Video Games

A Hero’s Call – The First Accessible RPG For the Blind, is it a Step in the Right Direction?

As you can probably tell from the title of this blog, and other posts on it, I’m very heavily into the accessibility of technology for people with disabilities scene.  As I said in my post about visual and kinetic novels, I like to look up accessible gaming news from time to time to see if something new has popped up.  I found this piece of news weeks ago, and honestly just have been putting off writing this post due to procrastination, but this is the first thing I’ve found that is even in this vain of game developing, and I thought it was super cool and got really excited for it.  So without further delay, here’s a video demo of A Hero’s Call, the first fully accessible RPG for the blind!

 

 

Rewatching this demo makes me realize a few things I didn’t before.  At first, I thought that they were using a visual novel/choose your own adventure game format for walking around, but it seems like you’re actually walking around with the character!  They’re implementing something me and my brother always say would be really easy to implement in a game:  just tell you where you’re going/where you are and use sound design so you can hear where you are.  This demo uses that really well, and the Windows narrator voice talking when you need to make choices is also something that I’ve always said would be easy to do, but not done in RPGs.  I really  Like that there’s some sort of beeping in there, probably also for letting you know where you are.

 

 

As excited as I am to see this, it isn’t perfect.  As far as I can tell there aren’t any visuals in the game, and that’s probably a bit alienating to sighted players.  I’ve seen some early coverage of the game say that the screen reader voice is a bit jarring for sighted players as well, so I wonder if they’ll add some sort of turn off feature in there – though a part of me secretly says “We deal with it every day, so you deal with it too if you want to play this”.

 

The battle system is a classic turn based RPG, and from this demo is seems like it’s very much like old school Final Fantasy.  I lost my sight very early in life, so haven’t been able to play those sorts of games for years, so for me an RPG I can play that’s this immersive is amazing.  I’m anxiously awaiting its release!
Ingenuity like this is honestly what got me into wanting to learn how to make games as of late.  After seeing accessible visual novels, and this, I realize that accessible video games for everyone are so close, if only developers just take the time to research what can be done.  The Out of Sight Games team is composed of people just like me:  gamers who lost their sight, missed playing games, and did something about it, and we need more people out there who will take the initiative and make accessible gaming a reality, instead of a long lived fantasy.  A Hero’s Call is the first in what I hope will be the start of a new movement for accessible gaming for everyone, with games that both sighted and blind gamers can play.

 

A Hero’s Call is developed by Out of Sight Games.  You can find their YouTube with more game demos here, their twitter here, and a kickstarter for A Hero’s Call here.

TV Shows

Marvel’s The Defenders Series 1 Review [Minor Spoilers]

The long awaited Marvel team up between the four heroes of the Marvel Netflix series has finally been released, and had an eight episode run.  Was it worth all of the hype?  My short answer is, sort of.  There were a lot of flaws in the series, but overall it was enjoyable enough.  It’s major flaws for me were the villain’s weak motivations (I’ll never like The Hand and their big reveal plot in this series was weak sauce) and as expected, Iron Fist.  But before I dive into those aspects of it, let’s talk about the stuff I liked.

 

The first three episodes were really well done.  We got a glimpse of each character on their own, with each of their scenes being styled after their individual shows.  You definitely got the film noire detective vibe from all of Jessica Jones’ solo scenes, the Harlem street drama vibe from Luke Cage, the dark, gritty, realist vibe from Daredevil, and the….crappy kung-fu movie vibe from Danny Rand’s scenes.  All of them flowed seamlessly together, and each individual scene stood on its own with its tone, while at the same time not feeling disjointed.  I have to say, I’m really impressed with the writing in this series.  They did a good job tying in continuity from both the MCU and the Netflix series universes.  One thing I thought that was both a pro and a con, was that The Defenders left off directly after every series end.  I’m not sure about when the series continue on their own, but I can imagine someone seeing Luke out of prison in the beginning of Luke Cage season 2 and being like “What?” if they didn’t watch The Defenders.  At the end of the series we got a lot of major character development for everyone, and whether they’ll carry that over to their series’ we’ll just have to wait and see.  Having what happened to Misty at the end however…I get they wanted to get her closer to her comic book counterpart, but I would have preferred that happen in Luke Cage as well.  All in all, the writing was good other than those little snags forced onto the plot by the limitations of “This is a Marvel show, this has to happen and this has to happen”.

