Below is a transcript of a recent conversation between Laura Dale and Steve Saylor. The transcript appears below unedited, as per our video discussion.
[Laura Dale] Hello everyone and welcome to a supplemental little video for Access-Ability.
We’ve got a, we’ve got a guest here today. Who’s our wonderful guest we’ve got on the channel?
[Steve Saylor] Hi. I’m Steve Saylor, AKA Blind Gamer Steve.
I’m an accessibility advocate and consultant in the video game industry, so, yeah.
It’s a pleasure to… thank you so much for having me on Laura. It’s a long time coming.
[Laura] Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, I’ve been meaning to have an excuse to chat with you for a while and this seemed as good a chance as any because we’ve both been playing The Last of Us: Part 1, the PlayStation 5 remaster, which sure does have a lot of accessibility settings on offer.
[Steve] Yes, it definitely does.
I was uh very excited to kind of see what, uh, what The Last of Us 1 was going to be able to have with regards to the remake, so yeah, definitely it’s been fun to play that and jump back into it again.
[Laura] Overall, how are you feeling about the remake in terms of its accessibility offering?
[Steve] I think it’s good! I think it’s definitely pretty much almost on par with The Last of Us 2.
I think some of the, probably the kind of, some, like, it’s not that everything, there’s certain things that are not really working or something that are really working well.
I think from what I’ve sort of seen is that there’s a lot of settings that are there that work really great, but I think some of, if there is any particular sort of sticking point with anyone that’s trying to be able to play with certain those settings on, and it may not work exactly as you would hoped it would, it’s more likely because of the game wasn’t necessarily designed with accessibility in mind.
So because obviously it was designed like in 10, 15, or 10 plus years ago, so it was kind of like one of those, it’s like okay so because the core design wasn’t necessarily designed to be accessible that the options that were there, while great as they are, don’t exactly fix everything.
[Laura] It’s a tricky review to talk about because I think if these settings, like, all of these settings exactly as they appear had been ported back into the existing versions of The Last of Us: Part 1, I think I would have nothing but positive things to say generally. I would be very glowing. But, considering this is being sold as like its own new version of the game, and they’ve really touted how it’s been built from the ground up, I’d really kind of hoped they would go in and go “Okay, let’s tweak bits of it if we have to to make sure that it can be as accessible as possible”, and it really feels like they’ve just ported the settings from 2 over, without taking the time to fundamentally fix any of the things where transporting it one-to-one doesn’t really work.
[Steve] Yeah, I don’t even think it necessarily that it was just like porting from one to one and then it like it just was like “Okay, that that’s it, you’re good to go”. I think it just really came down to it just, like, there was not much they could be able to do with at least the core design elements of the original game, because they want to have it like as pretty much the exact same experience for anyone who wants to play The Last of Us 1. I think it was just because it was, there was like certain aspects of like, uh, at least something like the stealth aspects or the combat can seem a little sticky in this, as compared to say playing The Last of Us 2 which is a lot more fluid when it comes to its combat and stealth, and accessibility definitely helps with that, but yeah I think it’s just, it just came down to it was an older game, they didn’t design it with accessibility in mind, however, that being said, it is definitely one of the most accessible games that’s out there, so it’s already, when you’re competing with The Last of Us 2 as a high bar, you’re like, you’re like you’re already high above a lot of people.
[Laura] Yeah, it’s a really weird one to talk about in that, like, the way I’ve kind of landed on my review is very much this is one of the most accessible AAA video games out there, I don’t mean to suggest that, like, if you were if you were to tell any AAA game developer to look at this and aim for the accessibility settings in The Last of Us: Part 1 Remake, they’d still be 95% of the way to where there need to be.
The fact that I have criticisms is not because I think it’s bad, it’s because it’s so close to being perfect. The shortcomings that it has are really small annoying things that I’m just like, it’s frustrating that we haven’t gotten over that last little hurdle, and some of that comes down to some of the stuff they’ve put in that’s new in this one.
Some of the stuff around, say, the audio descriptions is frustratingly close to being right, but just isn’t quite where it needs to be unfortunately.
[Steve] Yeah, I think, I mean, it there is a limitation to that, and I know that the company that they worked with for the uh cinematic descriptions is a company called Descriptive Video Works, and they’ve done a lot of work in this, they’re starting to get into this space quite a bit in that um they, their first sort of foray into the video game side of things is that, I think it was an Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla trailer, I think it was like one of the announcement trailers that Ubisoft did, they hired Descriptive Video Works to do the audio description for that, and I think that, um, yeah, while while a majority of the cinematics in the game are described, there are definitely some sort of, like, I guess they call in-game cinematics that aren’t described, so yeah, But I think it’s like that, again, that’s just that’s just a limitation of just the way the game was designed.
