Fast Times at GDC 1: The Panel

Greetings, my oh-so-wonderful readers,
If you’ve been following my twitter feed and some recent posts on this very site, you are aware that I recently attended GDC2014. I was invited there to speak on a panel called Beyond Graphics, reaching the Visually Impaired Gamer. Well, let me tell you, lots and lots of things happened at GDC, but for this first GDC-related blog I’m going to focus strictly on the panel. Subsequent blogs will address the talks I had while just walking through GDC before and after the panel, and the very very special thing that happened to me while I was there. For now, the panel.
The panel consisted of me and 4 other wonderful gentlemen. Ian Hamilton, who has done much to advocate for accessibility in games for all types of people, Brian Schmidt, who created an audio only IOS game called Earmonsters, Jonathan Hersh from Splinesoft who made an awesome little app for IOS called Mudrammer, and Alex Macmillan, formerly of Six to Start, the developers of Zombies Run. All in all, a very good panel given the subject matter. If you ask me, anyway.
All told, we got about 50 attendees to our panel. Certainly acceptable, but in a room that can hold over 200, we were admittedly hoping to get more. Still, we said to ourselves “Well, the important thing here is that people, any people, listen to what we have to say.” And so, we headed in with real smiles on our faces because, 50 people or 200, it was time to start spreading the news.
Ian kicked off the show by laying down some facts and figures. Mentioning, for instance, how a large portion of Solara’s playerbase is blind, and how the blind players have proven to be the most loyal, and willing to spend the most money on the game. He also mentioned some of the things I intended to mention later, like the accessibility of a couple mainstream games like Skullgirls and Injustice, but no worries, folks. I adapted.
Next came the 3 developers on the panel, all discussing how they made their particular games accessible. All of them also talked about their own playerbases, and in all cases a large number of them were blind. It was clear that when we find something great, we latch onto it and refuse to let it go. Good for them, and good for the panel, because I think every time one of them made a statement like that, people paid attention.
After their super interesting speeches, it was my turn. I started with a joke because, well, duh, and then I spoke briefly about IOS and how great it was for the blind community. I praised my fellow panelists for what they had accomplished, but after that I needed to move on, because I had work to do. I told the audience that I didn’t want anyone to think that this was it. I told them not to believe IOS was the only answer, that we blind people had found our little gaming corner and intended to stay there. Oh no. I then proceeded to tell the story of how I got into gaming at all, which has nothing to do with IOS and everything to do with a trickster brother. That amused the crowd, as that story tends to do. I then went on, talking about things I had done in gaming, things I had played, and games I had tried that were both playable and not. I talked about some of the amazing discoveries that blind gamers had made like Resident Evil 6, and so on. And yes, I made it clear that I was not the only one, ending with what I personally believe is a great line. I basically said “Guy, we, the blind gaming community, are here, and we want to play to.” I then proceeded to receive much applause, although I will humble myself and say that it was for the entire panel of course, not just me. Humbling myself about that is difficult, though, because I was told immediately by Jonathan that I had “killed it.” There was another word in there, but I choose not to print it here.
Anyway, it was question time. This was the first time I was able to really gauge the success of the panel. Several people asked questions, and all but one of them was directed at me. Even after the panel was over, I stuck around, and am glad I did, as I received several more questions after that. Everything from what kind of games I played, to what is needed to make a game accessible for blind people, and were there guidelines and so on. And think about this, guys. The people asking these questions were the right ones. Game developers, many of them just getting into game developeent. These are the ideal people you want, because hopefully, accessibility will now be something they consider for the whole of their careers.
I’m personally quite pleased with how the panel went. Let me put it this way. I collected about 20 business cards while I was at GDC, and after that panel was when they really started floaing in. Or maybe it was after the thing that happened only a few hours later. Hmm. Well, that’s another blog as I’ve said. My fellow panelists told me later that they felt they were the opening acts, and I was the main event. While that is extremely flattering, I prefer to think of this panel as something we did together. We got the word out there. All of them did a fantastic job, and I would work with any of them again any day of the week. It was a successful panel, and a tremendous victory for us, the panelists. It is also, I feel, the first of many for the blind gaming community.

Home!

