It’s been a while since I’ve ventured into the realm of console gaming.
The other day, while playing around with my PS4, I found that they’ve released some pretty awesome updates for game accessibility. In 2012, I was just discovering that game accessibility was a discussion that needed to be had. I hadn’t the slightest idea on where to start though, that was, until I found The AbleGamer’s Foundation. AbleGamers helped to inspire me to create this site and focus on a generation of gaming that would be inclusive, accessible, and fun for everyone.
I’m so happy to see that finally we’ve reached a generation of gaming where no matter HOW you play, you are given methods TO play. Inclusion vs. Exclusion.
Now, on to the topic at hand: BUTTON MAPPING and other ACCESSIBLE updates.
In the last few updates for PS4 and Xbox One they’ve included a segment in the settings called Accessibility Features. In the Accessibility Features there are a number of different menus which can aid you in customizing the game/system experience:
TEXT TO SPEECH:
- This function allows the user to use a Text to Speech function via the On Screen Keyboard. It’s not perfect as it currently only works via English language setting, but it does allow you to control the system with vocal commands and in messaging in some games. I will say that blind gamers, I want to hear from you because I can imagine you’ll rejoice in this new functionality.
It’s only available with some features though, so the limited functionality makes it a work in progress. It provides settings for reading speed and volume of narration [ 3 settings for slow speech, 3 for fast speech ] The functionality is just beginning and it’s going to be a massive boost for players with mobility and vision issues regarding texting, messaging friends, creating groups, etc.
I can only hope that this’ll improve to provide more to game experiences as well.
- The Zoom feature allows the user to Zoom in on items on the screen to see them better. I can’t say how much I appreciate this aspect and it’s fairly simple to accomplish on the fly. You merely have to press the Square and PS button and initiate the Zoom feature. The D-Pad or Analog stick allows you to move the Zoom around the screen.
- In games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Witcher 3, etc. I’m overjoyed by this function, because the menus/descriptions/writings are all done in such a small text that it’s often hard for me to see items in-game. The Zoom feature essentially pauses your current game, not allowing you to play the game as long as you’re zoomed in. It only provides one level of Zoom, but that’s more than enough to provide aid.
- Invert Colors functions exactly like it’s namesake says, and while I would love for them to change “Invert Colors” to an overall “Colorblind Adjustment” feature – the feature works as described. It changes darks to lights, and lights to darks, reds to blues, etc. It can definitely help in certain areas as it functions in both menus and in-game. If you take screenshots though, you’re out of luck. The colors will stay static to the original.
- I will definitely be taking this functionality for a spin via games like Arkham Knight – where the Detective Modes of some of the characters can be highly disorienting and jarring. If the functionality works on these areas of the game, then I think we’ll have hit a home-run with it’s current functionality. Here’s hoping for further color pallet changes and I’m excited for this one!
- This function increases the size of text in menus, and presumably in games. I haven’t given it a go in games that have smaller text, but I’m going to give Inquisition a go here in a bit and update if it works. It definitely does a number on being able to read smaller range text. I don’t have great vision and sitting from my couch the Larger Text function works wonders so I don’t have to sit closer/strain my eyes to see.
- This function increases the visibility of text by making it bolder for the user. It’s pretty much self explanatory. I will say that this function, in it’s current state, only applies to certain aspects of the system like menus. The in-game text stays the same, but I would love to see this functionality expand to games. There are so many games I’ve played where text is too fancy or too small to read from far away.
I will test this further, but for now it’s a step that needs further work to be polished.
- This function increases visibility of text and buttons by, essentially dimming the screen or adjusting colors to make items more visible for players. This is a really nice feature and it works fairly smoothly in most cases. The small test I ran with it: It runs wonders for system menus, reducing the shimmer of the standard PS4 blue. Premium themes, however, are not affected – so I suppose simple is better?
- In-Game the High Contrast works, but not great. You do get a bit of an adjustment and it is visible, but overall it’s nothing that adjusting your own Brightness and Contrast settings via the game couldn’t already do. It may not work on all games either, I merely used a small sampling of games, but for now it’s a welcome change from what we had before.
- We’ve all heard of these before. The Closed Captions functionality is nothing ground-breakingly new, as it’s been used via TV shows and movies for years. I was excited about this, however, because I have deaf friends. Closed Captions options would do wonders for their overall enjoyment of gameplay, and I was hoping that it would outshine the standard “Subtitles” functions that most games offer. If it turns out it’s simply for videos and DVD services I’ll say this is an opportunity missed.