[Laura] Yeah. Like I think it’s undeniable that the the audio descriptions that are in there are fantastic, and have been very well handled.
It’s it’s more a situation of like, um, I think of some of the early scenes where it’s like, I understand you’ve made the choice not to audio describe, this but it’s a little frustrating, is things like the, um, the the initial car ride where Joel’s kid is in the back of the car. That is a scene where you are on rails, moving at a set pace, where things are going to happen exactly when they’re planned, that you think that really seems like a scene you could have audio described.
The other thing that, like, came to mind for me was I’ve played through most of The Last of Us: Left Behind in this review period. Never once is it mentioned in audio they’re exploring an abandoned shopping center, that key piece of…
[Steve] I noticed that.
[Laura] The fact that they don’t even give a few words to say “This is the setting for this narrative that’s kind of integral to its tone”, just feels like missed opportunities in what is undoubtedly a good offering that’s there, it’s just, it feels like there’s places it could have gone further.
[Steve] Yeah, I feel that with the cinematic descriptions that it was more of like a 1.0 than necessarily like what could, like, like, there’s definitely potential for a lot more to be done and because it’s, like, I sort of see it as like, yes, you’re 100%, 100% agree, there’s, like, definitely areas where it doesn’t really hit the mark on everything, but I sort of see it as like “Oh, okay, so this is, this is the first game to ever actually like do this. It’s a great amazing attempt”, yeah.
Basically, my concern with it is just that, yeah, just, like, it would be great to be able to have the certain other scenes that are not necessarily, like, that, like, not the the main cinematics, but like in game stuff can also be described, but I can understand the technical limitations that that could present
[Laura] I feel the same way about this as I do the addition of sign language support to Forza Horizon 5 where it’s like, it’s great that someone has made an attempt to do this, and I will give credit for taking the plunge to do something that, like, is difficult to do in an interactive medium, while also saying “It’s great that you’ve done, this but this is not the apex of what this could be”, and “Other developers should try it, but you should be trying to, like, in a perfect world, see if you can exceed what’s being done here”
[Steve] The main take away I see is that, okay, like, if there are definitely concerns that people have about at least the cinematic descriptions, or as you said like the ASL and BSL translation, or sorry interpretation, for Forza is that it basically is to give the studios feedback on things that they could be able to improve, because that helps them basically to be able to in their future projects be able to make that even even better. So I can imagine that at least with more feedback for for Naughty Dog I can imagine whatever their next project is, whether it’s it’s the multiplayer for The Last of Us, or whatever that new IP is, that they’re able to be like, take what they learned and basically “Okay, let’s make, let’s expand this a little bit further”, because I know actually for a fact that, at least cinematic descriptions, they did try to be able to have that in The Last of Us 2, that was one feature that they really wanted to try to do but just couldn’t for for whatever reason, they technically just wasn’t able to do it, but I’m glad that they were able to at least include it in this, but of course it’s, like, there’s definitely ways to improve it.
[Laura] And that’s the thing that, like, I trust Naughty Dog to listen to a degree of feedback on this and work on it going forward because, like, I think there are a lot of AAA studios that would have gotten the level of praise for accessibility that The Last of Us 2 did and would have gone “That’s it, job done, we are the apex, no one’s done better than us so why do we need to keep pushing?”, and to see them still trying to make that effort to go “Right, what new things can we try and do that other people aren’t trying” is a really positive sign that they are listening and it’s, you know, again, even if I have, you know, little critiques of some of the things in how this is done, I’m surprised and impressed that they’re still trying to do new things which is what we need to be seeing really.
[Steve] Oh, for sure, like, seeing that plus, also, uh, I don’t know, did you get a chance to play around with the, um, the haptics dialogue?
[Laura] Yes! I was going to ask you about the Haptics Dialogue. It’s interesting.