Brandon is back after being on a plane for like ALL DAY!  He’s resting up and there will be some pretty awesome blogs coming up here soon.  I just wanted to personally thank everyone who approached Brandon with your questions!  The response has been AMAZING!  I’m amazed and I wasn’t even there! I WILL be there next time!   If you were at GDC and you didn’t get a chance to give Brandon your business card or have questions for him you didn’t get to ask, feel free to email me at misty@meteorflower.com with your contact information and I’ll add you to the word file I’ve started for him.  Questions can be emailed to him directly at superblindman01@gmail.com!  Even if you weren’t at GDC and you have questions, email him!

We have heard that the GANG awards will be streamed on twitch so we’ll let you know when those are gonna be aired as soon as we know.  Also, we’re not sure if Brandon’s Panel will be made available to the public but as soon as we know, you’ll know.

Wrapping Up At GDC!

Brandon is at his last two panels for today before he comes home.  One of them is on 3D audio.  I’m hoping that maybe he’ll blog about some of the things he’s heard and learned at GDC as none of us were there and I’m sure you guys are as curious as I am.   There was one thing that I knew about and I couldn’t talk about it nor could he until it happened.  It happened last night!  He talks a bit about it in this Audioboo!  So check it out.  This trip may just mean big things for the blind community!

https://audioboo.fm/boos/2008886-gdc-big-amazing-day-wrap-up

 

Brandon at GDC!

Hey guys! It’s Misty and as you all know, Brandon is at the Game Developer’s Conference!  I’m here holding down the fort.  For those of you that aren’t following his twitter or his facebook, he’s been posting audio blogs on Audioboo!

Follow him there!  https://audioboo.fm/superblindman

Here are the GDC boos!

https://audioboo.fm/boos/1999202-gdc-2014-first-boo
https://audioboo.fm/boos/2000991-live-at-gdc-1
https://audioboo.fm/boos/2003639-gdc-first-day-and-plans
https://audioboo.fm/boos/2006074-gdc-big-day-ahead

The Xbox One from a BLind Gamer’s Perspective

Well folks, I have now spent a significant amount of time with the Xbox One, and I feel I can now report accurately on its accessibility. This post has been a long time coming, but as it turns out, that’s a good thing. Initially I told you all that I would not be able to experiment with the Xbox One’s TV functionality, as we didn’t have that kind of setup in the room where we game. Well, some things have changed, and the result is that the Xbox One is now in our living room, connected to the cable box. So, as it happens, I can report on that aspect of the console as well.

Let’s start with the basics, though. The console, much like the PS4, is extremely easy, though for a different reason. The menu of the Xbox One is sort of reminiscent of the Xbox360 in the way it controls, though I do not believe you’ll find things are in the same place. Yet still, the menu structure of the PS4, as I’ve already explained in its article, is even easier than that. However, what makes the Xbox One so simple is the voice control. Ladies and gentlemen, the voice control is fantastic. I can very, very easily launch any game I like, I can search for things on Bing, (though I’m still working out how to interact with those things once you find them), and yes, I can control the TV and cable box with ease.

Remember the problem with Killer Instinct I talked about in the “What we Know” article? Well, it turns out that’s not actually a problem at all. The new Killer Instinct is called Killer Instinct, but the older game is called Killer Instinct Clasic. Refer to them this way wit your voice, and you’ll be fine.

I also talked about using pins as a way to find things easily, well I’ll be honest, I haven’t used them at all. Why? Because I don’t need them. Voice control has worked so well with everything that I no longer see as much of a need for them as I originally did.

One of the Xbox One’s greatest features is it’s Game DVR. This enables you to record and share clips of your gameplay over the Xbox One community. Anyone can watch them, and your clips may end up featured on the game’s store page, where they can be watched before someone purchases a particular game to see how that game is. It should be noted that game clips can actually be viewed from the Smartglass app, not just the onsole, making it possible for us to view them as well. Yet even so, for the sighted, the PS4′s ability to record game clips is better. You get 15 minutes maximum per clip on the PS4, and only 5 minutes on the Xbox One. But you see, this is one of those things where the way the Xbox One works gives it the advantage here.

