Leaning IN: Game Trailers and Blind Gamers

Occasionally, I get asked what I get out of a game trailer. The answer is a complicated one, so what better way to discuss it than in a blog? Well, I suppose I could do a highly-edited video where I narrate over a series of shots of me in random locations, but… Nah, we’re just gonna go with the blog. I hope some game industry folks read this one, because I personally believe notes can be taken from it. With that, let’s go.

Game trailers are an interesting beast. We blind gamers don’t hate them, but there a few beats a game trailer has to hit before we can truly appreciate them. Let’s highlight those things by talking about the worst kind of game trailer for a blind person. It’s pretty simple, really. If the audio of a trailer primarily consists of music, it’s a bad trailer for us. Luckily for you, I am prepared to provide examples. Say hello to the resident evil 7 announcement trailer, found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YetHMnhnhM

We can take a couple things from this trailer. The ambience of rain pelting a roof is gloomy, the length of time the character takes to answer the phone is suspicious, and the way he says “She’s back,” is ominous. After that, guess what? We’re done. The trailer fades into music, and while the song is creepy and contains some discordant audio samples, we are told literally nothing. Even when it’s all over, we don’t even know what game we just watched a trailer for. The character, and thus his voice, are unfamiliar to us, so we have no association whatsoever. This trailer, which got loads of hype afterward, is actually useless to us.

There are many trailers like that. EA, sadly, is often guilty of trailers without meaningful audio. Now, though, let’s climb the ladder a bit. I introduce you to, and link you to, the E32018 Cyberpunk 2077 trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXaogHDLosI

This trailer is better. Why? Because we have narration. We have a story to follow that the trailer is telling us. If we’ve been paying attention, we probably even know what game this trailer is for, as it literally mentioned the year 2077. There are sound effects in the background, and while we have no idea if those are actual gameplay sounds, we can determine that some pretty cool stuf is happening. And yeah, OK, the music is bumpin. Still, it could be argued that we don’t know enough. While we’re getting a feel for the game’s tone thanks to that narrator, we don’t actually know what’s going on visually. I remember how cool people were saying this trailer looked after it dropped, talking about the blades that come out of your wrists and such, and I was just like, “Huh? Wow, that’s cool.” The talk after is the first I knew of it. So this trailer was better, yes, but it generated curiosity more than it generated hype. “Oh man, this sounds cool. I wonder what’s happening? What does that sound mean?” And so on.

Now it’s time to show a trailer that can definitely generate hype, even for a blind gamer. The third rung of our trailer ladder. I now give you the E3 2018 Last of Us 2 Gameplay Trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btmN-bWwv0A

Now this is one to talk about, folks. There’s no narration here, so at first there is some confusion. But keep listening, and you soon hear the familiar voice of Elly, one of the stars of the Last of Us Part 1, and this game’s protagonist. Suddenly, you know just what game this is. So you listen harder, trying to glean what information you can, and boy oh boy is there a lot to glean. Even the party here sounds full of people, their voices coming from all around, showing you how good this game’s audio will be. That is then bolstered as we move further into the trailer, where we get to hear Elly sneaking about and stealthily taking out her foes. The audio hear is a marvel, showing off positioning and echo effects, and excellent use of character breaths and sound effects. There are times when I questioned whether what we were hearing was gameplay, only to realize it was thanks to the return of a couple sound effects from the first game. This trailer is mindblowing, and despite having no narration, does its job of generating hype for the game. I have watched this trailer multiple times myself, because there is so much to pick up from its audio. This is a good trailer.

There is of course, a glaring problem with this trailer, however. I knew what it was for both because I recognized Elly’s voice, but even before that, because I recognized the song that was playing as part of Sony’s interesting presentation of the trailer when it was being shown live at E3. The Last of Us main theme was played live before the trailer was shown, and it’s a theme I am familiar with, as my fiancé has played the first game twice. However, had I not possessed that information, had I not recognized that theme or that voice, I would probably still love the trailer, but have no idea at all what game it was for. In this way, its lack of narration is still a problem. But don’t worry, there is one more rung on this ladder.

We now come to the reason I decided to write this article. The very trailer that cemented in my head what I wanted this article to be. And, interestingly enough, we do this by going back to a game we’ve already talked about, Cyberpunk 2077. Beware, if you click the link below, and haven’t seen this gameplay trailer yet, you’re going to be sucked in for 48 straight minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjF9GgrY9c0

Seriously, folks, I just did the search to find that trailer, clicked the link so I could get that address to paste in here, and was still tempted to watch it again myself. This trailer has everything, even if you’re blind. Right off the bat, about 20 seconds in, the narrator, (yes the whole thing is narrated), directly introduces the game. There is no question of what we’re watching here. As we move forward, the narrator remains a solid reference point for events occurring in the trailer, keeping us in the know about what’s going on, or what mechanic is being shown. With nearly complete knowledge and understanding of the gameplay we’re hearing, we can then proceed to admire the audio. We can listen to how every dialog choice doesn’t seem to break the flow. How everything just smoothly moves like a cutscene despite all of it being gameplay. We can imagine what an entire, huge open-world RPG will be like if it’s all as good as this demo, and we can struggle to contain that awesomeness in our heads. It is a real struggle, let me tell you. Even in this day and age, I find it difficult to imagine a 100+ hour game, assuming this reaches the scale of the Witcher 3, that maintains this level of awesomeness.

Anyway, the point is that this trailer’s amazing. It uses narration to guide us while giving us a healthy dose of actual gameplay. It’s essentially perfect for us. Now, I’m not saying all trailers need to be 48 minutes, but this type of trailer, with these specific qualities, works wonders to excite us about a game. Before, I was just curious. Now, I’m completely sold. This is one of those games I will ache for, though I know I won’t be able to play it. It’s a happy sad feeling all at once.

