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!

Video Games

Alt-Frequencies Review

Alt-Frequencies is one of those games that I really wanted to like.  The premise is super fascinating:  You’re continuously being sent back in a time loop that lasts for a few minutes.  Within that time loop, you can record messages from different radio stations, and send them to other stations to help get the word out about government conspiracies.  How successful you are at getting said message out is entirely up to how much you pay attention to the different stations, and the different characters’ lives while you try to break the loop with your puzzle solving skills.
At its core, Alt-Frequencies is a mystery puzzle game.  I played it on PC, but it originally was for mobile, so the concept was using the touch screen to record messages.  I believe this gameplay can still be done on PC, but the developers of Alt-Frequencies made the game accessible to blind players by making sure you can turn on a mode that only has you using your keyboard.  It also automatically uses your screen reader to read menus, and any non-narrated segments of the game.  This was a wonderful thing to find out and made me instantly buy the game, because we need to support indi developers that have accessibility at the forefront of their minds.  But with all of that aside, how does Alt-Frequencies stack up as a game?

 

GAMEPLAY

 

Like I said, the gameplay is rather simple.  You hit enter to record a message, the up arrow to send a message, the space bar to hear a message you recorded, and the left and right arrows to switch between radio stations.  When you hear something you think is noteworthy and want to send to another station, just record and toggle over to the station you want to send it to, hit up, and they’ll react in a way that clearly tells you whether or not you got the right message to the right person, or whether you need to try something else.  It’s decently easy to figure out what you need to be doing and who you need to take cues from in regards to the puzzles, but at the same time I had a bit of a hard time with some of the later puzzles because it wasn’t super clear who you needed to send what to.  I’m not sure if that’s just my lack of puzzle solving skills, but a teeny bit more direction in where to go would have been nice in the later segments of the game.

 

It would seem like the mechanics would get boring, but I thought for how simple they were they were well executed, and I found myself wanting to find out what was going to happen next in the story.  Speaking of story…

 

PLOT

 

The plot was interesting, but didn’t land it’s mark.  The game when you know what you’re doing lasts about 2 hours tops, and for as much as they were developing the political intrigue it needed more time to have the story be ended satisfactorily.  It felt like we had just gotten into the meat of it, and then it slammed the breaks and the story ended.  The ending itself is a bit obligatory too, and doesn’t really feel like what we were heading towards story wise is what was supposed to happen.  I enjoyed the game overall, but really wish there was more time dedicated to fleshing out the story.

 

CHARACTERS

 

The characters and the radio stations themselves are the saving grace of this game.  The voice cast was really good at portraying their roles, and making me interested in what was going on for each radio station.  We have a small college station, jerky talk radio show host with more depth to him, big talk show duo and a few others I don’t want to spoil.  But as you go through the time loops, you can toggle through each station and hear how it’s effecting each person.  Do they buy into the time loop stuff?  Should they be doing something about it?  All of these emotions and plot beats are very well executed by the characters, and that’s why the length of the game is a bit disappointing – I really wanted to see more of a plot grow with the cast we got, and although you do see what all of them were doing in the final chapter, I just wish we would have gotten maybe two or three more chapters so the plot came to a better conclusion than we got.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Alt-Frequencies was still enjoyable to play overall.  If you want a short game just to play to pass the time, I’d say pick it up and give it a go.  It’s only $7.99 USD on Steam and I think for that price, you definitely get your money’s worth.  Even though I wanted more from the game, I liked what we got from it at the same time if that makes sense.  A solid 5 out of 10 for me, not annoyed I played it, but nothing that I’m wanting to play again any time soon.

 

You can pick up Alt-Frequencies here.

Video Games

So I’m Kind of Obsessed with Space Channel 5 Part 2 – Aka, a Review

Game accessibility doesn’t always start and end with it either needs to be an audio game, or it needs to have straight up accessibility features built into the UI.  Sometimes, all it takes is solid gameplay, simple controls, and game mechanics that are easy to grasp, and entertaining enough to mix up into different levels.

 

I recently went through the process of setting Steam up on my computer.  It was to test out a demo of a game that I was told it was going to be accessible, and turned out there were features in menus, but not for the gameplay.  I had gone through the process of setting it all up however, which wasn’t very easy to do (Steam setup isn’t accessible, but workable.  Topic for another post) so I figured, why not keep it installed on my computer, and play some games I knew I had always wanted to play, but were only on Steam.

