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!

Adventuring Blind: How I believe Point and Click Adventure Games Could All Become Accessible

Back in the day, perhaps about the mid-nineties, if you said you wer playing an adventure game, as long as the word text wasn’t in front of it, you were usually talking about just one thing. You were talking about the then popular style of game now generally referred to as Point and Click. There are bunches and bunches of these games, and not all old either. A few developers, perhaps most noteably Telltale, still make games like this, and some of them obtain a uge amount of popularity. But what is the point, you ask? Why does all this matter to the blind gaming community? Well, I’ve thought about this or a while, and I genuinely believe that pretty much every single point and click style game could be made accessible. Best yet, I think they could all use the same basic interface. So I’ve decided to blog about it here as something to mull over, and perhaps, just perhaps, something we might want to pursue.

Here’s the dream. One program that you launch in conjunction with whatever point and click game you want to play. The program detects what game it is, and loads up the necessary files it’s going to need. This program, you see, would act as a sort of overlay to the games themselves. It would probably have to be constantly updated, or alternatively a site could be created where woe would download the necessary addon packs for the games they wanted to play, but I really think it could work.

When the game and the overlay program are loaded, the overlay begins constantly monitoring the state of the game, presenting you with lists of options based on the context of what is going on. At first, this would be the basic new game, load game and so on, but wen you actually start the game, this overlay would then keep track of the room you’re in. This is where it gets fun.

What I see in my head are a couple of combo boxes, and maybe a few buttons. The overlay would use standard windows controls so as to easily be read by a screenreader. When you started your game, there would be multiple lists on screen. One would be the list of known objects in the room, another would be the list of known exits from the room, and a third would be your inventory, though perhaps to save on clutter, there could just be a button that pulls that particular list up. All of these lists would have to be allowed to change overtime, as quite often, both objects and exits are hidden until you perform certain actions, and you’re always gaining and losing inventory items. The inventory list in particular would likely have to allow for small submenus so items could be examined or combined and so on. Come to think of it, room objects should work the same way.

But here’s the thing. For the most part, (the rest I’ll get to shortly), that’s basically it. As I said, these point and click style games all worked basically the same way. You enter a room, pick up any objects in that room or solve any puzzles there, and you move on with the story while you do it. Of course, there is hidden depth here, which I’ll get to along with the reasons there would have to be just a little more with each game.

First, despite the simplistic interface, one must consider how this would have to work. The configuration files, or packs, or whatever you want to call them, would likely have to be created by the sighted, so we can’t really do this alone. Essentially, though, what you’re looking at is this. The sighted person would first reveal everything in a given room tat they could, then record their individual mouse positions right down to the pixel. Then, a name or short description, (small furry creature tensed to pounce), would have to be added. This is what the player would see as they browsed through the object list. There would be a variable that would tell the overlay if the object was hidden at any given time, so it wouldn’t appear in the list initially, but every time an object was interacted with, the game could recheck the room for interactable objects, (usually indicated by a change in the mouse pointer itself), and cross reference that with the positions marked by the configure to determine what object had been revealed. Inventory item lists may have to be storeed locally to work properly, but maybe not. That’s one point I’m not clear on.

So things start to seem a little more complicated, but here is where we come to another problem. It’s one that I feel could be resolved with a little work, but it is something that should be addressed. Some point and click games like to break format for short periods of time. The Walking Dead from Telltale has several examples of this with its action sequences, and a funny little game called the Book of Unwritten Tales has this as well with things like potion mixing. So there’s good news and bad news about this. The good news is the very fact that these things are very segmented. They’re a brief break from the format, which is then returned to. This would make them easily detectable. The bad news is there’s no universal way these parts of the games work, so they would have to be coded for accessibility individually. Still, I think this could be done for each game as a sort of subroutine of the overlay. Additional functions the overlay executes when one of these events occurs. This would potentially save on the developer having to recode anything at all, (unless they were the ones who helped with this of course), and what coding anyone else would have to do would be relatively minimal. Just enough that the part of the game in question could be got through.

Now of course I know that’s not everything. Surely there would be other little nuances to consider, such as how exactly combining of objects is handled, what is remembered within the program and what isn’t, and so on. And maybe, just maybe, all this is incredibly stupid. I’ve done a little programming, and I think I know enough about it to at least understand what would need to be done, even if I also don’t know enough to actually pull it off myself. But hey, I could be wrong. Still, as I said, this is something to mull over. A nice little dream that, if ever achieved, wouldn’t just make one or two games accessible to us, but potentially hundreds. Pretty cool, huh?

The Xbox One Lives!

I post this blog both just in case you didn’t hear the news, and because it is the kind of thing you post about. Today, Microsoft almost completely reversed its policies regarding the Xbox One. No longer do you have to check in every 24 hours, you can now trade your games amongst friends and/or sell them freely as well as lend them, and there is also no region lock. In short, all its DRM policies have been nixed. Now, it will be more like the Xbox360 is, which is a very good thing.

There is an interesting tradeoff here. Up until now, with the DRM policies in place, it was implied that once your games were installed, you did not have to insert the disc to play them. Now, much as you do with 360, you will need the disc to run a disc-based game. It’s a change, but certainly not one anyone’s complaining about. That’s what they’re used to as it is.