 

The characters were amazing.  Jessica, Luke, and Matt have such great chemistry together.  Danny was less annoying than when he was in Iron Fist, but still his whiny, white privilege billionaire self got on my nerves (it was really nice to see Luke knock him down a few pegs).  My favorite relationship was definitely Matt and Jessica’s, I loved them in every scene they were in and you could tell that they had a great friendship blossoming between them.  Same with Danny and Matt, near the end they had a nice comradery.
They were trying really hard to give Luke and Danny scenes together (For an eventual Heroes for Hire series, I’m guessing) and like I said Danny wasn’t as bad in this but…even the awesome that is Luke couldn’t make him bearable.  I still wish they made Danny more like his animated series and comic book counterparts, because this angry rebel teen thing they’re doing here is just sooooo annoying.  But once again, seeing Danny continually  used as a punching bag for most characters was nice.  The Defenders all were MVP’s in their own right, it truly felt like a team up where everyone was equal, had strengths and weaknesses to build off of, and were able to work together as a team.  Unlike The Avengers, where it was a ton of A personalities coming together in spite of their differences, The Defenders are a bunch of broken, flawed people coming together, to form one, whole, powerful unit, and it’s really nice to see the diversity in not only their abilities, but their races, disabilities and the like.  Just really, really well done ensemble cast here, the best part of the series for me was watching them work as a unit.

 

The supporting cast is every supporting character from their respective series, and seeing them play off of each other, and off of others not from their series was awesome.  It really felt like this was a connected city, and that anyone could run into anyone.  Everyone’s chemistry was great, and seeing them setting up things for other shows or spin offs was nice (like Misty and Colleen talking to each other).

 

Weakest part about the characters, was The Hand.  I realize this is probably an unpopular opinion, but they are the most boring Marvel crime syndicate in the MCU!  I don’t freaking care about a bunch of ninjas running around in the shadows, and finding out their motivations in this I was just like “Seriously?  That’s it?  You were more intimidating without any motivations”.  Even interesting characters beforehand, like Madame Gao take such a hit when you find out she was peddling drugs and running an underground organization because “I don’t want to die ever eternal life is great”.  Ugh, so cliché, so lame, and all of them just wound up being one note over powered big bads at the end of the series.

 

The plot was alright.  After episode 4 more or less the series became a giant action set piece.  A lot of flimsy motivations for characters just to move the plot forward, and a lot of things that happened that were supposed to be shocking but we know won’t last because all of these series’ have another season in the works, so the “suspense” for me was DOA.  They revolved it all around The Immortal Iron Fist having to do something, and I feel like they did that because they wanted Danny to be important enough for people to want to keep track of, because the other three are far more interesting and dynamic than him.  The way they got everyone to join together was a bit clunky, but I get they only had eight episodes and wanted to move things along.  Overall, plot was the weakest point for me, and this was definitely an ensemble character piece more than anything because if you poke too hard at the logic of everything happening plot wise you’ll find holes like you wouldn’t believe.
So is The Defenders worth watching?  I think so.  If you like good action scenes, good characters, and all of these Netflix series, it’s worth watching to see  a fun super hero team up for the entirety  of the Marvel New York Universe.  I’m half expecting Spider-Man or Tony Stark to pop up eventually with how much The Defenders seemed like it was tying into the MCU as a whole, but we’ll see.  The show was labeled “series 1” instead of “Season 1” on Netflix, so I’m guessing we’ll be seeing more of these mini series down the road.