 

I asked on Twitter for some game recommendations that a blind gamer could play, and got a response from a fellow blind gamer.  Their list was super helpful, and on it was Space Channel 5 Part 2 – a rhythm game from the Dreamcast era, that had easy controls, and said every pattern you were supposed to match verbally.
It’s been a week, and I’ve already clocked 9 hours into this game!  It’s so much fun, and such a basic setup.  It’s not only a rhythm game, but it has a plot that’s equal parts epic, and epically ridiculous.  The soundtrack is fantastic – very reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy music, and I find myself bopping to the music and wanting to replay the levels just to hear said music, and watch specific story beats in the game.

 

Now the big question for blind gamers, is it accessible?

 

For the most part, yes.  The game itself is playable, but when you first boot up the game, there’s a game config screen that doesn’t speak, and it just seems like the game didn’t load.  My computer doesn’t have the best specs, so I thought I just wasn’t able to play the game, but when I had sighted assistance, they had to setup the config screen initially.  After that, the game loaded with no issues…in Japanese.

 

So upon further research, there’s a glitch in the game that starts the language in Japanese.  To fix this, I went into the text file of the config in the PC folder for the game.  Change the voice language from “1” to “0” and reload the game, and you should be good to go!

 

As far as level accessibility, there was one hang up in Report 5 that I’d like to point out.  At that part of the game, there’s one section where you’re dancing against a robot, so instead of verbally voicing the commands, they just make robot noises.  There’s a later section in that level where all they say is “Chu” for every command, and you have to shoot with different patterns there.  So what I did to get past that was watch this video, write down what Ulala was saying, and toughed through it as best I could.  I really just wanted to beat the game, so wasn’t  trying to get a perfect score, but those sections would totally be memorizable in later playthroughs, and I really want to work at getting good at the two sections in this report that I’d have to memorize.

 

But yeah, I love this game!  The goofy camp of the plot is totally my aesthetic.  I love all of the characters – Ulala is the best – and the gameplay mechanics are so sound.  It’s simple, and tons of fun, to the point where I’m trying to find other rhythm games exactly with this gameplay.  Sadly no luck yet, but still on the hunt!

 

This game is accessible, and I don’t think it was trying to be.  But it’s nice to find a mainstream game that just is accessible right out of the box more or less, simply because the controls and gameplay are just easy to grasp, and hard to master.  Having it all voiced was also nice, and something that easily makes a game accessible and it something common in mainstream games, so it’s definitely a step developers can consider when thinking of easy accessibility options.
This isn’t a game I see talked about a lot in the “What games are accessible to play for the blind” talks that pop up so much in blind gamer circles, so I really wanted to spotlight it on the blog, and hopefully help other blind gamers find it.  It’s hard to find good rhythm games to play, so I really hope you enjoy this one if you decide to pick it up on Steam!  I got it on sale, and it was totally worth the price.  I know I’m going to continue replaying this, I already have been turning it on to play through Reports again, and I’m trying to chug through the Ulala 100 stage dance challenge mode.  It’s just a game that’s huge amounts of fun, and I can’t recommend it more for fans of quirky games, with simple gameplay and a lot of heart!

 

So in the words of Ulala, this has been my swingin’ report show!  I really hope this helps anyone considering picking up the game and checking it out!

Video Games

Let’s Talk About Dissidia Final Fantasy NT

The internet as far as gaming goes is very, very toxic at its worst, and kind of tolerable? At its best.  I enjoy having so much access to gaming content, but as far as dealing with actual communities, there are more toxic ones than positive ones out there and it makes me want to stay away from online gaming most of the time.  That, and online gaming doesn’t really have an appeal for me unless I’m playing with friends, but that’s another topic for another post.
The problem with the internet is, there can be huge bouts of bad press for something before it’s even released, or the opinions of the loud minority become what’s heard and people who may have differing opinions feel like they can’t speak up.  This causes major bouts of games that perhaps don’t deserve a ton of harsh critique, or simple statements of “This sucks” directed towards them.  I mean, at the end of the day, all gaming is subjective:  You like a certain genre of game, I don’t, vice versa.  You saying a game sucks will mean absolutely nothing to me if I pick it up, play it, and enjoy it.  That’s why it’s super important to play a game yourself  Or, look up videos of actual gameplay on YouTube, and decide if you’re willing to give the game ago.
Final fantasy:  Dissidia NT is honestly a game I think got entirely too much of this bad press for no reason.  For the reason that people, for some reason, were upset that it was labeled Dissidia and not like the past 2 Dissidia games, when every FF game labeled “Dissidia” is just the franchise for FF crossover games.  You don’t see anyone complaining about Dissidia Opera Omnia, do you?  I mean maybe they are, who knows.  But I think people are letting their disappointment that this game isn’t exactly like the first 2 Dissidia games overcloud their view of Dissidia NT.  I never played the first two Dissidia games, so have no frame of reference for this one.  But honestly, to be blunt:  If you want to play old Dissidia, then play it.  Please stop harping on a game that exists that people like.  If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but don’t attack everyone else that does.

