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!

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.

The Xbox One on Life Support

The Microsoft Press Conference has concluded, and it has left me with mixed feelings. There were a couple game announcements that rocked me a bit, but I’m still not completely sold. For instance, as a blind gamer, the fact that Killer Instinct is making a return is huge. Not just a fighting game that I could, of course, play, but the return of a fighting game I grew up with. That’s pretty epic, I have to say. I hate that it’s exclusive, but what can ya do there? Microsoft owns Rare, the game’s creator. So… ouch. Not a system seller, but still, ouch.

I would like to point out that they opened the show with a trailer for MGS5: The Phantom Pain. It was really long, and the trailer was good, but folks, that particular game is not exclusive. Yes, most of the show’s emphasis was on exclusives, but I would’ve thought that would be how you opened the show, rather than a multiplatform game, since multiplatform games don’t help your case.

We then went a little bit into the Xbox 360, which has a few games coming out, but that’s not why we’re here, so I don’t want to focus too much on that. Suffice it to say the 360 does have a few more games left in it.

Moving on, they showed off some Xbox One games like Rise, which to me only sounded impressive when it started. The audio during the actual combat wasn’t all that great, and I have been informed the combat itself is sort of a Quicktime extravaganza. Of course, it optionally uses Kinect, and Smartglass as well.

I don’t think I’ll go over every single game covered here, but they also showed the Xbox One’s ability to be playing one game while queueing for multiplayer in another. The person in control was playing Rise, but had queued up for a match in Killer Instinct. They got their request, which can be accepted with both voice and via the controller apparently, and I’ll give the Xbox One its due here, it switched from Rise to Killer Instinct really, really fast. It’s sad, but I sort of wonder if that was rigged. No idea. Still, I’ll admit that’s neat.

They then discussed the Xbox’s ability to record and stream gameplay, which as you may know, the PS4 has already announced. The big difference here is that Xbox One will stream to Twitch TV, whereas, (and I admit I sort of forgot this), PS4 actually doesn’t stream to Twitch, it streams to Ustream, which is a significantly less popular service. Still, what may end up happening is an increase in Ustream’s popularity, and here’s why. The Xbox One does support recording and streaming with commentary, which is good, but it’s commentary using the Kinect. If you’ve ever tried to chat with the Kinect, you know the audio is not very good. They’ll have to massively improve the mics in that thing to make that viable.

Now the big blow for me was when Respawn entertainment came to the stage. These are the folks that split from Infinity Ward, and they were here to announce their next gen title, Titanfall. Titanfall sounded freaking incredible for starters, but the big blow came when I was told the kinds of things that wer happening on screen. Imagine a game that sounds like a single player campaign, you talking to your squad before a mission begins, the drop into the mission zone, all that stuf… Except it’s not. The entire game is co-op. Your entire team appears to be composed of real people taking control of these characters, and playing cooperatively in a massive action setting which includes the ability for you to get in and out of huge mechs at will, without any loading time or anything. It really sounded like it was something. I have since heard that this particular game might not remain Xbox One exclusive forever, but that’s unconfirmed.

There were other things. Dead Rising 3 is also exclusive, which my fiancĂ© is into though I didn’t think it sounded that great. Quantum Break sounds like a big deal, but I still have to say we didn’t see enough that I really understand what it is. Project Spark, which is a creative platform similar to Little Big Planet on PS3, seems cute. Overall, it was a conference that focused on games, and it at least is making me think about it. I still have a lot of problems with the Xbox One. I don’t agree with the used game policies, I don’t agree with the connection policies, and I don’t agree with the Kinect always needing to be hooked up. Still, games like Killer Instinct, and Titanfall, make me think that maybe Xbo One can deliver on that at least. It’s very difficult to say yes or no here.

A Matter of Life and Death: E3 Day 1 Pre-Microsoft Press Conference

Well folks, E3 is here. I write this on day 1, a couple hours before the Microsoft Press conference is set to take place. What will we see? Will there be more details on Remedy’s Xbox One exclusive Quantum Break? What other exclusives will we have to look forward to? We will know soon enough. One thing’s for sure, though, the Xbox One is going to live or die on this press conference. They need to deliver games, and not just any games, huge games, because as we consider whether we want to purchase this console, we have to weigh those games against all the things we don’t like about the system. Are there games that will make that worth it? Honestly, I’m not sure, but it won’t be long now before we know the answer. Expect more short blogs like this one as the day progresses, as I intend to provide both pre and post discussion on all the press conerences taking place today.

