Meet the Yellow Subs Machine

Yellow Subs Machine is a tool for game development thoroughly researched and expertly created by John Kane.

Badly executed subtitles (or nonexistent subtitles) remain one of the biggest hurdles in video games for Deaf and hard of hearing players. And it’s impossible to tell what the standard is or if there even is one, when you’ve got studios like Ubisoft releasing games like Far Cry New Dawn with the most extensive subtitle options you’ll find, and studios like Activision and Gearbox releasing (or re-releasing) games completely void of subtitles.

If you’re making a game, how do you even know where to start with implementing them? What are best practices? How many things do you need subtitles for and how long do they need to stay on the screen? If you’re not tuned in to the #a11y community on Twitter, it might be difficult to come by this information on your own.

Enter Yellow Subs Machine and John Kane.

Yellow Subs Machine is a tool for developers creating a game using Unreal Engine 4 and according to the itch.io product description is,

“Designed to cover as many legal requirements and best-practice recommendations for subtitles as possible, it also includes many player-requested features such as toggle-able speaker colour, displaying the speaker’s tone of voice, and more.”

John Kane

On top of making the tool available for purchase to anyone using UE4, Kane also released a free document compiling all of his findings on best practices and standards for subtitling available for free, so that even those not wanting to use his tool or not using UE4, have a set of guidelines to follow in their own subtitle creation.

The tool allows deep customization of colors, fonts, backgrounds, and even speaker and tone identification. In short, everything you could ask for in subtitles for video games.

Why does all of this matter? Well for starters, it certainly invalidates the argument that there are no standards for subtitles in video games. If, prior to Kane’s release of Yellow Subs Machine yesterday, there was nothing one could look at and say, “Yes, here’s the standard for how we should be doing this,” now there is. This is the standard. And it’s backed up by research.

The other reason this matters so much? As our co-founder Susan mentioned yesterday on Twitter, this tool is the result of one person seeing a void in the game industry and creating a solution after listening to the community that would benefit from it the most. All because he wanted to. In a time when accessibility is still too often seen as a burden and something people should have to ask for, or if you’re a graduate student like me, register and pay money for, and then maybe you’ll get some of what you need, Kane created this tool because he could. And when you’re a member of a community that is constantly overlooked and ignored by the vast majority of society, things like this are validating.

I can’t wait to see UE4 games implement Yellow Subs Machine. And my inner petty is thrilled to see that “there are no standards for subtitles in games” argument effectively dead as of yesterday.

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