Subtitles in Assassin’s Creed II and Ubisoft’s Pledge

I am somewhat of a gamer. I am not by any means an avid gamer or someone you should call up with questions. If you want a review of how easy a game is to play or how not confusing your controls are, I am your girl*.

I am mostly a computer gamer. I like my World of Warcraft just fine, thank-you. It has a lot of room for critique, and I have some letter writing campaigns to Blizzard in progress. But I like it. I have no love for Warhammer Online, having never played it after being promised by multiple reliable sources that I would be able to play it on my Mac, and after purchasing the Special Edition in order to get into the Beta, was most unpleasantly surprised. Whatthefuckever, I turned that store credit into a Wii Fit, something I actually used. And, no, I don’t care that you can now get it for Mac, they already shat in my Cinnamon Life. I am digressing when I just wanted to say that I prefer computer over console because I tend to find console controls too confusing for me —  all the button combinations are too much to keep track of. I like to set up my buttons in a row and get my “Pew Pew Moar” on. If it is more complicated than original Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros., I don’t really enjoy it. I just don’t have the reaction times or memory to figure out all of those buttons (and I don’t need an evo psych lecture on how girls just don’t have those skills, because I have many gamer skills that translate well into the PvP aspects of WoW…I just don’t have it for console gaming).

One thing that endeared me to WoW, however, is that all the dialogue is subtitled. I am not deaf, but I do sometimes have trouble sorting dialogue out from ambient noise, both in game and out. I don’t want to have to miss something in an otherwise mostly enjoyable game because I can’t understand what the NPCs are saying. It doesn’t matter how high you turn the volume, you just can’t get everything. WoW even lets me know when someone is yelling.

Back to console games…

One console game that I did pick up was Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. There was a lot of excitement over this game, it was anxiously awaited — one of the most anticipated games of the year of its release. There was also a huge deal surrounding one of its lead developers that I will leave you to read up on,I just am too tired to rehash it — I was thrilled that it didn’t stop Jade Raymond from being a part of ASII’s team (no transcript at the link). Just for a fun exercise, Google “Jade Raymond + Assassin’s Creed II” and see how many search results come up with anything that has to do with how good she is at being a video game developer or producer, and then tell me why more women don’t go into that industry. The team at Ubisoft put in the beginning of the game that it was developed by a team of multi-cultural and religiously sensitive people from many diverse backgrounds. I found the game fantastic. The Guy beat it in just a couple of days (he eats games for breakfast like that), even if the ending did make him want to put it in the freezer, and even though I have only recently tried it, I have really enjoyed it. To me, the controls are really simple, the game play is methodical (note: things that really piss some gamers off appeal to me, as in part of my OC nature really likes the repetitive storyline, and the different things to complete. I *love* that, because it allows me to zone out, clearing my mind.), and the game itself is Really Fucking Beautiful. I love going to all the checkpoints and using the “eagle vision”, just viewing the cities.

One aspect that was missing from this design team, it seems, was someone who had input on accessibility, because one complaint I had, even before I was invested in disability activism to the degree I am now, is that it had no subtitles. Like I said, I often miss dialogue during cut scenes, and even if that does not affect my game play, it affects my gaming experience.

When Assassin’s Creed II came out I read in The Guys Game Informer that they made a lot of changes based on what fans wrote to Ubisoft asking for. Before I was willing to get this for The Guy for X-mas this year, I needed to see two things: 1) That the playable character could not drown in a two fucking inches of water, and 2) subtitles. Well what do you know, this iteration’s assassin can fucking swim, and Assassin’s Creed II includes subtitles for all of the game play.

Rawk.

We have it, and it both translates the Italian and has decent subtitles, although it doesn’t describe non-spoken sounds.

There’s more.

Ubisoft, apparently has made a commitment that they will always include the considerations of deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers in the development phases of their gaming creation. This is exciting news for me, coming from a company that I have come to really like. By like, I mean, has made the first non-Nintendo based console game that I can actually play (this is also because I find the new black controller included w/ the X-Box Elite military appreciation smaller than the original, and fits comfortably in my hands, even on a moderate pain day).

