DOOM3 was released without closed captioning for the hard of hearing and deaf. Without being able to hear sounds, the user experience was extremely frustrating. I wanted to create a solution, as well as an example for the industry to follow so that more video games would be closed captioned in the future. My team and I went on to release DOOM3 CC.
DOOM3 CC was designed for the hard of hearing and deaf. The original game was immensely popular, selling millions of copies. The modification we created was downloaded at least 20,000 times and received wide praise for enabling deaf and hard of hearing players to enjoy the game even more.
Initially, as lead designer, I recruited two programmers also based in the US. But by the time we released it publicly in 2005, our team was distributed globally, with members in London, Australia, France, Germany, and other countries.
We used email, message boards, and FTP to communicate and share files.
As lead designer and also someone who wore hearing aids, I was able to translate my own frustrations with not being able to hear all of the sounds into solutions that not only worked for me, but other hard of hearing and deaf players. The UX Designer who can experience the same frustrations as the people they are advocating and designing solutions for is an incredible asset to the team.
No Budget: With no budget, we had to all volunteer our time because we knew it was a worthwhile project to help those who had trouble playing the original game.
I spent many hours designing, drawing mockups, and communicating with team members so that we didn’t waste time and energy.
Globally distributed team: Not having everyone in the same room, at the same time naturally complicates communication. There are delays and misunderstandings because of language and cultural differences. Luckily, having such a strong and clear vision for our end goal kept everyone united.
The design process included researching current standards for closed captioning on TV and borrowing conventions that were applicable to video games.
I used photo editing software to draw mockups of the closed captioning system over screenshots from the game.
I also played the game with the sound turned off in order to experience it as a deaf person. This helped me see which auditory information needed to be converted into visual information. I realized that sound conveyed not only what was happening, but how far away and in which direction. Thus the idea for the visual sound radar was born.
The visual sound radar shows on a circular map how close to the player and in which direction an enemy sound came from. But it doesn’t explain exactly what the sound is.
Unintentially, it became a cool feature that showed players danger was nearby. Without a doubt this enhanced the already scary atmosphere of the original video game.
Some of the best design features come about because of experimental play. Play is important part of my work, both inside and outside of the office.
Frequent testing of the features was important. My philosophy is to fail fast and iterate rapidly towards better solutions.
To this day I am immensely proud of the design. In the same way that most web developers and UX designers believe designing for the greatest constrained platform (mobile) leads to better designs, I believe that designing accessibility features into video games makes the game better for everyone. DOOM3 CC improved on the experience with the visual sound radar and enabled deaf and hard of hearing players to enjoy the game.
Since release, the mod has received critical praise, been featured on cover discs for UK’s PC Gamer magazine, it was nominated for the Independent Game Festival’s Award for Best DOOM3 Mod of 2005, and was featured on the local San Francisco PBS station, KQED.
Being able to experience the problem I was designing a solution for gave me an edge, not only in understanding the problem and knowing when the solution was working, but in having the conviction to continue after early setbacks. Without knowing how important this was, I might have given up long before the mod had a chance to make an impact in people’s lives.