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

Update: The audio visual thumbnails I have mentioned several times are present in the PS4. However, when this blog was originally written, dynamic menus were not working on PS4, as it had just launched. Now that they do, I can confirm that the games that have these audio visual thumbnails will play them when you highlight the game and press down to access their dynamic menus. Another easy to use and helpful feature. I’ll leave the rest of the blog intact as I wrote it, but this is a worthwhile update, as it does improve accessibility.

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!

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?

Another Nod for all us blind gamers out there!

Ladies and gents, a new article has been written by a gentlemen named Richard Moss, (@MossRC for all those who will surely desire to shower him with adoration following this post), regarding gaming as a blind person, both accessible games and audio games. Basically every aspect of gaming and being blind. This article was written for Polygon, a mainstream media outlet, and let me tell you, it’s awesome! I urge you with all the power my urger can muster to check it out. Like it, comment on it, spread it around! It features both Liam Erven and myself, as well as several others who have made contributions to the blind gaming community. And now, a link.
http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/8/6/4550490/blind-games-rock-vibe
Again, spread that around everywhere you can. We’ve gotta make sure as many people as possible see it. Enjoy!