[Steve] It was, actually, I was surprised actually how much I kind of enjoyed that, um, because obviously for deaf and hearing players being able to, like, see the subtitles and captions is great because they can be able to at least, like, know what what dialogue is being spoken, but to be able to, uh, to be able to feel the emotion in people’s voices, or also just even the timbre and the tone of people’s voices, like being able to like know “Okay it’s a deeper haptics for when Joel is speaking, and a little bit lighter and more subtle when Ellie’s speaking, but you know when they’re saying certain words, and you can be able to tell when they’re emphasizing specific words”, like, it was a very interesting thing and I’ve yet to be able to hear whether or not like after several hours how. whether it’s that’s still uh, necessarily like a well, like a well thought out feature for deaf and hard of players, but from what I’ve been able to peice together is that it’s a pretty, it’s a pretty cool feature that I’m like “Yeah, I could see this being like a regular feature going forward”
[Laura] I was thinking about this feature because it kind of gets over one of the problems that you sometimes have with, um, I know a lot of deaf and hard of hearing players who really appreciate sign language interpreters as opposed to subtitles because you can get that added intonation and pacing of speech being conveyed, but video games are tricky to do that in because having to look away from the gameplay can be tricky, and this certainly feels like a way to go “Let’s get across the tone and intonation without so much having to look away from interactive scenes”, which, it’s an interesting approach, and I’m really curious whether it, how how it works in practice, but I really like the idea.
[Steve] Yeah. I think it’s it’s definitely an interesting experiment to use, that’s probably that’s probably a better term for it, and I would be very curious to see and then hear what deaf and hard of hearing players think of it as far as like, once they get their hands on it and, like, what they feel like after they’ve completed the game, because it’s like, is it that was something that helps with that? Because, I mean, of course with a game like The Last of Us there’s a very, there’s a lot of emotional moments in there and being able to feel that emotion in the controller along with being able to read the subtitles and and the dialogue, I think is like, anything to be able to immerse a player into the experience is the better way to go, and so I think was like something I’m like “Dang, I wish i had, like, like, I’d seen other studios thought of it first”, because I was like, “I think that actually that could, there could be more there”, and would be very curious to see how that progresses forward.
[Laura] Indeed. Um, are there any features in this that you found particularly helpful or particularly have missed the mark for you in your experience playing through so far?
[Steve] I mean other than, like, it’s just basically just being able to jump into it, into the game, and kind of being able to play it with the accessibility that was in The Last of Us 2. I think it just, like, it just made it that much more enjoyable play.
Like, I haven’t played it since, uh, the first one since actually going to to to consult on on The Last of Us 2, so it’s it’s a little bit like, uh, playing it like almost like with fresh fresh eyes again, pun intended.
So, I think it’s, it’s definitely a, I would say, I mean, I’d be very comfortable to say that it is definitely up there as far as like one of the most accessible games to be able to play, and the fact that at least there’s a series of games now that, and that disabled players can be able to, they enjoyed and they were able to play The Last of Us 2, can now go back in and and enjoy the story from the beginning, I think that’s going to be huge for players.
Plus, also, as well, I mean, I know they haven’t really kind of talked about when, as of this recording, uh, when they’re going to be able to do this, but the PC version is going to be a huge thing for for players.
I know a friend of mine, actually a mutual friend of ours, Grant Stoner, has yet to play The Last of Us 2, because he can’t hold a controller, and he has to use either a mouse and keyboard or an adaptive controller, and unfortunately the Adaptive Controller doesn’t work with PlayStation, so he has yet to be able to see what everyone else has been saying about the accessibility. So, once that comes out for PC, both for The Last of Us 1 and 2, I would like, it’s gonna open up the door for even more players to be able to enjoy the game.
[Laura] Yeah, it’s, it’s one of the things that’s made me most pleased about Sony bringing more of their stuff to PC, particularly, um, I don’t know how coincidental it is but, like, a lot of the stuff that they have announced, or has been coming to PC, has been stuff that has, um, some of their accessibility stuff. We’ve just had Spider-Man come, that’s got High Contrast Mode in it as well. We know the sequel to Spider-Man’s coming. I’m like, any of the stuff that’s got things like High Contrast Mode and that sort of robust accessibility settings offerings on PC is so much more useful.
Like, it in an ideal world I’d really love to see Sony just support stuff like the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
We had that recent story about Nintendo trying to make a cross-platform accessibility controller and, like, it would be great if we could have accessible hardware on PlayStation, but if not, if we can get software accessible games on a place where accessible hardware works, that’s as good… almost as good at that point.
[Steve] Yeah, I mean, I would love to see actually what a Sony PlayStation Adaptive Controller would look like, and kind of be like.
I have no knowledge of whether or not that is even, like, happening whatsoever, um, but I would either love to either A) They come out with their own Adaptive Controller and that, and it works, uh, pretty much in parity with the Xbox one, or B) They would allow the Xbox Adaptive Controller to be, uh, compatible with PlayStation, because right now it works for pretty much majority of everything else except for, uh, Sony.
