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God of War: Ragnarok ‘accessibility needed to be better’

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Making a sequel to a title considered by many to be one of the best games of its generation must be daunting.

It was praised for its slick combat, emotional storytelling and immersive setting but 2018’s God of War, which saw the return of iconic gaming character Kratos, did have a significant weakness according to one of the team making its successor.

“It was apparent that the accessibility features needed to be better, 100%,” says Mila Pavlin of Santa Monica Studios.

Mila and her team have been responsible for trying to make God of War: Ragnarok an experience that players can access more easily if they have a visual or hearing impairment or are unable to use a controller in a conventional way.

“It was the biggest thing that we looked out for at the beginning of the process of making the game – how to make it more accessible to more people.

“There were many gamers who wanted to play in 2018, but were unable to because of things like low vision, motor issues, cognitive or hearing disabilities. We wanted to make sure that everyone was included,” Mila explains.

This approach hasn’t been commonplace in the gaming sector. Mila’s team were already working away on their plans when The Last of Us: Part 2 was released in 2020. It was widely praised for its approach to accessibility and opened up the conversation about the issue within the games industry.

Increasing the number of players able to engage with titles like this is a significant step for disabled gamers but also makes financial sense for big companies.

There are concerns that the games market, which was worth £7bn to the British economy in 2021, may stagnate in the coming months due to the cost of living crisis. Having a broader potential audience for your game is one way of encouraging growth.

 

Kratos in God of War Ragnarok

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Visual cues

Now Mila is hopeful that God of War: Ragnarok will set an example for the wider industry to follow.

Story-driven games like this often require intricate button combinations to progress and rely on sound or subtle visual cues to expose danger and opportunity to the player. It can make playing especially difficult for disabled people.

But small tweaks can make gaming more accessible, such as changing how captions read on the screen, giving players visual cues for sound and the option to fundamentally change how the controls work, allowing you to remove the need to press certain buttons and make movements, such as climbing, automatic.

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“We want to show that blockbuster games can open up their worlds to brand new players, making sure that players of all walks of life are able to play. The learning we have implemented, we want to spread across the industry to create more accessible games everywhere,” says Mila.

“Accessibility is not about diminishing the the original experience – we want to keep that experience together and intact. But ultimately, 10 years from now, I would love to see every triple A game have this level of accessibility options.”

‘Room for improvement’

Video game accessibility critic and consultant Laura Dale says it’s “really heart-warming to see big companies in the industry finally starting to see disabled people as people who deserve to be able to play video games”.

Laura is autistic and dyspraxic, and as the presenter of the Access-Ability programme on YouTube, she reviews the accessibility options games offer people with a variety of disabilities – both visible and non-visible.

Having a big suite of options to help different players access games, she explains “really is a new space and it’s still a very positive surprise when you see a game go as far out of the way as God of War: Ragnarok does.

“When I started making YouTube videos about accessibility and video games, there were basically no examples you could point to that were broadly accessible for most kinds of disabled gamers. The sheer difference between what came out four years ago and today, honestly it is night and day. I am really excited by the direction the industry is going in, and how quickly.

“I think there is always room for improvement, I don’t think we yet have a game that I can point to and say this one is perfect and does absolutely everything you could possibly do to make a video game accessible to every disabled player, but I think that we are getting closer.”

‘Nit-picking’

The God of War series dates back to 2005 and follows the story of Greek god Kratos and the triumphs, tragedies and treachery he experiences. The 2018 release re-imagined the action-adventure series with a more mature Kratos struggling to cope with parenthood. It was a success, going on to win many prestigious awards.

Despite concerns that Ragnarok pushes older generation PlayStations to their limits in order to play, with some comparing the noise a PlayStation 4 makes while running the game like that of a jet engine taking off, its reviews scores suggest the sequel has more than lived up to expectations.

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Simon Cardy is a senior editorial producer at IGN and reviewed God of War: Ragnarok for the site.

“Some people might prefer the more focused nature of the 2018 release, as opposed to the broader more epic scale of this one,” he explains.

“Maybe there are a couple of little bits you could tighten here or there, but I think it’s really nit-picking.”

Simon gave the game 10 out of 10 and describes it as “a masterpiece”.

“It’s like when Francis Ford Coppola was making the Godfather Part II. How do you follow up on the Godfather? Well he managed to do it by arguably, making an even better film, which is what I think Sony Santa Monica games studio have done here.”

