Blind Accessibility: Past and Present

Anyone who is a gamer knows how much video games have changed over the years, and not just the games themselves, but the perception of them. This applies to the blind as well, as our perception of game accessibility, what is playable and what isn’t, has also changed. I’d just like to take a moment to reflect and discuss those differences with you now. Let’s see what you think.

Accessibility in video games has become, as the years have gone on, both more complicated, and yet more simple as well. More complicated because the complexity of games is much, much greater than it used to be, and the implementation of accessibility features would involve the writing and/or rewriting of a whole lot more code. At the same time, though, it has become more simplistic because the possibilities of what can be implemented have expanded. Game companies have drastically increased in size, and games are now developed by teams that can go from small groups to well over a hundred people.

And that’s not all. The fact is, accessibility in retro games simply wasn’t a thing that was considered. Not just for blindness, but for anyone. If there was a game you couldn’t play, that was the end of it. There were no patches or fixes you could hope for. The release of a game was the final product, and that was that.

It’s interesting to think back on how all of these things have changed. In the case of blindness, for instance, we knew to accept that there were things we could play, and things we couldn’t, and nothing could be done about the ones we couldn’t. We had dreams, we had frustration, but we also had acceptance. For this reason, some of what I’ve mentioned above didn’t actually matter to us, because that was the way things were.

After all, it’s difficult to argue the fact that the accessibility threshold was a bit lower, at least for the blind. For instance, most very old games didn’t even have a menu. Old consoles didn’t even have an interface of their own. You pop in the cartridge, you turn on your console, you begin playing. If there was a menu option, it was almost always 1 player or 2. That alone eliminates some of the accessibility problems we face today. No menu memorization, no concern over whether a console has text to speech or how good it is, no store to purchase DLC from… It was a simpler time.

Games themselves were more limited in scope back then as well. This is interesting because it meant that a game was usually completely playable by a blind person, or completely not playable. A fighting game, for instance, didn’t even have an in-game move list back then, and although fighters today almost always fall under the playable category, we still don’t have access to those features in most of them. Back in the old days, though, we had just as much access to a fighter as anyone, as a sighted person couldn’t look things up easily either.

There is also an interesting difference in what we had to learn in order to play a game versus what we have to learn now. In older games, there weren’t as many sound effects used. This was good in that it took us a shorter time to learn what each sound meant, but it was also bad. Less sound effects meant fewer indicators for events. This was made worse in games that used the same sound for multiple things. Older fighters, for instance, used the same voice audio for all male characters, and only used a different one if there was a female character. We had to use other things, such as the sounds of certain moves, to determine which fighter was actually present.

Now, there is so much sound in games. This, too, is a good and bad thing. More sound means more work learning each individual one and what it means. This usually takes much longer now as there are so many sounds in the game that it is possible not to notice a particularly helpful one right away. For example, it took me some time to realize that, in Kingdom Hearts, Saura’s footsteps change depending on what keyblade he’s wielding, but once I figured that out, it was immensely helpful.

The fact that the footstep sound difference I just mentioned even exists, though, is a great example of why more sound is a good thing. As long as we can figure things out, there is loads of information available via our ears, some of which the sighted community doesn’t even notice. This is why today’s audio designers love us. We tend to catch the little details that exist, even though there are so many of them.

Today’s sound goes beyond sounds themselves, though. These days, with technologies like surround sound and even 3D audio, we get even more information. We can tell where something or someone is based on the positioning of its sound in our headphones or speakers. Most older games played all their sound from a single speaker until around the mid 90’s.

I’m not really trying to make a point with this blog. This struck me as an interesting topic because of how different things were than they are now, and I thought it would be fun for you guys to think about it too as we move forward into a new age of accessibility. Yes, accessibility takes a lot more work these days than it might have if we had accessibility features back then, but it’s still happening. Developers are starting to communicate with the disabled community, and they’re starting to listen. It’s a wonderful, magical time, but the past, the way things were in the NES and SNES days, had a sort of magic all its own as well. I hope all of this made sense, and I hope as well that it got you thinking. As always, feel free to comment, and check out the support heading for ways in which you can, well, support this content. Thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Introducing Mainstream Console Gaming to the Blind Podcast!

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

E3 Day 2 Updates

Alrighty then! What I consider E3 day 2, which by the way is considered Day 1 by the general public, is over. A few interesting tidbits came out today that I want to share with you, some of which is new information, some of which is corrections to other information.

