Microsoft and the Rise of Accessibility in Gaming

Gears 5 is the latest Microsoft title to gain accessibility features.

(Disclaimer before we get started. We are not affiliated in anyway to anyone mentioned in the article nor do we own any of the material linked (aside from the screenshot of Gears 4 which I took myself). We simply linked it for your convenience if you wish to watch it yourself.)

Microsoft is continuing it’s streak of making it’s games more accessible to everyone including those who are blind. In an interview with IGN (Click here to watch), design director Ryan Cleven talked about some of the accessibility options that will be featured in Gears 5, including how they’ve made it more accessible for those with visual impairments.

 Cleven had this to say about blind gamers and Gears.”We have people that play Gears that are actually blind, which I find is incredible. And we have, for example in Gears 4 we put in a system where you could, like a radar ping to tell where  the fortifications were, to be able as somebody who couldn’t see very well, to be able to find their way around the map. And like people could actually successfully complete horde while being blind is incredible and we wanted to embrace that sense of play, and make sure more people can enjoy Gears.” For those who want to skip to this point this all takes place at about 9:40.

What really bugs me about the interview is that as soon as Cleven starts talking about how they’ve made the game accessible to those who are blind the team at IGN decides now is the time to start playing B roll footage in the background (with sound on). Then before Cleven can talk about it further the interviewer then switches the topic to the B roll footage and how Terminator is in the game. I get that they probably had a very limited amount of time but I still found it off-putting and thought it worth mentioning. 

As both someone who is legally blind and a massive Gears fan the accessibility features have me really excited.  not only is the ping system making a return (which i didn’t use in Gears 4 but will most likely try out for Gears 5)  but now you can do things such as adjust subtitle size(will definitely be using that), change to a colorblind mode, text to speech for voice chat, and menu narration.  All in all this seems to be a massive step up from Gears 4’s accessibility menu which was limited to say the least.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gears-of-war-4-8_27_2019-1_04_49-pm-2-1.png

(screenshot that I took of Gears of War 4’s accessibility menu)

This isn’t the first time this year Microsoft has leaned into making gaming more accessible.  In may it was reported that Microsoft had patented a Braille accessory for the Xbox controller that would make gaming more accessible to those who are blind.

Thanks for reading, if you’d like to see us upload videos showcasing the accessibility features when the game comes out or if you have a topic you’d like to see us cover then please leave a comment.

The Potential for Hololens/Augmented Reality to Help the Legally Blind

So I was reading an article about a demo for the Hololens a couple months ago and it got me thinking about the impact this technology could have on the lives of the visually impaired. While the Hololens and AR headsets of its kind are still several years off I thought it would be a good idea to write about the potential AR headsets have to impact the lives of the visually impaired.

If Microsoft or one of the major AR companies chose to they could easily re-purpose this technology to zoom in (if it’s a good enough camera), making it easy for those with who are legally blind to read, and navigate the world again, making it a affordable alternative to esight which has a lofty price tag of $6,000. Right now the Hololens developer kit 2 costs around $3,000 but seeing as it’s still a developer kit the price will likely go down before the consumer version of the product hits shelves. 

Microsoft also owns this app called Seeing AI that uses your phones camera and an AI to help those who are blind navigate the world. They could, in theory, add the app or some version of it to the Hololens. Having an AI guide someone who is visually impaired through what are basically smartphone glasses could be a game changer for assistive technology. 

Of course this is all just speculation, but one can’t help but see that the potential is there and a lot of this technology sounds plausible within the next decade. Thanks for reading, if there’s an idea for AR that you think should’ve been mentioned, feel free to comment below.

Microsoft Files Patent for Xbox Braille Controller

Microsoft has filed a patent for a Xbox One controller with a braille accessory on the back that would make it possible for those who are low vision or blind to enjoy gaming. The patent (shown below) appears to show a normal Xbox One controller with a device that hooks onto the back that can display in-game text and dialogue in braille via a touch-pad on the back. .The device is equipped with six paddles, (three on either side of the touch pad), this allows players to be able to read and react to things happening inside the game at the same time. The device also appears to have speech to braille capabilities which could prove useful when you receive messages from other players.

As someone who is going blind I’m ecstatic about this. I tend to spend a lot of my free time gaming which has become harder and harder to do as my sight goes. So hearing that there will be an easy way to at least play simpler, text based games makes me genuinely happy. There is the question of how many developers will support the controller and which games it will end up working with, as well as if it will only work with more text based games like the turn-based Final Fantasy games, or if it will work with faster paced games like first person shooters or fighting games.

Of course this is all just speculation since it’s only a patent, but it seems likely given Microsoft’s continued dedication to their accessibility controller they released last year.