5 Exciting accessibility improvements in Legends of the Jedi (LOTJ), a text-based multi-user game

Headshot of a smiling Andruid.
By Andruid

Writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill & Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other." 

Table of Contents

    For today’s post, I invited Klor, a staffer and longtime friend, to talk about some recent accessibility improvements in Legends of the Jedi (LOTJ). LOTJ is a popular multi-user game set in the Star Wars universe. I played the game regularly in 2019, which is how I came to know Klor.

    (Some might remember my main characters, Rya and Dani. One was an adventurous medic with a terminal illness, the other was the sassy owner of the Twin Moons Saloon.)

    Klor is a fantastic roleplayer and decent human being, and I’m super happy that he agreed to an interview. Keep reading to learn more about how he got started playing multi-user (MU*) games, why he became a staffer for Legends of the Jedi, and some of the recent updates that have made the game more accessible, especially for non-sighted players.

    Quote by Klor, pulled from the body of the text.

    Meet Klor, text-based gamer and LOTJ staffer

    To kick things off, I asked Klor to introduce himself to readers and to tell us a little bit about his background. I was curious as to how he got started playing text-based games – something I’d never asked him before.

    “I’m Klor. I’ve been playing LOTJ on and off since around 2001 and have been a staff member for 3 or 4 years now,” he said. “I’ve been MUDing since about 1998. I grew up in a little town in the middle of corn fields in the Midwest, so entertainment was limited.”

    I grew up in the boonies, myself. Our entertainment was “the sticks” and dial-up internet, so I can definitely relate!

    “I was introduced to MUDs in my middle school Home Ec class by some of my fellow classmates. It was a Greyhawk-themed game. I was just starting my foray in Dungeons and Dragons, so it spoke to me,” Klor explained. “Back in the days of dial-up, it was such an interesting concept. By the early 2000s, we ended up getting many of the students hooked, and it crossed different cliques. Jocks, nerds, goths, it didn’t matter. By the end, the game was split 50/50, with half of the players being from my small hometown and the other half being from a small town in North Carolina. From that point forward, MUDs were a part of my life.”

    Klor’s favorite part about staffing on Legends of the Jedi

    When I asked what made him want to join the Legends of the Jedi staff, Klor said, “My favorite thing about staffing is just being able to help the players. I’m the type of person that throws myself head first into anything I start and learn as much as I can about it. Then, I like to carry that over into teaching others.

    That’s really why I joined the staff team. At the time, LOTJ was in a slump, current staff was burnt out, and they needed more bodies. I jokingly offered to help, and, well, the rest is history.”

    5 Accessibility improvements in LOTJ

    If you keep up with this blog, you already know that accessibility is a frequent topic. When I learned that LOTJ had been making accessibility improvements, I was excited to revisit the game and pester Klor for an interview. I asked him to introduce some of the major changes and why they matter.

    Quote by Klor on accessibility improvements in LOTJ, pulled from the body of the text.

    “While we’ve always had a screen reader mode for as long as I can remember, it was not the best feature,” Klor admitted. “One of our newer coders, Rengawm, has taken to the enjoyment of making the game more accessible. Many of the new changes are linked to the config setting.”

    Here are the top 5, according to Klor:

    1. Keyword color code

    First up is a new feature that draws attention to a word or phrase by using a special color code: &k.

    Helpfile printout for HELP COLOR in LOTJ.
    The new keyword color code is defined as &k under HELP COLOR.

    “Players can use the keyword color code to accent important commands or hidden functions (like exits),” said Klor. “For sighted players, it changes the color of the word to a predefined accent based on the surrounding colors. For anyone using screen reader mode, it surrounds the word with (start keyword) and (end keyword).”

    This helps draw attention to text visually for sighted players and audibly (using the phrases “start keyword” and “end keyword”) for non-sighted players.

    Example usage

    Here’s an example using the keyword color code without screen reader mode enabled:

    Keyword color code example without screen reader mode enabled.
    >colorcheck A narrow &kalley&k is tucked between two buildings.
    A narrow alley is tucked between two buildings.

    And here’s the exact same command with screen reader mode enabled:

    Keyword color code with screen reader mode enabled.
    >colorcheck A narrow &kalley&k is tucked between two buildings.
    A narrow (start keyword) alley (end keyword) is tucked between two buildings.

    Klor added, “Since the normal behavior of the community was to change the color of keywords in IC interactions to explain what commands to use and such, it was an easy transition to get them to use this new color code instead.”

    2. Nearby command

    “Another feature we added was the nearby command,” said Klor. “Many of the functions of LOTJ (such as giving items or engaging in melee combat) require you to be standing near the person you’re interacting with. Most of our players just put the token (%A) in their prompt to be able to see who is standing next to them. This was a problem for anyone using a screen reader, however, as it would read off the person’s name – or multiple people’s names – after every command.”

