Books · Editorials/Opinion Pieces

Kindle unlimited Closing Thoughts After Canceling the Service

So I decided to cancel my Kindle Unlimited subscription this month.  I wanted to cancel it for a few months now, but I kept on forgetting and then it would get renewed, so I figured just keep it for another month.  But there came a point where I just wasn’t using it as much as I initially was, and made the decision to cancel the subscription.  Since I made a post when I first had joined Kindle Unlimited, I figured I’d close out my subscription with a final thoughts article, and how I feel about the overall service as a whole.

 

My biggest thing with cancelling was, the lack of variety in the genres I liked to read.  I read fantasy pretty much exclusively, and while there are some fantastic books you can read on the service, I found myself getting less and less interested in titles I downloaded.  I’d try to start reading something with an interesting synopses, only to find it was boring or cliché within the first few chapters and it went that way for a long time.  I enjoy fairy tale retellings as much as the next fairy tale fan, but the amount of retellings that are not only available on Kindle Unlimited, but that bleed into each other get a little ridiculous.  I mean, how many Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Snow White retellings can you read?  I enjoyed the ones I read, but that’s just an example of the lack of variety in the fantasy genre after a certain amount of avid reading.

 

The last thing I enjoyed reading, I wound up purchasing myself.  The free titles are massive on Kindle Unlimited, but at the end of the day it wasn’t what I wanted to read because I had read things similar in the genre.  Not saying purchased books are innocent of bleeding together with their plots, but I just felt like I’d be better off putting my $9.99 towards a book I actually wanted to read.  Which, there are a few titles I was putting off reading because I had access to  so many freebies, so I wanted to focus on reading those even if the price point on most of them is the price of the full subscription itself.

 

The recommendation system eventually wasn’t super helpful either.  Like, I went through a span of just getting recommended fairy tale retellings because I had read about 3 of them.  I would have liked for Kindle unlimited to be a bit more expansive with their filtering for me – fantasy, romance, adventure, etc etc.  I had a hard time looking for things I’d like to read because I got flooded with recommendations of things I wasn’t in the mood to read, and it got a bit frustrating.

 

At the end of the day, I got major mileage out of Kindle Unlimited.  I’m not saying it’s a bad service by any means:  I found a ton of my new favorite series’ through using the service.  But at the end of the day, looking at the price point of some books in the service made me realize I could just buy those books I want to read, and not pay monthly for the service.

 

I initially got Kindle Unlimited free for 3 months around Black Friday.  There was a sale for half off for the entire year around that time, but I hadn’t tried the service yet so I didn’t give it a go.  After using it for half a year, I’d say if that sale happened again I’d just buy the whole year, because I do like the service for what it is: a place full of reads to varying quality, that is good to hunt for hidden gems.  When I had nothing to read, I’d always go to Kindle unlimited and browse for a good popcorn read and sometimes be surprised with how good something was.  It’s a good service if you like being able to do that and are an avid reader, but as the year went on I just found myself using the service less and less, and wanted to invest my money in reads I knew I’d prefer, with a bit higher quality.

 

All of that being said, my exact closing thoughts on Kindle unlimited?  At the end of the day, I enjoyed the service.  Like I said, if I could get a half off sale on a full year, I’d go ahead and do it.  As far as it at full price, I think it needs to get more desirable reads to be worth the money.  You’d probably be better off with a Scribbed or Audible subscription, and get far more bang for your buck because with those services, it’s quality over quantity.  For Kindle Unlimited, it’s the opposite, and after a while that shows.  I’ve found some books I’ve loved, rolled my eyes at, and done a bit of both with over my subscription period and for that alone I think the price point should just be a teeny bit lower than it is.

 

I hope this helped you if you  were debating trying Kindle unlimited.  It’s honestly all a matter of preference and the genres you read, and how flexible your taste threshold is.  I can be entertained by anything if the premise and characters grip me, so I found more things I liked than disliked on the service.  However if you really are a picky reader, this service wouldn’t be for you.

 

Have you tried Kindle Unlimited?  Weigh in in the comments below!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

A Tips and Tricks Guide for Visual Novel Accessibility [And other Games]

One of the articles I get the most traction on is me talking about Visual Novel accessibility.  I’ve gotten numerous emails about people asking me how they can make their games accessible, and I think it’s fantastic.  I love seeing people make an active effort to be aware of disabled folks, and considering what it would take to make their games be playable for all sects.

 

I re-read this article recently, and realized while I made a basic outline for what I’ve had trouble with access wise, I didn’t give any solutions.  I know a decent amount about gaming access, being a blind gamer myself, so I’d like to just highlight some things that are easily doable, that I’d like to see implemented more in games for easy access.

 

These things are usable not only in other games, but I know they are doable in the Ren’py engine which is widely used for creating visual novels.  So if you’d like more info on how to do these things, I suggest looking at the documentation.  But now, onto the bulk of the article!

 

Image Tags

 

The biggest gripe I had with inaccessibility is not being able to read menu items.  This often is because the developer decided to use a fancy UI, with a nice image based interface, and didn’t add image tags to the images in question.  So you have things like a navigational map, or even the main menu screen and the self-voicing mode in Ren’py can’t read them, because image tags aren’t set in place for the menu items.  All you need to do, is make sure if you’re using a UI that is image based, that you tag each item in the menu with a description.  This description can be as basic as “Load Game” or “Inventory” or it can be as in depth as describing the image in question, and also stating the menu item.  But, especially if you’re planning to use a custom background or splash screen on the initial screen of your VN, and you want it to be accessible with self-voicing mode, be sure to use image tags to describe the item, or what the image looks like if you’re so inclined.  The main thing is the menu item being read, descriptions of images are just a bonus.

