When the new Forza Motorsport launches later this year, it’ll bring state-of-the-art physics, lush visuals with ray-traced reflections, detailed car damage and new tracks — like Kyalami and Mid-Ohio — complete with variable time-of-day and weather. It’ll also bring a breakthrough suite of accessibility features designed to help vision-impaired sim racers let loose on the digital asphalt in a way they’ve never been able to before.
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Blind Driving Assists employs a range of intuitive audio cues and speech to convey information — like a car’s whereabouts on track, or the type of corner coming up ahead — that you’d normally have to see to react to. It was developed with the assistance of Brandon Cole, a blind gamer who has helped architect accessibility features in a number of titles, including The Last of Us 2.
Of course, stealthily navigating zombie-infested hallways is quite a different challenge from steering a touring car around Suzuka at speed. Cole told CNN Underscored in an interview published Thursday that Forza’s automated steering assist — a mainstay of the franchise going all the way back to 2009's Forza Motorsport 3 — was better than nothing, but that it didn’t bring blind sim racers close enough to the sighted experience of controlling a vehicle. The solution was in developing the right mix of cues to guide players, and giving them the freedom to use only the ones they require:
“One of the first things I did was listen to a video of the current prototype in action and tell them how wrong they were about it all,” jokes Cole. “No, they weren’t completely wrong, but basically a lot of things were essentially just very similar audio cues. And so we worked really hard on separating those things, figuring out the different sounds that we could use for each different audio cue and how those would work together. It’s not just one feature, it’s a suite of features working together to make this game blind accessible and any one of them you could turn off entirely if you don’t feel like you need it.”
You can watch Cole test out Blind Driving Assists himself in the video below. Notice how certain tones increase in frequency as Cole gets closer to exceeding track limits, helping him nail the first apex of the Casio Triangle without venturing into the gravel trap:
As Cole goes on to note, many blind car enthusiasts have never had the chance to drive a car themselves. Forza Motorsport offers an opportunity for them to engage with that experience in a way no racing game before — or real car, for that matter — ever has or could:
“The level of control we’re providing is now going to require [blind gamers] to learn things about cars they may not have needed to learn before if they want to take full control of the vehicle,” says Cole.” You know there is a learning curve, there’s a lot to learn, but a lot of it is because they’ve never driven and that’s the approach we have to take in designing these features.”
Forza Motorsport’s release date has still yet to be announced, but all signs point to the game releasing in 2023, possibly as soon as the summer.