But just as important as the good changes Microsoft made today are the things that didn’t change, which still need to be taken into account. Firstly, the price. Xbox One is still $100 more expensive than the PS4. Secondly, the Kinect requirement. Yep, that still needs to be hooked up when the Xbox One is turned on. These may seem like smaller concerns now, and I’ll admit I’ve backed off on the Kinect a little since Microsoft has said you can apparently turn all that off if you want, though again it still needs to be connected, but to some people, these are still valid concerns, especially the price. Good news or no, the PS4 still remains the economy choice, and some will purchase the PS4 for that reason alone.

There are even some who actually view this as no change at all. Some say the PS4 should still be praised over the Xbox One for sticking to their guns, and remaining all about the consumer. They say that Xbox One is not making these changes for you, they’re making these changes to give themselves a shot. This is reactionary to Sony’s announcements, and to the tons upon tons of negative feedback they’ve received since the Xbox One’s announcement. To an extent, admittedly a great extent, I agree with these points of view. Microsoft is trying to save themselves, I believe that. These are not changes made because Microsoft loves us, I believe that as well. Still, the fact remains that they did make these changes. This is a step in the right direction, and as my own little way of showing that, I have actually replaced my Xbox One preorder, which some of you may know I had canceled just this past weekend. I just hope this doesn’t mean my fiancĂ© will forget the PS4 exists.

Seriously though, I want to make sure this news is spread around. I want anyone who reads this blog to consider it carefully, both its positive and negative connotations, but most of all I don’t want you to take my word for it. I will totally give you all the link to the post in which Microsoft made these announcements, verified by news sites all over the globe. No, it’s not a hoax.
See? The link is right here!
I hope, as always, that this article has been informative to you all, and that you can now take a second look at where you’re going when the next generation arrives. Whether your attitude has changed, or whether it hasn’t, this has definitely now become much more of a fight.

E3 Day 4 Stuff

Well folks, it’s over. The final day of E3 has concluded, and I’m surprised to say I have a bit more to say this time than last. As before I’ll address the biggest thing first.

It was mentioned briefly, almost in passing, at the Xbox One reveal that achievements would now change, tailoring themselves to the player. That left everyone with a lot of questions, but Microsoft revealed some information about their new achievement system, and I can honestly say… It’s not at all like what they said at the reveal. Here are some details.

First, Microsoft wants all Xbox One achievements to provide an additional reward besides gamer score. It’ll provide that too, of course, but you’ll also get something else to go with it, be that digital art, a map, an unlockable character, things like that. It’s unclear whether they’re trying to suggest that DLC items, or to put it more accurately, items not already found on the game disc could or would be given out with your achievements, but I have to admit it’d be kinda awesome if that was the case.

The next thing to note is that there are now 2 types of achievements. Standard achievements provide game score and the reward I previously mentioned, but then there are what Microsoft is calling Challenges. Challenges are limited time, realtime achievements completely controlled by the developer. They’re cloud-based, and in this context that means that you don’t have to undergo an update to the game for more challenges to be added. These challenges also do not give you gamer score, which actually makes sense, as Microsoft wants to give everyone the same chance at having a high gamer score. Thus, if challenges gave you major points, those who don’t often play, and therefore miss challenge opportunities, would never be able to have those same chances. Challenges do, however, appear as unlocked achievements in your list of achievements for that game, have their own associated special icons, and can provide you with the same additional rewards, (art, maps, characters and so on), that achievements can. To provide perfect examples of what these challenges might be, just look at Rockband. Of course, Rockband isn’t an Xbox One game, but if it was, all those solo and community challenges could potentially unlock achievements or other things for their completion.

And yes, that is another thing as well. There are 2 types of challenges, too. Challenges for a single player, and for the entire community. The example the article gave was related to Fable. Some of you may know that you can, for some reason, kick chickens in that game. This became a popular thing to do, apparently. Well, if the developer noticed people were doing this, or talking about this, they could just say “Alright then, folks. Community challenge. We’ll call it Chicken Kicker 2013. A million chickens must be kicked by the end of the week, and anyone who participates gets the achievement, and this super awesome sword of everlasting doom…” Or something. Pretty neat.

Furthermore, (and I think this applies more to single player achievements and challenges than it does to community ones), the Xbox One will automatically save a Game DVR clip of you earning achievements when you get them. Just another way to show all your friends that you’re awesome, and they may or may not be so. I quite like this, if nothing else because it seems to imply that the amount of clips you can save is unlimited.

Now, there is a third type of achievement as well, but one I find a little less compelling. Ladies and gentlemen, there will also be achievements for nongame-related stuff. The video services will have them, the music services will have them, and so on. Nongaming achievements will also not give you any gamer score, as once again, to do so would be unfair, as it might force someone to listen to a certain song, or watch a certain video they don’t want to watch. The rewards for these achievements might be early access to some videos or music, sneak peaks, or otherwise unavailable bonus content related to them. Things of that nature. Neat, but not as neat as the game-related ones if you ask me. And yes, this is me admitting I’ve found something I like about the Xbox One. Has it changed my overall opinion of the system? No, but I can still recognize something cool when I hear about it.