 

Not all I have to say on this show, so be on the lookout for a few shorter posts on it!  I had a lot more I wanted to say in this review, but while writing it I realized this already was getting a bit long so will just piece out the rest into other posts.

Did you watch The Defenders?  How did you like it.

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

Exploring the World of Visual and Kinetic Novels – Accessibility Report!

Every once and a while, I search for news on accessible gaming.  I know how fast different games on different platforms, in different genres can pop up considering how big the indi game development scene is, so after I wrote my last post about accessible gaming, I figured why not give the search phrase “Are visual novels accessible to the blind?” a whirl?

 

I found some interesting results!  I tried visual novels because since that medium is text, music, sounds, pictures and voice acting, it seemed like it would be the easiest thing to make accessible.  Not only did I find some good results, but I’m getting obsessed with playing VNs, and reading kinetic novels, to the point where I also downloaded software and am working on learning code to eventually make my own – I have always loved video games, not so much for the gameplay, but for the amazing stories and characters that such an extended gameplay time gives you with them.  With games like Rakuen, and To the Moon becoming popular as well, I also thought that using that medium to tell amazing stories is something I’m a lot more interested in then making a story a radio play, not getting many views because that scene is sort of dying down and hard to market in, and just feeling discouraged.  Plus this combines all of my favorite things:  writing stories, making music, using sound effects…why, it’s pretty much a playable radio play!

 

But with that mini tangent aside, what I’ve found in VN/KN accessibility is really interesting.  For the most part (and I do mean most part – I’ve only downloaded one game that wasn’t accessible at all, and one that is decently accessible as far as I can tell but can’t get to the preferences to lower music volume) and it’s all because of the platform they’re being made on, RenpyRenpy has added a self-voicing feature on its platform, so all I have to do to figure out if something is accessible is load the game, hit V, and if the Windows narrator voice doesn’t go “Self-voicing enabled” I can get on out of there without wasting any time.  So much nicer than downloading a game and trying really hard to figure out what’s what!  A minor nit pick I do have, is it would be nice if the developers wrote in the description of the game that this was available in their game to save me the time of downloading, but all in all, I’ve had an enjoyable gaming experience.  I used to love choose your own adventure games, and being able to play the modern equivalent  of them is really nice and something I didn’t think I could do.

 

Renpy has a great library of games you can choose from, as well!  I’ve just been scrolling through, and looking for games that sound interesting.  There are a lot of free ones to play, so I’ve just been downloading them and playing.  I actually wasn’t aware that kinetic novels were a thing until I downloaded one, only got to make 2 choices within the first hour of gameplay and went “Why is this VN so un-interactive?  This is boring me”.  It was the first one I downloaded too, so when I downloaded my 2nd one and it was way more interactive like the interactive fiction games I’m used to I went “So is that game just bad?” until I remembered it said it was a kinetic novel in the description and google the term haha.  I learned something today!  A kinetic novel is something I want to do as my first dive into working with renpy, because this is also my first time ever working with code and I had to figure out that you don’t make indents or double space in code, it’s very bad.  That took me about four hours last night to learn so…I think I have a decently long road ahead of me!  But learning some sort of coding is something I’ve always wanted to do (Renpy uses python, I believe) so this is a fun adventure I just decided to dive into which honestly has always been my M.O. XD

 

In all honesty, the Renpy code seems easy enough, and it was more my inexperience with coding in general that happened (but the quick start guide had those indents in it so I assumed every line needed them so…grr).

 

I found some other really cool accessible games in the works I want to make a post on, and also I want to talk more in detail about the visual/kinetic novels I’ve been playing.  So I guess VN/KN reviews will be popping up on this blog, as well!  Some of the VNs I’ve downloaded have full voice acting as well, which is really cool!  I heard an acquaintance of mine in one game, but sadly it’s the game that I still need to figure out how to lower the music volume.  The inaccessibility of that in that particular game is odd to me, because every other Renpy game had the same menu interface.  I may just have a sighted person look at it and see so I can finish the demo of this game and see how accessible it is, it seems like it will be fine after I figure out how to lower the volume of the music but we’ll see.

