The team at Playground Games committed to making Forza Horizon 5 accessible to as many players as possible. While Forza Horizon 4 included a suite of accessibility settings, designed to let players tailor the experience to their specific needs, Playground changed its approach when it came to developing the Xbox Series X sequel. In fact, the studio started thinking about, and investing in, accessibility right from the outset.
"Coming into Forza Horizon 5, we really sat down and tried to think about how we could make accessibility a core piece of the game," senior level designer Aaron McAree tells me. "We had accessibility options previously, but we arranged to have people come into the studio to give their own account, being people that require accessibility options to play games, and hear what their individual stories are. And how things that are on the surface, that we maybe didn't think about, would affect their ability to experience the game as it was intended."
"What we got from that was that there's no sort of one size fits all. Everybody's individual story is specific to them," McAree adds. "And that's certainly something that we have learned when we've worked with SpecialEffect before, which is a brilliant UK based charity; it's very much a tailor made case for each individual person. So that's why when you start the game, before even beginning, you're presented with an option where you can go straight into the accessibility menu. So it's not hidden behind anything. You get to tailor your experience, right from the beginning, to hopefully enjoy the game as it's meant to be intended."
As creative director Mike Brown explains, Playground changed up its development processes in an effort to make accessibility one of its core "initiatives". These initiatives are, as Brown puts it, "the huge features that underpin the game", such as Horizon stories, expeditions, and core pieces of the campaign. By making accessibility an initiative, the team could ensure it was an integral part of the development process that they could really commit to.
"I think these features often aren't for a huge audience, and therefore there is perhaps an inclination to undervalue their importance to a particular audience," Brown says. "And I think by making it an initiative level, we put ourselves in a position where we were really committing to make some good investments, to make some big improvements, and hopefully make the game more accessible to as many people as we can."
During a guided demo of the Forza Horizon 5 accessibility options, I'm able to see a variety of different settings that will be included. With a wealth of different features on display, it's evident that a lot of work and thought has gone into this aspect of the game, with Brown and McAree explaining how feedback from disabled players influenced many of the adjustable settings that players can use to tailor the experience. Options surrounding text size and readability for subtitles during gameplay and cutscenes, for example, were revaluated after discussions at the studio.
Game speed modification
A new 'Tourist' difficulty setting has been introduced to Forza Horizon 5, designed to ease players into the racing experience. The team have also added an option known as game speed modification, which controls "the underlying speed of the game engine" and the physics simulation. This option can help players with slower reaction times, so, if you're racing at high speeds and you're finding it difficult to control, you can turn down the speed so the game engine runs that much slower. "It doesn't actually feel strange when you're doing it either, the audio still holds up," Brown explains. "It actually is a really, really cool setting, it makes races a lot more accessible."
These settings are just some examples of the many options I get to check out during the guided demo, but they all clearly demonstrate just how much work and thought has gone into trying to make Forza Horizon 5 accessible to as many players as possible. While there will be a lot of options available when the game releases, a post-launch update will also be coming that will add a sign language interpreter to all the cinematics in the game, with both ASL (American sign language) and BSL (British sign language).
"I think that there is a really strong commitment from the whole Xbox organization. And that's really helped us to have our eyes opened to the struggles and difficulties people have when playing games," Brown says. "When we have people come into the studio to talk about that, it's so interesting, because they're such passionate gamers, they love games so much. And when they share the challenges that they face in order to just enjoy games, I think it kind of made us just want to do everything that we could."
You can take a look at closer look at the accessibility features in Forza Horizon 5 here.