 

Easy Navigation

 

Stylizing your game is great.  It adds tons of personality and flare to a game.  But if you’re planning on making your game have drag and drop features, or things you have to click, make sure that there are alternative navigation features to this gameplay.  So many times I’ve dealt with a game being half accessible, only to have to have a sighted peer do something finicky because I can’t use the mouse and arrow properly to click.  So if you’re going to have navigation with mice, or touchpads, be sure that when moving the navigator things read as you scroll past, or there’s just keyboard access to move around with keyboard arrows.

 

Text to Speech Full Functionality

 

The self-voicing feature in Ren’py is a fantastic feature that can be well utilized.  But if you as the developer do something to make that functionality not work, you need to compensate for it.  Say you have voice actors voicing the dialogue in your VN.  That’s perfectly fine, but are the menu items still readable?  Was there somewhere in the code that somehow broke this, perhaps using images for menu choices?  It’s important to make sure if you don’t want to use self-voicing in Ren’py, that there’s some sort of text to speech alternative built into your game you can have turn on and off for players.  There are a lot of resources out there to make this possible, but I’m not well versed enough in coding to know how to do it exactly.    I’ve seen it done in games though, and it’s always a breath of fresh air when you don’t have to worry that somewhere along the road you’re playing a game, and it just is going to stop reading for some reason or another.

 

Navigation Queues

 

If you’re going to have sequences in your game where you have to take control of a character to walk around, navigational queues are key.  I’ve seen great success with a radar and beacon system, with sort of call and response noises relative to where you are, and where you’re headed.  The sound beeps louder the closer you get to it, and when you reach the location, a text to speech voice reads the sign, or tells you there’s a doorway, or something like that.  Of course, not every navigational system has to be like this, but I’m just giving a basic guideline of how something like this might work.  The big thing is making sure there is some sort of audio feedback if you need to control a character and walk around with them.  Same goes for item hunting, enemies nearby, attacking noises:  all of these need distinct sounds a blind or VI gamer can use to know their surroundings as well as a sighted player would.

 

You can do the same with the atmosphere of the surroundings.  Are you near a river?  Make a running water sound apparent.  Near trees and birds?  Make birds sound overhead walking on some leaves.  There’s so much creative sound design out there, and with the strides in binaural and stereo soundscapes, you can get majorly creative here.  I know   this probably won’t be as in depth with a visual novel, but for other games it’s definitely something to consider.

 

Conclusion

 

Those are the major things I’d consider important to me when asking for access in video games.  It doesn’t tick every box of course, I’m only one disabled demographic.  But as far as being a blind gamer is concerned, I hope this is a good launching pad for anyone who needs tips on what to get started with when considering to make your game accessible for the blind and visually impaired.  I’ve seen such amazing strides in the industry as of late, so I hope this article can help whoever stumbles across it with their game development choices!

Books · Editorials/Opinion Pieces

Fairy Tale Retellings Trope Talk

I was planning on writing a few reviews of some fairy tale retellings/reimagining’s that I’ve been getting into recently.  I read a few in the past month, and when I sat down to write the first review for one of the series’ I found myself coming up blank.  Not because I didn’t have a lot to say about the book, but because after reading a few in consecutive order, I realized what I wanted to talk about wasn’t just with that book series, and was more a fault of the fairy tale retelling genre in general.
So, for the first time, I’m going to be talking about tropes that I dislike.  With a lot of the retellings, they had a really good premise, and the synopses made them sound really interesting.  But after reading through them, there were parts of the books that just frustrated me, and permeated throughout the genre.  Out of the six that I read, there were two that I just found beautiful and a really good take on the fairy tales they retold.  They added to the lore of the original story, fleshed out certain aspects of them, and made them a true joy to read and had me thinking about them for a long time.  These retellings however, stuck very true to the originals, and simply expanded upon the source material with character work, magical lore, and world building.

 

The retellings I had more of an issue with, were the ones that were calling themselves retellings, but were really a reimagining.  Think of The Lunar Chronicles:  those books are heavily inspired by the fairy tales within them, but at the same time they stand on their own ground as an interesting series with a lot of fairy tale whimsy in them.

 

The reimagining’s I’ve read recently though, don’t hit a good balance between either of those.  They set themselves in a fantasy world, with its own lore and magic systems, but then they try and throw so much of the original fairy tale in there, while making it modern and cool, that the tropes were just so easy to pick out after a certain point.  I’m not saying tropes are bad, one executed well is always fun to see.  But if I can read a story, see a character pop up, call the trope before any hints are dropped and be right, well…that’s entirely too many tropes used to propel  your story forward, and it got pretty annoying after reading a few of these.

 

I’m not going to list these in any particular order, but I want to point out the ones I’ve noticed the most, and why they bug me so much.

 

  • The Prince is evil trope.  I blame Frozen for this honestly.  I notice it more in stories that were written after 2013.  But the whole a Prince shows up, is too good to be true, then oh snap, without any sort of hints or setup, he’s evil!  Then you find that out 3 or 4 chapters before stories end, and you’re just supposed to be on board with this.  It frustrates me especially because a lot of the time, this trope isn’t set up like in Frozen.  Instead, we see two love interests, one treats the main character like a jerk, the other like a charming, perfect gentlemen.  We see the nice guy court our heroine throughout the entire story, get invested in their romance, then without warning, bam!  He’s evil because…he has to be!  After all of the nice moments we saw throughout the book, seeing them connect and be a super cute couple, the Prince just turns out to be evil and it’s always infuriating.

