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Ambassador spotlight: SightlessKombat

SightlessKombat, as he’s known in the fighting game circle, is an Xbox Ambassador who’s overflowing with passion about games. He prefers fighting games – Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat, to name a couple – but don’t count him out when it comes to first person shooters. If you get him started about some of his favorite games, he’ll share some pretty incredible information with you. He’s got a good grasp on Killer Instinct bosses and their attack patterns, can suggest various “Halo” novels and what you might learn from them, and has some ideas about how to take down punishing enemy waves in Gears of War 4.

Over the last couple of months, Miss Valent1ne has spoken with SightlessKombat on several occasions and learned more about accessibility and, of course, fighting games. You’ll find some of that conversation below.

How did you find out about the Xbox Ambassadors Program, and when did you get started as an Ambassador?

I found out about the Ambassadors Program, essentially, by chance. I was looking into signing up for the Xbox Live Rewards program when I read about the Xbox Ambassadors Program and signed up, if memory serves, in October of last year.

How long have you been a member of the Xbox Community? What do you love most about playing on Xbox Live?

I like to think of the purchase of my original Xbox One, around the time of Mortal Kombat X’s release, as being when I became a member of the “Xbox Community.”  I’d used an Xbox 360 before, but accessibility wasn’t really implemented for gamers with absolutely no vision[.]

As for what I enjoy most about playing on Xbox Live? That partly depends on the game, but at a basic level, I like the fact that, with the accessibility improvements built into the New Xbox One Experience and recent non-Preview OS builds bringing those improvements to an audience outside the U.S, I am able to engage with most of the same features as the majority of sighted gamers. Whether that’s buying the content I want from the Store, party chat or Xbox Live messaging, or even sending out my own invites. It’s mostly all there and if not, there’s possibility for expansion in the future.

You first reached out to us (@XboxAmbassadors) and we’ve talked a bit in the past about your grand battle against Boss Shadow Jago. Can you expand a bit on the tactics used to beat him?

Getting to Boss Shadow Jago the first time around was a very difficult process, not least because I had to get sighted help to see what difficulty I had the AI set on. As far as I can remember, I didn’t consciously intend to go through and beat him. Fight him?  Possibly. Beat him?  Hadn’t really crossed my mind I don’t think when he appeared, silently, on the screen.

As for tactics, there weren’t really any.  The AI that is coded into Boss Shago […] is relatively unpredictable.  One thing I did figure out as I worked through the 30-plus fights […] is that as far as I can tell, if he’s in the middle of a combo and performs a Shadow Move, you can break it with minimal risk of him punishing you with a counter breaker and continuing his combo.  […I]t was partly capitalizing on that theory in addition to making sure that I blocked to the best of my ability. Without being able to see the attack animations, this [was] tricky at times.

I then proceeded to beat Boss Shago again, this time not as Jago, but as my current main, Fulgore.  This was in some respects a more difficult battle, as I had to learn new and at times cheaper strategies to overcome my computer-controlled opponent.  However, whereas it took around 32 matches to beat him with Jago on my first fight against him, it took around 18 on this second run.

When playing certain games with a sighted co-op partner, you’ve found ways in which you were able to pay attention to the game that your partner couldn’t. Could you share ways in which audio cues affect your gaming?

It’s not so much that my co-op partner couldn’t pay attention to the game in the same way, just that most players don’t stop to think how it works when you have nothing to go on but audio. With Gears of War 4, the active reload window (whereby you can reload your weapons in a fraction of the time and sometimes even get an increase to damage amongst other attributes) can be picked out just by listening carefully to the reload sequence. If you hit the reload button at the right time during that specific window, the active reload makes an additional sound to show you were successful, along with vibration if you get a “perfect active reload.”

Clearly you’re not always going to be able to pick this out in a firefight, but sometimes once you get the timing down, you can go on a string of active reloads even when you can’t see your gun clearly. (I managed six actives with, I believe, two perfects, during a boss wave of Horde Mode, if memory serves.)

It’s an interesting experience when I say to a player “did you know [a certain action, for example] has a sound cue” and they say that they had no clue about it, but sometimes even thank me for the tip.

We’d love to hear more about the next endeavor you’re planning, in terms of gaming.

Having completed Halo 5: Guardians, I wanted to revisit the older games that I never [played,] via the Master Chief Collection.  Now that I’m beginning to find players to run through the campaigns with […], I’m hoping to get through both “Halo” and “Gears” franchises at some point in the future.

Being able to read books for games is also an interesting use of time as a gamer with no sight. I actually read “The Fall of Reach” and “The Flood,” which encompass Chief’s origin story and the events of the first game, before I even started on Halo Combat Evolved. But there’s something different about seeing an event play out in your head, or via a plot summary, or similar compared to seeing it actually play out before your very eyes in the world of the game. I hope to, after I complete the Gears franchise game-wise, read the novels that are part of the world-building process.

You’ve said you conduct accessibility reviews for mainstream games and game-related products. Could you talk a bit about what goes into crafting those reviews and how you got involved with that kind of work?

Working on accessibility-centric reviews started around the time I got my original Xbox One. I had been reading reviews and for a reason that escapes me, I was struck by the thought that the information I needed wasn’t there. That information includes things like how to unbox a product without assistance (so as to not lose important pieces of paper, cables, etc.), how to set up said products, or even how a game works on starting it up or going into a cooperative environment.

If it’s a physical product review, I take notes as I open the box, set up the product and test it to what extent I can, sometimes employing sighted assistance where necessary.  I then expand on these notes as I go, writing them up into HTML from the ground up […].

It might be a time-consuming process, but up to now at least, the opportunities this has afforded me have made it worth the effort.

I’d love to hear more about your history as a gamer. I know you have a lot of experience in the fighting game realm, but what drew you to that particular genre?

Due to their nature of usually being one-on-one, fighting games are normally the most accessible type of game you can find as a player with no vision, especially as newer games […] have stereo sound.

[M]y fighting game history goes back to the days of Tekken 3 and Street Fighter EX Plus on the PlayStation 1, where mono audio was far more commonplace. As the PlayStation 2 and 3 came along, games like Urban Reign and the reboot of Mortal Kombat were released [and] utilized stereo audio to great effect. There are, of course, other franchises […that] are accessible to varying degrees.

What are some key accessibility features that you would say require more exploring within the gaming industry? Can you think of any games that offered accessibility features that surprised you?

I think the standout one […] is the ability for games to output directly to screen readers (like Narrator on the Xbox One for example) for things like in-game text or textual prompts during tutorials.

A couple of features that were in games to begin with that surprised me were Active Reloads being able to be performed based on the audio in Gears of War 4 (and possibly the legacy games as well, though I haven’t got round to testing those yet), in addition to hit markers when you score a hit or a kill in Halo 5: Guardians. These small details […] are a step in the right direction for the FPS and TPS genres.

Are you open to others reaching out to you on Xbox Live or Twitter? If so, where can people find you?

As long as I know that you found my Twitter handle, Gamertag, etc through this community spotlight article, that’s pretty much fine by me.

My GamertagYouTube Channel and Twitter are all currently under “SightlessKombat.”  If you do want to follow me, feel free to do so, but please do send me a private message via whatever service you follow me on, letting me know that you read this piece.

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