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~

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

What An Accessible Video Game to the Blind Means to Me

Disclaimer:  This is an opinion piece, I am by no means an expert and am just voicing my viewpoint on the subject.

 

I see it often, as news on Twitter and Facebook.  “A game fully accessible for the blind!” and I go check it out, and it’s a game that’s just a completely black screen, with auditory feedback only.  Perhaps some tactile feedback as well, but to me, those games don’t quite cut it.  I won’t say it’s not accessible, because it is, but at the same time it feels like it’s still limiting the amount that the blind can play with their sighted peers.    Before I get fully into this post though, I’d like to say I’m super happy with the headway accessibility has gotten in the past ten years.  The fact that it’s something game developers are even thinking about, and implementing in their games is amazing, and makes me want to get back into gaming again.  I saw that even big companies, like Microsoft and Sony are putting text to speech controls in their consoles, and I’m hoping that the Switch will follow suit (though the HD Rumble is a step in the right direction).  Indi developers that think about how to adapt their games, and create games specifically for the blind isn’t something that I would see when I was a teenager and pre-teen, and it warms my heart to see that people are even thinking of how to make things easily available for everyone to play.
With that out of the way, I feel like making games without graphics isn’t exactly the right way to go with making games accessible.  I know being legally blind is a rather blanket term, but being legally blind, or visually impaired, doesn’t always mean someone is 100 percent blind.  There are people who have full sight out of one eye, have light perception, tunnel vision, peripheral vision, and so many other visual spectrums, that developers should account for.  Sure, a legally blind gamer who has sight in one eye but none in the other may like to play a game that doesn’t have any visuals, but they also may not care for that sort of game and want to play something that has graphics they can see to the best of their ability, to immerse them further in the gaming experience also available to their sighted peers.

 

Blindness is a term a lot of us use because it’s easiest to say instead of something like “I’m actually visually impaired, I can see colors and light perception” because to a lot of people, that’s hard for them to grasp.  I know I’ve seen a lot of blind gamers just say, give me good sound design in a Triple A title I’ll do the rest with my other senses.  For some, being able to magnify things is enough, while for others, the text to speech menu options are all they’d need.  Others would just need inverted color schemes, while others may prefer a fully audio, fully tactile game.

 

What I prefer in a game, is just to have the entire experience, like any normal game.  Sound design is fantastic nowadays:  I watch videos of games on YouTube, and can tell what’s going on just by the placement of the sound.  I don’t have any new gen consoles, but I can only imagine how easy it is to play and how immersive it is for a blind gamer.  I memorize where things are, or get sighted help from friends and family when something is too difficult, but overall that’s usually my gaming experience.  That being said, I love fighting games for how easy they are to just pick up and play.  Pick a mode, pick a fighter, and you’re good to go XD

 

Like I said, I’m super impressed, and happy to see the strides that developers, both big and small are taking towards gaming being doable for everyone.  But when I see a game that says it’s fully accessible, but is lacking in features, I’m always so conflicted.  I love that people are doing it, but at the same time, why not do it so it’s literally accessible to everyone?  Games like 1, 2, Switch are doing a good job of being playable for everyone, while not looking like it’s excluding anyone from being able to play, and I think that’s more what developers need to stride for as far as making a game fully accessible goes.  A no graphics, audio only game may be interesting, and a good game to have out there but at the end of the day it’s very niche and won’t be as interesting a game to play as say, a Final Fantasy game and I’d overall just like to see more access to games that are more mainstream.  Good steps in the right direction on all fronts though, very interested to see where game development for the blind and visually impaired will be going in the next few years.

 

Have any thought’s on the subject?  Would love to hear in the comments!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces

A Musical Moment: Searching for Friends from Final Fantasy VI

Welcome to the first post of my new blog feature, A Musical Moment!  I’ll be talking about tracks or albums of music that I love from video games, anime, and other nerdy media I watch and going in depth about why I love them so much.  For my first feature, I wanted to do a track from my favorite RPG of all time:  Final Fantasy VI!
This particular track is from the 3rd disc of the soundtrack, which I find to be the most neglected disc from the OST.  I find all of the World of Ruin music to be amazing, but this piece in particular from that section of the game is one I adore.

 

Picture this:  You’re in a baron wasteland of a world, and barely realized that at least a few of your friends are alive.  But you still have to stop the mad man who sent the world into chaos.  To do so, you need an airship to get to the big bad’s airborn tower, which, the only airship was destroyed when the world was.  But, hurray!  You find out your airship pilot was hiding a second pair of wings (attached to a tragic backstory, because of course) and had to go to an underground crypt to get the new airship.

