Access: Granted - Accessibility & UI: An Interview with CCP Surge (part 2)

Because CCP Surge was so incredibly forthcoming when answering my questions, there was absolutely no way for me to include all of my questions and his answers into a single feature. I think that's a good thing: it shows his commitment (and by extension that of CCP) toward developing and producing a quality product that is not only entertaining for the majority of able-bodied players, but also a game that is accessible for everybody.

In some ways, I'll admit that my own physical disability limits my own perspective. How can I claim to be a disability advocate (and I do), if I don't know what it's like to play with a visual or auditory disability, the likes of which affect a significant portion of New Eden capsuleers. I hope that my attempts at empathy toward this group is reflected in the questions I've posed to CCP Surge in the second round of my interview regarding accessibility and user interface within the game we all love to play so much. At any rate, enough rambling on my end; as I like to say: "let's get to it!"

Interview with CCP Surge - Part 2

AccessibleGamer: As I understand it, the majority of eve players run their clients in a 1080 P resolution. This, unfortunately, results in some on readably small text, especially when reading information outside of a chat window. While it is a really good thing that players can increase and decrease text size in chat windows, this really needs to be expanded to any window that displays text. Doing so would be a twofold win: Gamers with visual disabilities would be able to read text easier, and gamers with normal vision would be able to increase their screen real estate by minimizing text, allowing for smaller window size. Have you guys given any consideration to letting users change text size in their clients? According to videogame accessibility expert Ian Hamilton: any text smaller than 18 pt in a 1080p or greater resolution is simply unreadable for gamers with either impaired or normal vision. Is this something that could be changed easily? I've actually read about full-blind eve players and while changing the text font size would be rather moot for them, it would be revolutionary for everyone else. Is this something that could be changed easily, or is this something stuck in old legacy code that can't be untangled?

CCP Surge: This is another well-known accessibility topic for us, right up there with making the game is colorblind friendly. And 1080P is pretty common right now, but it’s set to get even bigger with 4K+ resolutions employed by next generation hardware! While there are some options for text and UI scaling in the Esc menu, I admit there’s a long way to go before our client is fully accessible at ultra-high resolutions or for vision impaired gamers. One of the reasons we honestly haven’t decided to tackle the scaling issue yet is because it’s an older and slightly fragile part of the EVE codebase that has implications for every single UI element in the game. It would require a monumental technical and testing effort on our end to implement proper user-friendly UI scaling features. Not that our coders or QA aren’t up to the task ☺ it’s just that they’re usually busy working on the next big feature or expansion. It will catch up to us one day however, so it’s a thing that has to be addressed one way or another.

AG: When you first started working for CCP, what would you say their attitude toward making eve online accessible for the disabled player base was? Would you say that that attitude has changed over the years? If so, how?

Surge: Our attitude has pretty much remained the same: to build fun new gameplay experiences while keeping accessibility in mind, so they can be enjoyed by as many of our players as possible. We’re a smallish dev team by MMO standards, and everyone pitches in both on new features and maintaining old ones. But we’re not like some of the larger titles which can afford to dedicate an entire team to accessibility issues for a time. The winds of change might be blowing however; our executive producer (Seagull) has recently renewed a call for the design team to be aware of, and take accessibility more seriously going forward. So it’s definitely something we are going to be turning our eye towards in the near future!

AG: Do you have any plans to make the user interface more streamer-friendly? Hiding local systems/overviews/other revealing information from potential stream snipers, etc.?

Surge: This has been brought up at several CSM summits, but as of yet we haven’t formulated any specific plans for it. What would your top wishlist of streaming-friendly features be?

AG: Do you guys have any future plans to make Eve online more accessible to games with physical/visual/auditory disabilities? If so, throw me a bone and tell me what's in the pipe! Will the Citadel expansion bring us some more quality-of-life changes to the user interface of which the disabled community could make use?

Surge: Maybe not accessibility-targeted specifically, but here’s a couple upcoming interaction changes that we hope will make complex commands and access to tactical info easier for all players. The fighters redesign coming with Citadel will be at the center of some really interesting changes. In addition to the camera and drag-selection updates that are already out, you’ll soon be able to issue commands to your ship (and your deployed fighters) to move to, then stop at an exact point in space. Another big usability update launching with fighters will be an overhauled tactical overlay that more clearly shows optimal, falloff, and targeting ranges for modules. We’re moving away from your ship as the center point of the experience, since we recognized a lot of gameplay occurs at the zoomed-out grid level where a tactical birds-eye-view and RTS-like camera is more important. Looking further in the future I can hint that the main ship instrument cluster will be getting a design and usability pass to make sure, to make sure all the gages, available commands, and your ship’s status indicators are as clear as possible.

What are some of biggest accessibility features that would make the disabled communities lives infinitely easier? Try and list some large and small ones and we’ll try to slip them in for you guys! Author's note: if you have a question you want me to ask on your behalf, please send it to accessiblegamer@accessiblegamer.com

AG: Many commands require holding a key while simultaneously clicking a mouse, which can be very difficult for disabled gamers. Is there anyway that a workaround could be created?

Surge: This situation arises because the majority of key mappings are already taken, while we keep coming up with new powerful commands we want players to have access to! Suffice to say it’s a constant struggle, but at some point we want to take a comprehensive look at keymapping, and improve its usability as a whole.

Out of curiosity, wasn’t Sticky Keys the OS feature designed to help disabled users for this particular case? Is Sticky Keys actively used by disabled EVE players?

AG: The majority of disabled gamers use third-party software in order to allow themselves to be competitive with their able-bodied counterparts. Many of these gamers are concerned that their software violates CCP's rule concerning third-party apps sending commands/keystrokes to the client. Can we get an official statement from CCP regarding whether or not gamers with a disability can use third party software and to what extent?

Surge: For the official stance I’ll just refer to this blog. Specifically:

"We may, in our discretion, tolerate the use of applications or other software that simply enhance player enjoyment in a way that maintains fair gameplay.

However, if any third party application or other software is used to gain any unfair advantage, or for purposes beyond its intended use, or if the application or other software violates other parts of the EULA, we may fully enforce our rights to prohibit such use, including player bans."

Basically, we’re cool with it as long as disabled players use the software for the purpose of leveling the playing field between them and their able-bodied peers, as long as they don’t exceed it.

AG: Do you find that many players use the integrated voice chat client in game or do you find that the majority use third-party voice communication solutions like mumble, teamspeak, or discord? If the latter, is there any plan to remove Eve voice?

Surge: Sorry that’s really out of my area of expertise, nor do I know any stats on, or upcoming plans for EVE voice!

I'd like to again give an extremely heartfelt expression of gratitude to CCP Surge, CCP TurtlePower, and the entire Team PsychoSisters for all of their efforts in making Eve online such an amazing game that everyone can play and succeed, despite anything that might hold us back in the real world. Also a big thank you to TMC for giving me the support and credibility necessary to contact the developers and get them away from their keyboards to think about such big issues and lofty goals. Stay tuned for part three, as I send my follow-up questions, publish the answers, and most importantly: keep the conversation going.

I'm a 33-year-old quadriplegic spreading awareness of the challenges faced by disabled video gamers, and how best to overcome them. Most of my articles are crossposted on my website accessiblegamer.com, which you should totally look at. Otherwise, follow me on Twitter/Twitch at @accessiblegamer