OK, now a couple of other quick things. First, I talked a little bit about the Division, more in my audioboo than this blog, but I mentioned its pop in, pop out mechanics. I now have a little bit more information on the specific scenario they showed at E3. The person who joined in the game at that time was actually joining from a tablet. He was piloting a drone that flew into the area, and he used it to mark a difficult-to-spot enemy for them. It has also been suggested these drones have other functions as well, and this is not the limit of the ways in which people could have joined. That could have just as easily been another one, or several console players. This does, though, explain the sound effects I mentioned hearing around this part of the demo, and adds a cool little flare to that game I wasn’t previously aware it had.

The very last thing I want to discuss is Super Giant Games’s new game, Transistor. I said before that trailer revealed nothing to me, well now I’ve listened to the demo, and it is intriguing. It’s about a woman who survives an attempt on her life, then finds the weapon that was used to try and kill her, which is a sword called the Transistor. Furthermore, there is actually a person somehow inside it that talks to her, and guides her around, though she cannot talk back. She, for some reason, has no voice, but it is implied that she used to have one. Making this more intriguing, the person within the Transistor doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on, or what’s in the protagonist’s head, which is a huge contrast to Bastian’s omniscient narrator. And that’s not all.

The Transistor, of course, has special configurations that can be accessed as you play, all of which give it, and you, special abilities. One of the neatest ones allows you to stop time completely, and for as long as you want, to lay out a series of planned motions and attacks to accomplish an objective or quickly eliminate enemies, which will then actually take place once you resume time. But the most intriguing thing I heard was this. Transistor is going to be PS4 exclusive, and because of that they’ve been looking into finding unique ways to use the controller. They’ve already gotten the PS4 controller’s light bar, which is most of the time used for games that support the camera, to flash in rhythm with the speech of the man inside the Transistor sword, but what they said right after that got me, as to my knowledge this hasn’t been discussed at all. They said they were also playing around with the idea of having his voice come through the speaker. This seems to imply there’s a speaker on the controller, which again I don’t recall anyone mentioning. If that’s true, I find that extremely intriguing, at least if this speaker produces audio of a decently high quality, because if there’s one thing I really like about the Wii You, and playing games like Arkham City on the Wii You, it’s that. The voices coming through Batman’s radio actually coming through the Gamepad speakers really adds a new element. So we’ll see if that guy didn’t just weirdly misspeak, or if maybe this is yet another awesome facet of the PS4.

And that’s it. Really, it is. I hope I’ve given you a decent amount of news during the course of E3. I know it wasn’t half as much as some of the bigger gaming media outlets have provided, but hopefully the way I consolidated some of the interesting stuff served you well this week. It really was a great E3 this year, and the proof of that is how much I can’t wait for these games. I can’t wait for the next generation to begin!

E3 Day 3 Stuff

Alright, folks, there isn’t as much news today, but a couple interesting things I found out, and one correction as well. Let’s see what we’ve got.

First, the correction. This was just a misinterpretation, really. I said before that Sony announced they had 40 exclusives launching for the PS4 within its first year. This was incorrect. According to a Gametrailers interview with Jack Trenton, Sony has 20 first party exclusives, (still more than the Xbox One’s 15), and on top of that, 40 multiplatform games contain exclusive content just for the PS4. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me, and in some ways better than I originally thought.

Now, a couple quick interesting notes. First, Batman: Arkham Origins does not in fact retain the original voice actors for its characters, most specifically Batman and the Joker. As it is a prequel, they wanted to find younger sounding actors to fit those roles. The most intriguing of these, for anyone who follows voice acting in video games, is the Joker, who is now played by one Troy Baker, a very prevalent actor whose career only seems to be picking up. So hey, if you are going to replace Mark Hamil, he’s a good choice for a replacement at least.

The second bit of news is kind of a fun fact. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Borderlands, but it’s basically a shooter/RPG kind of game with a focus on its own sense of humor. There’s some DLC coming out for it later this month which is basically a parody of Dungeons and Dragons. This content’s main character, named Tiny Tina, is one of the best characters in the game if not the whole series, and now I know why. Today, I have learned that the voice actress, one Ashley Burch, is the sister of the writer who created Tiny Tina, Anthony Burch. Tina herself is based on a combination of Ashley, and a friend of the family. Guess there’s a lot to be said for good, old-fashioned family chemistry.

That was really about it. Uh, some folks said they like the PS4 controller, lots of folks just continue to like the PS4 all around, but nothing really major besides that first big one. Yes, I watched more game footage than that, but remember i’m not trying to talk about and cover every game, I’m just trying to bring up interesting news about games people tend to follow. Oh wait, there is one more thing I could mention, though there was little elaboration on this. Final Fantasy XV’s combat is not at all turn-based. It’s realtime, which is almost, though not completely, unique to the FF series. There, now that’s it. Heheh. Tune in for more tomorrow, when I expect we may find out about the next WWE game from 2K, and hey, if you’re me, that’s a big deal.