 

I’ve seen it done well once.  Where the Prince turns out to be distant for a reason, and doesn’t turn out to be evil.  The relationship between him and our main character develops nicely, and while you may not be rooting for them when the story starts, you see their relationship grow into something nice.  The nicer guy turns out to be evil, but there were breadcrumbs left for us throughout the story to see this slowly shifting in the character.  I think it’s important to realize, that in Frozen, because it’s a movie, it’s fine to not see the Prince who turns out to be the bad guy in the movie.  We didn’t know much about him anyway, so him being evil wasn’t a big surprise:  We didn’t spend time with him or the main character, not long enough to be invested in their relationship, so it’s not a shocking blow when he just turns on our main characters.

 

But in a book, you have so much room to set up glimpses of a darker nature.  You can have the Prince and our main heroine connect, and have a relationship blossom, but we can have other scenes with the Princes darker side.  We don’t even need different scenes, we can just have glimpses when he’s with the MC or something.  But just having the rug pulled from under the reader is really irritating to me, and even though this isn’t a numbered list, this has to be the top thing that bothers me the most about fairy tale retellings.

 

  • The strong, independent woman trope.  Now I like strong women in stories, they’re usually my favorite characters.  But in fairy tale retellings, the MC is always the extreme of this trope.  I have a feeling it’s because of the makeup of the original fairy tale, where the women are always docile and more of a set piece  in their stories.  But there can be a nice balance between a strong, independent woman, and the more docile fair.  You can be strong in a non-sword toting, kick butt and take names kind of way and I rarely see this in fairy tale retellings.  The few exceptions I’ve seen are in Kate Stradling’s works, especially in Brine and Bone.  The Lunar Chronicles as well has a good balance of both fierce women, in masculine and feminine ways and I just wish we saw that more than the 1 type of woman.

 

  • The secondary love interest, who is a jerk to our heroine the entire story.  But for some reason, he has this sexy allure and the Prince is evil, so she winds up with him at the end!  Granted, this isn’t just a fairy tale retelling trope, it’s in a lot of books and will never become not frustrating.  But seriously, a guy being a jerk to you for the entirety  of you knowing him, him softening up not because he wants to, but because you call him out on his garbage treatment of you, then falling for him because he’s the supposed better choice?  I can’t stand it.  It’s obnoxious, and like I said earlier, it only happens when the Prince is evil!  I mean, why can’t our MC just end up with no one sometimes?  That’s ok too.  The only time this trope works is in Beauty and the Beast retellings, and for obvious reasons:  Because that’s the entire point of the story.

There are others I could point out, but they honestly aren’t as offensive as these 3.  The main character having a friend they meet that is the only one that likes them, the animal sidekick, the MC being clueless or down on herself, the MC having secret siblings and parentage they don’t know of.  All of these don’t bother me nearly as much as the ones I outlined earlier in the post.  Obviously, if my ranting isn’t an indicator, the evil Prince trope bothers me the most and it just has gotten to the point where it makes the read unenjoyable because that trope is so easy to spot.  Can we please get some more original stuff in these retellings, please?

 

All of that being said, I do thoroughly enjoy fairy tale retellings.  While they may blend together after a certain point, they do have interesting ideas in them, are major page turners, and the romances for the most part are an enjoyable ride.  The action in them is well thought out, and I really respect the author’s ability to craft a fairy tale connected universe, while having each book be a standalone.  The fantasy worlds are well thought out, as are the magic systems, and it’s always fun to spot references to the original story in their midst.

 

But the tropes…ugh, the tropes!

 

I hope you enjoyed this rather different type of post.  I enjoyed ranting about said tropes, at least.  Do you have any tropes in media you watch that you can’t stand, while still enjoying said media?  Let me know in the comments!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces

Kindle PC App Accessibility Review

I stumbled upon this information a while ago.  I did so because I was looking into getting a Kindle tablet, and in my research, I was linked podcasts talking about Kindle accessibility.  I’m not sure how long ago this happened, but the Kindle for PC app works seamlessly with the NVDA screen reader – a free screen reader for PC, and the one I’ve used for years.  This was super refreshing, so I figured I’d download it and give it a go.  There’ve been too many times where something has been said to be accessible, and it was a lot harder to get working after actually trying it.  I’m all for trying new things, but it does get frustrating when you think something will be just out of the box accessible, and it’s harder to use than originally stated.  Sometimes I try anyway, sometimes I give up – but the fact that that’s even a problem in itself gets a little annoying a lot of the time.  Just a fact of being blind, but hopefully it changes in the future with companies like Amazon and Apple putting their best feet forward.

 

Now, how does Kindle for PC work with NVDA?  Why, seamlessly!  I honestly was pleasantly surprised to find that after I figured out I was trying a non-text to speech enabled book, and got one that was text to speech enabled, that it indeed worked just like you were browsing a webpage.  Kindle had a basic accessibility feature before, but in order to read you had to use this really annoying Windows Narrator voice to do so.  I couldn’t bare it, never tried to use it to read a book after just not being able to take the voice.

 

With the Kindle for PC and NVDA accessibility however, you’re using the voice you’re accustomed to using while doing everything else on the computer.  I read fanfics with this voice, so needless to say it was so nice to be able to read books with the voice I’m used to, at my own pace.