My favorite command right now is “Xbox, record that.” Why? Because that’s literally all you have to say. Say that, and the Xbox One, which is always recording the last 5 minutes or so of your gameplay much like a DVR for TV records all the time to enable you to pause and rewind, will grab the last 30 seconds of your gameplay, convert it into a clip, upload it to the community in general, and share it with your friends. All that, with one command. Sure it’s only 30 seconds, but if you do something awesome and you want to share it, that’s a really easy way to do so. There doesn’t yet exist a PS4 command that will allow us to do that, so recording and sharing gameplay there would be much, much more difficult.

Now, Xbox One does have an upload studio from which you can capture and share longer clips, (up to 5 minutes as mentioned before), but I don’t yet believe that is accessible to us. It can be controlled with voice commands, but it seems as though you have to know which clip number you’re dealing with, and I don’t think it’s possible to trim the clip down to what you want to show with your voice. I may do more research on that later, though. Maybe with the controller, something could be memorized regarding that. You can even add commentary to clips, so it would be interesting to find out how that works.

One of the greatest features of the Xoox One is the ability to scan in redeemable codes with the Kinect instead of having to enter them manually. Best of all, this is something we as blind people can do. Say “Xbox, use code,” hold the card with the code on it up to the Kinect, and wait a few seconds. There is unfortunately no audio indication that the code was successfully scanned, though it visually presents the results on screen, telling you what the code will give you. Still, if you then say “confirm,” and the Xbox responds to it, you know your scan was successful, and the code redeemed. Whatever it was you redeemed should then begin downloading, and you’re set. Yes, we can use the web site for codes we get in emails and so on, but this enables us to redeem those codes we can’t necessarily read by ourselves. That’s pretty big if you ask me.

Now, let’s talk TV. Not gonna lie, I would recommend sighted help with the initial setup. You have to choose what type of TV you have since the Kinect can function as your remote, you have to choose your cable provider, and what type of cable box you have, and so on. Once its all done, though, it works great. Since the Kinect is also your remote, you can use it to control even things like your TV volume by saying things like “Xbox, Volume Up.” And changing channels is also easy. I wanted to wathc wrestling Monday night, yeah I do that. So down I went to our living room, and I said “Xbox, watch USA.” A few seconds later, it went straight to that channel. I pumped up the volume, and enjoyed. It’s that easy. The one drawback right now is that you have to call out the channel name, and cannot use channel numbers. I predict this may change in the future.

Another small feature that is nevertheless an important one is the Kinect’s way of signing in. When you set up your profile, you can have the Kinect create a facial recognition ID for you, and you will then be signed in automatically whenever you walk into the room with the Kinect in it.Trust me guys, this really works, even if someone else is standing in front of the Kinect when you walk in. Its field of view is extremely large. But hey, even if you don’t want to do that, there is another great way to sign in. Just say “Xbox, sign in,” and then your real name, and in you go. All I have to say is “Xbox, Sign in Brandon,” and it’s done. Another thing made easier with Kinect.

I think it’s pretty obvious what my conclusion here is. The Kinect is finally, finally where we wanted it to be 3 years ago. It is, in fact, the key to the accessibility of the entire console, what with its ability to get to apps quickly, the code-scanning, the quick and easy gameplay recording and sharing, and even the sign in functionality. Smartglass is also a big help to us, but the Kinect is really what makes this console work well for the blind. Does that make it the best console? Absolutely not. I know for a fact some people don’t like talking to their devices. Some people may always prefer an accessible and easy controller-based interface, and I think the PS4 wins out there. Still, the Xbox One has shonwn itself to be a perfectly legitimate choice for blind console gaming. Thanks for reading, all, and as always feel free to comment on this post, or send me an email at superblindman01@gmail.com or contact me on twitter @superblindman or whatever you prefer. I would be glad to discuss both consoles, and I hope all these posts have provided you with something to think about. Thanks again!

Introducing Mainstream Console Gaming to the Blind Podcast!

Greetings, folks,
What follows is something I forgot to link to when it initially came out. It’s a podcast I was a part of along with Orin and John Moore, and the topic of discussion is mainstream console gaming. The target audience, though, is not existing console gamers, but blind people wishing to break into the console gaming scene. We explain how this can be done, make a few recommendations, and give a few examples of playable games. Below is a link that will take you directly to the podcast’s page on the Blind Geek Zone. Enjoy!

http://www.blind-geek-zone.net/an-introduction-to-mainstream-gaming-for-the-blind/

Xbox One: What we Know

Well folks, the Xbox One is out. I don’t have mine yet, but I’d like to take the time to go over what we know from an accessibility standpoint regarding the Xbox One. I’ll talk about further coverage at the end of all this.

