Deaf / Hoh Game Review – Hyper Scape (Beta)

Hyper Scape is a fast-paced battle royale that takes place in a fictional, virtual reality. A digital battleground for fame and fortune. This is our Deaf / Hoh Accessibility Review of the Beta.
Game Accessibility Nexus

Introduction

Hyper Scape is a free-to-play, first-person shooter that was made available to the public on July 12, 2020. The game, which is currently in open beta, is designed to be a fast-paced battle royale that takes place in a fictional, virtual reality. Whether playing solo or in groups of three, players utilize varying guns and abilities that they collect along the way. The game is scheduled to fully launch in 2020.

Given that the game is still in open beta, there will automatically be room for improvement. For example, during my gameplay, I was booted out of my pre-made group twice and voice comms cut out every couple rounds. Still, the game is groundbreaking in the battle royale genre and stands on the shoulders’ of its predecessors. Finally, a battle royale that isn’t a walking simulator!

Keeping in mind that the game is in beta, this review will go over DHH accessibility and identify what works so far, but also suggest which barriers need to be addressed.

The loading screen. A woman is to the left, holding a pistol and wearing futuristic goggles. The man in the center is holding a bigger gun one-handed and has a biker helmet. The man on the right wearing a combat bandana and holding a shotgun.

Settings

When I first entered the game, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game integrates subtitles, so there was no need to toggle subtitles in the settings. As a deaf gamer, this is a very reassuring practice, as it is immediately apparent to me that accessibility features exist. When entering the tutorial, subtitles are automatically turned on, which is relieving.

However, though I was impressed with the subtitles, I ended up missing almost half of the spoken instructions in the tutorial. The reason is that the lack of contrast made me have to actively read the text, rather than read and play at the same time. I was forced into a multi-tasking dilemma: Do I stop playing the game to read the subtitles, or do I play the game and I hope to learn as I go?

And let’s be honest, if you put a user in a room full of cool guns and abilities, the obvious choice is to test them out (by the way, they are awesome).

The tutorial, where the user is aiming a gun and transparent subtitles are found on the bottom.

When I noticed this barrier, I immediately went to the settings to see if I could adjust the subtitles. As I was browsing the settings, the tutorial continued without any form of a pause and I ended up missing additional, critical information. Honestly? It was definitely a little stressful for me. Luckily, I was able to replay the tutorial with the adjustments. Perhaps the game should prompt the player to change their settings before dropping them straight into the tutorial, as this is a rising practice seen in other titles from this and other studios.

Accessibility options are on the bottom of the the General tab. I actually missed this on my first try, as I guessed that DHH accessibility options would more likely be under gameplay or audio. After double-checking, I thankfully found the Accessibility settings and was able to change them to fit my needs.

I would suggest that Hyper Scape consider integrating a separate tab for Accessibility. Doing so will make the wireframe simple and intuitive in use. More so, this is a streamlined practice that top studios are beginning to adopt, so I hope that Hyper Scape will follow suit.

Gameplay settings, which include options to toggle: subtitles, subtitles backdrop, color blindness, text to speech, and voice chat transcriptions.

Within the accessibility settings, players can easily adjust subtitles size and backdrop. On the right-hand side of the settings, the game provides a brief description of what the highlighted setting does. This is a practice that I wish more studios would adopt, as it universally benefits gamers as they toggle and adjust their settings to meet their preferences/needs. Subtitles can adjusted to three different sizes and the backdrop varies from transparent (preset) to opaque. What I particularly love about the subtitles is that the adjustments still maintain the design aesthetic, which is an added plus.

However, though I am thrilled with the ability to change both the subtitles size and backdrop, I wish there were more customization options. Every individual has their own abilities and deaf experiences. Some people may need font edging, whereas others may function better with backdrops or yellow text.

Therefore, I would suggest that the developers consider adding additional customization options, as this will allow players to fine tune the accessibility features to meet their individual needs. For example, the developers should add a slider for the subtitle adjustments, as this will allow gamers to modify and tweak the settings to optimize accessibility. For more recommendations, I suggest reading this guide on Deaf Accessibility in Video Games.

That being said, Hyper Scape includes enough options that I was able to find settings to fit my needs. So, from my personal experience, I was very pleased with the text options. For example, here is the differences between the three available backdrop options:

Inside the tutorial room. User is holding a mammoth gun and looking at the abilities. Subtitle states Hack here! with no background
Inside the tutorial room. User is holding a mammoth gun and looking at the abilities. Subtitle states Hack here! with transparent background
Inside the tutorial room. User is holding a mammoth gun and looking at the abilities. Subtitle states Hack here! with solid background

More impressively, there is the option to toggle voice chat transcriptions and wow, I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw this feature!

