Gaming Without Sight: We Wanna Play Too (Brandon Cole)

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Gaming Without Sight: We Wanna Play Too (Brandon Cole)

Brandon Cole: Oh good, you made it [Audience laughing] Before we really get into it, I want to say it is really great to see so many familiar faces in the crowd tonight [Audience laughing] You laugh, but every face is familiar when they all look the same I am Brandon Cole. I am the guy that they hired to open for Naughty Dog [Audience laughing] So while you are waiting for that, [laughing] my job is to talk about accessible gaming for blind people, and to entertain you a little bit as well because that is just who I am They didn’t tell me to entertain you, I am just going to [Audience laughing] #GAconf #OpenForNaughtyDog [Audience and Brandon laughing] All these self-help books on public speaking will say start with jokes. So I did But, that is also a segue because my time as a gamer actually started with a joke. It was a joke played on me by my older brother who decided it would be fun to prank his 6 year old younger brother Back in the days of Super Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers my older brother comes up to me one day and says, “Hey, would you like to play some Mario Brothers?” Now, even my 6 year old self had completely dismissed the idea of video games at that time because the word video was in them. That means you have to have eyes to play them. I can’t do that I don’t have those. Nevertheless, he got me to agree Though I felt silly, I took up the controller, and he started the game. Before I knew it, I was collecting coins, jumping over pits, breaking bricks, defeating Koopas, and rescuing princesses, and all that fun stuff. Somehow, somehow I just managed to beat the entire game. I was, I was shocked. But then, then the truth was revealed You see, my brother in his connivance had handed me the unplugged second player controller whilst he played the entire game and had beaten it He told me that I was achieving all of those things, when it was all him So I was crushed as a little, tiny child Even though that was really disturbing to me and disconcerting to me, I think subconsciously something kind of clicked with that I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I vowed that I would beat a game on my own without his help; without any outside help, I would do it That was my vow that I made to myself Eventually, I did. I continued to try games I tried different games for the Nintendo. I tried things like Double Dragon, which I did okay at. RoboCop, which I did not do okay at You know, you have things like that The very first game I defeated on my own was the original Killer Instinct for the Super Nintendo Of course my idea was to run off to my non-video game educated mom, and tell her of this great thing that I had done She came in, looked at the credits of the game and said, “Oh, that’s, that’s cool.” [Audience laughing] But that didn’t change anything because I had the fire after that. You know? And so, I have been gaming ever since. I have done a whole bunch of different things in video games including going through the infrared room that is in Metal Gear Solid just before the tank fight A room full of infrared moving lasers Yeah, I got through it. Yeah, good times But, I guess that is kind of where we begin because one of the things I have to convince you of, one of the things that I really, really want to convince you of is that number one, blind gamers are out there Number two, it is less scary than you think to make a game accessible to a blind person. There are a lot of assumptions out there There a lot of things that people have ideas about regarding if you are blind and you are trying to play a video game There are a lot of things that people assume that we might need We don’t necessarily need those things. In fact I want to justify this by saying this is a good thing Adrian’s presentation was like my other half because she was basically talking about creating audio for blind gamers and things like that Well, I am the blind gamer she is talking about essentially I am one of the many. But,