 

While I like Audible Books, sometimes, the narrator of a book makes me not want to read the book.  Nothing against the narrator, but some voices just don’t gel with me like other voices.  Audio books are a lot more expensive also, so unless you want to subscribe to Audible monthly, you’d be spending upwards of 20 to 30 dollars per book.  On Audible’s PC app, you can’t speed up the book, so you’re stuck reading at whatever pace the book is set.

I like my audio books, don’t get me wrong, but it is nice to have the option of reading an ebook if I don’t feel like having the audio version.  I can read Kindle books at my own pace – I find myself clearing 5 chapters in 1 hour, as opposed to 1 chapter for 1 hour or more – and the problem of possibly not liking the narrator is voided because of the screen reader.  If it’s not a book I’m really anticipating in audio book format, I’d rather just get the Kindle Book and read with the screen reader, so this accessibility is great.  I tested this with the books I’m reading right now, and I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to read the audio book because the narrator isn’t what I pictured for the book, so Kindle is already paying off.  That, plus I’ve spent 30 dollars on 3 books, instead of 1.  It makes me want to read more, and since I used to love reading when I had more vision, I’m really grateful to Amazon for taking the time to make Kindle accessible in a widely available way for the blind.  No overpriced add on, no overpriced devices – just two free pieces you can download to enjoy your books.  Never thought it’d be possible, but it is.

 

If you’re worried about a book not being text to speech enabled (they have to be to work with the NVDA accessibility) you can download a free sample of the book, and see if it works.  You also can just see if you’d be interested in the book, so I’ve totally been using this feature for every book I’ve downloaded.  Other than the 2nd and 3rd books in a series.  I find the free sample feature super useful, both to double check accessibility, and as a consumer, to see if I’d want the book.

 

I bring this up because like I said earlier, the first thing I downloaded worked with the old crappy accessibility, but it said it was text to speech enabled.  That only happened with one book I tried, mind you, but it’s something to mention if you’re worried about dropping money on a book, and it not being accessible.  Free sample is the way to go regardless for me, but testing accessibility with this as a work around to do so is just a little trick I figured I’d pass along.  The only hrmm thing about Kindle is that every book may not be accurate in its text to speech enabled status, so like I said I’d just get the free sample and double check to be sure.

 

The search functions, notes, highlighting, and dictionary all work as well.  Just Hit the applications key on a word, the definition pops up.  Shift and arrow to select a passage, right click and you can highlight.  Search, and the search function shows you possible results – like legit, everything is accessible, and it’s so great.  A lot of the time only half an application gets accessible, so once again, bravo Amazon.

 

If you can’t tell, I’m so happy with Kindle for PC, and it’s accessibility.  I heard Kindle tablets have a built in screen reader, and that’s why I researched into purchasing one, but I haven’t gotten one yet so can’t talk on how good or bad the screen reader is on that device.  The Kindle accessibility makes me want to buy a Kindle tablet more than ever however, so to me that means Amazon is going in the right direction with their accessibility.

 

I didn’t know this existed until recently, so even though it’s been out for a while, I wanted to make this post for anyone like me, who may not have known about Kindle for PC app accessibility, and would like to be able to have access to ebooks like everyone else.  It’s really good to use, and since it’s free, I’d say give it a try!

 

Disney · Editorials/Opinion Pieces

iTunes Rental and Audio Description Review

I hear a lot of flak given to Apple products nowadays, and especially, iTunes.  Honestly, I don’t understand why, because a lot of the reasons – the DRM protection, only able to use it on one device – is rather cross platform for any sort of digital media.  I don’t use it too much, but if I want to buy something digitally, I tend to use iTunes as an option because it’s nice to have the software just right on my computer for me to open and browse the store.
My main reason for keeping iTunes when I rarely use it however, is the sheer amount of audio description content that is on iTunes.  It far trumps Netflix, and you can actually own the things with said audio description if you’re so inclined.  I’m not one for buying movies and TV shows, but I’ve been wanting to try the audio description features, and iTunes rentals, for a long time and have a lot of movies I’ve been wanting to watch, since I don’t really go to the movies and pretty much I haven’t seen a loooot of stuff from the past six years or so.

 

So, put your hands together!  This will be a review of both the iTunes rentals and how it works, and the audio description on iTunes, and how it works.  Let’s get into it!

 

The Rental Process

 

Renting on iTunes is just like buying anything else on iTunes.  Search for the title, and results will pop up.  You can also just sift through categories, but what’s the fun in that unless you want to just hunt down something you may not have known existed before for a good watch.  For me, I’m very behind in my Disney and Pixar watching, and had seen a review about it recently critiquing it a bit harshly, so I wanted to see what all the hub bub was about Brave and decided to rent that.  I enjoyed it far more than I expected, if you’re wondering, but that’s another topic for another post.

 

So I searched for Brave in the iTunes store, and went to the page.  It has two options:  To buy, or to rent.  Buy is the first option, and the far more expensive option, and rent is underneath it.  Underneath all of the buying functions, there’s an HD and SD option for the quality of the video.  I want to point this out especially to blind and visually impaired viewers, because SD is 1 dollar less.  If you don’t have enough vision to see the graphics and animation of the movie, I’d suggest saving the extra dollar and getting the SD quality.  Every penny counts, right?

