My world erupted into a continuous hail of bullets, both mine and theirs, while splotches of color swarmed around me. I avoided being destroyed in the electric blue glow of an Overloading Magma Worm, but had momentarily lost sight of my allies. My virtual wallet was flush, but there was nothing around to buy, leaving me unprepared for the fight ahead of me. I eventually succumbed to the tapestry of enemies and fire, but I was having a blast.
Not bad for a game whose prequel I had found completely unplayable.
I’m currently hooked on Risk of Rain 2, but I had tried hard to fall in love with the first game when it was released. The problem was that I realized the art direction and size of the sprites was going to be an issue for me after seeing some preview footage, and my heart sank.
This is something I have to worry about, due to being legally blind, but I tried to still my feeling of concern and grabbed a copy to play with my friends. I too wanted to shoot everything in sight while randomly generated upgrades rained down around me. It looked like a blast!
But my initial experience was horrible. My friends were stuck carrying me through the gauntlet, because I literally couldn’t see what was going on. Everything was excruciatingly small; numbers and words were nearly impossible for me to read except when it said LEVEL UP, and enemy projectiles were both tiny and murderous.
I had trouble identifying much of what occupied the screen, especially when multiple players were involved. I was stunned at how something with such basic design language and clear animations could still feel cluttered and hard to understand to my eyes. My time in Risk of Rain had been a disaster, and soon my friends were playing without me.
I didn’t blame the developers; I knew my problems were a combination of my own eyesight issues and the overall aesthetic of the game. It just wasn’t a good fit and, after reaching out to Hopoo Games, I learned many of these decisions had been made due to financial constraints.
“It was a design choice for us to make the characters smaller and the world (and enemies) on a much larger scale,” Paul Morse, co-founder of Hopoo Games, told me. “Primarily, it was a constraint on art and animation because we were just a two man team. We also wanted to make sure that the sense of scale was felt while playing the game to convey the idea that the character was small and didn’t belong on this planet. To do that, we scaled the player down dramatically, so we could make sure the monsters and large bosses felt massive in comparison.”
This has happened before
This wasn’t the first time a game’s design had made it hard for me to see what was going on, although this felt especially disappointing due to the fun my friends were having with Risk of Rain. I tried to solve the problem myself, but the magnification program I use on my computer wouldn’t play nice with the game, and I couldn’t memorize item placement or how to move in each level like I had with other games in the past.
I gave up, and forgot about Risk of Rain.
One of my friends pushed me to give Risk of Rain 2 a try, but the fear of more false hope kept me from buying the game. Then I heard about the deal the developer was offering when the game launched: A free copy for a friend came with each purchase, but the sale would only be going on for a limited time.
The gift had already been sent to me on Steam before I could refuse. The decision had been taken out of my hands. This meant I had to try it, and I’m so glad I did.
The power of accessibility
“We expected in general that moving to 3D would help with visibility and clarity a lot, because we would be able to provide a lot more detail to the game as a whole,” Morse told me.
It’s easier for my eye to catch larger models, and that extra size also meant more detail could be added. Even if I may not see every small piece of each item or enemy, the size and color means that the figure itself wouldn’t go unnoticed.
I wasn’t the only one who found this new version of the game to be much easier to understand at a glance. “Character models, monsters, bosses, items — everything is much more in your face, which was a huge benefit of moving to 3D,” Morse explained.
Things being “right in my face” is the most helpful thing, in fact. It seems simple, but something as small as adding a dimension, moving a camera, changing color sets, or bolding and highlighting important items can make or break my ability to play a game effectively.
I don’t expect everything to be changed for my personal benefit; I’m just happy that more people are thinking about these issues. Sometimes I can’t even tell for sure what the most important changes will be until I play a sequel or update to see if it works for me. And, in this case at least, it really worked.
And that shift feels even more meaningful when it comes from small teams who don’t have to think about this stuff if they want to focus on the dedicated fans they’ve already earned, but still decide to use some of their limited resources to help those with visual challenges play the game.
“Early on in development we talked about what exactly we thought we could support as a small indie team and what was more of a wish list outside our scope,” Morse told me. “I think there are a lot of small things that we can do to help make the game more accessible to more players. We’re reasonably happy with the pinging system, for instance.”
The ping system in Risk of Rain 2 allows players to highlight items in the world, whether they are helpful upgrades, enemies, or the teleporter that acts as the goal in each level. These things also now have a colorful outline that all players can see from anywhere on the board, meaning that it’s much easier to me to find out, or recognize, what I’m looking at in each area.
“There are a ton of cool examples of games that have come out recently that are doing more and more for player accessibility,” Morse explained. “We love that, and because we don’t have the expertise to be trailblazers in the space, we want to follow those clever ideas wherever possible. It’s likely we’ll spend more time looking at accessibility once we’ve added more content to the game.”
I often have to skip games due to my own visual limitations, but Risk of Rain was a disappointment for me, and it came during a dark period where I felt left out from what my friends were doing. I knew I wasn’t alone, and I heard stories of even people with good vision sometimes have problems playing the game well.
But I wasn’t prepared for how much easier it would be to play Risk of Rain 2, and how much of the fun my friends discussed about the first game carried over to the sequel. The shift into the third dimension, and the visibility shifts that came with it, made all the difference to me.
Now the battlefield feels easier to traverse, with items and enemies that pop from the screen due to their contrast against the environment, danger that feels more immediate, and various tools to help me understand what’s going on as I play with the team.
Hopoo Games made this version much easier to interact with as well. Chests are shown with large numbers next to them showing their cost, items that are important for progress aren’t lost easily against the terrain, and the backgrounds rarely obscure enemies or their attacks in a way that feels unfair. The only thing that seems to be hard to spot is the teleporter, although that’s an item that is designed to force you to hunt for it, and the ping tool helps me track it down when my friends can see as I struggle.
Each of these changes has made me more confident in my play, ready to take on the challenge.
Now I brave the rain, I run with my friends and pull my own weight, and the experience feels like a party. Risk of Rain 2 made sure I, and many others, even if for different reasons, were included this time.