Over the past two years, my eyesight has steadily declined. Maybe it’s just the natural side effects of being 30. Or perhaps more than a year of staring at a screen nonstop during lockdown is really bad for me. Whatever the reason, my pristine vision has disappeared and I am now nearsighted.
That made me more aware of the games industry’s love for small text, HUD elements, and other UI considerations. I’m lucky I can wear a pair of glasses when something on the screen is too small for me to see, but others, such as players who are partially blind, don’t have that option. They rely on the game’s accessibility options, which don’t always solve all problems.
That’s my primary concern when I play Halo Infiniteof many players. The beta’s current UI shouldn’t be a nightmare for those who’ve had trouble viewing the game. While features like the lack of mode-specific playlists and weak battle pass are causing the most criticism at the moment, the added accessibility tools will be the main concern. of the game.
A small (big) problem
There’s so much happening on the screen in one Halo Infinite match. You have radar, health bar, gear info, score bar, kill feed, and tips that appear on the screen when you die. Those are all pretty standard things for a shooter these days, but it can make for a tough balancing act. Developers want players to be as immersed in the game as possible, which often means shrinking or minimizing HUD elements to allocate more screen time for the action. In fact, Halo Infinite’s UI menu allows players to turn off the HUD entirely.
What it doesn’t let me do, as far as I can tell, is increase the size of anything outside of some text or menu font size. That solved some problems, but I still found myself squinting at key moments, even with my glasses on.
To the game’s credit, developer 343 has included an impressive set of accessibility options outside of that. Players can reduce opacity on screen elements, which is a big help, or disable visually confusing ticks like speedlines that appear while dashing. I applaud the work that has gone into both audio and visual accessibility in general, although that makes extending the limited user interface more confusing for me.
I’ve basically given up on using a coin-sized radar altogether. I often never know what gadgets I have equipped or how much ammo I have. It’s not just the persistent HUD factors that are posing challenges for me. In the game’s Stockpile mode, a small white icon marks the location of energy tiles on the map. In my first round I can’t see the icons. They kept getting lost in the white rocks, forcing me to ask my friends what I should even be looking for in a whole round.
I’m not the only one complaining during my first six hours with the game. Everyone I broke up with voiced similar confusion. Some teammates were confused on how to pick up weapons, not recognizing the semi-transparent text on the screen. They are often shocked when a match ends, simply not realizing what the score is even though it has been pinned to the bottom of the screen. I think the problem might be less noticeable near a big screen, but a colleague playing on PC noted many of the same challenges when we played together. I shudder to think what the game will look like when it arrives on the Steam Deck or on phones via Microsoft’s cloud game service.
Not every problem is about size. Halo Infinite makes a series of confusing user interface decisions. The equipment menus are laid out like a battle-like rail that must be scrolled through. In-game subtitles point directly onto the score bar instead of using the wide open space above or below the score bar. The weirdest thing is that the game allows players to choose their armor color, which means you can see enemies in blue friendly armor instead of red. The game’s solution is to add a (too) subtle border around the characters.
Only one speak in the accessibility community that stuck with me for years: “Accessible design is just good design.” Halo Infinite are currently facing a visual literacy problem that affects not only people with impaired vision. It’s hard to read visual information on the screen unless you’re playing on a giant screen. Not everyone will have that problem, and it should subside as people get comfortable with the language of the game, but there’s no downside to letting the player scale things up. It gives no advantage to anyone; it allows them to see important information.
I’m sure there will be more resizing in the future. Microsoft is leading in terms of accessibility in games, as seen with games like Forza Horizon 5. Even Halo Infinite goes above and beyond most modern games with its toolkit. However, small text and UI is a nagging problem in many games, and one that only gets worse as technology allows us to play games on any screen.
Let’s hope this is one of the reasons that Microsoft is labeling the surprise launch a “beta”.