 

 

After that you’re prompted to buy the media, if you have the prompt set in your preferences.  Then buy it, and you’re good to go!  If you go back to the movie page, then it shows you how many days you have left to watch the movie.  Go into your iTunes library, check movies, and pick Rentals, and bam your rental is there!  A very easy process, if I do say so myself.  I had to reset up my iTunes account so it took a bit longer, but when actually having everything setup, renting was a breeze.

 

Playing and Watching the Movie

 

Go down to the section where all of your movies are when you’re ready to play it.  If you’ve left that section selected and closed iTunes, it will still be on that tab which is nice.  There’s a section that says “Grid” and that’s where the movie is.  You have the option to simply play the movie, which is streaming it via iCloud, or to download it, which gets it directly to your hard drive, so you can watch it offline.  I didn’t do download, so I assume that’s what it does, correct me if I’m wrong.

 

It’s pretty straight forward from there, hit play, the movie takes a while to load, then play. The movie has its own window independent from iTunes, so you can use all the normal media controls over there.  I didn’t want to chance anything until the credits, but I played around with it when it got there and hitting pause or rewind and fast forward does nothing to affect your rental.  I rented something from iTunes a loooong time ago, and that wasn’t the case before, so it was nice to see they had fixed that with the new version of rentals.

 

How Rentals Work After Playing Them


This is another feature of rentals that wasn’t here when I rented before, but you don’t only get to watch the movie once, which is nice.  When you go to hit play, a pop up dialogue shows up and says “If you start playing this, you’ll have 48 hours to watch the movie.  Are you sure you want to play?”.  Hit yes, and you get to watch the movie as many times as you want within that 48 hour period.  I’m not one to watch a movie more than once, but I just thought it was a nice feature.  Like I said, I really did like Brave, so I’m tempted to watch it again before I lose it in my rental library.

 

Before you hit play, you have 30 days to watch the movie.  If you hit play is when the 48 hours start, so if you just don’t have time to watch something and rented it, you have 30 days to do so before you lose it.  I personally don’t rent a movie unless I know I’m going to watch it soon, but figured I’d mention it for anyone who has a busy life and wants to make sure they have ample time to watch a movie rental.

 

Audio Description

 

Now for what I was most excited to try, the audio description feature!  iTunes has made it really easy to make sure you know something has audio description before you buy it.  On the movie or TV show page, it has an icon that says “AD” on it, underneath where it would say if it has closed captions.  This makes it really easy to see if you get audio description, when on other platforms like Google Play, when I’ve looked to see if movies had audio description, it was impossible to see if something had it or not.  iTunes has the info right up in your face, so there’s no if, ands or buts to whether or not it has audio description – see AD, and you’re good.  Knowing what companies do audio description on their media helps tons too:  I picked a movie from the Disney conglomerate of media, because I know they all have audio description.  So you’re pretty much safe if you want to watch a Marvel, Disney, or Pixar movie.

 

To make sure audio description plays when you start streaming your movie, first go into Edit:  Preferences.  There’s an option that you check that says “Play audio description when available” and all you have to do is check that, and it works on your PC or Mac.  Keep in mind, I did all of this on the PC, so your experience  may be different, depending on what sort of device you’re using.  For me, I had no issues on the PC simply checking the box, hitting ok, and having it work when I streamed the movie.  I made sure to double check preference’s just in case, but I’m the cautious type.  Absolutely no issues with the audio description not working throughout the entire movie, and no issues with the movie stopping midway or anything:  was a 100 percent smooth experience, and I really enjoyed every part of the process.

 

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

A few things I’d like to mention that I couldn’t fit in some categories are the volume of the movie.  I thought it was a bit low, and that’s a major pet peeve of mine.  It wasn’t hard to hear without headphones with nothing on, but if you were say, doing housework and wanted to have a movie on while working, you’d have to hook it up to some sort of Bluetooth speaker to be able to hear it with any sort of volume.  I had everything maxed out and it was still kind of annoying how low the movie was, but not enough for me to feel the need to put on headphones.  I watched it in bed, so was rather chill and doing nothing while doing so, but if you like to multi task take that into consideration.
The audio description was very well done.  There are a lot of visual things in Brave, and the way the audio description described it, paired with the audio of the movie really made the mannerisms of a certain character come to life in my mind.  Whoever Disney Pixar uses, their studio is great and I can’t wait to watch more.  Next on my list is Coco, really can’t wait to catch up with what I’ve missed animation wise.

 

I hope that if you don’t like iTunes, or don’t use it, this review lets you see one of the benefits to doing so.  For blind users, I hope this info is useful to you if you’ve been on the fence about trying iTunes audio description, and to sighted users, I hope this was interesting information to read!

Cartoons · Editorials/Opinion Pieces

My Problem With Voltron: Legendary Defender and Its Writing

I’m an avid fan of Voltron:  Legendary Defender, if my past reviews of a few of the seasons isn’t any indication.  Recently, seasons 6 and 7 dropped rather close together:  Season 6 on June 15, and season 7 on August 10.  Now usually I write reviews about each season, but for these past 2 I didn’t (I had my computer out of commission for season 6, but that’s beside the point).  I held off reviewing both seasons because honestly, there wouldn’t be much else I’d say about it that I haven’t already said.  I enjoyed it, plot points met their assumed conclusion, and new ones came up…only to be resolved rather quickly.

For me, this has been an ongoing issue with VLD.  There’s a lot of good character work, and the plot is interesting, with lulls here and there.  But it always brings itself back to being what it started as at its core:  a space opera, with drama, character development, and awesome mecha action scenes.