I don’t agree with her on everything. Which is good because the more options that are created out there, the more different people’s play styles can exist For instance, the thing that really struck me was the Quick Time Events thing. She said, “Remove Quick Time Events. That is one thing you have to do.” I don’t want you to do that. [Audience laughing] I would hope you never remove Quick Time Events. I would instead hope that you made those Quick Time Events accessible. There are different ways you can go about that This is the kind of thing that I do in my head all the time. For games that I can’t play I come up with ideas to try to make them playable. These are the things that I occasionally write about. I have talked to some developers about the ideas that I have, but let’s take the Quick Time Events thing If for instance the input that was required for a Quick Time Event was spoken, maybe either as it popped up on screen, maybe a second before. I don’t know. It depends because auditory processing isn’t always as fast as visual processing. Maybe a second or so before Or if the input appeared and maybe more time was allotted, like the game stops and after a set amount of time, then resumed That would be fine, if it was presented aurally If some voice said “X”, or “Square”, or “Triangle”; that is fine because the thing about Quick Time Events is they have their place. I wouldn’t want to skip that because there is a certain reward, there is a certain accomplishment you can feel if you successfully nail a Quick Time Event There is a certain satisfaction you can feel because they are oftentimes used, for instance, for final boss fights where the Quick Time Event is associated with your utter destruction of that boss That is great. That is a great time to use a Quick Time Event, and it makes the player feel good So no, I wouldn’t want those removed But it is good though, that all those options are on the table Because the more options that could be created for accessibility, then the more developers have free reign, and the more players have free reign to explore the option that they like One of the the ways I want to kind of get across that accessibility for the blind is not as scary as you might think is by talking about something called, or that I call anyway, accidental accessibility Those are the situations where, and I have encountered quite a few of these, we are able to play a game that we weren’t intended to play. One of the best examples that I can to think to discuss accidental accessibility If you have every played this game or even seen footage of this game, this might shock you Resident Evil 6 [Audience laughing] is almost entirely playable by the blind Almost. Not completely, but almost Almost counts for a lot when you are blind [Brandon laughing] We will accept almost The reason for this is because of one design choice that the developers made I know, I just know that it was not made because of blind people because I can understand how it might help a sighted person too But it just happened to help us To describe this, when you are walking through the game, there is a button you can press that brings up your map. It brings it up on your character’s PDA. They all have PDAs because of course they do [Audience laughing] You press this button, it brings up the map, and it also points the camera at your next objective [Audience laughing] Well as it turns out, they designed the game so that moving forward moves in the direction the camera is pointing. So if you hold the button that brings up the map, the camera is pointed at your objective. So you press forward, and you are automatically walking toward your next objective This was actually made a little bit weird because for some reason when your character is looking at their PDA, I guess to make it more realistic, they walk really slowly So it actually slowed down the game for us considerably There are really awkward and dramatic moments like, “We gotta run! We gotta go!” And you are like, [Audience laughing] “I mean, we really gotta They are like everywhere, but I mean, we will get there. We are almost there now.” [Audience laughing] But it is still hilariously fun. The point is none of that matters because we can play the game, and that is the point The interesting thing about this is this actually applies to playing that same game co-op as well

because the same concept was applied to your co-op partner. If you pressed another button, the point of it was to be able to locate where your co-op partner was They use, I believe, some kind of icon for that; but they also, again, point the camera at them So if I am playing co-op, I can hold that button down and just press forward, and follow my co-op partner step for step through the game. Now again, the game was only almost accessible. There are things that are not accessible One of the campaigns is almost entirely puzzle based. That is annoying [Audience laughing] I do not approve of that However, that is the way it is I guess what I am saying here with this example is the point is that we can play it One of the arguments that I have heard before against accessibility for the blind is an argument about immersion That argument tends to go, “Well, we technically could make this item on the ground make a sound so you could find it easier. But this item is like a clip of ammo Clips of ammo, under realistic circumstances, do not make noise when they are just laying on the ground.” I hope not, anyway [Audience laughing] However, I guess the argument here is doing that would not be realistic and would break immersion I say to you that if those things aren’t done, we can’t play the game anyway The immersion is created for us more by the story, by what is actually happening around us, and by the use of audio and things like that, than necessarily by the gameplay Audio is huge. I mean, audio is how we play games basically We are the ones who will notice the tiny things in audio I mentioned this in a panel I did back in 2014 at GDC There is a game that is kind of popular, it is called Kingdom Hearts. [Audience laughing] It has a following In that game, the thing is almost every sighted person that I tell this to just gasps because they never realized this. In that game, you can equip different weapons called Keyblades Well, did you know that depending on which Keyblade you have equipped, the footsteps sounds are all different, the sounds of you swinging your weapon are all different, and the sounds of your weapon striking something are all different All of these depend on which one you have equipped That is impressive. That is amazing That is probably a design choice that was made just for differentiation sake It is just that the audio designer did the right thing there Ambient noise is huge It is a huge help for playing a game, especially when you are you blind. You could use that ambient noise to find where you are It is especially with ambient noise with not just like the general rumble of a certain type of room, or the general way the air moves in a certain type of room, but I mean even objects in that room Like if there is a machine in the room, even if it has no importance to the actual game, it can be used as an orientation point So that should make a sound, if it is active. Now again, this goes back to my accessibility argument though If you want us to be able to find something, and this is why it is probably more likely that accessibility for the blind will be kind of its own mode in a game where it exists because we don’t want to take away anything or change the experience for anyone else. We just want to be able to play the game If it has to be another mode, that is fine But things that we need to be able to find should make their own sound. Going back to Resident Evil 6, I could play most of the game. I can get to where I am going next, but all along the way I am constantly missing crates to smash with coins in them, extra ammo in them, and things like that I miss those all the time. The only time I ever get extra ammo is because it also happens to drop from zombies that we then slaughter. Which is also not realistic, but I am not complaining. [Audience laughing] [Brandon laughing] So that is that I guess what I am ultimately saying with this point is