I am looking forward to finishing Assassin’s Creed so that I can move on to ASII, if for no other reason than for the subtitles. I wish they had made this pledge long ago. It is worth noting that I read on a gamer message board somewhere (I can’t find it now) that someone had written them, and they responded, saying they took that complaint very seriously, and now, here they have. This has raised Ubisoft in my mind.

Like it was hard to do at this point.

*I do sometimes call myself girl. I don’t have a problem with this.

More articles on subtitles in video games: Subtitles: Increasing Game Accessibility, Comprehension (Gamasutra)

20 Comments

  1. Oh, gah, yes, it’s so irritating when video games don’t have subtitles available. Particularly when there’s lots of background noise or loud music, the character’s got a difficult accent, or the character’s voice is distorted in any way. There are so many games out there where I didn’t understand most of a sequence of dialogue because of one of those issues.

    And yes, game designers are notorious for not thinking about accessibility. Another area where they’re often made of fail is color-blindness. I’m thankful this isn’t an issue for me, but there are way too many games where distinguishing red from green from yellow is a significant requirement.

    There’s a wonderful demo of why accessibility is important in games titled “Game Over”. It’s a fully playable game… well, it’s not playable, because every level is inaccessible in some way, but it’s an excellent demo because of that! It can be downloaded here, if you’re interested.

    Incidentally, have you played Portal yet? If not, get it immediately. Easy controls (other than turning and walking, there are only three actions you can do), and everything is subtitled (even sound effects, optionally!). I haven’t played any of the other Orange Box games, but I heartily recommend Portal.

  2. This is pretty awesome on their part, but it doesn’t solve the problem that text in all games that I’ve seen for the PS3 and Xbox 360 is optimized for high definition screens, and so render poorly on old televisions. I’ve seen ASII on an old tv, and the subtitles were there, but they were difficult to read fast enough to keep up. I’ve never seen a game on these platforms that didn’t suffer from this problem.

  3. Oh, I am so glad to hear this. I am currently playing ASII and really enjoying it; I hope that the subtitles improve the experience for you. AS was definitely one of my all-time favorite games, partly because the gameplay doesn’t make me motion-sick (as a lot of first-person games do) so I was thrilled when the sequel came out.

  4. I am digressing when I just wanted to say that I prefer computer over console because I tend to find console controls too confusing for me – all the button combinations are too much to keep track of. I like to set up my buttons in a row and get my “Pew Pew Moar” on.
    I’m the opposite way, I can’t stand playing games on computers. You can map individual keys to commands but then I’m like, “Why does the game require 20 different commands?” I don’t like to play games that require more than 6 trigger buttons and a d-pad. All those buttons & their locations bother me.
    My other problem with PC games is that I can never keep up with the technology. The last “New” game this PC could handle was Sims 2, and that came out in what, 2005? 2006? Never need to worry about that with console hardware, just upgrade once every few years if you want and it’s good to go for the most part.

    I didn’t play the Assassin’s Creed games, but I am still familiar with the Jade webcomic scandal. It’s disturbing.

    I remember back in the day before the mid 1990s, most games couldn’t have speech, because the technology wasn’t up for it yet. So all the dialog was subtitled. But there were a few games where you still needed to be able to hear in order to progress. Illusion of Gaia, was one of them. There was some level with a sound trigger, and the sound effect wasn’t subtitled… I was just a little kid back then, and I still remember thinking that part seemed unfair if you couldn’t hear the trigger for one reason or another. Make it that far and get stuck (This was back in the days before GameFAQs.)
    .-= K´s last blog ..Interesting posts, weekend of 12/26 =-.

  5. I’ve always wanted subs in my games, though not having them doesn’t make a game unplayable for me (luckily). I was plesantly surprised to have subtitles in the PS3 game I just got for Christmas, as I hadn’T expected them – even better, they’re accurate, AND the dialogue/subs don’t move forward until you make them.

  6. @codeman: Off-topic in that it’s boardgames, not PC/console, but boardgamegeek.com has had some discussions around how inaccessible some boardgames can be (and resources to adapt them so they’re playable).

  7. Video game accessibility! Whee!

    The group behind Game Over! (that Codeman38 linked to) also developed a universally accessible version of Space Invaders called Access Invaders and a newer version called Terrestrial Invaders

    I’m like you, K. I find using a controller much less complicated than using a keyboard and mouse. I like computer games with the “Games for Windows” sticker on them, because you can play them with an Xbox360 controller. I also like Diablo II, although I totally suck at it. (Yay pointing at stuff with a mouse and clicking it!)