 

Cut to outside.  The baron wasteland is still prominent, but amongst the murky waters of the ocean, you see a cresting wave.  It’s your airship bursting out of the water, taking its first flight, and the first few chords of this play:

 

 

 

I LOVE THIS THEME!  It captures all the hope your party is feeling in that moment.  There are still some unsure, melancholy chords in it, but the main melody soars it the absolute joy that is realizing it’s alright to hope again. And, as a bonus, this is your new world map theme!  What impresses me about this song is it’s chord structure, as well.  I’ve been transcribing different Nobuo Uematsu tracks on piano, partially to learn piano and particularly because I was curious.  Most, if not all of his melodies, are all done entirely in one scale!  Searching for Friends has 2 sharp notes in its melody structure, but the rest are white keys.  It never strays out of the scale it starts in, and that always amazes me.  It’s fantastic how many melodies you can make with only one octave  at your disposal, and even when Uematsu-sensei goes outside of the octave in other tracks, it’s still just transposed notes.  It’s something I’ve been mirroring in my compositions, because if you’re going to learn how to make music, why not learn from one of the greats?

 

When I think of all that Final Fantasy VI captures for me, I think of this song.  Simply a gorgeous piece of music, wonderfully written.

 

And that was my first musical moment!  Hope you enjoyed it.  What’s your favorite track from Final Fantasy VI?  Let me know in the comments below!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces

My Policy on Spoilers

I’ve been wanting to start this series of opinion pieces on different fandom/nerdy topics, but couldn’t think of a snazzy name for it.  That’s a silly reason to not start a post series, so I’ll just write some and if I come up with a snazzy name rename and tag accordingly later.

 

If you’ve spent even a second on the internet, I’m sure you’ve seen the word “spoiler” around.  More specifically, you’ve probably seen “No spoilers!” which to me, is even more annoying to see.  After all, if you don’t want spoilers you can not read or look up stuff about the topic, instead of yelling at the entire interwebs about sharing spoilers.  This got me thinking:  What do I think about getting spoilers?  Scratch that, I already know the answer:  I don’t care about seeing spoilers.  But that got me thinking:  why don’t I care about seeing spoilers?

 

The short answer is, I don’t think seeing a spoiler detracts from enjoying a story.  When you look at the story structure of an anime, a book, a game, they all are very straight forward.  Every story has a beginning, middle, and end, and getting spoilers for say, the end of a story will never spoil the journey I experience with the characters.  A spoiler doesn’t ruin getting to know a character, cheering for them, crying with them, all in all bonding with them.  And, let’s be real:  unless you read a Wikipedia article, you’ll never get every spoiler from a story.  If you’re reading a Wikipedia article, or looking at say, tumblr to see if you’ll like the story, you probably weren’t fully invested in experiencing the story in the first place, because if you were, you’d just hop straight into experiencing the story.  So when I see a spoiler like someone dying, or the final plot twist, or a betrayal, I’m not really concerned because even though you know that spoiler occurs, you don’t know how the other characters react to that death, or plot twist, or betrayal.  You don’t know how anything will effect the story moving forward from that point on, because you only really know that one specific event in time that happened, unless for some reason you read the synopses of the entire story (which I do often).

 

Still, after reading an entire synopses, I decide to watch or read the story anyways.  Why?  Like I said, there’s a huge difference in just reading what is essentially a plot blurb, and watching 25 episodes, of ups and downs with characters, seeing the inner workings of the world you’re setting takes place in, the side characters that aren’t mentioned in the synopses because they aren’t relevant  enough to the central plot to be mentioned. There’s a lot of depth to every story, and knowing spoilers really doesn’t detract from that depth of story for me.  If it’s just a bad story however, I really could care less about knowing what happens.  It may peek my interest enough to wiki the plot, but I really don’t want to sit through 20+ hours of force feeding myself a boring story, when I’m more or less slightly curious to see how the story unfolded.  A good example for me of this recently, is The Red Queen novels by Victoria Aveyard.  If you read my review of the first book, you’ll know I couldn’t stand the characters or premise.  However, the third book of the series came out last month, and I’ve heard that some things I wanted from the first book happened in the third.  I wasn’t willing to read the second book, or buy the third, and that’s where simply looking at spoilers and synopses came in handy.  In the end, there seem to be good concepts, but not enough for me to brave revisiting that series again.

 

A better question for me I suppose, is when do I not like spoilers?  Usually when I’ve already started reading a book series, or watching an anime/TV show, and am enjoying the ride.  Because of the speed I consume media at when I start…consuming it, stopping and looking for spoilers just isn’t my style.  If something is driving me crazy that won’t be revealed for a while (like will a certain romantic pairing end up together, because authors like to drag that sort of thing out) I’ll go look up a spoiler so I’m not driven crazy while reading or watching.  Sometimes that backfires, because it’s easy to read a piece of spoiler material you don’t want to know, but for some things it’s easy for me to forget what I didn’t want to know.  Other than wanting to know tiny tid bits like that, if I’ve started a story and only know the basics about it before starting it, I won’t look up anything about it because I’ll finish it in a few days anyways, so what’s the point of looking up spoilers.  I’m doing this with the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron, because I’m really enjoying the ride and it’s an easy, light hearted read to get through (most of the time, it’s starting to get a bit dark).  Even if I find a spoiler with this method of media consumption, it doesn’t bother me that much because still, it’s all about the journey, and why the events leading up to the spoiler made the spoiler happen, and how it effects the characters and plot.
So that’s my basic policy on spoilers!  TL;DR  They don’t bother me at all, and some people need to chill out about seeing them, or not engage in social media about them until they’re done enjoying the story.  What’s your policy on spoilers?