 

Screenshot from God of War Ragnarok

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Wandering around a frozen landscape with a tempestuous teenager and a sarcastic severed head (it’s based on Norse mythology after all) while battling monsters and gods may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, for fans of crafted single-player story experiences God of War: Ragnarok seems to have lived up to the high bar set by its predecessor.

Bigger doesn’t automatically mean better in gaming and as Simon says, “if anything it means more things can go wrong” but he believes the studio “have managed that balance between scope and the intimacy of the story elegantly”.

He goes on to argue that “there’s no other games studio that gets performances out of their actors like Sony Santa Monica at the moment in my opinion, it’s a different level to almost every other game out there in terms of writing and acting”.

If you’re a PS4 owner however, Simon recommends playing with your headphones on – just to hide the noise your machine will undoubtedly make.

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New photos reveal more details about Google’s Pixel 9 Pro Fold

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Google’s secret new line of Pixel 9 phones isn’t that big of a secret anymore. Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) released new photos of the phones including the Pixel 9 Pro Fold from almost every conceivable angle.

Android Authority found the photos in the NCC archives and uploaded galleries of each of the four phones including the Pixel 9, 9 Pro, 9 Pro XL and 9 Pro Fold. They reveal some interesting details about the new Pixel phones.

The charging rates will be a little faster than the last generation of Pixel phones: Taiwanese authorities measured 24.12W for the base model, 25.20W for the Pro and 32.67W for the 9 Pro XL. The Pixel 9 Pro Fold, however, was the slowest of all of them at 20.25W. These numbers don’t often match up perfectly with the advertised ratings, so expect Google to be promoting higher numbers at its event.

Speaking of chargers, it looks like Google needed a bigger charger to power its new phones. Photos included in the NCC leak show each phone will come with a wall charger that’s around 45W depending on which model you purchase. The charger’s plug moved from the middle to the top of the brick.

The Google Pixel 9 Pro Fold can fully unfold.
NCC/Android Authority

The latest photo dump also shows the 9 Pro Fold unfolded for the first time. Google has moved the selfie camera to the inside screen for a wider field of view. The 9 Pro Fold also has a slimmer top and bottom, a reduced fold crease on the display and a full 180 degree unfolding angle to make a screen that’s just over 250mm or just under 10 inches.

These photos are the latest in a very long list of leaks of Google Pixel 9 photos. The last Pixel 9 leak came down yesterday showing two prototype models of the base and XL models. Google might look into buying a new combination lock for the high school locker where they apparently keep all their unreleased gear.

 

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Apple Wallet now supports Canada’s Presto card, with Express Transit

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Apple Wallet now supports the Presto transit card used in Ontario, Canada. The card can be used for travel in Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa.

The digital version of the card includes the Express Transit Pass feature, meaning that you can tap in and out without having to authenticate …

 

Ontario’s Presto card

The Presto contactless smart card system was first trialled back in 2007, and started the full rollout in 2009. The card can be used across 11 different transit systems in the areas covered.

Apple Wallet support was first promised many years ago, but things went quiet until a “coming soon” announcement back in May of this year.

Although the contactless terminals allow the use of credit and debit cards for regular fares, a Presto card is needed for monthly passes and discounted travel.

Apple Wallet support now available

The company made the announcement today.

Tap to ride with PRESTO on iPhone and Apple Watch.

Traveling around town just got easy with your PRESTO in Apple Wallet. With Express Mode, you don’t need to wake or unlock your iPhone or Apple Watch or open any apps to use PRESTO in Apple Wallet. Just hold your device near the reader to pay and go.

Ride, even when your iPhone needs a charge

If your iPhone needs a charge, PRESTO Card in Apple Wallet will still work. Power Reserve provides up to five hours of support, so you can still ride.

Reload on the go. 

With your PRESTO card on your iPhone and Apple Watch, you can easily load funds, right from Apple Wallet or PRESTO App. No need to visit a customer service outlet.

Extra security. Built right in 

PRESTO in Apple Wallet can take full advantage of the privacy and security features built into iPhone and Apple Watch. Your PRESTO card is stored on the device, which means Apple does not see when you use it—helping keep your data private and secure.

If you lose your iPhone or Apple Watch, you can use the Find My app to lock and help locate the device and suspend your PRESTO card or remotely erase the device and its cards.

