Game Accessibility Talk from #GAConf live now!

Hey folks!
I’m happy to report that my talk at the Game Accessibility Conference, the first ever Game Accessibility Conference, is now live. This talk proved to be extremely important, as I am, no kidding, still feeling its fallout today. Listen as I discuss blind game accessibility with a bunch of industry folks, and maybe, just maybe, entertain them a little bit along the way. You can watch the video below.

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.

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!

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/