The voice chat transcriptions show up on the left-hand side of the screen, where the rest of the in-game communication occurs. The transcription distinguishes players by labeling each player as a color and showing their corresponding in-game name.

I am very impressed with this feature and hope to see it as a staple for future games. Sure, transcriptions can be imperfect. However, the feature is good enough that it made me feel more comfortable queuing with random players, as I knew typical communication issues would immediately see some alleviation. Ubisoft once again does not disappoint.

A screenshot of someone in the lobby waiting for the game to start. SST is on the left-hand side. Scawil (in green) is chatting about gameplay before the game begins.

GAMEPLAY

Hyper Scape has a very clean interface and within my first game, I am able to understand most visual cues and optimize the HUD to my advantage. As a bonus, the combat felt natural to me and genuinely felt good. Granted, I’ve played a number of first-person shooters and battle royales, which could have helped with my adaptation.

When considering DHH accessibility for team-based, first-person shooters, there are typically two things to keep in mind: (1) player communication and (2) equal access to in-game knowledge. In the leading sections, I explain what does and does not work for these two categories.

Player Communication

The three forms of communication is voice communication, text chat, and the integrated ping system:

Voice Communication

The new voice chat transcriptions ease barriers of communication, as players are able to supplement sound for Speech-to-Text (STT). I find myself heavily relying on the transcriptions, as my teammates use the voice comms to clarify the meaning of pings or relay critical gameplay information. The entire feature is very impressive.

However, this does not work for all DHH individuals. There is an implication that the player is able to speak, but not every person is comfortable or able to use their voice. The alternative is to use text chat, which serves as a fine alternative. However, it does not guarantee that the other user will read the chat. More on that in the next section.

Another point is that the transcriptions do not always properly contrast with the background, which can make it difficult for me to read my teammates’ comms. The below image shows an instance where it is difficult to read the text. The text is white, whereas the background is a muted yellow, exemplifying instances of poor contrast.

The text is white, whereas the background is a muted yellow, making for poor contrast.

Unfortunately, STT technology is still not perfect. This is reflected in Hyper Scape, as the transcription is occasionally inaccurate or there are large delays that can lead up to 12 seconds. As a result, I can become confused by inaccurate text and on the occasion, would make a mistake because I read a communication that should’ve been sent to me a few seconds earlier—and in a fast-paced game, time is of the essence. I understand that these are a difficult barriers to immediately fix, but I still think it is still noteworthy to state.

As another example, STT thought my teammate was cursing and censored their transcription, when in reality he was trying to give me instructions. Though funny, it was also pretty frustrating because had it not been censored, I could’ve used context to guess the speech.

This leaves me with a question: Why is the transcript censored, but not the voice comms? Perhaps there is a way to change this in the settings, but it makes me wonder why DHH people automatically have to read censored information, whereas hearing individuals have the full benefits of voice communication. It raises concerns of equal access/experience to gameplay.

Another small tidbit is sometimes my chat would not properly label my allies. A friend I was playing with was titled, “UnnamedPlayer” as seen below. Luckily, he is still purple, so this bug is not a major issue for right now.

A screenshot of someone in the lobby waiting for the game to start. SST is on the left-hand side. Scawil (in green) is chatting about gameplay before the game begins.

Text Chat

Hyper Scape has a text chat feature than any player can use during groups. Funny enough, I couldn’t find the text chat on my first playthrough. Turns out that my game had an issue enabling the feature, so I had to do some troubleshooting.

The text chat serves as a fine alternative for those who do not want to use voice communication. However, I find that other players (specifically, randoms) are more likely to listen to me over voice comms rather than read my text chat. Hyper Scape is not unique with this issue, as it tends to be a genre-wide problem. Still, Ubisoft is known for leading by example, so perhaps it would be a good time to address this inequity.

One solution is to prompt hearing players to turn on the Text-to-Speech. Hyper Scape has this unique feature within the settings, so perhaps it would be good to advertise it as a universally beneficial component, rather than a sole accessibility option. Either way, it would be nice to see some type of adjustment to alleviate this genre-wide issue.