 

I went on a bit of a tangent there with my intro haha.  But onto my review of the game!  Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoy it.  I’m not going to go into major gameplay details about it, because I feel like you know the basics of the game if you’re familiar with it.  But simple version:  It’s a 3 v 3 team based brawler, where you play as 1 of 4 classes and run around on stages fighting with characters from all of the main line Final Fantasy games.  You have lots of fan favorite attacks, and the summons from the series act as a sort of Super Smash Bros stage hazard each team can summon once per match to trip up your opponents.

 

So far, the summoning is the only major beef I have with the game.  At times it makes the matches way too chaotic, and from a blindness standpoint, if I’m close to the summoning range I rarely can hear my character and can’t tell what’s going on.  That being said, I think that would just happen in general, whether you’re sighted, or blind, and that’s part of what’s so refreshing about this game.  Other than the menus, which are always a hurdle for any blind player without reading vision, once you get into a battle, the playing field is very even and it’s a matter of skill, team composition, and all in all having lots of fun playing as your favorite Final Fantasy characters.

 

When first loading up the game, it can be majorly overwhelming.  I still haven’t figured out all of the menus, and have been working my way through them.  A good example is the customization menus, for putting on EX skills, and changing chat messages.  I had to Google how to pull up the menus, and when I figured it out, it was a sea of other menus that I’ve yet to care to navigate.  Now EX skills, in my opinion, aren’t a necessity to mess with if you really just want to pick up the game and play like I did, but once you get past that point, and start leveling up characters, and hearing your little Moogle assistant tell you you have a ton of EX skills to customize with, you’ll want to work on figuring out how to use the EX skill and chat menus.  I’m lucky enough to have a pair of eyes that’s generous enough to help me read things when I go “Mom, can you read a menu?” but I can see it being a problem for a blind user who doesn’t have any sighted help.  You definitely need that to get your baring’s in this game, because every menu is designed differently.  When you figure them out, they’re easy to navigate, but it’s just that blindness learning curve that comes with picking up a new game, plus the abundance of menus that makes this game a tad overwhelming after coming from the ease of BlazBlue:  Cross Tag Battle’s menu system.

 

The character select is pretty easy to figure out, but make a note that it’s laid out differently in the tutorial than in any other menu.  In the actual game modes, the characters are in a descending list and you can just scroll down and count in chronological order, because the characters are laid out according to franchise.  So the first character you start on is Warrior of Light, the last one in the list is Ace.  It’s fun to put my Final Fantasy know how to the test with my counting, but sometimes I count wrong because I forget of one game or another, or forget some games have 3 characters.  But to me that’s no big deal – I’ve gotten a lot of crazy parties made that worked surprisingly well because of that.  Today I accidentally made a team of Rinoa, Kain, and Kefka and it worked super well, won five matches in a row with it.  Would it work online?  Probs not, but it’s still fun to see what parties work, and a lot of fun to be able to use characters you may not want to physically use yourself by having them in your party.

 

I really like how story mode is formatted.  Instead of having to sit through a 2 to 4 hour story like most games, you unlock cutscenes and battles by playing Gauntlet mode.  You go to story mode, and then use Memoria to unlock cutscenes and battles, and if you want you can do 1 battle, watch the cutscenes after it, and move on.  Leveling up characters in Gauntlet mode is a must for some fights, as the first two story mode battles I’ve done were a bit of a hurdle because I haven’t been using certain characters, so went back to Gauntlet mode to level up and see how it goes.  But I prefer this format over the sit and watch a ton of scenes then do like eight fights and really without cutscenes story mode would be like twenty minutes.  Set up in the way it is in Dissidia, you can play multiple modes at once and enjoy them all equally, and not feel obligated to sit through story mode.  You can’t unlock any cutscenes out of order either as far as I can tell, so from a blindness standpoint, it’s easy to just pick a scene and see that you unlocked it – because when you unlock something new, it makes a special unlocking noise.