So take note, trailer people. You can show us your game in a trailer too, just give us audio. Honestly, it’s actually sort of baffling when you encounter trailers like the RE7 announcement, as a lot of developers are coming to understand that audio is as important as graphics. It’s as though the people who decide what’s in a trailer are still behind. All of this could probably be fixed with audio described versions of game trailers, but I don’t think the industry has reached that level quite yet. I really, really hope you’ve found this blog intriguing, and thanks as always for reading it. Continue to be awesome!

Microsoft E32016 Press Conference Quick Thoughts

Greetings again!
Well, turns out I do have something to say. The Microsoft Press Conference is now over, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, the Play Anywhere idea is a good one. Moving forward, ordering a game for Xbox One or Windows 10 gives you the game on the other platform, and saves automatically transfer. The work they’re doing with cross platform play, being able to play not just cross platform on PC and Xbox, but on mobile devices as well, is also a great idea. Those are the things I approve of, along with a few of the games that sounded neat. The Happy Few, and Scalebond were especially interesting to listen to.
However, I was right. New hardware has been announced. The Xbox One S is a slimmer Xbox One, which is fine. New players can come in and get that one. Great. My real problem is the other piece of new hardware they announced. Project Scorpio. It is a new Xbox Console, with tons more power, capable of delivering high-fidelity Virtual Reality gaming without sacrificing performance or graphical quality, and so on. Here’s the thing that I don’t think Microsoft wants you to consider.
When they made the announcement, they tried to soften the blow by assuring you that all previous games and accessories would of course work with this thing. That’s all well and good, but let’s talk about moving forward. Starting basically now, new Xbox One games will be made with this new console in mind. “But,” you say, “We’ve also been reassured that new games will continue to work on the original Xbox One as well!” Yes, I’m sure they will, but think about this. Developers want to keep moving forward. They want to provide you with the best experiences they can. So they are absolutely going to focus on harnessing the power of this new system, and games played on a regular Xbox One are going to suffer for it. No matter what they say about all games working everywhere, there will come a time, probably sooner than later, where you will simply need this new system, or be forced to deal with what appears to be a broken game.
Now, this isn’t just me ranting at Microsoft. I don’t agree with the fact that it’s rumored Sony is doing this same thing. Gaming is already an expensive hobby. We as console gamers should not be forced to buy new hardware when it is not a new system, just a hardware and power upgrade. Now, PC gaming is a more expensive hobby, and I get that they already do this. You have to if you’re going to keep up with the constantly improving PC world. I just do not agree with the idea of consoles going that way. Many console gamers buy consoles so they don’t have to keep up with PC’s. I’m not a fan, and I’m definitely not sold. This is only my opinion, but there it is.
I’ll leave this post at that. Who knows, I might be back once the Sony Press Conference is over. We shall see, folks.

E3 2016: Discussion, concerns, VR

Greetings folks!
I have been away from the blog thing for way too long. I know it, and if you’ve read my other blogs, you probably know it too. However, the 2 major E3 press conferences of 2016 are taking place today, and so I thought I would discuss my thoughts and concerns about this year. Don’t worry though, there are positives here as well.
First, VR. It’s the hip thing right now, especially with Sony’s upcoming Playstation VR device. Given the timing, though, and the fact that the Playstation VR is due out in October, I’m worried that Sony’s press conference will be utterly dominated by VR games, which on the surface doesn’t sound like something the blind community, (which I represent with this blog in case you’re a new reader), would really be able to take advantage of.
Now, though, I offer a potential positive. Sony has made a bold claim regarding the Playstation VR. Supposedly, it will incorporate 3D audio. Now, I say this is a bold statement because many individual games have claimed they used 3D audio in the past, and that hasn’t exactly been true. The original Baldur’s Gate 2 had a setting for 3D audio, and all it actually does is add additional environmental effects and such. Unreal Tournament 3 had a similar setting if i remember correctly, and it was just meant for surround systems. So the implication here is that many, if not most people, don’t actually understand what true 3D audio is. If, however, the Playstation VR does use real, true 3D audio, there may be a reason for the blind to at least try it out. I’m not saying it’ll magically make every game accessible, but it could increase accessibility, definitely. Knowing exactly where your enemies are, which real, true 3D audio would allow, would be amazing. Distance, height, everything.
Still, even if that distant hope turns out to be true, we won’t know it watching Sony’s conference. So I worry, but I also hope that Sony delivers something for both VR and standard players. I know VR is going to be a part of it, I just hope it’s not all of it.
Second, new hardware. No real positive here. I am not really pleased by the rumors of the Playstation Neo, and the Xbox 2, or the Xbox One Slim, or whatever they want to call it. I know it’s been 3 years now, but I just do not feel like purchasing all new hardware. I cannot imagine how either Microsoft or Sony would sell me on a new PS4, or Xbox One, at this current moment when I’m perfectly happy with the systems I got. Slimmer isn’t going to do it for me. Even if they say something like, “It’ll load faster and stuff!” That won’t do it for me either. That’s just not enough reason for me to spend money on essentially a new console.
Now, if they offer some kind of direct trade in program, I would accept that, but that’s extremely doubtful. And yes, I know if I don’t want it, I can just not buy it, but I’m trying to speak for the general public right now, I suppose. Is this what we really need right now? I’m just saying i don’t think it is.
That’s about it for now. There may be more posts later today, depending on what actually happens. I am going to base that on whether or not I have anything to say about it. The press conferences that have already taken place, EA and Bethesda, were interesting, but don’t have much to offer us. More Fallout, more Doom, more Quake, more Madden, a few new games we likely cannot play, and so on. So here’s hoping for the best Microsoft and Sony conferences we can possibly get. Truly, I want them to be great. So impress me, guys.

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.