Let’s face facts. The Xbox 360 is already a pretty accessible console, just as the PS3 was. I suspect that, just like with the PS4, this preexisting accessibility will feed into how accessible the Xbox One is. For one thing, we’ve got Kinect. The Kinect 2.0 is supplied with every Xbox One, so everyone who gets one will have this device. Now, I did rant about the Kinect before, but it’s because I didn’t like the fact that at the time, we were going to be forced to hook it up whether we wanted to or not. Now that that’s not the case, it is good to know that Kinect functionality has improved. You can be more precise and direct with voice commands. Whereas on the 360 you still had to memorize menus, (where your games were and what page they were on), that’s not true with the Xbox One. Just tell the Kinect to “go to” the game you want to play, and you’ll be there. I’ve heard this requires a bit of precision on the title of a game, though. For instance, I heard one testimony that if you get the Ultra Edition of Killer Instinct, and then say “Xbox, go to Killer Instinct,” it will actually launch the arcade port of the original Killer Instinct that comes with the Ultra edition. So to be truthful, I have no idea how to launch the new Killer Instinct with your voice, since as far as I know it’s also just called Killer Instinct.

Now, we talk about the menu. Yes, the new Xbox One is using a Windows 8 style tile system, but honestly from the sounds I’ve heard so far, it kinda still sounds like it should be just about as easy to move through as the Xbox360. Furthermore, there may be an aspect of the menu that you might think we would have no use for, but may actually be quite useful for us. One of the Xbox One’s new features is called pins. It allows you to take your favorite things, be they movies, games, or even songs if I understand it correctly, and pin them. If this works the way I think it does, it may actually mean an easy way to get to what we really want to play even without our voices. If we can find where all our pinned items are, they should never change unless we change them. So maybe, hopefully, this is the answer to the Killer Instinct problem as well.

All these things, combined with the existing web accessibility and the seemingly useable Xbox One Smartglass ap, do make the Xbox One look promising from an accessibility standpoint. Despite all the negativity the Xbox One has suffered, even over the past week, it is here, and it is a next gen console. It is a choice for those seeking to break into the next generation of gaming, and so you can be assured that I will cover it as best I can, in an effort to definitively answer all these questions, and maybe find out a few more surprising things along the way.

However, this brings me to how I’m going to cover the xbox One. I will do so, no question, but the problem is that I have to work. I will not be here when the Xbox One arrives, and I work weekends. So if it’s fast coverage you’re looking for, you may have to settle for blogs, written in the time before I have to go to work based on what little we’ll be able to try with the time I have. I may do a stream next Tuesday or Wednesday, as I don’t have to work those days, but what I do will be very dependent on what people want me to do. Yes, folks, I’m seeking your feedback. Send me an email, message me on twitter @superblindman, message me on facebook if you want. Let me know how you want me to approach this, as no matter what it will be different than the PS4 launch. This isn’t by choice, it’s just the way it is. Regardless of how, though, I’ll see you guys very soon with more Xbox One coverage.

PS4: First Impressions

I have now spent about 2 days with the PlayStation 4, and I want to take some time to let you all know what I’ve found so far in terms of accessibility of the console. I’ll put as much here as I can, but I’ll also probably forget something, so I encourage you to send me questions via twitter @superblindman, or email me at superblindman01@gmail.com. I’ll be happy to answer anything I didn’t answer here if I know it, or if I can find it out. For now, here we go.

First, and for some most important, menus do not wrap. This appears to be true in all cases. Every settings menu, the row of apps and games, everything. This makes navigation nearly a breeze for us blind folks. Just the menu memorization we’ve already grown used to, and we’re done.

The apps and games area of the PS4 is indeed organized as I thought it was, with one slight change from what I thought before. It is basically 2 rows, the bottom starting row being your apps and games, and the row above that essentially being the system management. However, if you’re downloading a game at the time, that game will actually be the first game in the list regardless of whether you’ve played it or not. (Remember, the play while downloading feature). Also, your games and apps do not start on the extreme left side of that list. The What’s New option is always the leftmost option, and that’s something that to my knowledge we never actually need to use.

