U Wot Mate?

uwotmate1As this is the internets, practically all of you reading this won’t know (or care) that I am partially deaf in one of my ears. <Insert “pardon” joke here> I have, in the past, worn one of those little inner-ear hearing aids to help me a little bit in everyday life. They are fantastic devices, and I know that people depend on them but, to be honest, when I first got it I was disappointed that the difference for me personally was quite limited. I eventually gave up with it as the improvement was so small as to not make it worth the effort. Fortunately for me my good ear is in pretty decent shape and I get by quite well with limited confusion. Back to my point: I’m partially deaf so I sometimes have problems keeping up with the plot (if there is one) when playing games. Sometimes all the gunfire or what not drowns out whatshisface’s voice and I miss either a crucial moment in the plot or I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. As you can imagine, running around with no idea what to do can ruin a game.

Sticking the subtitles on seems like an obvious solution and, for the most part, yes they do improve matters for me, but not all games are subtitled (and if they are, very few are subtitled fully). For example, I recently finished Fallout 3; I know, I’m late! Brilliant game (I’d give it a 9 out of 10), however there were moments (during the Point Lookout DLC, for example) where I hadn’t a clue what the fudge was going on. For example, Desmond, a ghoul NPC, asks you to help him defend his mansion from enemies. Alright then Deso, I’ll help you, no problem pal. So off I go, saving his ass, then I kind of hear him shouting instructions to me while I’m fighting. Of course I can’t hear a word he’s saying, so I’m running around blind. I eventually realise that I need to shoot something in some obscure room somewhere which blocks something off and stops the enemies from coming. But I was running around for a good fifteen minutes before I realised what I needed to do.


I appreciate that a fix for this is probably more difficult than it sounds. While walking around the Capital Wasteland you often come across NPCs that talk to you as you pass them, or are talking to each other. Subtitling all this nonsense could prove difficult, especially in heavily populated areas where you might have dozens of people nearby. Which one do you prioritise if there is more than one person talking? At which point do you start to display a subtitle? When you are ten metres away from the speaker? Twenty metres? There are dozens of different variables like this to think about, and I agree that in a game of Fallout’s scale it would be impractical to include all this. However, mission-specific information such as this could, and should, have been subtitled.

uwotmate3Thankfully, as the world becomes more conscious of the plight of people like me and developers endeavour to make their games more accessible to everybody, most modern games nowadays include subtitles as required. However, if you’re going to include them, for Christ’s sake please make sure you do them properly. Bad subtitles can ruin a game as much as no subtitles.

Here are a few examples of the worst subtitling sins that I’ve come across during my years playing games:

  • Incorrect dialog being displayed: Like I said, I’m partially deaf, not fully, so I do hear the majority of the conversation. There’s not much worse than reading subtitles that don’t seem to match the spoken dialogue coming through your speakers. It can really throw you, and detracts from the story.
  • Unreadable subtitles: This is probably the worst subtitling sin anyone can make, and can be caused by a number of things, such as poor font choice, very small text, or text being the same colour as the background. The worse example I’ve seen was in the original Dead Rising for the Xbox 360. The text is so small as to make it completely worthless to anybody.
  • Simultaneous speech: This doesn’t happen too often, but if you’ve got multiple people on-screen talking at the same time, it can be difficult to work out who is saying what unless it is clearly indicated. Please lay out your subtitles properly, people! For example:

Attractive lady no.1: “Ste’s great, we should kiss him!”
Attractive lady no.2: “You’re right, let me take my clothes off first!”
Ste: “Ohhhh yeah!”

  • Speed of text: This seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of times that subtitles are either displayed too quickly and disappear before I can read them, or are too slow to display and end up falling behind slightly. Either get them right or allow an option to change the speed at which the text is displayed.

The above are just some of the problems that I’ve come across; I’m sure that there are many more out there that I’ve not even thought about. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful that most games nowadays even include subtitles at all. It’s a vast improvement from my early PC gaming days when you got bugger all. However, the point I’m trying to get across is that if you’re going to do it, it’s really important to do it properly and get it right! Don’t let subtitles just be a mere tick in your development chart. I get that developers just want to make a good game that people can enjoy, and subtitles are probably on the lower end of their priority list, but they’re more important that you think.

Last five articles by Ste


One Comment

  1. Chris Chris says:

    Interesting read mate.

    I personally have subtitles on in most of my games, because I can read faster than the voice acting speaks. I tend to leave it for on for games like Fallout, FarCry, so on etc etc. Strangely, I never bother for third person games but anything that involves lots of NPC conversations in the first person I always have subtitled.

    Two of the points you raised ring true with me also. Firstly having the spoken word and written word differ is quite jarring. Secondly, the unreadable text is a real dick move. I actually stopped playing Dead Rising because I couldn’t work out half of what I was supposed to do.

    I have a few mates that are colour blind and it has been pretty positive how many developers are incorporating colour blind modes into their games to cater for these folk.

    Great read mate, nice one.

Leave a Comment