Most of the problems with VR and a lack of accessibility options, I think, could be identified as stemming from not only developers not providing those options in the first place, as with any gaming platform, but also a lack of easily available opportunities to talk with VR companies and developers about trying both the hardware and software sides in person pre-purchase.
But enough on my thoughts as to the current state of VR. I now have a chance to shed some light on the accessibility of the technology and various applications that utilise it at the current time, thanks to my obtaining an Oculus Rift. With that, let's see just how workable VR is.
The subsequent screens of the account creation process were very straightforward in terms of navigation with keyboard controls and I had my account set up within a very short time. Calibrating the various settings was also accessible, giving me the option to skip items that I didn't want to cover such as choosing a profile picture. The privacy settings were a little confusing to navigate as the radio buttons disappeared at times when navigating around the window, but with some trial and error I got through with relatively few issues.
When you've either opted to add a payment or skip the step you're asked to add an Oculus pin, which was straightforward to do. After this, you're presented with a safety video which it might not surprise you to learn has no audio description or written equivalent other than the Oculus warnings page linked to in the setup process. On closer analysis however, it seems that the information contained in the video might appear down below the player, presented as follows:
Read the Warnings Manual Be sure to read the warnings and instructions before use. Be Aware of and Clear Your Surroundings Clear your play area and be aware of your surroundings. Designed for Age 13+ Rift is not suitable for children under 13. Choose Comfortable Content Choose content that is best for you based on our comfort ratings.
After the safety video, you're presented with a simple "let's get started" prompt and, after pressing next, you are given some brief but common-sense advice (don't drop your headset, use the provided lens cloth etc). Then comes time to set up the Rift itself, when you're presented with the following instructions:
Connect Your Rift Headset and Oculus Sensors Plug in the cables for your headset and sensors now. For the headset, you’ll need to use one HDMI port on your computer’s graphics card and one USB 3.0 port. For the sensors, be sure no more than two sensors are connected to USB 3.0 ports. Connect any additional sensors to USB 2.0 ports.For those who may be unaware, telling the difference between an HDMI port and a USB port is relatively doable, but determining a USB2 from a USB3 port is far less straightforward. As a result, I skipped the setup process to perform it at a later time with sighted assistance.
Skipping setup presented me with an "are you sure?" dialogue, indicating that if I didn't complete setup now, my unit may not work correctly.
Even returning to setup was a matter of looking at the top of my screen to see a link to "set up now".
Connecting the cables allowed me to see, in text, that everything worked correctly (after some installation and reinstallation of drivers via the device manager and the pre-supplied driver file in oculus/support/oculus driver.exe or similar). The rest of the setup was easy to work with screen reader-wise, until it got to a point where you had to put the headset on to see the instructions. At this point I got sighted assistance to complete the process. After that, it was time to try a few experiences.
A useful factor that offsets this is that you can launch experiences using keyboard commands as your computer, whilst still rendering VR, is also able to allow you to access your desktop. This allows you to launch experiences without looking at them physically, thus reducing the burden and need for sighted assistance
One very frustrating element is the non-standardisation of interfaces. Most interfaces work by looking at the element you want to use then pressing either the Oculus remote select button or the A button on an Xbox controller. However, for one particular experience we tried, namely Disney Movies VR, the interface method feels closer to a mouse-based interface.
This is because if you look at interface elements for long enough, you'll eventually select them (even if you don't want to). This reminds me of interfaces where you had to drag your cursor over an item and leave it there to select it. There's seemingly no way to adjust this and it makes it very difficult to receive sighted assistance, as the only way you can avoid highlighting options is by looking down, thus simultaneously removing the options from view.
Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be a common standard, though it was troubling to think this interface style may reappear in future.
Once I'd got Steam VR installed and the Rift plugged in, I finally got everything working. At least, that's what I thought. There was no way to get Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine working that I could find. I hope I can resolve this soon and if I manage to, I'll update this review.
Looking around the edge of the main box you should find an edge that's not directly attached to the inner area. This should be placed facing downwards and towards you.
Pull the flap upwards and towards you, then push the top of the box away from you.
The items closest to you once the box is open are the controllers, which can be easily removed by holding the large circular plastic elements of the controllers and lifting upwards.
The next item you'll find is the sensor, removed by holding the base and pulling firmly. Doing this should result in the sensor popping free.
The final item in the box is actually contained directly in front of you as part of the padding of the top of the box. Find the small cube-like structure and you should find a tab. Pull this towards you and lift the whole flap upwards and away from you.
