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FFXIV’s Yoshi-P: accessibility training “tends to be neglected”

We speak to FFXIV director Naoki Yoshida about the MMORPG’s colourblind tools and the team’s overall approach to accessibility when designing new content

FFXIV director Naoki Yoshida talks accessibility

Since Final Fantasy XIV producer Naoki Yoshida recently reaffirmed Square Enix’s stance against the use of third party tools for the popular MMORPG, players have been fervently discussing use cases for UI mods such as colour blind accessibility tools which they feel are not currently well supported by FFXIV’s in-game options. PCGamesN spoke to Yoshida about how his team’s development process factors in accessibility considerations, and some of the possible solutions that are being considered for the fantasy game‘s future.

Final Fantasy XIV does a lot of things well in the accessibility space, including full controller support and extensive HUD placement and scaling options. However, its colour blind accessibility tools are quite limited. Currently, the game offers filters for the three forms of dichromatic colour blindness – deuteranopia, protanopia, and tritanopia – with sliders to change their intensity. Players can also manually customise the colours of almost all text in the game, but no option is provided to do the same for other UI elements.

Colour blind players such as Reddit user ReviloD18 have spoken about their difficulties reading mid-combat tells such as ground AoE markers and tethers, which can appear very close in colour to the ground they are displayed over. This issue isn’t necessarily exclusive to colour blind players, either – the recently released Pandemonium Asphodelos: The Third Circle Savage raid fight was criticised by some for having an almost entirely red and orange colour palette, making AoE markers difficult to see as well as causing general eye strain for some players over extended periods of play.

In his post regarding the use of third party tools, Yoshida speaks to the team’s understanding that some people use HUD and UI enhancement mods because they feel existing functions are insufficient, and suggests that the devs are endeavouring to enhance Final Fantasy XIV’s HUD functionality to help players out and discourage their use of mod tools. There were no explicit mentions of colour blind tools in Yoshida’s post, however.

The Final Fantasy XIV team has been responsive to adjusting encounters which have proved problematic for colour blind players in the past. One example is a fight in the Bozjan southern front, where a pattern overlay was added to help colour blind players distinguish between areas of pastel blue and pink.

However, one of the most universal threat indicators in the game – the AoE ground markers – is usually orange, with no option to alter this. ReviloD18 follows in the footsteps of other players suggesting that a colour wheel allowing players to manually change each colour to one which better suits their own preference, as “swapping one colour I cannot distinguish to another colour I cannot distinguish is not very helpful.”

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Among the more popular solutions players of the fantasy RPG have turned to is Gshade, which offers recolouring options that allows users to better fine-tune the look of the game. While this does not offer anything other than colour and lighting adjustments, it is considered a third-party tool and as such would be subject to Square Enix’s restrictions.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Yoshida and ask him about the tools currently present in FFXIV and his team’s overall approach to accessibility when designing content for future expansions. While he was unable to comment on any specific future plans, Yoshida did explain what factors affect their decision-making and development of new accessibility tools.

PCGN: In the past your team has changed visual displays on effects such as those in Bozjan Southern Front to help accommodate players who found the colours difficult to read. Did these changes influence your plans for future content?

Naoki Yoshida: The FFXIV UI team keeps track of past cases and feedback we receive. When creating new content, we are always considering what colours to use and, without limiting ourselves to colour, how to make mechanics distinguishable. So, rather than influencing any major plans, these cases continually contribute toward enhancing how we accommodate players with diverse backgrounds when preparing new content.

One common suggestion among players who have difficulty seeing AoE markers, map waypoints, and other mechanics due to colour-blindness is an option to manually swap one colour for another of their choosing. Is this something you’d consider incorporating in future updates?

If asked whether we’d consider incorporating an option like the one in the question here, unfortunately that answer is no. Expressing colour isn’t simply a case of using colour data provided in real time, but rather, for the most part it falls down to what is assigned as a texture to markers in the mechanic. If these colours were to be changed or specified in real-time, the graphics quality would be inferior to what we currently have in-game, and a large-scale reworking of the data would additionally be required. As such, in FFXIV we continue to explore ways to avoid overhauling the data by creating markers that do not rely on colour alone, to help enable as many players with diverse circumstances as possible to distinguish mechanics based on patterns and shape.

Speaking on a wider scope, how does your team approach disability initiatives in FFXIV? Your care for your community is evident, so what work goes into ensuring that FFXIV can be played and enjoyed by all?

What we believe is important for more and more players, including those with diverse circumstances, to enjoy playing FFXIV is understanding that there are many people with their own particular set of circumstances around the world. That’s because without this knowledge and understanding of diversity, the concept and idea of accommodating accessibility in video game development would never have emerged in the first place. Understanding and having knowledge of these factors led on to the implementation of a mode for colour filtering and an option to visually represent sound waves in FFXIV. Generally in game development, catching up on the latest information, learnings, and training about diversity tends to be neglected, but in FFXIV we’d like to keep up our efforts to engage in these types of activities moving forward.

While Yoshida’s explanation that a free-choice colour swapping mechanic isn’t possible will undoubtedly be a little disappointing to some, there’s certainly been a noticeable uptick in mechanics which allow players with various affecting circumstances to distinguish them thanks to other design choices. Yoshida was unable to comment directly on any plans the team might have in the works to encourage players to step away from the use of third-party tools, but we’ll see what future updates have to offer.

If you’ve been thinking about jumping back into the critically acclaimed online multiplayer game, there’s a FFXIV free login event that lets returning players jump on without an active subscription. Yoshida also spoke recently about plans to introduce jobs that are “brand new” to the Final Fantasy series as the MMO nears the tenth anniversary of the relaunched A Realm Reborn.