- I’ll have to delve into this in dialogue heavy games, but essentially, it’s supposed to allow for not only subtitle text but sound text/qualifiers during games/movies/etc. I do appreciate the functionality menu being able to be customizable for the Closed Captions. Giving players the option to set color/font/text size/etc. is really a wonderful approach so as to keep the new features from being too intrusive on the game content.
- Here we are – the promised land. The holy grail that console players have been searching for in accessibility for years. This is it, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Well, sort of.
First, let’s start off with what PS4 does well. The functionality and ease of use in this button mapping system is genius and very well done. It allows for the user to pretty much remap any button to any other button. I can officially take the X button and change it to D-Pad Left, or the L2 trigger and change it to O if I want. The combinations are amazing, but why does this affect you – the gamer?
- Well the functionality is easy to use. You can swap buttons pretty much on the fly by dropping in and out of game to make button configuration changes. The only downside is getting accustomed to your new controller baby. You now have your own personal ‘special-snowflake’ controller, and the game functionality is hard coded. It doesn’t recognize that you changed your X‘s with your Y‘s or your L3‘s with your R1‘s.
- VERDICT: If you’re a Tutorial based gamer, you’re going to need to train yourself in your new setup, otherwise this is like walking on the moon for gamers. Is there more that can be done? Absolutely. Will there be more done? I certainly well hope so!
- Now I don’t have an XBOX ONE, so this video above is a nice buffer on exactly what the functionality of each piece does. Let’s start off with Narrator. Narrator is a lovely little device acting much like a digital reader for many. I am fascinated by this functionality [ and if it functions as well in-game as it does in this example…] because it speaks, quite literally, volumes to blind players who could use the benefits of a narrator function to navigate games, menus, etc.
- The voice is very much like Tom-Tom or the old MS-DOS voice cast, but I’m going to hope that eventually they’ll give us other methods than just speed to adjust the narrator we wish to have.
How cool would it be to have a celebrity voice narrate your XBOX experience?
- This function is identical to the Zoom function on the PS4. However, there is something I’ve noticed that Magnifier does that Zoom does not. It has the ability to zoom further instead of being a static zoom setting. This could be really useful if I’m playing in a highly detailed game and need to spot an objective or a pathway and I can’t clearly see it. It works in menus though, and based on what the Support says about Magnifier it seems that it’ll pause all other controller functionality when Magnifier is on.
- This function is exclusively for the XBOX video/DVD/Blu Ray functionality. You can create a custom captions style, but the fact that the functionality is limited simply to their video services is pretty short coming. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to deaf gamers who’d prefer if the subtitle/closed captions settings of games gave them the ability to not ONLY read TEXT, but SOUNDS, MOTIONS, etc. If a player knows more of their surroundings, the more they will be immersed in the game.
- Come on XBOX, get on that bandwagon and make it happen. A cross-game Closed Captions function would make the accessibility market crack open for you guys. It does give the players access to text customization options, but if it’s only for video captions, then it’s falling short of what expectations ought to be.
- This function is similar to the PS4, however, it’s minimal at best.
- The only contrast it provides is making the dark areas darker and providing a bright turquoise with white borders instead of the standard color scheme. It also turns off any custom backgrounds and content, so as to ‘unclutter’ the visual space. I think it’s nice, but other than ease of reading it doesn’t change much. I hope it changes aspect like this In-Game as well as Menus.
- In the battle for best Button Mapping setup, PS4 wins. The simplicity of the XBOX setup, while it may look nice, is only shown in Standard Controller. The Advanced features that extend past 1 configuration setup per user, are only extended to the Elite Controllers. This is something they don’t show you, but if you go to the XBOX ONE Support, you’ll see the Configuration information.
- The Ease of Use functions are simplistic and easy to use, but with the sort of minimal aspects you can adjust at a time, it’s a bit of a disappointment. I am proud to see that they took into account the need of button configurations, but asking players to buy secondary controllers to gain additional ease of use options for button mapping it’s a shame. I hope that, at some point, the button mapping options will just become standard, but until then, they’ve made a start and it’s lovely.
If you’re still interested in game accessibility and the strides that are being made I have two sites for you guys to take a look at. Both of these organizations are making insanely, fantastic strides in the realm of game accessibility:
AbleGamers Foundation: http://www.ablegamers.com/
Special Effects [ UK ]: http://www.specialeffect.org.uk/
Keep on gaming everybody, and remember:
One Input at a Time, We Aim for Access for All.