Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Proves Metroidvania Games Can Be Accessible
Developers spent years crafting and refining each option to ensure they could benefit disabled players, right up until launch.
The Metroidvania genre encourages exploration. Whether progressing through the main storyline or retracing your steps for collectibles and upgrades, the desire to find every hidden item or zone is a core theme for these games. However, the constant need to memorize where to go can pose numerous inaccessible barriers for certain players. That’s where Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown shines. Launched on Thursday, it touts innovative accessibility features like Guided Mode and Memory Shards that remove the barriers typically associated with Metroidvania games.
“In a lot of Metroidvanias, I play, take a break, and come back to my game with my map full of custom markers, and I forget everything I wanted to do,” Ubisoft senior game designer Remi Boutin tells Inverse.
The act of placing indicators on maps to keep track of collectibles or objectives is nothing new. Games like Hollow Knight let individuals purchase markers, but the cognitive barriers of memorization remain. Why did I put this indicator here? Do I need a special piece of equipment to access it? These questions were the catalyst behind the creation of Memory Shards, a tool originally created for disabled players that ultimately became one of the game’s defining features.
“One of the inspirations was ‘Photo Mode,’ and the experience of players taking screenshots of the game,” Boutin says. “We combined [them] to offer Memory Shards, and we were quite happy because when we implemented that, it felt quite natural to players.”
Accessibility should never detract from the overall experience. Options and designs need to provide disabled individuals with the necessary tools to dismantle inaccessible obstacles. With Memory Shards, players can photograph their exact location and place it on the map, ensuring they can visualize the specifics of any area. If a discovered item is unattainable without a piece of equipment or skill, they can use Memory Shards as a reminder of their previous adventures. It allows for seamless, uninterrupted gameplay, regardless of the length of time away. Combine that with Guided Mode, a feature that pinpoints exactly where the next objective is and warns players of any obstacles they may encounter, and disabled players can fully focus on intentional barriers like challenging bosses.
“When I obtain a new tool in any Metroidvania, I’m always thinking ‘Where do I need to go back?’” Boutin says.
The constant need to keep track of pathways, powers, and items prevents some individuals with varying cognitive disabilities from focusing on platforming and combat. With these new tools, disabled players can enjoy and experience all major themes within the genre — exploration, platforming, collecting, and combat.
Committing to Accessibility
The Lost Crown’s bevy of accessibility offerings like customizable controls, subtitles, and multiple difficulty levels are standard for Ubisoft games. With each new release, developers are consistently looking to combine accessible options with inclusive designs to create titles that disabled players can comfortably access. The Lost Crown’s attention to accessibility detail is continuous proof of the studio’s commitment to these issues.
“Accessibility was a topic since the beginning of development,” Boutin says. “The team are fans of Metroidvanias, but we knew it was a genre that is not very accessible. Since the beginning, we wanted to do a modern game that can be enjoyed by the largest number of people. Just a couple of months after development started, we asked ourselves how we can be accessible, and what accessibility features can we bring to the genre to make it open to the largest number of people.”
Boutin and his team used a plethora of AAA and indie titles as inspiration for specific features. He acknowledges that all recent Ubisoft games provided examples for control remapping, an important feature for physically disabled players. Dialogue History, which lets individuals reread the last 50 lines of dialogue, was inspired by visual novels. And 2020’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was crucial for The Lost Crown’s Guided Mode. Valhalla offers several choices of map assistance through Exploration Modes, namely Adventurer, which alerts individuals to objectives and provides distances between each marker.
“[Exploration Modes] let the player choose if they want to be guided with dots and icons or search more freely the path you want to go on,” Boutin says.
Yet Ubisoft’s approach to accessibility is more than options within menus. Inclusive game design is found throughout each game, from simplified controls to on-screen information not reliant on aspects like color. This doesn’t mean that features like colorblind and high contrast modes aren’t offered. On the contrary, The Lost Crown provides several, but Boutin says the team didn’t want the accessibility tool to spoil key story moments. For visually disabled players, High Contrast Mode can help to highlight objects, objectives, and even enemies. However, during development, developers noticed the accessibility option revealed surprises before cutscenes would finish.
During the initial development of High Contrast Mode, the team established the setting to highlight allies and enemies with distinct colors. However, during specific cinematics, certain characters would be highlighted as enemies before their reveal, ruining surprises and tense moments. One of the developers at Ubisoft noticed this issue and made sure to avoid spoilers by changing it so that enemies were no longer highlighted explicitly in these scenes.
Time and Dedication
High Contrast Mode and Memory Shards were not proposed on a whim during the late stages of development. Approximately two to three years before the launch of The Lost Crown, Boutin and his team sought to make this game one of the most accessible in the genre. As a result, developers spent years crafting and refining each option to ensure they could benefit disabled players, right up until launch. For example, Memory Shards required vast amounts of prototyping.
“The fact that we are cross-platform meant we had to be sure the screen could be transferred from one platform to another,” Boutin says.
Accessible features and designs are never perfect, nor do they always end up exactly as intended. Memory Shards began as a tool to help disabled players but ultimately transitioned into a primary aspect of The Lost Crown, one which Boutin hopes future games in the Metroidvania genre utilize. And despite its overall success, Boutin wishes to continuously refine each accessibility option.
With every Ubisoft game, accessibility is intrinsically incorporated throughout each development stage. Starting early allows for continuous playtesting, input from the disabled community through consulting opportunities and workshops, and even the chance to elevate accessibility features into mechanics not just for disabled individuals. It’s this philosophy that Boutin wants to impart to other studios and developers, particularly those that create Metroidvania games.
“What I can say is think about accessibility from the beginning,” he says, “It’s a lot easier to anticipate accessibility problems than to fix them at the end of development. If, from the beginning, you are thinking about accessibility, you will design with that in mind, and you will have less work.”
Creating less work and saving time is a crucial aspect of game development. The features disabled players currently use to dismantle inaccessible barriers were designed long before games like The Lost Crown. And it’s the passion of developers like Boutin who wish for disabled individuals to play their games that ultimately fuel these innovations.
“Evangelize accessibility to your developer,” he says, “Every developer [working on The Lost Crown] was doing an accessibility feature. It was great because [developers] put a lot of passion into a feature, and they really wanted to make it accessible.”
Understanding and implementing accessibility features is a continuous process, one which requires constant refinement. Since the disabled experience is incredibly individualistic, no game will ever be totally accessible for everyone. Yet Boutin wants other developers to understand the importance of creating accessible features and inclusive designs. If developers are passionate about making their games enjoyable and accessible, it ultimately creates a better experience for disabled players.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown launched on January 18 for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
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