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?

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.

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!

Video Games

The Nintendo Switch Launch -A Beautiful Disaster

But not really.  Since the press conference in January, I’ve been trying to get my hands on a Switch console for pre-order.  Needless to say,  was unsuccessful in doing so but that was a blessing in disguise.  Why, you might ask?  This launch has been so poorly executed, both on the side of the retailers, and Nintendo, that it’s gotten to the point where I’m just going to wait a few months before getting a console.  One of many reasons being, because Nintendo I feel was very misleading with their launch titles.

 

So a while back, they announced a Streetfighter 2 port.  I was majorly excited!  Fighting games are my jam, hands down my favorite genre to play.  What does Nintendo announce today?  That Streetfighter won’t be out until May.  If I had pre-ordered a console, I would have been pissed that I had to wait until May to get something I actually wanted to play because Breath of the Wild doesn’t really interest me.  There are a lot of games that they showed in the January press conference that Nintendo made it seem like would be releasing on launch, but then later down the line they said nope it’s coming out a month or two after launch.  The launch titles are really just Breath of the Wild and 1, 2, Switch, plus a lot of ports from old systems I don’t really care for.
Along with the lacking catalog at launch (I can forgive that, it’s just Nintendo’s way at this point) the retailers are so haphazard with this!  I’ve called around to so many retailers, and they don’t know anything.  I’ve seen so many news articles about pre-orders not being able to be fulfilled because stores were not concrete in how many systems they’d get, Best Buy saying they aren’t going to be getting as many consoles as they were told, and their midnight launch is just going to be to pick up pre-orders (another mislead). When I talked to Target, they said they were only getting 15, that’s right fifteen consoles and were going to be doing a ticket system for people to buy.  Walmart has no idea, but is just selling to people on a lay away program, and Game Stop is…well, acting like Game Stop usually does.  I have no idea how they’re working the launch, but overall the retailers are being kept in the dark, all the while Nintendo is giving out free consoles to “Nintendo Influencers” with Breath of the Wild,, but really they don’t have much to review with the console, because Breath of the Wild doesn’t have any of the Switch’s features built in.  It doesn’t use HD Rumble, and 1, 2, Switch I doubt is an indication of the full potential of the Switch’s capacity since it’s just a party game.

 

I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m severely disappointed in how Nintendo is handling this launch.  Not a large launch catalog, along with Nintendo’s usual supply and demand issues just made me decide to wait until May or June to pick up a console, because at least then there will be games I want to play and the pointless hype and pre-order madness will be no more.  It’s really frustrating to not be able to pick it up at launch, for the sole reason of bad planning on Nintendo’s part.  But why should I be surprised?  This always happens with any major launch with Nintendo.  I guess I was just hoping for something a bit more organized for a change.

 

Were you able to get a Nintendo Switch pre-order?  Or are you waiting until the hype dies down to pick a console up.

Video Games

Nintendo Switch Press Conference Highlights

The Nintendo Switch Press Conference just ended and I am still riding that hype so I wanted to post real quick about it!  I’m sure you’ll be able to find plenty of news about it tomorrow, so I’m just going to mention some of my own highlights from the stream:

 

  • Even though Nintendo has a bad habit of not launching titles we want with the console, the titles we’re getting still seem good. Arms seems super fun, and 1, 2, Switch seems like it’s going to be a nice title along the lines of Wii Sports that will just be some good casual fun.  Breath of the Wild launching with the console was a great surprise too, and the trailer shown at the end of the stream actually got me wanting to buy the game.  New Splitoon, and new Xenoblade Chronicles, along with new Fire Emblem  makes me want to get the console at launch just for the anticipation of the games.
  • Man, the controls seem so smooth! It seems like they finally worked out all of the mechanics from the Wiimote and the Joycon seems like it’ll be fun to play with.  I was told its size was pretty small, but hopefully that won’t be an issue.
  • I feel like Nintendo is secretly working towards making games accessible for everyone, because man that rumble technology seems sweet! Even just listening to it being used, it sounded like it would be a really great, tactile, multi-sensory gaming experience which is great for a blind gamer like me.  The sound design sounded fantastic, also:  I could hear from multiple directions, and the sound effects were great indicators to what was going on so AHHHH I can’t wait to get my hands on a Switch to plaaaay~
  • I really like that they’re going to add multi-player online play, along with a screen shot and video capture feature. Let’s plays, anyone?  The HDMI cable included just shows Nintendo is paying attention to what their consumers want, and are looking at the future of their console.  Which, is also something they normally do, with launch titles as well.

 

Mainly, I’m super excited for what seems to be accessibility with the joycon controls built in, and the experience Nintendo is going to be trying to create with this console.  Here’s hoping it stays true to its word when it comes out on March 3rd!  I know I’m going to be pre-ordering the console, how about you?