An additional note here, yes and no dialogs that occasionally pop up also do not wrap, however unconventionally, yes is on the right and no is on the left. In all the cases I’ve found, you actually start on yes, and will be on no if you move to the left. Definitely important as there are situations where you do have to answer a question.

And speaking of such situations, here’s one. If you play a game on the PS4, then hit the home playstation button to exit it, that game is still open. You can return to it immediately by simply selecting it in the menu again, or using the “back to game” voice command. However, what I’m getting at here is this. If you want to launch a new game, the PS4 will display an alert, letting you know that doing so will close the previous game, and asking if you wish to proceed. So this is an example of one of these yes and no dialogs. You’re automatically on yes, so if you want to play that second game, just hit X again and it’ll launch. However, if you reconsider, go let to no.

Another thing to note. As I’ve said, games can be booted and played even while they’re installing from disc or downloading. There is actually a way we can play these games as soon as they are playable. As soon as the disc begins to install, or the download begins to, uh, download, the game becomes available in your games menu as the first game. So remember, that’s actually one to the right. If you click on it, the screen says “installing application.” However if you just stay on that screen, the game will launch as soon as it is able to. Some games appear to have a small secondary installation which is very short, so the music will fade as if the game was launching, then a few seconds later it will come back. Just select the game again, and this time it’ll work.

Now regarding voice commands. They do indeed work, but they can be a little wonky. First of all, the option to allow them is enabled by default, which is good. However, something I didn’t find out for most of my first day, you actually have to press the left trigger once before you can start speaking. The thing is, though, there are a couple of problems. First, whatever engine powers the voice commands can go faulty on you, causing you to be unable to use voice commands until you reboot the consoee. I suspect this will be fixed in a patch, but hey these are my first impressions, so there ya go. Second, though, there are some games for which voice commands don’t seem to work at all. I can’t tell you how many times I was trying to tell my PS4 to ptart Injustice with no result. It was hearing me, (there’s an audible tone to indicate this), but it just didn’t seem to understand Injustice, or Injustice: Gods Among Us, or any variant of the game’s name I could think of. I’m unsure whether or not this can, or will be fixed, as it might just be some weird omission from the PS4′s dictionary of words or something. Fortunately, as I’ve said, the menu structure is easy enough that I could figure it out. Still, voice commands are a quick and easy way to navigate the UI when they’re working.

One final, and unfortunate thing. The audio visual thumbnails the PS3 had don’t appear to exist in the way I thought they did. It seems that in truth, only some games have them, and you will only ever hear them when that game is open. Each game does have its own menu which you get if you press the options button on that game, but nothing plays unless the game is open, and it actually supports these things. This is unfortunate, but not a total loss, given how easy overall navigation appears to be.

And I think that’s it. Again, if I forgot something I won’t be supprised, and I’m perfectly open to questions. But I will say this. From an accessibility standpoint, the PS4 is awesome. The menu strutture actually makes it easier to navigate than the PS3, which was still pretty easy. Voice commands, which will probably be fixed and will work better soon, are a speedy way to jump to where you want to be, even if you’re not sure where it is in the menu. And with our access to the PlayStation Store and the accessibility of the PlayStation app, the entire console’s accessibility potential is quite high. It may even increase as features are added to the console and the app. Only time will tell. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these first impressions, and I hope a few more games blind folks can play come out for the PS4, so you guys will start considering buying one. I need more friends! Signing off for now, but I’ll see you guys next week sometime when I shall be blogging about the Xbox One!

On the Verge:PS4 Edition

We are just hours away, ladies and gentlemen. The next generation is truly almost here, and we kick it off with the Playstation 4. Here, I offer you all a blog, once again from a blind gamer’s perspective, on what we know so far regarding the accessibility of the console, and what I cannot wait to confirm in less than 1 day.

Firstly, the PS4 does indeed support voice commands, and you actually don’t need the Playstation camera to use that feature. The mono headset the PS4 is packaged with will do just fine. I think this is great. I sort of see this as all the great things about the Kinect that blind people like, without the Kinect. Now, to be fair, the voice commands will be limited at launch, but the essentials are there for now. Launching apps and games is already possible, and turning the playstation off when you’re done can also be achieved with your voice. Sony has said that voice functionality will be expanding in the future. Sounds pretty sweet to me.