Mobile Syrup reports that you can choose between adding your existing card to your Wallet, or creating a new one.

There are two ways to add a Presto card to Apple Wallet. You can either buy a new card or move your old one over using the Presto app.

That being said, for simplicity’s sake, unless you have a discounted Presto agreement like a student or senior plan, I think most riders will be happy just making a new card in Apple Wallet and loading funds from that app.

As with any digital card or pass, you can use either your iPhone or Apple Watch, but because each generates a unique virtual card number, you need to use the same device at both ends of your journey.

Express Transit feature

To minimize delays, Presto offers Express Transit support. This means that you don’t need to authenticate using Face ID or Touch ID on your iPhone, and you don’t need to double-tap the side button on your Apple Watch. Simply hold your device close to the pad and you’re good (a number of clues are used to detect fraudulent use).

Express Transit also has the advantage that it continues to work in Low Power mode, so you’ll still be able to complete your journey even if your phone or Watch is almost dead.

Image: Presto

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The OnePlus Pad 2 Wants to Be the iPad Air of Android Tablets

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The original OnePlus Pad was a decent all-around Android tablet, but it was not amazing in any one area. Now, OnePlus is back with a new tablet device that packs more power, has a better screen, more speakers, and a higher starting price. OnePlus offers an Android tablet alternative that costs less than the latest iPad Airs, though it seems like it’s hewing very close to the rendition from 2023. 

The OnePlus Pad 2 is a one-size-fits-all 12.1-inch 3K tablet. At $550 for 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, it’s $70 more than the first OnePlus Pad, though it starts with more memory and twice as much internal storage as the first go around’s paltry 128 GB. It’s bigger than the 11.6 LCD on last year’s Pad, though now it’s beefed its resolution to 3K (3000 x 2120) with a stated 600 nits typical and 900 nits peak brightness. It has a variable refresh rate between 30 and 144 Hz, though it’s still an LCD screen, the same as the 2023 OnePlus Pad.

Just like last year’s version, the new Pad supports Dolby Atmos, but it boasts a six-stereo speaker configuration on either side of the device. It may not be as specifically sound-tailored as the Lenovo Tab Plus, but what’s promised is a solid middle ground. 

Last year’s tablet used MediaTek Dimensity 9000 CPU, which was good enough for most applications but not exactly top of its class. The Pad 2 is now powered with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile chip. Gizmodo has already experienced some of the chip’s capabilities in Samsung’s latest foldables, and already it’s very promising. We haven’t yet had the chance to compare a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 tablet to Apple’s latest iPad Air with M2, though on the whole, M2 usually performs better than Qualcomm’s mobile chips in bare benchmark tests. How much that matters depends on what programs you expect to use on your tablet. 

Image: OnePlus

Every device maker thinks they need AI to compete, and OnePlus isn’t an outlier here. There are promised “AI Toolbox” features like AI text-to-speech and recording summaries. The AI Eraser 2.0 will also work like Google’s Magic Eraser to remove unwanted photo elements. 

There’s a new $99 OnePlus Stylo 2 and a $150 Oneplus Smart Keyboard to accompany the new tablet. Despite the size and price difference, there will be many similarities between last year’s and the 2024 model. The Pad 2 has the same 9,510 mAh battery as last year’s, plus the 67W “SUPERVOOC” fast charging. It promises 43 days of standby time, though in our experience, the first Pad’s lifespan and promised “one-month standby life” was far more modest in practice, lasting most of the day before needing a recharge. 

With a bigger screen, the upcoming Pad 2 is slightly heavier than last year’s rendition. It weighs about 1.3 pounds, so it’s exactly between the 11- and 13-inch iPad Airs or slightly more than the base 11-inch Galaxy Tab S9 (and far less than the humongous Tab S9 Ultra). It will be relatively thin at 6.49 mm, but it’s not beating the iPad Air’s 6.1 mm or the iPad Pro 13-inch’s holy grail 5.1 mm.

The first OnePlus Pad didn’t exactly break new ground in any one category, though it did show Android tablets had legs. We’ve seen attempts from Goole and its Pixel Tablet, though that, too, wasn’t the pioneer of Android tablets. A better chip and more speakers do seem promising, though, in its effort to be everything to everyone, we’ll need to see if it manages to stand out in any area.

The OnePlus Pad 2 is now available for preorder. It should be available on the OnePlus website starting July 30 and on Amazon starting August.

 

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