Like, you can be able to hack into it to be able to kind of get it to work with Nintendo and it will work, there is a bit of a workaround for it, but, uh, Sony, like, for whatever reason there is like literally a software block that won’t allow it to be recognised.
[Laura] The annoying thing is you could get it to work on PS4, and it’s PS5 where it’s becoming the problem, and, or more of a problem, and, like, I feel like the big thing that would stop them bringing just the Xbox Adaptive one over that I keep thinking about is there are certain PlayStation games that are built around the touch panel, and motion controls, that there’s not any neat way to map to the Xbox Adaptive Controller currently, and…
[Steve] Agreed. Yeah, it’ll be very interesting to see what the controls are going to be like for PC for both The Last of Us 1 and 2 because of the fact that it relies on the touchpad for some of its accessibility settings like being able to swipe up to be able to get your health your character’s health status, being able to swipe left to turn on high contrast mode on or off, or even just double tapping on the touchpad to zoom in.
I’d be very curious to see, like, how that in parity will work on the PC version.
So yeah, the touchpad is kind of like one of those things it’s like, hardware wise, I’d be curious to see if they, if, how they’re able to do it, but you’re right, like, essentially, you would not be able to have the Adaptive Controller from Xbox work with that, because unfortunately those two big buttons are just buttons, they’re not touch pads, so, um, they’d have to have like a whole separate hardware thing just for that.
[Laura] Yeah, and I’m hoping that someone can at some point come up with a solution for it. Like, the big one that I’m waiting to see is if someone can come up with some other kind of input device that can be used to mimic motion, that isn’t motion.
Like, some kind of replacement for motion would be a really big deal, but we still haven’t overcome that hurdle, but I have hope we’ll eventually get there. Like, motion controls have been pervasive enough in this industry that someone’s eventually gonna have to go “How do we work around this?”
[Steve] Yeah, I would almost say, uh, I’d be, uh, I think probably the most probably improvement that I would see like in that sense would probably be in regards to VR, like, uh, because that’s the one where I think it, it’s, it’s that being able to create accessibility in VR is difficult because they still have to get over, uh, uh, the being able to make it so that anyone can pick it up and not get motion sick, but as you said like basically motion controller where you don’t have to use like to use motion to control it, like something along those lines that can be able to help with that, I think that’s the two biggest hurdles, and I would say, I would predict actually if there’s going to be any improvement on that, I would see it in probably in the VR space.
[Laura] Yeah, I think, I think the VR space is one of those that, it is still very much entrenched in some very inaccessible design choices because of the fact that, for people who don’t have any accessibility concerns, the most the most enticing way to get someone into VR is “Look around physically with your head and move your hands in motion controls to control the game”.
It is intuitive if you have no disabilities that prevent you doing it, and the VR space is very glued in on “We can hand someone who has no disabilities, move your body around to play, and they understand that instantly”, and haven’t considered anything outside of that bracket, and until they get less laser focused on that, it’s going to be a while I think before we see unfortunately much improvement in that space.
[Steve] Yeah, When I first tried it in like 2017, I definitely saw the potential of it, especially for those with, uh, blind or low vision, in that it was, there’s definitely, having a screen, like, obviously, like, within centimeters from your eyes is beneficial for those with low vision for sure, but i think, yeah, until, they, there’s no way they can be able to improve the VR, uh, VR accessibility until they can be able to get it to the point where, uh, basically no one’s going to get sick from from putting a VR headset on, and until they can figure that out, then I can see the industry like trying to build “Okay, let’s, what else, what other accessibility can we add into this” so…
[Laura] …And, like, that’s not to say there’s no attempts to improve in that space, but yeah, it’s, you know, outside of stuff like, uh, Cosmonious High recently did some pretty good stuff with accessibility, but like, across the board it’s, yeah, they’re lagging behind for sure.
[Steve] Yeah, it’s a bit slower than the rest of the industry at this point but, you know what, I’m like, it’s definitely an area of gaming that I really want to be able to keep an eye on, and I think that there’s, I think if given about five to ten years we’re probably gonna see I think a big jump for VR accessibility, for sure.
[Laura] Hopefully so. Um, I think we’re about ready to wrap up. Did you have any other thoughts on The Last of Us: Part 1 that you wanted to share while you were here?
[Steve] Um, no, I think it’s just like, I think it’s it’s an amazing game, it’s definitely really accessible and one of the most accessible games that’s out there. I think it’s pretty much just about on par with The Last of Us 2, and there’s definitely gonna be players that are gonna be able to not only be able to play it but then also be able to like complete the whole story, and still be able to get even potentially even some of the fun secret stuff that’s, uh, that you can be able to find and explore so, it is definitely like one of the, like, the, even, even our little nitpicks of it, of certain things that are not working as, like, either as intended or just some things that just not working like with the few bugs, I think it’s like it’s basically we’re just very, like, we’re nitpicking a game that’s essentially like a 98 when it comes to accessibility, so, and that’s a big bar to be in the region of itself.
