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Neha Chintala had only been in her seat at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles for a few minutes before she ended up on stage. “We had just sat down and were looking around admiring the theater when someone came up to us and said, ‘Come with us,’” Chintala says. Moments later, she was standing in front of the packed audience at The Game Awards 2023.

Representing Turn 10 Studios as the developer’s gameplay and accessibility producer, the 2019 DigiPen graduate went up to accept one of the first awards of the night, “Innovation in Accessibility,” for the studio’s groundbreaking work on Xbox Game Studios’ Forza Motorsport. “All of a sudden there’s a camera on me and we’re being streamed to millions of people!’” Chintala says.

The win was well-earned, as Forza Motorsport had just set a new bar for accessibility in racing games — opening the genre to blind players. Chintala’s journey into the game industry may never have happened if it weren’t for a one-off summer job she took at DigiPen during a particularly pivotal moment in her life. “I ended up going into a pre-med program for college, but it just didn’t feel like me,” Chintala says. “I grew up playing video games my entire life. What I really wanted was to bridge science and video games, but I didn’t know how at the time.”

In high school, Chintala had taken one of DigiPen’s pre-college WANIC programs, an experience that stuck with her through the first few semesters of her pre-med studies. Looking for a college summer job, she reached out to her old WANIC instructor to ask if any teaching assistant positions were open for DigiPen’s K-12 workshops. “Within that one summer, I went from being a TA to running my own class for the majority of it,” Chintala says. Recognizing her public speaking talent — on full display years later at The Game Awards — DigiPen workshop admins quickly promoted Chintala to lead instructor. “By the end of the summer I was getting ready to go back to my pre-med, not feeling excited about it, and suddenly had a split-second realization that I could just leave! I could go to DigiPen and do the RTIS program, something that connected computer science and games the way I’d been looking for.”

Chintala set to work not just as an engineer on her DigiPen game team projects, but as a producer as well — an experience that helped her land a full-time gameplay producer role after graduation at Xbox’s Turn 10 Studios. Soon after starting, Chintala went through an experience at Turn 10 that would shape the direction of her career.

It’s really awesome to develop with the people you’re making these games for rather than coming up with what you think they want.

“They have this amazing program within Xbox Research where they’ll go to studios and run something called an inclusive design sprint,” Chintala says. “They brought in individuals that had a passion for Forza with diverse play styles and experiences, including players with disabilities. Through group breakout discussions, we learned why they enjoyed Forza and how we might make our games more inclusive for them.” After breakout group interviews with each guest, the team got together to pitch new Forza Motorsport accessibility features based on what they learned. “That was sort of what kickstarted our accessibility leadership team, a grassroots movement in the studio to really pursue accessibility and put these features on our roadmap to shipping the game,” Chintala says.

Eventually, that renewed focus on accessibility would lead to Forza Motorsport’s celebrated Blind Driving Assists, developed by Turn 10’s audio team, for whom Chintala served as a producer. “I really grew my wings there,” Chintala says. “The people on the audio team were really passionate about accessibility, and that feature was really important to them. They did so much research, legwork, and prototyping to make it happen.”

Taking cues from the inclusive design sprint, the audio team decided to hire Brandon Cole, a blind accessibility advocate and consultant. Cole, who had previously helped consult on The Last of Us, Mortal Kombat, and Hogwarts Legacy, effectively became a member of the audio team, providing regular, candid feedback on the blind driving features as they were being developed. “It’s really awesome to develop with the people you’re making these games for rather than coming up with what you think they want, and then hoping it works out,” Chintala says.

Forza Motorsport’s Blind Driving Assists aren’t a separate gameplay mode, acting instead as a suite of features that take the game’s visual cues and deliver them through a new medium. “It’s about considering things like a turn coming up that I take for granted as a sighted player, and translating them into different audio cues that blind or low vision players can turn on or off,” Chintala says.

Together, the set of nine assists combine to create an experience that opens the game up to blind and low vision players while still providing a fun, legitimately challenging gameplay experience. The steering guide assist, for instance, pans the car’s engine and tire sounds left or right to let blind players know which direction they should turn. Track limit cues use a beeping noise to let players know they’re nearing the edge of the racetrack, while other audio cues signal when to slow down or shift gears.

Over the years, Chintala’s production work with the audio team naturally grew her involvement in accessibility across the board at Turn 10, where today she acts as the main gameplay producer accountable for Forza accessibility efforts.

Women employed at Turn 10 Studios sit on a panel as Neha Chintala speaks and gestures with her hands to the DigiPen campus audience.
Neha Chintala joined her coworkers to offer industry advice to current students during DigiPen’s recent “Women at Turn 10” event.

“The value in bringing the joy of gaming to as many people as you can reach is huge. There are so many people who have been waiting to play that would love the chance to,” Chintala says. “Over the last few years, I think we’ve seen a lot of titles pushing the bar forward for accessibility. We’re starting to see common features like color blind modes, text scaling, and captions that are in a lot of games now. I hope the dedication of the studio and our innovation on Forza Motorsport inspires others to continue advocating for accessibility in games.”

Lots of DigiPen students have seen Chintala’s advocacy in person, catching her talk on Blind Driving Assists at the 2023 Game Accessibility Conference in Redmond, where Forza Motorsport also won two awards. “There were a lot of current and former students in attendance that introduced themselves to me and we got a chance to talk. It was fun!” Chintala says. In February, Chintala offered her mentorship on campus as well, chatting with students alongside many of her coworkers during DigiPen’s “Women at Turn 10” mixer event.

With campus just a short drive away, Chintala remains close to the DigiPen community in more ways than one. Many fellow alumni work with Chintala at Turn 10 and Xbox as well, and some of them, she says, have been hiding in plain sight. “I saw some coworkers at a DigiPen alumni reunion, and they asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’” Chintala laughs. “Turns out they were also graduates, just not fresh out of DigiPen like I was! It’s fun. I get to work with some of my closest friends here, whether or not they were in my year at DigiPen.”