Xbox 0.5: An Updated Look at the Xbox One

Microsoft recently made several posts clarifying some aspects of the Xbox One that people had a lot of questions about. This was a good thing, but the content of these posts conirms some good things, and some bad things. Here, I will attempt to summarize the big ones.

Before I do that, though, I want to make one thing clear. I am not apologizing for my first post on the Xbox One. It was right at the time, based on impressions that Microsoft gave us at the time, and I certainly wasn’t the only one that felt that way. We’ll see how much all this new information changes the opinions of gamers.

Firstly, the whole game licensing deal. This has been clarified bigtime, though again, it’s not all good news. Microsoft does allow you to trade in used games, and no fee is charged to the retailer, or the consumer who then purchases your trade-in… Unless the game publisher said so. That’s the big thing to pay attention to here. Yes, Microsoft is now not the evil people saying you have to pay a fee, but such a thing can still potentially exist, as Microsoft has given the publisher powers to block that sort of thing. Secondly, you will be allowed to give your disc-based games to your friends, provided they’ve been your friends for at least 30 days, (and yes i’m talking Xbox Live friends), and, once again, as long as the publisher doesn’t block it. Yep, they can block that too. Also, a game can only be given once even when it is allowed, so if you give your friend a game, they cannot give it back. Currently, you also won’t be able to loan games on a temporary basis, but Microsoft says they’re looking into loaning and game rentals.

Now the next piece of info intrigues me, I admit. Taking games to your friends’ houses is OK, but if I read it right, you don’t have to take your games themselves. According to Microsoft, once your games are installed and licensed to yu, you also gain access to a cloud copy. So you go to your friend’s house, sign into your profile, and then you have access to all your games in the cloud. This may be limited to games installed on your console, but I can’t be sure on that one. To add to this, if you’re on a family plan, everyone on that plan, up to 10 users, will have access to all the games on that plan. So that’s cool, I guess.

Lastly, privacy concerns, which I didn’t talk too much about originally. Microsoft says a couple things about this. First, the Kinect isn’t monitoring in an active sense, so they say. If you’re having a conversation, it is not uploading any data. It will upload communication you have with the Kinect itself, and much of that you have control over. For example, an exercise game can get your heart rate data rom the Kinect, but you can tell the game not to use it. A Poker game can use your facial expression in realtime in the game, but you can say no to that as well. On top of all this, you can apparently pause Kinect functionality altogether, and stick with another input such as your Smartphone via Smartglass, or the controller. This is good news, assuming they’re telling the truth about what gets uploaded and what doesn’t. Remember, none of this changes the fact that you still have to have the Kinect hooked up the whole time while the Xbox One is in use.

Next up, some miscellaneous stuff. First, I’ll go briely back to the whole game licensing thing to address the Always Online concern. No, the Xbox One does not require you to be online at all times, but it does require you to connect to the internet once every 24 hours. If you fail to connect, your Xbox One becomes nothing more than a Blue Ray and DVD player. you can play no games whatsoever. The reason for this is that the Xbox One needs to check and possibly update your licenses. Remember I talked about giving games to your friends, well that’s going to mean a license transfer, and of course you’re not supposed to be playing any game you don’t have the license for, so this little measure is to ensure you can’t cheat the system for more than 24 hours. Cool, huh? No games at all. Awesome. I actually know people who have Xbox 360’s, and don’t have an internet connection. Good to know those folks are screwed.

I’ll be nice and end this on somewhat of a high note. Unlike the 360, and very much like the PS3 of today, all game titles will be available both on disc, and for download day of release. This is a positive step, and a necessary one given all the technologies they’re throwing around now. Games in the Cloud and so on. They can’t be in the Cloud if they’re not digitally available for purchase as well. Or rather they could be, it just wouldn’t make any sense. So uh, yay for that.

So again, some new information on the Xbox One. If you ask me, while this does slightly improve the Xbox One’s score, and I do mean slightly, it still leaves it a cringeworthy system, not to mention all this should’ve been clarified as soon as people started going crazy about it all, not over a week later. Yet even now, I’m willing to say this much. We will see how things develop. If the Xbox One can bring the games at E3, it might be able to stand up on those alone. Time will tell. An speaking of E3, expect much in the way of E3 coverage in the coming days. There will be both blog posts, and Audioboo posts as well. See ya then.