    To reduce the spam for non-sighted players, LOTJ introduced the nearby command, which prints off the names of those nearby on demand.

    Example usage

    Below is an example of using the nearby command before and after approaching an NPC:

    >nearby
    Nearby: None
    >approach medic
    You begin approaching A Human Field Medic.
    You step closer to her.
    >nearby
    Nearby: A Human Field Medic

    “Now players can use that command when they want to see who is near them, and it gives them more control over the spam,” said Klor.

    3. Screen reader-friendly prompt

    “The screen reader prompt is another thing we added. It’s a bare minimum prompt that uses as little text as possible while still providing essential information. It was another attempt to limit the amount of noise being spammed at them from the game.”

    The screen reader-friendly prompt simply shows health and movement as percentages. For example:

    Health: 100% Movement: 100%

    To enable the screen reader prompt, be sure to select prompt option #5 during character generation. If you’re already past character generation, you can set your prompt manually using the command prompt Health: %C Movement: %Z.

    For more prompt options, see HELP PROMPT and HELP PROMPT_TOKENS in game.

    4. Less space combat spam

    “Along the same lines, we’ve also gone through lengths to add new gagging commands,” said Klor. “LOTJ is a pretty spammy MUD all things considered. There is a constant flood of data being sent to the players due in part of it being a real-time MUD and being quite active both from PCs and NPCs alike.”

    Spam reduction options under CONFIG in game.
    Under CONFIG, there’s a whole section dedicated to settings that limit spam.

    “An example would be our space system, and more importantly fleet battles. When you have upwards of 10 capital ships moving around and firing at one another with their squadrons of 3-9 fighter ships on top of it, that can overload even our non-screen reader players. We recently added a number of functions to simplify this data ingest on the player side.”

    5. Website updates for screen readers and mobile users

    Last but not least, Klor mentioned updates to the Legends of the Jedi website.

    “One of the other changes we’ve made is the one I am most fond of because it was my baby,” he said. “Previously, the website was not screen reader-friendly. I have spoken with a number of the players in our non-sighted community, and many of them play from their phone. Even changing the website to be mobile-friendly was a huge step up for them while also making sure that every image had an Alt text.”

    Quote by Klor on accessibility, pulled from the body of the text.

    How did Klor and the other staffers know what to change?

    Speaking of speaking with the community, I asked Klor how he and the other staffers knew what to implement to make life easier for screen reader users. As a game staffer, how does one know what to prioritize?

    “It’s been a mixture,” he answered. “Some of it has been us asking, other times it’s been non-sighted players telling us what would help them out. I like to think it’s a two-way street with open communication from both sides. This has helped us ensure that any new changes do not make their lives more difficult.”

    Klor’s favorite accessibility feature

    When I asked Klor which change was his favorite and why, he said, “If I had to pick a single change, it would be the keyword color code. It didn’t have the biggest impact from an overall game standpoint, but it was the easiest to get buy-in from the playerbase on. That’s one of the biggest things to keep in mind with any change, I think. How will the pbase take to it?”

    Other accessibility improvements on the horizon for Legends of the Jedi

    I prodded Klor for the scoop on any other accessibility improvements that might be on the roadmap.

    “We have a number of changes in the works. The most recent ones being discussed are gagging ground combat more, adding pre-built templates that we as staff can design, and a sound pack,” he said.

    Ground combat, like space combat, can be pretty spammy, so that one’s probably self-explanatory. Templates could probably benefit from some clarification.

    “The templates affect many things,” Klor explained. “Players make and use templates for order forms and in-character backgrounds, and these are usually laden with ASCII characters. With coded templates, players would just insert the information and not worry about recreating all the ASCII art. The goal is to make it so staff create the templates to allow it easier for the players to just add their data, and it would let us set up a toggle to remove any of the ASCII art for screen reader players while allowing them ease of access to the data.”

    ASCII-heavy template typical of those used by player-led clans in LOTJ.
    Templates like these are quite common in LOTJ. The ASCII formatting adds a lot of character but unfortunately isn’t too great for most screen reader users.

    “The sound pack is also somewhat self-explanatory,” said Klor, “but it’s something many of our screen reader players have requested, and I’ve had a lot of fun creating it so far.”

    Klor’s advice for giving LOTJ a try

    Finally, I asked Klor for his advice to new players thinking about giving Legends of the Jedi a try.

    “This question is actually an easy one to answer,” he said. “Hop in, start playing, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. We’ve worked hard over the past 5 or so years to make this game very welcoming to new players. We’ve moved on from LOTJ being a game and have tried to make it an online community for anyone to feel like they belong. I definitely recommend joining the Discord server and getting to know people.”

    A very warm thank you to Klor for taking the time to chat with me about LOTJ’s accessibility improvements, and kudos to Rengwam for all the hard work on the recent changes! You can usually find Klor lurking in the game and its community Discord. For more information about LOTJ, visit legendsofthejedi.com. or check out the game’s listing on Grapevine.

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