HOOKED: How Brandon Cole Uses Immersive Sound To Tap Into The Blind Gaming Community
Brandon Cole is a man of many hats. Working primarily as a blind accessibility consultant for video games, Brandon also works as a part time actor, blogger and video game streamer. We are absolutely fascinated by how Brandon approaches sound, not only as a navigational tool but as his go to medium for capturing and reliving life’s most amazing moments. We sat down with Brandon to learn more about his journey. Enjoy!
NAME: Brandon Cole
HOOKE: What was the first binaural audio content you heard?
BC: The first binaural audio I ever heard was at an exhibit in the Epcot center in Orlando, Florida. Myself and my family were there thanks to the Make a Wish Foundation, as my younger brother had wished to go to Disneyworld. We got the motherload of trips, with a complete, and completely paid for itinerary for the entire week. This included a trip to the Epcot center to explore the crazy technologies they were showing off there. It just so happens that one of them was a binaural audio experience featuring the king of the mice, Mickey! We were secret agents being given a briefing by Mickey and his underlings. We were being prepared for the task with a “haircut,” which has since become a commonly used binaural audio example. Then we had to hold still as another secret agent fired arrows over our heads, and so on. I was utterly blown away. The experience was so good that I completely bought it. Of course I was very young then, and didn’t understand the technology, but I was positive, absolutely undeniably sure that Mickey was standing next to me, and that an arrow almost skewered my brain. And yes, I checked my hair. It was incredible!
HOOKE: What is the coolest sound experience you’ve ever heard and where?
BC: The coolest sound experience I’ve heard to date is probably still the binaural production of Stephen King’s the Mist. Technically I think the Epcot experience was recorded at a slightly higher quality, but the thing is it only lasted a couple of minutes. It was intended as a demonstration, and that’s all it did in the end. The Mist was a well-produced binaural reproduction of a great story, and left you feeling like you were an observer in the center of all the action. I’ve heard other binaural audio drama as well, but none of it is that good, and sadly a lot of it still treats binaural audio like something cool and gimmicky, not using it to its full potential. Whispering in your ear in moments that don’t make sense, and sometimes on the wrong side without the character having moved before then… Things like that.
HOOKE: For those that aren’t into audio what is the first thing you share with them to get them into sound?
BC: I’m a big audio drama guy. If you want to impress someone, give them something they can follow, and feel like they’re a part of. So yes, I would choose the Mist for this answer as well. Either that, or the Left Behind audio drama, which isn’t binaural but which is a phenomenon of incredible production quality. There are also video games with incredible audio. The Battlefield series, the Last of Us… They’re out there.
“My focus is gaming, though, as my goal remains to educate those who are still of the belief that the blind cannot play video games, and don’t have the desire to. I’m showing them every day that not only do we have the desire, we’re doing it.”
HOOKE: What is the coolest piece of content you’ve created and why?
BC: Specifically with the Hookeverse? While I believe I’ve created some cool content with it, it’s unfair to say that Hooke Audio content is the coolest piece of content I’ve ever created. I have created a lot of different types of content. In any case, sticking strictly to binaural audio here, the coolest piece of content is probably one that I recorded in a car with friends as we drove to their new apartment in a new city. I’ve listened to it a couple times since I recorded it, and every time I feel like I’m back in that same car, in the same front passenger seat, 2 of my friends, 1 service dog, and a birdcage with a very disgruntled bird inside behind me, and another friend, the driver, sitting next to me. The way you can hear how her head turns as she looks back to say something to the people in the backseat, the laughter, even the casual opening of a soda, puts me back on the road with them. It would mean nothing to anyone else, as there is discussion of things going on in our lives, inside jokes, all of it, but a memory exists for me in that recording. That is not the only one I made, but it’s what popped into my head first, and I believe it’s the right answer.
HOOKE: Name the artist of your favorite sounding album and why?
BC: I think I’d have to say the artist who produced the coolest-sounding album I’ve heard is Star Set. The thing is, I can’t easily explain why. Something about the crispness of their production, the effects they use, the way the music seems to flow out of your earphones… Those guys know what they’re doing in my opinion.