 

I’m soooo happy I can play these games.  I find it a little disheartening that a medium that originally was all text, all accessible to the blind is now one where you have to do guess work, but people like the developer of the Renpy software are taking strides to make sure we can still play games by adding the self-voicing feature in the software itself.  That way, it’s up to the developer’s of the games to also make their games accessible, but at the same time the blind have a nice enough cushion with these games and can say ok, I’m pretty sure this will work, load the game, hit V, and move on if it doesn’t’ work.  A lot less of a headache than my usual finding out if something is accessible fair!

 

Before I finish up this post, I’d also like to say I love that every VN is stand alone.  I tried using Steam a while back because I knew there were games I wanted to play on it, but Steam is entirely inaccessible with the screen reader I use.  I’ve seen others have other success with other screen readers, but I didn’t have that one because well, it’s suuuuper expensive.  So when I saw the site itch.io had where you could just download the VN, I did so and that’s how my exploration of this genre started  Super awesome!
All in all, this experience has been great.  I’m 2 days in and love all the games I’ve been playing and stories I’ve been reading.  I’m ready to jump all in on this VN/KN genre!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

A Musical Moment: Build a Little World With me – Rakuen

I recently watched a Let’s Play of Rakuen – the new game released by my favorite indi composer, Laura Shigihara, andI can’t explain with words hwo beautiful this game is.  It has an amazing story, beautiful writing, lovely music, and it was all done by Laura over the timespan of four years, and it seriously is inspiring me to try and tell stories through video games because this title just touched me in a way that not many other titles have done in recent years, aside from probably Nier Automata.  So if you haven’t experienced this game, via watching it or playing it, I suggest you do!  Just get your box of tissues ready, you’re gonna need them.

 

Laura Shigihara is my favorite indi composer for a few reasons, one of them being how simplistic yet dynamic her works are.  She crafts such simple melodies’, using simple chords throughout that all merge and form such interesting, moving, and memorable pieces.  Her composing style is one I’m working towards every day, because it’s the one I find my style most compadable with and listening to her music is just so inspring – and, she does this in multiple music styles as well!  She’s amazing~

 

Now that my fangirling is out of the way, todays musical moment is from Rakuen.  It’s called Build a Little World with Me, and you can listen below!

 

 

I listened to this song before and after watching the game, and I have to say it has a lot more of an impact when you know it’s context.  I enjoyed it both times, but listening to it after knowing the subject matter nearly brings me to tears every time.  The simple melodic structure, combined with how the piano chords mesh with Shigihara’s vocals is so breath taking.  When she does those “Ooo” and “Ah” harmonies, it just adds sucha  gorgeous textural layer to the piece and I can’t stop listening to it on repeat.  Those lyrics too, just so sweet!  My favorites have to be these:

 

If you stay right by my side,

And make it through the night,

Then we’ll never have to feel alone again.

So before it’s time to leave, would you build a little world with me?

 

Those lines in particular are the ones that choke me up without fail XD
The entire soundtrack of Rakuen is lovely, but if I had to pick a favorite track from the game, it would definitely be this one.