  8. codeman38: Did my husband put you up to saying that? It’s like he won’t shut up about Portal, and how it is the FPS for people who don’t like FPSs, LOL! He’s always going on about how easy the controls are and how cool it is…I don’t like most FPSs, but he loves it.

    I also guess I never thought much about how colorblindness affects game play, since my brother is color blind and games (I don’t remember how you read the results, but on those tests out of 100, he gets 3 right), and it never occurred to me that some people might not adapt as well as he does, or at all. The things I don’t think of!

    stephen: I thought one of the links I left lead to a discussion about how frustrating it is that the video game industry doesn’t have guidelines for subtitling like everyone else does. There doesn’t seem to be any rules yet as to how big the lettering has to be or what color or what sounds have to be texted or anything. This seems to just be a step in a direction I was grateful for, and thankfully from a company that I knew to have a pledge to diversity. I also think, that like a lot of media, we are going to see advancing technology actually hindering progress in some areas.

    Sweet Machine: yeah, I think that is why I don’t play FPSs really, and while I liked watching my husband play Mirror’s Edge i don’t know if I could play it myself.

    K: I should mention that I really only play WoW on my computer. I tend to get hooked on a game and not want to switch to anything else. Finding time to balance b/t ASII and WoW has been a serious dilemma for me!

  9. My brother is also clourblind and has occasionally needed help in games that use colour-based puzzles, mostly adventure games, but in general it doesn’t matter much. Of course, there are different kinds of colourblind and games may well cause more trouble for one kind than for another, also it would probably vary per person.

    I’ve recently been noticing many different ways in which games are inaccessible, but most games I play have always had subtitles. I dread the rising popularity of ventrilo and other teamspeak/chat programmes in mainly MMO games.

    I have problems playing FPS and PvP I think because ofthe same reasons why it wouldn’t be safe for me to drive a car: too much going on on my screen that I HAVE to keeptrack of. Also enemies popping out from behind walls just freaks me out. I don’t mind games where I do the popping out though 😀 (like Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines).

    I’m a PC-game lover as well. Console controls are difficult, but mostly they really make my hands ache very badly. I would probably tolerate that, though, if cosoles had games I enjoyed, but so far, all the games I might like on console have also come out for PC, and I just don’t like most of the types of games coming out for consoles. The one or two games I might want to play for more than an hour don’t warrant me buying a console for.
    I still like adventures and RPG games best, but I play many different kinds of games. The only kind I really don’t like is the racing genre.

  10. I’ve been really interested in the Assassin’s Creed games, I might actually have to spend money. The manbeast is also a voracious gamer, so even if I don’t like it, he probably will. They’re just so pretty!

    @Norah: Argh, Ventrilo*! I had a brief saga where I tried to find an active WoW raiding guild and every. single. fricking. one. needed me to be able to use Ventrilo. When I finally did find a guild that would work with me without sound, I washed out of raiding with them because my response time was too slow.

    My “love letters” to Blizzard about their game being hard on the visually impaired could fill an entire novel. You know what’s hard to do when you can’t see tiny little clickable things? Playing “Simon”, finding and avoiding land mines, mixing potions in 30 seconds! I had to have my husband do some of the quests for me. Thanks for the feeling of personal failure and defeat, Blizzard.

    I’ve been wondering, while I noob my way around Team Fortress 2: is it just me, or is it really hard to tell the spies apart? I know that their suits are supposed to be gray tinted with either red or blue, but I have a hard time seeing that. I’m enjoying my Christmas gift very much, but my fellow team mates are a little frustrated at my inability to see enemy spies.

    *Some of my problems with Ventrilo were solved by our guild moving to the Dolby Axon standalone beta. A lot less background noise, feedback, and muffling, though I still find focusing on people’s speech to be exhausting at best. I can move myself in the “room” when I need to hear a person better, too bad Axon can’t help with thick accents.