 

But can the show evolve past this point?  I’ve found myself asking this, especially with the last 2 seasons.  Season 7 was a full 13 episode season as well, and I feel like we’ve just gone back to status quo, as far as the characters are concerned.  Can the writing get past the basic premise of Form Voltron, save the universe?
I’m going to be talking about plot and character specific stuff beyond this point, so if you’re not caught up with Voltron:  The Legendary Defender, don’t read past this point.

 

Spoilers!  Spoilers!  Proceed at your Own Risk!!!

 

So the biggest plot points I’d like to address as far as the issue of not taking risks when writing are the Pidge’s search for her Dad plot, the Evil/Clone Shiro Plot, and the Lotor’s deception Plots.  All three of these aren’t the only plots I feel like the writing could have been better with, but they’re the biggest ones that I think had the most missed opportunities’ with them.

 

The Search For Pidge’s Family

 

I forget which season Pidge actually finds her Father, but there was such a big build up to this plot point.  We find out Pidge’s brother and Father went missing a few years before in season 1, and her entire story arc for the first half of the series is her drive to find them, wherever they are.  Through intel from Lotor, she finds out their location, goes on a hunt to find them, and ultimately does find them.  Her Father has been captive in the Galra Empire for the past few years, building tech for them.  In the end there was a skirmish  that resulted in saving Papa Pidge, but like…to me it would have been a lot more interesting if perhaps, there were more stakes than saving him?

 

 

What if it turned out that Sam had been indoctrinated into the Galra Empire, and used as a sleeper agent or mole?  Then they send him back to Pidge, and he’s secretly sending them intel from the other side of the war.  Pidge finds out, and has to make a tough choice of what to do with her Father.  She has to re-evaluate whether or not looking for him was the right choice.  Maybe she should have never gone down this path?  But instead, Sam is just instantly good, he’s saved, and no harm no fowl for our heroes.

 

Along with that plot, why couldn’t Matt, Pidge’s brother actually be dead?  There were so many red herrings that pointed to just that, but ultimately, once again, oh wait Matt is alive and all is well, he’s ready to help Voltron! I’m not saying every plot has to end in doom and gloom, but making some of the characters morally gray, or not what they seem would make the Voltron Paladin’s have to rethink and refocus, growing more as characters, and reacting differently to situations in a way that isn’t just them being the heroes of the story.  This constant cycle of the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad doesn’t work all of the time and it feels like the writers just want to keep it that way, with scarce reasons to throw a wrench in the main characters plans by shaking it up a bit with supporting characters that are actually close to them.

 

And on that note…

 

 

The Shiro Clone Saga

 

Voltron likes to build up multi season long arcs, and end them almost instantly as soon as the actual details are revealed.  We had this plot thread of what’s up with Shiro?  For 2 to 3 seasons and as soon as the cat came out of the bag, the thread was wrapped up in a matter of three episodes.  We found out Shiro is a clone, oh no!  That’s fine, cuz Kieth fought him and brought him back.  After that, we find out Shiro’s soul has been hanging out in the Black Lion, how will we get him out?  Oh Allura is magicXmachina, it’s fine.  She got him out literally in the last five minutes of the final episode of season 6.  Then in the first episode of season 7, he wakes up and is back to normal, all be it his soul is now in the clone body because his is missing…or something.

 

And all I have to say about this is, why couldn’t evil clone Shiro have been a full or half season arc?  After all of that build up, why was this story resolved in four episodes?  In season 7 after Shiro wakes up, all we get from it is a few jokes here and there but nothing more.  Real Shiro is back, it’s fine!  Don’t stop watching the show fans, it’s ok.  I mean I’m only half kidding here, with how they rush things that is indeed how some of these plots feel.  The characters don’t have time to react to their trauma, or plot developments, and the audience is just left wondering how they feel.  It’s sloppy writing, and makes the show a bit confusing as far as it’s themes go:  Does it want to be an ensemble character piece, showing these characters fighting through a centuries long universal war and growing and dealing with it?  Or does it just want to use its characters as the engine for the plot.  Either thing is fine, but trying to do both and only do both halfway is a bit jarring.

 

Lotor’s Deception

 

This leads into my next and final point.  The characters, when faced with a problem, never react in a way you wouldn’t expect them to.  There is never any sort of second guessing, never any doubt.  Allura, after being shown that Lotor was using and lying to her, instantly went gasp!  How dare you!  I’m totally on the side of my friends!

 

Lotor and Allura had a teased romantic relationship, to the point where the two have them shared the first on scene kiss.  So why, when confronted with the information that Lotor was lying to her, didn’t she ask Lotor to explain?  Why wasn’t she like wait guys, I have an emotional attachment to this character, why don’t we slow down and figure out what’s going on before turning on him.  She finds out this information right after the kiss too, so I feel like she would be a little more cloudy with her judgement.  But, we need to get to the season finale, so she just instantly believes her friends and turns on Lotor.  All in all some interesting character growth that could have been stretched a bit longer, but wasn’t.  It was rather disappointing, and even though I still adore Allura, why can’t she grow as a character through events in the plot happening to her?

 

And that is my main problem with the overall writing in Voltron: Legendary Defender.  It isn’t willing to take risks.  Why can’t we have dynamic character moments not linked to forming Voltron.  Why can’t our characters grow, and learn from their mistakes?  It just shows that our characters never had anything to learn, and overall this plot is about saving the universe, not them evolving into better people while saving the universe.