with a little bit of work, and yes, certainly a little bit of cost; almost any game, and I am pretty convinced that any game, can be made accessible to the blind Does it have to be done early? Sure, that is fine But if you do what has been talked about with other people here in this conference and work with blind gamers or disabled gamers of any kind with accessibility, then it can be done Back when I was at GDC in 2014, I heard a lot of nos. A lot of them; it was kind of sad. People were like, “No. I don’t think our game can be made accessible.” “But what do you know? What do you know about what exactly the blind would need to make that happen?” I think it is more about conversation. Conversations must be had The blind community is very willing to have those conversations There is a great forum called AudioGames.net That forum was primarily created for blind people that already make games. They make audio-only games There are blind game developers out there The teams are small. Usually one person, maybe two, if you are lucky They make audio-only games. It kind of grew and expanded because a few, not many but a few, game developers found the forum and started using it to contact us about testing possible games that they are making. So that is a great resource right there: AudioGames.net. You will find a bunch of blind people that really, really, really want to play games Now, I also want to talk a little bit about some things that have already been done with accessibility I think that will further illustrate the point that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge problem There was a game called Skullgirls that was mentioned before That is a fighting game. It is a fantastic 2D fighting game. Fighting games, by their very nature, are very accessible Your stereopanning is going to tell you a lot because you are in 2D It is going to tell you where you are in relation to your opponent, how far away you are from them, and what side you are on Besides the initial sound effects of the game, the moves and combos, that is all you need to know The only problem that is presented is tutorials and things of that nature. As well as training modes, and story modes Which in Skullgirls, until they released their latest patch, the story mode was all text, just text Now, the developer of Skullgirls was willing to work with us He did so at first with a very, very simple solution. Every time text appeared on-screen, that text was automatically copied to the clipboard. This was only on the PC version, of course. The text would automatically copy to the clipboard Then, we would use a third-party application that connected to our screen readers that would read any incoming text from the clipboard. If the clipboard was changed, it would read that text So with those two things working in tandem, basically the game became 100% accessible. Every time we moved to a menu option, that menu option text was copied to the clipboard and it was automatically read If we clicked on Story Mode and started the new story, that text that came in were automatically read. Tutorials were automatically read Everything. Just like that with that simple fix, the game was made 100% accessible. Now, later on the same developer actually incorporated the API for the screen reader JAWS for Windows. He actually incorporated that into the game itself There was no need to copy text to the clipboard, because now the game interfaces directly with the screen reader That is something to consider The screen readers have APIs. If you want to figure out how to work with them, then that is beyond my programming ability They are out there, and you can make an application read certain things with an existing screen reader Also something to mention are things like Injustice and Mortal Kombat X (MKX) They have also included blind accessibility in little ways too. Adrian mentioned earlier that they used limited amounts of punching and kicking noises, as well as the yells and cries, and things of that nature. But that is not all They also implemented a system where if you are standing or your opponent is standing near an interactable environmental object, something you can throw at your opponent or something you can leap over, there is a tone that will play. If you have this feature turned on, there is a tone that plays depending on who is standing near that object. If you know which side you are on and you hear that tone, you know that you are standing