[Laura] I couldn’t agree more. Like, when I look at my overall review, um, I’m fairly critical in my review when it goes up, and I end up ending it saying, like, look, I’m not being critical because I think it’s bad. I’m being critical because they’re so close to getting everything right and, like, in a game that is doing so much correct, if anything it slightly highlights some of the missed opportunities like, they’re, um, there’s a very early scene in the game that, like, really stuck in my head where if you’re playing, um, just based on the the audio prompts, Joel has to go and push a bookshelf to a side, and you are able to navigate to the bookshelf, know that you have to press triangle to interact with the bookshelf, but then you’re not told you’re pushing a bookshelf or given any instruction on where you’re supposed to be pushing it and, like, you can guess through it, and work it out, once it starts making sound go “Oh yeah, that sounds like pushing a heavy object and I must be pushing it the right way”. Those moments are few and far between, but they’re annoying not because the experience overall is bad, but it’s because when you’re doing so much, so close to perfection, those little moments stand out more, and yeah, it’s a tricky thing to talk about.
[Steve] Yeah I think so, and again that just kind of just talks to the fact that, like, the game wasn’t necessarily designed with that, so they had, like, in order to be able to like make that a thing, um, obviously you’d have to have something like an audio cue to tell you which direction to be able to push, and I think they kind of do it because I noticed that, I remember that scene as well, and I think that there was like a bit of like an audio thing, I have to double check my recordings and see if this is true or not, but I think there is someone audio panning to tell you that it’ll put to left or to right depending on where you need to push, but you’re right I think it’s, there’s nothing that really like intuitively tells you “Oh hey, push this bookshelf to the left”
[Laura] Because, like, if that was the case, if it did audio pan to one side, it was not made clear to the player “Sometimes an audio cue will ping to one side and not the other, and that means you should interact that way after you press triangle”. Like, yeah, there’s, there’s certain things that are on the cusp of perfection, and are really easy fixes, and that’s the thing, like, all the things I’m critical of here are things that could be fixed in future, and that are much more manageable improvements than so many other games. Like, there are so many games where that wouldn’t even be on the radar, um, of trying to play, because they wouldn’t have made nearly that much attempt to try and help people, uh, with low vision or no vision play, and the fact that, like, my nitpicks are “Oh yeah, you can play through this game, but there might be a couple of fumble moments”, speaks to the high bar it’s reached.
[Steve] Yeah. I think it was, even in that scenario, I think it’s like it’s not a blocker, like, it’s not like the player can’t move forward. It’s just one of those “Oh shoot, what do I do?”
[Laura] …if that’s the worst problem that this game has, they’ve done a fantastic job.
[Steve] Exactly, like, yes, you’re right, it’s like, if that’s like the biggest issue, like, yeah, then it’s, like, okay that they definitely did a lot a lot of great work on it, for sure, and so yeah, I think it’s just, I mean, really, in a way, like, whenever when blind players are gonna be able to, uh, be able to jump in and play this, like, they’ll be able to, like, Naughty Nog will be able to know kind of, like, when, and be able to get that feedback from the players.
So if you’re watching this and you are either blind in your low vision, or anyone with like a disability that basically has that kind of, uh, like, has any particular issues, let Naughty Dog know. Like, just let them know “Hey, I couldn’t be able to do this” or “It was difficult to be able to do this” or “I figured out how to do, it but not probably the way that it was intended” and that’ll help them basically be able to hopefully be able to update that in a future patch, or future update, whatever,
[Laura] …And, from my experience, Sony have been very willing to listen to people’s feedback about accessibility. Like, of, of all the major game platform holders that I’m aware of, they have been one of the most receptive to listening to things, so, that’s always positive.
So, Steve, if people want to follow the rest of your stuff that you do, where can they find you on the internet?
[Steve] Uh, yeah. You can find me, uh, on my youtube channel, YouTube.com/Snowball, or you can be able to find me on Twitch, Twitch.TV/BlindGamerSteve, or on Twitter at Steve Saylor.
S-a-y-l-o-r, not s-a-i, it’s, I know it’s, it’s a weird way. Anyway you will find me on there..
[Laura] Thank you very much everyone for watching, and go check out our individual accessibility reviews that are probably up at the same time of this.