Lift the inner cardboard cube upwards and towards you and it should come free of the box. The plastic-wrapped batteries might fall out of a small cardboard holder in the inner cube, but the remaining items including a Rock Band VR guitar connector and a very small safety booklet, are also within this flimsy structure.
The controllers have elastic bands round the wrist straps, which can be removed simply via rolling them along the straps until they release. The sensor has plastic film over both sides of the lens which can be pulled off as individual pieces.
The sensor cable is attached to the base via a further piece of plastic. This can be removed by looking for a small tab sticking out of it, which can be pulled (whilst holding the area it's stuck to in place), releasing the wire if done correctly. The wire isn't quite free yet though. Holding the wire in one hand and gripping one of the two plastic tabs sticking out of the side of the coil with the other, pull it firmly until it completely unravels. Do the same with the other side and you should then have an uncoiled cable to connect to your PC.
The Rock Band VR guitar connector requires that you remove the plastic film from the bottom as well, facilitated via a small tab on said plastic film. Grip the connector in one hand and pull the film with the other to remove it.
With the unboxing out of the way, time to test the controllers.
The process is fairly involved though the explanations are relatively clear, at least in terms of the text. Apparently, the images used to illustrate what has to be moved where, in terms of using a second sensor, aren't as clear, so it might take a bit of experimentation to get everything working as expected.
Setting said GS edges is an interesting process, as here we get one of the first examples of haptics in the controllers. Holding in the trigger and walking around the space whilst holding the unit at the periphery of the area allows you to tell the app where you shouldn't be, in essence.
Once done, a demo launches and allows for the testing of the controllers in a half tutorial, half experience environment.
Unfortunately, the resulting answer is that you'll need sighted assistance to pass the first screen. The graphic that allows you to proceed is not recognised, even with OCR or Narrator. It's a shame since, as has previously been demonstrated, once the app is installed, most of it is accessible. The further screens to actually install the software, including selecting to choose a location for the Oculus library to install also require sighted assistance.
Once the actual install process is done, requiring no intervention on the part of the user, you're presented with a screen that indicates that you can log in with an Oculus account and set up your Rift.
Sound familiar? It's the screen referenced towards the beginning of this review, which is pretty much completely readable.
The sound design in this title is top quality and very much geared towards an arcade aesthetic, with characters almost narrating and commentating simultaneously in places. The enemies all have unique sounds, though aiming and taking them down without sighted assistance is next to impossible due to the way VR targeting works currently. If there were some kind of aim assist as an accessibility option, this could allow a greater level of player interaction from those who, for instance, have restricted mobility in their arms or head but still want to enjoy the fast-paced battles.
The elements I really came to appreciate are tied into the weapons themselves, specifically, the ability to mix and match between pistols and shotguns in the first levels, as well as use your fists, with panning moving with the controllers and your head tracking. If you, for example, reach over your right shoulder and take a shotgun from its virtual holster, you'll hear a distinct metallic indication for successful holding of the weapon.
If you then reach down to your other hip in front of you and are successful in retrieving a pistol, you'll hear a different metallic indicator. Then it's time to blast away, with guns that seem to be almost deliberately too loud in places making scrap of enemies that sound, at times, reminiscent of battle droids from the Star Wars prequels. Aiming at enemies, as previously stated, requires sighted assistance, but when you are obliterating the rogue robots, it's so satisfying that it almost doesn't matter as much as you might think.
All in all, as much as there are interface issues, discussed a little later, as well as the issues with defeating your robotic enemies, this game is definitely an enjoyable experience that has potential in terms of accessibility, particularly given the sci-fi setting.
The touch controllers, with their haptics and responsive tracking, are just what I was hoping they'd be in terms of this experience. However, it was time to put them to a slightly different test.
Setting up the game requires the installation of the RBVR guitar connector on the back of a guitar's headstock and the insertion of the right-hand touch controller into that connector. This process is relatively simple in the sense that you remove the plastic film on the back of the connector via a tab sticking out of it, then line up the three nodules with the holes in the back of the top piece of the plastic guitar (see here for a list of compatible guitar hardware).
Once the connector is on the back of your guitar, pull the strap of the right-hand controller through it so that the controller is facing upwards. The controller should only fit in properly one way and once done, secure the strap around the head of the guitar, as described in this official video.
The final element you'll need, with Xbox One units at least, is the Xbox Wireless Adaptor for Windows, not covered here.
If you have all the hardware set up and the game installed, you're pretty much good to go.