  11. Yay for subtitles! Actually, in my 2 decades of gaming (although obviously voice acting is a more recent thing), I think the only 2 games I’ve come across that didn’t have subtitles were Koudelka (which I could still manage, with the volume way up and by concentrating, although I know I didn’t catch everything) and Fatal Frame (which I couldn’t hear AT ALL, and stopped playing pretty quickly because of it). I was really disappointed about Fatal Frame, because it seemed like it promised to be a kick-ass ghost story, but what was the point if I couldn’t hear it? The gameplay wasn’t fun enough to stand on its own without understanding what was going on.

    What other games have people come across that weren’t subtitled? I’d be interested to know if any of them are in my collection of games-I-bought-for-a-great-price-but-haven’t-played-yet.

    I even tend to play video games with the sound off because I like to listen to my own music instead of the in-game music (although I love the Final Fantasy soundtracks), and I read way, way faster than the voice actors speak, so even if I wasn’t hearing impaired, I’d prefer reading the subtitles to listening to the voices.

  12. The penultimate King’s Quest game (#7, I think?) wasn’t subtitled… which is particularly shocking given that all the previous games in the series were either entirely textual or had a text option. Thankfully, most of the dialogue was well enough enunciated and un-distorted that I could make it out, but there were a couple characters who gave important clues that were half-unintelligible to me (yay for FAQs!).

  13. I always turn on the subtitles. Sometimes (but not always) the repetitive background music that games us really grates at me, so I mute them and play the radio instead. I found a used copy of Jak and Daxter: the Lost Frontier and it has subtitles, but they are terrible. First, they are only on the cut-scenes, so critical instructions and tips during gameplay are missed. Second, they are timed wrong. I am not great at reading facial expressions or body language, so for me to notice something like that means they are really off. Sometimes, the subtitles will pop up and be gone before the character even speaks. I finally figured out that I could use the options to mute the music and lower the special effects while making the voices loud, but it was still annoying.

  14. I also dislike games where you cannot cut animations, cutscenes, conversations and such in game either by clicking or pressing ESC or whatever, it’s especially bad when you’ve already played the game several times. But I can’t always sit through all that, sometimes I need to just do stuff in the game for relaxation or whatever and if there was any info in the cuscenes/conversation I want to be able to look it up in a log of some sort later on.

  15. @cathy: Still better than the first Jak & Daxter game, which didn’t even have subs on the cutscenes. How’d I forget about that one, seriously?

  16. @Norah: One of the coolest games I’ve seen in that respect was a rather obscure Sierra adventure game titled “Torin’s Passage”. Not only did it have subtitles for everything (and even mentioned this on the back of the box!), but it saved a running transcript of the dialogue that you could then scroll back through if you missed anything. I haven’t really seen anything like that since.

  17. Oh, gah, I know I’m spamming this post with comments, but I forgot the most facepalm-worthy thing about of the lack of subtitles in the first Jak & Daxter game.

    When the game first came out, I played it, and I struggled to understand what some of the characters were saying. So naturally, I looked online to see if anyone else had commented on the lack of subtitles. And lo and behold, I found a FAQ from the developers themselves (now no longer on the site, but still accessible via the Internet Archive) with an answer to just why they had left such a basic feature out:

    We didn’t want subtitles to get in the way of the “movie” experience that the game provided. Afterwards, we realized that some hearing impaired gamers would have difficulty with the tasks, even though all of the tasks appear as items in the inventory menu. We are looking into adding subtitles, as an option, in the future to aid these gamers.

    From someone who watches movies with the subtitles turned on… yeah, that ain’t a movie experience. :-p

  18. The worst game for colour-blindness that I’ve seen (my husband has this issue) is Bust-A-Move Bash. Even with normal eyesight, I have trouble with telling some of the colours apart. The worst part? Previous games WERE accessible to my husband, because the different coloured balls also had different designs. They REMOVED that aspect in the Wii installment.

    Oh, and the multi-player blows.

  19. …Gahhh, I loved Bust-A-Move in the arcade. They removed the patterns inside the balls in the WiiWare version? Really? ::headdesk::

  20. Codeman38: That’s one of the worst excuses from game devs ever. Like they couldn’t make them optional like in the thousands of other games (even way back when). I actually understand the reason, when I can understand the words the subtitles need to go for me too, or they keep sucking my attention to them and I miss other stuff. But their reasoning makes no sense at all, so I have a hard time believing they really thought this way and really didn’t think of optional subs. So then I’m more inclined to believe they couldn’t be arsed.