 

 

Have you played Rakuen yet? Heard the music?  Would love to hear your thoughts below!  Thank you for joining me in another musical moment~

Cartoons

Voltron: The Legendary Defender Season 3 Review [Spoilers]

Voltron season 3 was released last Friday, and you better believe I binged that like there was no tomorrow.  Hands down Voltron:  The Legendary Defender is my favorite animated series in the past year, it’s so well done and so impactful and aaaah this third season just added so much to the world building and lore and character development that I wanted to gush about it.
I’m really hoping that this new half season format Netflix has been doing isn’t going to be the norm, because season 3 of Voltron was only 7 episodes, and just like with Castlevania, it left a lot of plots unfinished, too many cliffhangers, and overall just felt like the season was incomplete.  The last 2 seasons had cliffhangers, like major ones, but at the same time it finished up all the major plots that were started in the beginning of the season, and the cliffhangers were more along the lines of “We finished the story arc for all characters in this season, but if you want to find out what happens for the next story arc in the next season, better ocme back cuz bam cliffhanger!” and I’m alright with that, it’s common television practice for some shows.  Season 3 however left us hanging with at least 2 major plots, and even though we found out the new big bads actual plans, we had a lot of storytelling opportunities’ opened up to us that couldn’t be explored because of the seasonal length.  I know they’ll be calling the next season season 4, but honestly I’ll consider it more of a season 3.5 because form the trailer we’re going to be picking up right where we left off with this one.

 

That being said, I enjoyed this season overall!  Even though we had a lot of plot threads unresolved, we had a lot of awesome developments, such as Allura becoming the paladin for the blue lion!  Keith is now the leader, and Lance is now in the red lion.  So we have a Voltron formation that pays an homage to the original Voltron series.  Allura is also in her pink warrior gear, which is a great nod too.  And, needless to say, she’s such an awesome fighter!  We get glimpses into her prowess with the last two seasons, but now that she’s a paladin we get to see her in all of her combat glory and ayaaaah she’s such a great edition to the team that I love.  She has a great dynamic with the others that was there already, but is growing steadily now that she’s part of the team and not just running the castle ship.  The scenes with her and Lance, and Lance and Keith were  by far my favorite storyline moments.  I’m wondering if they’re also going to make Allura and Keith a couple down the road, like in the original series but only time will tell.
The mystery with Shiro continues, as he returns from being captured once again.  We don’t really get to see much of this plot, which was frustrating, and once again I point to the season length for that:  if we had gotten 13 episodes, that particular plot probably would have been resolved and paved the way for some forward momentum with the plot.  Instead, we’re left wondering, and waiting for the resolution of  a plot started in this season that couuuuuld have finished if we had more episodes.  Overall, Shiro is just a support character in this season, who may or may not have hidden motives now?  I swear if they make Shiro a clone I’m gonna flip out, that’s so overdone but from what we saw of his story it seems like the route we’re going (please prove me wrong in October writing crew, pleaseeee).

 

Lotor is by far, the best edition to the cast.  I found with Zarcon, he just was too big bad evil for me, and didn’t really have motivations or a character that I cared about on the side of the villains.  I personally like to be able to understand why a villain is doing something, which we got in the final episode of this season with a prequel episode explaining backstory for some key supporting characters (one reveal in particular I was liek whoaaaa that was clever!  But I won’t spoil it here).  But I really like that Lotor is a really dynamic ruler, that you can get behind.  He’s a strategist, who knows how to manipulate the masses to suit his own ends and is always a step ahead of the Palladins, it’s just so fun to watch both sides fight each other and see who comes out on top because they’re both equally matched now.  I enjoy the space battles of the last two seasons, but the badguy of the week was rather one note and mindless in comparison to Lotor.  His Generals are also a breath of fresh air, because we finally get some more women in the cast!  Lotor’s entire crew are awesome femme fatales, and I’m excited to unpack their backstories, along with Lotor’s down the road.  Having a cast on the villain’s side who you want to learn more about is definitely a plus in this season for me, really enjoyed every scene Lotor and his crew were in, just as much as the scenes with the Paladin’s.

Voltron:  The Legendary Defender is still going strong, and you can tell the showrunners know not only the source material well, but how to expand it and make it even better.  We’re getting season 4 in October, and I simply can’t wait to see what is in store for our cast!  Did you get a chance to watch the season yet? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!