The biggest news is this. This was actually something I heard Jack Trenton say during the Sony Press Conference, but I wasn’t sure enough that I interpreted it correctly to make it news. Now it has been confirmed. Playstation Plus is now required for online play on the PS4. Now I can hear you all getting negative, but let me add to this a bit, and clarify things. Yes, it is required, you do have to pay for online play now, but it’s still a better deal than Xbox Live Gold. First, it’s $50 rather than $60 per year, second you still get all the PS+ benefits, including bunches of free games. Third, even if you don’t pay for Playstation Plus, you retain access to all your media services on the PS3 like Netflix and Amazon video and all that, whereas all those things require Xbox Live gold with Microsoft. Now, if you’re still going “But, but, but you have to pay to play online and that sucks!” I still understand, I still get where you’re coming from, but consider this. You may very well get what you pay for. Almost all online games on the PS3, not all, but almost all, are plagued by lag. With this new model, that may no longer be the case. So it can be considered a negative, but I urge you to try not to do so, at least not too much.

Secondly, a couple of interesting corrections. Both Final Fantasy 15, and Kingdom hearts 3 are apparently not PS4 exclusive. This strikes me as slightly weird, as it will be the first time a Kingdom Hearts game is on Xbox anything, but so be it, I guess. Me, I’m gonna get that one for the PS4. That’s where it started, that’s where we’ll conclude it. Otherwise I don’t mind much.

Here’s a funny one, though. Elder Scrolls Online is also going to be on Xbox One, so I do have to concede that little point I made about the PS3 taking in all the MMO’s. Ah well. Once again, that’s fine. Remember, we got solid numbers for PS4 exclusives, even if we haven’t necessarily seen them all yet. 40 within the first year of release. That’s still awesome.

A couple of quick additions regarding specific games. First, Killer Instinct is going to be a Free to Play game that will give you 1 character, namely Jago, and allow you to play as him in every way. You can play the full single player, you can take him online, all that with no additional charge. Then, if you like him, or just the game in general, you can buy additional characters of your choosing. Alternatively, they are going to release a complete edition that you pay for up front and all things will be unlocked. Killer Instinct also has some new mechanics, including something called Instinct Mode, which you can use as a combo cancel, even on an ultra. In the example, the player did a combo, transitioned into an ultra, canceled into Instinct mode, hit another basic combo, and went right into another Ultra. If I understood correctly, all this became one giant combo. Ah, Killer Instinct, I do love thee.

Additionally, a little more information on Titanfall. Apparently not every character in every scenario is controlled by a person. There are AI pilots and AI titans, (humans and mechs), to fill out the battlefield so you always have the challenge of a team battle. The match itself, in terms of the number of player-controlled characters in the demo during the conference, was a 7 on 7 match. So still not bad at all. Figured that’d be worth mentioning to make sure an awesome concept like Titanfall is as clear as it can be.

There were other things shown off today, including Watchdogs and Beyond, but I don’t feel there was any truly significant information besides the fact that I was right about what I suggested in one of my Audioboo posts, which was that the mobile companion for Watchdogs is not Smartglass, it’s its own app. This allows it to work with any version of the game, which I agree with. You can use it to both help your friends, and if you want to, hinder them, and even try to hack into them to totally ruin their day. I kid actually, they want to keep it fun. Any death caused by another player is just reversed, and you’re put back into your story without any kind of penalty. It’s kinda a competition between players that can happen at any time.

What else happened today? Well, the Nintendo Direct video played today, but there wasn’t much to it. Apparently only about 9 games are coming out for the Wii You within the next year, and most of them put out by Nintendo. There was a new Bayoneta 2 trailer, which we expected, a trailer for the new Smash Brothers game, which we also expected, Mario 3D Land, Mario Cart 8, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, the HD remake of Windwaker, a game just called X, a game called XY something or other, and one more. It was also announced that Megaman would be in Smash Brothers, but if you’re curious, there was nothing else about Smash Brothers. Nothing about newly added mechanics, just Megaman. And that was it. Absolutely the expected from Nintendo, and nothing more. They were right not to hold a press conference, because they just didn’t stack up, not even to Microsoft. Just a bit more proof that the Wii You is going down.

And that was pretty much the day. I will keep combing around tomorrow and Thursday, watching footage and whatnot, and bringing you more of this if there continues to be more to bring. See ya then!