The rest of the tutorial before the point you have to quit is fairly well described and you shouldn't have much difficulty in completing it. It's a shame that there's currently no way to indicate the required song map components without sight, though that could possibly be added in future.
The game's interface is interesting because, for the first time I could remember, I could actually hear when I was highlighting areas of the interface in relatively consistent places and use this to navigate around in a fashion. Granted this did require a little sighted help, but that's to be expected with VR being the way it is. To clarify what I mean by this (though directions given here are only an example) if I wanted to go to quickplay, I could look to my left slightly and press the first fret to select it. If I wanted to go to classic mode, the option might be slightly to the right of quickplay and turning my head to the right slightly would take me there on selection. There are no audio cues specific to each mode, though this could be added in future as well.
If you want your friends or those assisting you with VR to hear any instructions or in-game audio, the Oculus software fortunately allows you to make this a reality, if you'll pardon the pun. This functionality is under devices and by using the mouse to activate the Rift icon you can adjust specific settings including the one to "mirror VR audio". The fact that the VR setup, when plugged in, reroutes the audio from Windows is rectified by going into control panel and setting your default device again, a process not covered here but one that needs to be repeated when you plug your Rift in.
For RBVR and other games referenced later, the additional lower frequencies afforded by a larger set of speakers can further enhance the experience as well as allowing for greater ease of assistance.
RBVR is a really solid game, even if you might not get the highest score due to not being able to see what it wants you to work with in terms of notes. The sound design is even better than Rock Band 4 and the fact that previews play out of speakers in the ceiling, which actually sound higher than head level, is an impressive addition.
Looking around at the drummer, which is how you start the song, is also easier to do than I'd expected, as the placement of the drummer in your space seems to be consistent. This means that once you know how far you need to turn your head, you can start a song without any need for sighted assistance.
Starting the game prompts you to accept a license agreement which required sighted assistance, though admittedly there are audio cues so it's possible that interface could be tweaked to make for a less frustrating experience
No matter how good the head tracking and touch controllers might be, that doesn't detract from the fact that movement systems currently centre around the user being able to see what's going on in the headset, as opposed to relying on audio alone to navigate the in-game world.
With both of the aforementioned titles, teleportation as it is known is the primary method of movement and allows you, amongst other things, to progress. Whether this is to move to your next objective during a mission, or starting a mission in the first place, it's one of the main causes of frustration for me during VR usage.
There are certainly ways of solving the lack of awareness of where you're going to teleport to, possibly including an option to press a button to auto-teleport to a new objective. However, these would likely vary on a per-game basis.
I will update this section of the review once I have progressed further with the game, but I like what I've heard in terms of atmosphere, sound design and scoring.
Now, onto the final experience in these tests.
it is possible that the left-hand controller works for these same functions, but I worked with my right-hand controller for this part of the process.
An interesting point of note here is that the haptics start as soon as you are working with buttons like confirm or similar UI elements, providing a prompt similar to Doom 2016 that there is something to interact with. However, there is no information about what you're activating via any kind of text to speech module at present.
I did have sighted assistance to get into a free play fight, but once I was in the game I was able to punch and retaliate with ease just through the audio alone. I hope that Survios are up for adding accessibility features to this game to improve the experience for gamers without sight, as the intense cinematic boxing experience is currently, I'd say, unrivalled even by consoles.
The sound design and scoring are all very well thought out, feeling more like an arcade game crossed with a movie. I had better results with the game's audio running from an SSD as opposed to a mechanical drive, though it was only really the music that suffered in this scenario. I'd suggest, if you can, playing the game on an SSD for best results.
If you want a game that gives you a workout and is pretty entertaining even if you don't know what you're doing or just want to watch your friends in the same space, then definitely give this game a look.
I have not tried the story mode as of yet but will update this review when I do so.
Having the ability to move your head around in VR, with the action following your movements pretty precisely is a great experience, with being able to interact with objects via the touch controllers making it that much more interesting. I hope Oculus realises that having an app that's mostly accessible with screen readers is very helpful and a good start, but also that there is more to be done with regards to making setup and using the various problematic elements of the hardware and software easier without sight.
Developers of VR content should also be aware that the V in VR doesn't stand for Visuals. Feel free to explore the medium and create experiences based around the audio and haptic capabilities of the devices you're working with. Who knows, the experiences that come from those tests might make you have a new appreciation for other uses of VR.
If nothing else, I'm interested to see how much the Rift will be a part of my gaming in the future and I've been really pleased to be able to test all the items I've discussed in this review.
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