HOOKE: Tell us a bit more about you. Where are you from? What do you do? What is your dream job? What’s the coolest thing about you?
BC: Here’s the really loaded question, and here goes. I am Brandon Cole, currently living in Columbus, Ohio, but not an Ohio native. I was born in Minnesota, where I spent most of my life until I met the incredible woman who is now my fiancé. It is because of her that I am where I am today, doing what I’m doing.
These days, I am a man of many hats. I am primarily a blind accessibility consultant for video games, as well as an accessibility advocate for same. I have spoken at multiple major video game-related events like GDC, and was part of the very first ever Game Accessibility Conference. I am currently contracted as an accessibility consultant for a new mobile developer called Blind Sparrow Interactive, and have projects in the works that I cannot even speak of. I envision a world where blind people have the same access to the fantastic medium that is video games as everyone else, and I am making strides toward realizing that goal. It’s a long journey, but a worthy one.
I am also a part-time voice actor, and can be heard in the video game Pillars of Eternity. Voice acting was actually my original dream growing up, and wouldn’t it figure that the Pillars of Eternity opportunity came along while I was speaking at GDC about accessibility. Everything I have done, and everything I’m doing feeds into everything else.
On top of those things, and again feeding into them, I am a blogger, and video game streamer. My blogs approach gaming, and occasionally other topics such as comic books and watching TV and movies, from a blind person’s perspective. My focus is gaming, though, as my goal remains to educate those who are still of the belief that the blind cannot play video games, and don’t have the desire to. I’m showing them every day that not only do we have the desire, we’re doing it. My streams feed into this message as well, for wile I seek to be as entertaining as I can be, I also use my streams to educate. I’m quick to answer questions from viewers about what I’m doing and how I’m managing to do it, and I’ll show off what makes some games difficult as well as why I can play others. It is a tactic that is slowly working as I continue to build an audience, and has gained me an extremely helpful and supportive viewership that is now helping me through difficult bits of games. It’s pretty tremendous. In case you’re curious, you can find my blog, and links to all the things I’ve done in the media, including the actual videos of a couple of my speeches, over on www.brandoncole.net. My Twitch and Youtube addresses are above.
I firmly believe the coolest thing about me is what I’m doing. I’m creating real change in this world, (there is already some real world evidence of this), and I’m helping push the door to blind accessibility, and accessibility in games in general, open wider. It’s something I have no desire to stop doing, and something I’m very much willing to plug away at every single day for the remainder of my existence.
BC: My preferred social media outlet is Twitter, for the simple reason that it’s simple. I’ll use Facebook if I must, but I have never liked its clutter. Plus, Twitter clients make it even easier, as I can happily read my entire timeline and post new tweets with simple keystrokes. I’m a Twitter guy, through and through.
HOOKE: If you could make any piece of sound hardware, that doesn’t already exist, what would it be?
BC: If I could make any sound device I wanted, I’d make a remotely-controlled head-shaped binaural recorder. I know that technically you can do this with the Hookeverse and its box, but that personally doesn’t appeal as much to me. I would rather have a device that, while certainly larger, boasts extremely high quality microphones, its own processing and storage capability, and is already head-shaped so it can just be placed in appropriate spots to get the right perspective without any fumbling about with the Hooke’s earpieces. Then, as a secondary option, pick it up, remove its base, and plop it on your head like a helmet. Complete with internal earphones, it serves the same purpose as the Hooke Verse, but alleviates basically all of the very few problems I had with it, (the earbuds occasionally starting to fall out, for instance). Sounds great to me!
HOOKE: If you had to send one recording of anything into space what would it be?
BC: I would want to send a binaural recording of someone walking down Santa Monica pier. This is a recording I want to make myself, though I haven’t been able to yet as I couldn’t get the Hooke Verse in time for my last trip there. I just love it there. The nearby ocean, the people everywhere, the different types of music as you move from one end of the pier to the other… It is a beautiful landscape of sound, and I think the aliens should get an experience like that.
Please make sure to check out Brandon’s website brandoncole.net to keep up to date on all of the amazing ways he is making gaming more accessible to all. You rock Brandon! Record on.
From One Ear To Another,
Founder, Hooke Audio