 

I won’t say that no character has grown:  Lance, Keith, and Hunk especially have grown as far as outward character traits.  But there’s no internal character growth there we see through them reacting to external plot events, every character who started out good remains good, and every evil character stays evil.  I didn’t mention this, but why couldn’t Lotor also be morally gray?  It seemed like they were going to go that route with him, but then they decided not to and make him the typical power hungry evil person.  Which, we already had with Zarcon, so why have more of the same?  Sure Lotor was different in their motivations, but ultimately they both ended the same way:  their narrow minded focus on getting what they want, when they want it.
That also is a problem with the show.  There’s a lot of flip flopping with our characters motivations, that doesn’t feel like it’s as much a fault with the characters, but a fault with the writing.  Or perhaps the format of the show?  Maybe the six to seven episode format has hindered the story telling, because I really don’t feel like this was a problem in seasons 1 and 2.  But who knows, maybe if I went back to those seasons I’d see those problems there.

 

Voltron:  The Legendary Defender is still my favorite modern animated series, but it’s lack of willing to take risks with its plot twists and characters is a problem I’m always going to have with the show.  For what it is, it’s enjoyable, but I just really wish the show would do a little more to be engaging.

 

What do you think though?  If you watch the show, do you have these problems with it as well?  Would you like the writing to take a bit more risks, or are you fine  with how the show is progressing?

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Uncategorized · Video Games

Making my First Game!

So I downloaded Renpy the middle of last year, learned some basic code, and never did anything with it.  For those of you who don’t know, renpy is a visual novel making engine, and my interest in visual novels got me into an interest in wanting to make visual novels.  But like I said, I just learned some basic code and did nothing else with it, until now.

One of my resolutions I made to myself was to get back into coding, and make a game.  As I said in an earlier post, there are so many visual novels out there that just aren’t accessible to the blind, and are great stories, and I’d love to fill that gap by making VNs that both sighted and blind players can enjoy.  For now, I’m making something really basic, and am a little nervous about actually getting art done, but I’m enjoying the coding process so far!  Of course, the most annoying thing is testing code and seeing it doesn’t work, but after doing a little bit of reading it was easy to pick backup what I had learned earlier to start making my VN.  I’m debating just making it a text adventure, or audio adventure, but right now I’m just working on the coding and am going to hash out sound effects, visuals, and all of that stuff later.  I’m honestly happy I have so many skills, my jill of all tradesness pays off!  Because I’m going to make a few simple tracks of music, and possibly add my own voice acting in there.  Kind of high hopes, and a decent amount of work, but I really want to be done with the coding by the end of next week, and then go from there as far as the other parts of production are concerned.

 

So, how do I like making a visual novel?  It’s really fun!  I love using it as a creative medium, I feel like it’s the best of both worlds:  has good story telling potential, and you can choose to make it all audio, all text, or a combonation of both.  I’m thinking of exploring making an audio adventure in the engine later down the road, because that also would combine my love of sound design and audio mixing.  But for now, I’m enjoying making my cute little slice of life game 🙂

 

I’ll keep you guys posted, and share the VN I’m working on now when it’s done!  I really want to keep myself on a time schedule, because I’d like to churn out this project fast and get not only coding something under my belt, but know what it takes to make a VN under my belt, as well.  It’s been an interesting learning experience, I’m realizing it takes a lot more to make a game then just having an idea you want to make.  Of course my favorite part is the writing, and coming up with ideas on how to make said game, so I’m having tons of fun!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

Let’s Talk About Visual Novel Accessibility, Shall We? An Update

You may remember a while ago I talked about getting into playing visual novels, and how easy it was to tell when one was accessible or not.  Time for an update, because I’ve been trying to play more commercial VNs (think Doki Doki Literature Club, Long Live the Queen) and we’re running into a lot of problems here.

 

When I first got into VNs, I was only playing free ones. Well, I’ve been looking at ones now that are more commercial, have more to them coding wise than the free ones do, and are longer.  They have the same structure as the free ones – text, pictures, choices to make.  Some of them have an RPG element to them, picking a party and doing battles/making a battle formation, which seems really fun…if it were playable.

 

Almost every commercial quality VN I’ve played is inaccessible in some way.  The self-voicing feature can’t be activated at all, or if it is able to be activated, there’s something in the game that it can’t read.  The battle system in one comes to mind in particular, which definitely was a hope dashing experience when I thought I could play a really cool looking game, only to get to the point in the demo where you make your battle formation, choose items, and have absolutely nothing read because you had to drag and drop, or click with the mouse.  Even when navigating with the keyboard, it would make a clicky noise like it was moving to something, but not say what.  If the text is readable when the actual visual novel part of the game is going, then why is it so hard to make the text to speech work when you’re playing with the actual game mechanics?

 

Some VNs read, but the load and save features do not.  I noticed that while playing Blind Love, a visual novel I’m let’s playing on my YouTube Channel.  A visual novel that says on it’s itch.io page that it’s accessible to the blind, where if you didn’t read that on the page, and didn’t know how to activate self-voicing, you’d be out of luck:  it tells you when to activate self-voicing, and how to, after you’ve gone through the naming the character screen.  I’m glad they made a point to have it be accessible to the blind, but seriously?  Just a little more forethought should go into that sequence of events:  Have a narrator, or one of your voice actors say “Press V to activate self-voicing mode” before the title screen even loads up.  In that game, the main menu where it says “Start New Game” “Load Game”, “Quit Game” doesn’t read at all, so you have to just guesstimate where menu items are and hope you picked the right one.  I just decided to save on different files in that to avoid the possibility of not saving, or loading before saving, because saving and loading in it isn’t reading with self-voicing activated either, and it’s frustrating to see a game saying it’s accessible when the menus aren’t.

