Playstation Not Now, Blind Folks

Great news, guys! I had a positive experience with PlayStation Now! You know, Sony’s game streaming service that just about everyone else on the internet says is horrible, and awful, and all sorts of other things? Yeah, that service. I’m happy to report that I tried the open beta on PS4, played a game, specifically Dynasty Warriors 7, and experienced, totally not kidding here, little to no latency at all. There were a few stutters and skips here and there, but it was all perfectly tolerable, and in my opinion, it was a fun 4 hours.
However, you may have noticed that the title of this article isn’t exactly a positive one. The fun I had playing that game streamed from the cloud came with a bit of a cost. I couldn’t have done it alone. While I think PlayStation Now is a great concept and is going to be, in time, a great service, it is not the most user friendly one.
The way it currently works is like this. You rent games for varying amounts of time from the PlayStation Now section of the PSN store. Currently there is no option to buy, and rumor has it there may be a subscription option later. Now you may be thinking, “But wait! You can access the store from the web site, and it’s totally accessible and great and grand and wonderful, so ha!” Well, the web version of the store does not contain the PlayStation Now section. At present it can only be accessed from the PlayStation Store on the PS4 itself. This is a huge issue, as the store basically remains inaccessible to the blind via the console. We have no way of telling which game we’re choosing, and in this case how much our rental will cost, as prices vary from game to game.
There is a small positive right now, though. Once a game is actually rented and played once, it does appear in your list of games on the PS4 home screen. Remember how I talked about everything being in a straight line from left to right in the PS4 article? Yeah, it’ll show up there. So once someone basically rents a game for us, we do have access to it from that point forward, but really that’s not the point here. The point is that it’s impossible for us to use the service independently as it currently stands. I believe this would be fixable if Sony added the PlayStation Now section to the web store, but would they be able to interface enough between web store and console to add it to our home screen as well? That I’m not sure about.
A nonaccessibility-related side note in case you’re wondering. When you play a PlayStation Now game, you’re basically playing on a virtual PS3 somewhere else. You do have saved games, and they are stored for you in the cloud. Your saves do persist across rentals, so you can rent again at another time and keep going. Furthermore, since you really are basically playing a PS3, you can play online games with people who own the disc-based version of the game you rented. It is a bit annoying that the cloud for PlayStation Now is diferent than the cloud you can upload saves to from an actual PS3, because it means that if you own a PS3, rent a game on PlayStation Now, like it, and buy the disc-based version, you can’t bring your save to that version. Still, I mention all these things to demonstrate that the service itself is, overall, a pretty good one. It’s just a little sad that for us blind people, as of right now, it’s PlayStation NOt Now.

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!