Ping System

In addition to voice comms and text chat, the game uses an integrated ping system. And WOW, I love it! Users can highlight their cursor over an item, enemy, or location, then click on their mouse wheel to notify teammates. Teammates are then able to confirm the ping, acknowledging the communication. Each teammate is assigned a color to distinguish pings and from there, pings are color-coded based on priority (i.e. red = danger). More so, the pings’ corresponding voice-lines are subtitled, which is helpful when prioritizing in-game knowledge.

In some games, I exclusively communicated with my teammates through pings. Ping systems are a universal communication device that crosses the barrier of speech, language, and sound. Hyper Scape’s take on the ping system not only benefits DHH gamers, but the entire Hyper Scape community.

A blue ping to the left and a red ping to the right. Subtitle: Incoming threats.

I do wish that we could use customized pings (i.e. avoid over here, let’s go this way, etc.). Sometimes, I found that I would ping and then use voice comms to clarify the meaning. Again, not a big deal, but we run into the same issue of spending time communicating rather than playing. Luckily, the game is still in beta, so I am optimistic that more ping options will be added over time.

Equal Access to In-game Knowledge

In terms of equal access to in-game knowledge, Ubisoft states that users compete in “a virtual city featuring imposing landmarks that bring verticality to the next level. Engage in high-stakes combat as you explore its streets, interiors, and rooftops.”

Given the nature of the game, users are required to engage in three-dimensional combat and utilize a number of audio/visual cues to their advantage, including but not limited to: footsteps, explosions, gunshots, and ability sounds. For example, a user can hear an enemy’s footsteps or see a visual cue revealing an enemy’s location and from there, the user can decide to engage in battle.

Hyper Scape includes some directional indicators, which typically come in a variety of colors depending on the cue. For example, a red directional indicator notifies the player that they are taking damage from a specific location. The below video showcases both red and white directional indicators during combat. The player (myself) uses the indicators to locate the enemies and trade one-for-one.

Personally, I found that the directional indicators and visual cues extremely helpful during gameplay. When I saw an indicator or visual cue, I immediately gained information and from there, was able to make informed decisions and adjust my play-style accordingly. This is a very rare experience for me in first-person shooters, as oftentimes deaf gamers are placed at a disadvantage due to audio-only cues.

However, Hyper Scape does a great job of naturally integrating these features. Plus, there is no need to toggle the indicators or visual cues on/off within the accessibility settings, making them a core element of the gameplay. And as a deaf gamer, that is something I would love to be normalized.

Additionally, the subtitles flow well with the UI and enhance gameplay experience. More so, most in-game subtitles have a corresponding visual cue which is a great design choice, as oftentimes it is difficult to read subtitles during intense combat situations.

The whole HUD and UI uses colors to that to make it more intuitive and consistent (even pings are colored depending on the player). This is an added plus, as I was able to easily connect in-game knowledge. Overall, the UI does not feel overbearing to me and I feel that I am receiving an appropriate amount of information between the HUD, subtitles, and visual cues.

Around the crosshairs at the center of the screen, two white directional indicators point to the right.

However, at times, it feels that the visual cues are not clearly defined by the game. Above is an image of a white directional indicator and there is a great debate on what this indicator means. I asked a few of my hearing friends and none of them felt confident in their guess. I took to Twitch, where I asked streamers what they thought. One streamer said that it’s the sound of gunshots in the distance, whereas another guessed that it is the sound for abilities. The last streamer I spoke with said that they didn’t even notice the white directional indicator until I pointed it out.

To clarify, a source confirms that the indicator is an “indication of being shot at but missed.”

DHH individuals highly rely on visual cues and therefore, it is concerning when a visual cue is not easily identifiable. One suggestion is releasing a thorough guide that strictly defines the meaning of visual cues. Doing so would not only promote DHH accessibility, but also universally benefit all Hyper Scape players.

FINAL Thoughts

Between the ping system and subtitles, as well as the directional indicators and voice chat transcriptions, Hyper Scape’s DHH accessibility features are very impressive—especially considering it is still in beta. Still, there are some accessibility barriers, including minor issues with settings and some underlying issues with gameplay.

However, the game is groundbreaking and genuinely entertaining, so I hope it will be successful in Deaf/HoH circles. During this beta period, I suggest that the designers and developers continue to hash out accessibility options. If it’s not already being done, Ubisoft should recruit users and consultants with disabilities to identify pain points. This would lead to comprehensive, accessible solutions.

I am looking forward to the very accessible future of Hyper Scape.

Deaf / Hoh Game Review – Hyper Scape (Beta)

Overall Score - 7.4

7.4