Secondly on my list of stuf blind people will want to know about, one of the features advertised at E3, the feature that allows you to share your controller with another of your friends online if you’re stuck in a game, will not be available at launch, but will be released in a future update. This isn’t especially critical, but there is potential for this feature to be helpful to us blind folks in certain instances, and will be a nice addition once it’s released.

Thirdly, in my previous ramblings about the PS4′s controller, I mentioned that I had heard it might have a speaker. Well, it’s confirmed that it does, and that speaker is used for exactly the sorts of things I hoped it would be. Killzone Shadowfall, for instance, uses the controller’s speaker while playing audio logs you find throughout the course of the game. Look, I know it’s a sort of gimicky thing, and I know that it’s not necessarily going to help us play any better, but dag nabbit I love it. Increases the emersion in a game if you ask me.

Alright, now let’s talk a little bit about the UI. There are 2 very important things that I want to mention here, both of which I just recently learned, and one of which I cannot wait to confirm for myself. Firstly, from what I’ve read and heard, it appears that as soon as you boot the system, you’re dropped right into the menu that contains all your games and apps. This is an immediate plus, as it means all our stuff will literally be right at our fingertips.

Now for the part that could cause some confusion. If what I heard is correct, games and apps will automatically be reorganized in this menu depending on use. Now we don’t know yet if menus are going to wrap on the PS4, but if they don’t, this may not be all that big an issue. You’ll just know that if you play a certain game a lot, it’ll be at the start of this menu always and that’ll be great. However, if menus do wrap, this may present a small problem. Of course, there’s always voice control to fall back on, and this next tidbit I picked up.

OK folks, here we go. This one could be big. This is what I was so hyped about not too long ago, and what I said I would only share here, in this blog. Some of you have heard me talk about what I like to call the Audio Visual Thumbnails on PS3 games. Well, folks, unless I am extremely mistaken, those are alive and well, and have been taken to the next level. Oh yes.

I listened to a little bit of Gamespot’s presentation on the PS4 UI. Each game now is going to have its own menu. These menus will of course allow you to start the game, but they’ll also have other game-specific things. Battlefield 4 for instance has a link to sign up for Battlefield premium in its menu. But what I’m getting at here is this. It’s when you’re in these game specific menus that the audio visual aspect seems to be present. Unlike the PS3, the PS4′s UI has its own background music. However, when the Gamespot presenter dropped down into Battlefield 4′s menu, that faded, and was replaced by what sounded like the background of a war torn area. Wind blowing, possibly distant gunfire… It was difficult to hear over all the talking, but if this is true, that whole organization thing may actually not be a problem at all. Quick check of the game’s menu, yep, that’s what I want. Start, and done.

I guess what I’m ultimately saying is that the PS4 looks like it’s gonna be a pretty accessible console. Even the Playstation companion app, available on IOS and Android, seems accessible enough for use by us with very few problems. And actually, clicking on the store link from within that app just opens Safari to a mobile version of the store, so we already know that’s accessible. This will of course require further testing once I can connect it to an actual PS4, but guys, the implications of the app are pretty huge. We’ll be able to receive notifications, messages, and invites and actually know for certain who’s sending them, and theoretically we’ll be able to accept all those things right from within the app. Remember, nothing on that confirmed yet, but it’s another layer of possible accessibility to consider, and is ultimately better than what we can do with Smartglass if it’s all true.

So as you can see, this hasn’t been what you might call a regular blog post. I’m focusing in on whether us blind people will or won’t be able to use this system. There is other information out there, but I think this is the most relevant to those who may read this. The most important thing is this. Right now, I’d say it looks like a pretty solid “will.” Check back post-launch for more, and if you can, prepare yourself as I intend to actually live stream my first experiences starting right from the PS4′s arrival. It’ll be an opportunity to ask questions of me while I’m actually working with the system itself, assuming I can get the old stream back up and running. Be assured that you will be notified if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

And that’s it for this post, folks. If you’re a blind person reading this, I hope it has given you some real hope that the PS4 may just be the most useable console yet. And if you’re sighted and reading this, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peak into what us blind folk must consider when evaluating gaming systems like these. Like I said, stay tuned for more, but Brandon Cole signs off for now!