrest, developed for iOS and Apple Watch by Sneaky Crab, Inc. is set in the
magical world of Alyncia, where we meet a young mage named Ash who desperately
needs your help to save it from imminent destruction. The story not only
introduces new characters to meet, but a whole world to explore. The events play
out in real time and the choices you make with Ash will determine major plot
changes and uncover multiple possible endings.
Timecrest was initially released on June 16, 2016 but the developers released an
update, version 2.9, earlier this year, that adds a completely new soundtrack by
Dibur Music, as well as other UI enhancements, such as dark mode support.
While the game is free, it does come with in-app purchases which are in the form of time crystals. When purchased, players unlock the ability to make the game speed up. Purchasing time crystals is not required to play the game. There are multiple points in the
game where Ash and other characters will be performing actions in real time,
such as sleeping for 24 hours, or fighting something for five minutes. Time
Crystals allow the player to bypass these wait times, but the player can also
exchange time crystals for gold Ash can use within the game.
Timecrest can best be described as an interactive fiction app with enhanced
VoiceOver support. You, the human, communicate with the young mage Ash, by
making a series of choices, after Ash describes events and dialogue. The game is entirely text based. Choices occur when the player selects from a list of choices at the bottom of the messages window.
I’m totally blind, so wasn’t able to assess the game for low vision users, but
from a screen reader perspective, everything is labeled. Labels are also very
easy to understand. Timecrest uses standard dialog boxes on IOS so VoiceOver
focus is never an issue. At the time of this writing, there are no custom router
actions to perform special actions without flicking to that particular element,
so if using VoiceOver, you will be subjected to quite a bit of swiping as Ash’s messages appear as lines of text that gradually scroll.
The messages are delayed a bit, to mimic the notion that Ash is speaking into a pocket watch. An audible notification alerts VoiceOver users that a new message has arrived.
Players that don’t have VoiceOver running won’t hear these audible cues.
These messages don’t automatically read with VoiceOver, but you can wait until
the body of text completes with a choice, then flick down with two fingers to do
a continuous read on the messages window.
Aside from the messages window, there’s other display elements on the screen,
such as the descriptive help button that gives context sensitive help for
VoiceOver users, explaining how the currently opened screen can be navigated.
The help screen also includes an audio glossary that can be accessed at any
Even the map is accessible, which is the only instance I’ve seen in a mobile
game that has a VoiceOver friendly map. Players can explore by touch around the
map with VoiceOver turned on. The map isn’t available until the later chapters
of the game, which are bundled into one app, making the transition from part one
to part two and beyond very seamless.
The game is set in Alyncia. Ash is forbidden to talk to you, the player, because you are human. Ash, though, casted a spell to allow communication between your world and Alyncia. This connection grows, as the story progresses, but there was one part in the story that could have made it more immersive for me that could have tied into the accessibility care.
After a crucial point in the story where a main character dies, Ash takes a
minute to get to know you better. Asking you about the human world and
technology. This is where the accessibility and the immersion broke for me
because the very accessible design didn’t translate to an immersive experience
in the game. The game doesn’t give you the opportunity to tell Ash about your
adaptive technology you’re using. Ash has no idea that you may, in fact, be a
blind or visually impaired player playing the game on an Apple Watch with
VoiceOver turned on. Ash has no idea your adaptive human technology allows you
to communicate. Because every action is guided by making a choice, rather than
text input, it felt slightly awkward with Ash thinking I was just another
ordinary human. A few small branching choices talking about disabilities and
VoiceOver would have made me feel a bit more connected to Ash and the world of
Everything is labeled and gives excellent descriptions when swiping through the
merchant store, or your pouch. There are moments in the game when swiping to
hear messages became tiring for me, so had to take breaks to allow the text to
populate. An option to allow for automatic reading would have made navigating
around the screen less taxing, especially if you’re playing for long periods of
There are LORE building side tasks the player can do to pass the time in later
chapters, such as read characters backstories in the form of memories. Even
though this section is technically accessible, it wasn’t easy to navigate with
voiceover. I wasn’t able to have VoiceOver continuously read, automatically
advancing to the next page in the chapter. It would have been a more pleasurable
experience if the continuous read would have automatically advanced to the next
page after an audible pause.
Alyncia is a vibrant world with many different mages and characters. This
interactive story, with greater than 200,000 words, is the most accessible
interactive fiction game, to date, that works on all Apple devices, even
natively on the Apple watch. While it does have some usability quirks, overall,
the developers have taken great care to ensure that everything is labeled, and
VoiceOver users can participate fully in the whole experience. If you need an
accessible escape, even for a few hours, this mobile game will do the trick.