 

Doki Doki Literature Club doesn’t even allow self-voicing to activate, and that’s the case with all of the commercial, or commercial quality games I’ve played.  I’m enjoying the free ones, but those are usually short test novels for people who are starting ren’py coding and it just doesn’t satisfy my VN itch.

 

 

So I ask:  Why is it so hard to make a text, picture, music medium accessible, especially when ren’py has self-voicing as an option built into the engine?  Is it really so difficult?  Or do developers seriously not know that blind people would want to read their stories.  I’ve contacted a VN developer before, and they were open to adding accessible features to their VN, so I feel like they just don’t know it’s something they can utilize.  In which, it’s up to blind people to contact said developers if they want a change, and see what they can do.  I plan to do this, and I want to branch out into making my own visual novels that are accessible, with cool stuff in it like the commercial ones have, but that’s very far off in the future I feel.  I’d love to see developers put in the effort to do a bit of research, and integrate the self-voicing feature as an option, so blind players can enjoying the story telling of the genre.  I feel like it wouldn’t take much, but it does take making developers aware of the situation, which is something I plan to do in the near future!

 

And that’s an update on VN accessibility.  If you know of some good accessible VN’s, or some good developers to get in contact with, let me know!  I’d love to start a discussion with some devs, and see what we can do.  The only way we’re going to move things in the right direction is by starting a dialogue with game developers!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Uncategorized · Video Games

A Musical Moment: The Extreme from Final Fantasy VIII

With the hype for Final Fantasy Dissidia NT growing the past few months, and this being Final Fantasy’s 30th anniversary, I’ve been in a major Final Fantasy nostalgia mood this year.  My favorite game is VI, but there are a few games I just never quite got into, or always thought were lacking and forgot about them over the years.  After watching some Dissidia and Dissida 2 footage, it’s changed my opinion of some characters, and therefore, made me look more into the games they originated from.

 

One of these characters was Squall.  Never liked him as a character, because he was “emo” and just so uncaring to me, with a one-dimensional character.  Seeing him voiced, and actually quite entertaining even though he is a loner and prefers to be alone, honestly reminded me of myself in ways I didn’t identify with younger.  To me, Squall is a character who doesn’t mind being alone, but at the same time always wants a connection with people that he longs for, and because of his reclusive nature can never 100 percent reach.  It’s really fascinating to watch, and his voice actor isn’t bad either!

 

I love all Final Fantasy music, and love a lot of tracks from FFVIII.  Man with the Machine Gun, Fisherman’s Horizon, the world map theme.  All really iconic tracks, along with the battle and boss themes.  I remembered the final boss theme being really good, but totally forgot how awesome it was until I heard it in game footage of Squall vs. Ultemesia gameplay, and dang!

 

 

I can’t get over how amazing this piece of music is.  Nabuo Uematsu never disappoints, and with this track, there is no acception.  I can’t get over how much different this is from other final battle entries in the series:  the two games before this, Final Fantasy VI and VII definitely are more character showcase pieces than something like this.  Dancing Mad (Final Fantasy VI_ is setup more like an overture/opera, and the music is so synonymous with that fight, and Kefka, that it’s hard to think of anything more than climbing up the distorted  statues, and destroying the man who believed himself to be a god.  One Winged Angel is iconic for being the first battle music with a choir, but once again, it’s 100 percent connected to Sephiroth (they say his name repeatedly in the chorus, after all) and there’s no possible way I could ever hear One-Winged Angel without thinking of Sephiroth, and FF7.
The Extreme however, is a completely different experience.  It starts out  haunting, eerie, desolate. It feels like there’s no hope left, and that there are such higher stakes at hand if you lose this battle.  After that section ends, the battle music starts, and gets your heart pumping.  It truly feels like you’re fighting for your life, that if you fail here you’re failing the world, and overall the entire listening experience is both a combination of “We have to do this/can we do this?” determined courage, fear, tension, all culminate in this track to make it a truly emotional experience, and I’m sad I totally forgot about this track until recently! I absolutely love the use of minor chords in the main melody to sound like the section should be resolving, but at the same time leaves that air of tension and dread abound.  This is some of Uematsu’s best meldoy work hands down, and the way this track just crawls further and further up until it crescendos back to the beginning of the battle section is so perfect to me.

 

Final Fantasy VIII is one of those games that is overlooked hardcore.  It was between VI, VII, and IX, and all of those are such beloved games that VIII just falls through the cracks because it tried something new with it’s characters, gameplay, and storytelling.  I used to be that way, but revisitng the game has really made me appreciate Final Fantasy VIII for what it is:  A tale about inner discovery, with a scifi plot that may not seem like it makes sense on the surface, but is a really interesting and dynamic take on a time travel themed story.  Plus, the villan  is truly terrifying, and I think the first time we get a full on demonically supernatural creature to face.
That’s why The Extreme is such a fitting final battle piece.  It feels like we’re facing insurmountable odds, because we are:  We’re facing a witch who wants to completely reshape time for her own whims and domination, and facing her needed to have a track that really sounded like we were fighting for our lives.  The Extreme does that excellently, and is by far one of my new favorite final battle songs from the Final Fantasy series.

I hope you enjoyed this musical moment, that also turned into a mini discussion about Final Fantasy VIII!  I’d love to know: What’s you’re favorite game in the series, and favorite final battle song?

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!