near that object. Or if it is on the other side, you know your opponent is In MKX, the audio cues added additional things like knowing when your Super meter was full, and things like that Just little things like that made the game more accessible than it was. Let me tell you, if you make a game accessible to the blind, and I think really to any community, but the blind is the one I know most about because it is the one I represent; but if you make a game accessible to us blind people, we are so loyal. We will love you forever. [Audience laughing] I mean, like we are still talking about Netherrealm and their accessibility. [Brandon laughing] We just recently found out thanks to someone that actually got an invite, that the same accessibility features area already in the Injustice 2 beta The game isn’t even out yet, but the accessible audio cues are already there We tweeted about that so much because it is great It is something that was included for us and that is fantastic because there are not a lot of that out there. You have no idea, none at all, what I would give to be able to play, I don’t know, The Last of Us #GAconf #OpenForNaughtyDog [Audience laughing] I planned that joke [Audience laughing] [Inaudible audience member] [Brandon laughing] Yes, The Last of Us is just one example You know, RPGs Mass Effect: Andromeda is going to come out in a few weeks I love video games, I do It is like an ache It really is. It is painful to know that I don’t get to play that game Now, I am going to try, this is a try, to give you guys an idea of what it feels like when you are blind and there are so many games out there that you can’t play I am sure that if I were to ask everyone here, I would find someone, maybe just one person, but having mentioned it a couple of times, there are probably a few I find someone who would be willing to play Hearthstone against me I am sure there would be someone But that is not an option. This is a free game A free game that you guys can play whenever you want Now, I am one of those people that will try any game, and that is great I will try it because I like to find games that are accessible, and maybe by accident. That is how you find things. That is how you figure things like like this out But I can’t even try that game The opening screen of that game is not accessible So, yeah. That’s what that feels like. [Laughing] That is what that feels like. That is painful I have heard people say, “Well, go to YouTube. There are let’s players on YouTube. You can listen to them play the game That is cool, right?” [Audience laughing and groaning] Well, okay. So number one, yes that is kind of cool. Let’s players can be cool people. They can be funny. They can be entertaining, but guess what?! It is still their experience Listening to a game is all well and good because you can still enjoy the story that way But you have to know that being the one behind the controller, being the one that makes the moral decisions in whatever game it is means something. That means a lot, if you are that person. Even if it is failing, like going back to Quick Time Events; especially games like, I don’t know, Heavy Rain or something like that Even if you fail a Quick Time Event, being the one that did that and maybe caused a character to die; that is something That is part of your experience I was going to make a joke. I didn’t make this joke; I should have. A joke about how it is cool to be blind, because you don’t see the wrap-up signal. [Audience laughing] [Audience laughing] Unfortunately, she is too smart for that [Audience laughing] Ah, well I tried [Audience laughing] But I think the ultimate point here is that I want to make everyone, if I can, and this why I am making so many jokes; I want to make everyone as comfortable with me and with the idea of blind accessible gaming, as I possibly can Because, and I used this catchphrase at GDC as well, we want to play too So if it comes down to it, I will be around I have business cards, okay? [Audience laughing]

I have the coolest business cards that have ever existed in the entire galaxy So talk to me. I will talk your ear off I don’t mind. I don’t mind doing it at all. Contact me If you get my business card, contact me. I will work with you There are so many people will work with you, like the blind community Again, AudioGames.net. The blind community is ready to work with you And yeah, that is basically it. We want to play your games. We love you guys And I think that is the moral of my story Thank you very much [Audience applause] [Applause applause]