 

 

 

I really like the leveling up system too.  You play the offline Gauntlet modes to get EXP.  You get EXP no matter if you win or lose a battle, which is also nice.  So you really can just go to Gauntlet mode and grind and test out characters and parties and earn experience to unlock story mode cut scenes, EX skills, summons, treasure.  Pretty much everything that’s an add on to the game, you win by battling.

 

The battles feel like you’re playing an actual active time battle in a Final Fantasy game.  I will say there’s some lag sometimes with moves, and the load times between fights and character selecting can get a bit much for me.  Because the battles are so chaotic, Dissidia NT has a targeting system that works super well for blind gamers.  Just lock on with L2 and R2, and you instantly are directed to the closest enemy.  You’ll want to practice listening in for someone coming close to you so you can react accordingly, but the sound design is great in this, so you’ll have no problems with that.  I tend to fight as the marksmen, because that’s been my playstyle since before I lost my sight, and it’s very easy to just walk as far as hearing far away voices, and start launching off attacks.  I’ve used some closer range characters and they’re a little more tricky, but I’m sure you could get them down if you worked on it because like I said, the sound design in this game is superb.  You can tell what’s going on all around you with no major issues, and all you have to do is be attuned to your surroundings and fight, just like any other gamer would have to do.

 

 

And that’s my biggest take away from this game:  It’s addictive, fun, and levels the playing field for anyone to play.  Other than the menus, which will always be a chronic blind gamer issue unless companies start integrating text to speech in their games, the gameplay itself is strategic, enjoyable, and I find myself playing it for hours on end without any major issues.

 

The game has a lot to do in it, But I will say the pricetag of 60 dollars is rather high.  I waited to get it used for 20, so I could get the season pass for its 30 dollar price and spend 50 dollars on the game.  But to have the game be 60, and the season pass be 30, making getting everything in the game if you buy it new be 84, then to me that’s a bit much for what you’re getting in the game.  But I paid 70 for Cross Tag Battle so…I guess it just depends.  All in all, games nowadays are going for 60 dollars, so I’m sure it’s a fine price but if you’re on the fence about the game I’d say buy it used, you can get it cheap.  But honestly the argument of “I want more content” is a little silly, because if you want to play a game and it’s at a certain price, then you’re going to buy it lol.

 

BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is the only other game I have for the console, and as far as content goes, I feel like Dissidia has more to offer.  As I stated earlier, I think the distain towards it was far too unwarranted.  Like why compare a new game that’s built from the ground up to an old one anyway?  There was plenty of footage of Dissidia NT before it got ported over to the US of what the gameplay was, so saying it’s not what you expected is silly.

 

Accessibility wise, get past the menus, and you’re good to go.  The selecter stays on the last character you were on, so make a major note of that if you’re a blind gamer.  Also, in the offline play modes, it saves your party so the last characters you were using are the ones selected when you reload the game.  Which is nice when you know it’s happening, but when you don’t it’s baffling haha.

 

The menu layout is very aesthetically pleasing for sighted gamers, but for the blind it’s a little weird, because it’s set up in 2 columns of 3 options, instead of just a descending list of six options.  It’s workable for sure, but know that your first load of the game is going to be figuring all of that stuff out before you can play, along with figuring out the character select screen.  It’s easy enough to get to the tutorial though,  and just figure out characters and have fun with the game.

SO if you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend this game!  I’m a huge Final Fantasy fan and seeing my favorite characters 3D rendered with voices, and seeing them interact with each other in story mode is a huge kick for avid Final Fantasy fans.  If you want a fun team based game, I’d suggest giving it a go! This isn’t even remotely close to all of the features of Dissida NT, or all of the accessibility tips for NT because I’ve been playing it for about 2 weeks now, so feel free to talk about your tips and experiences playing it in the comments below!

 

Uncategorized · Video Games

My Experiences with Text to Speech Features on the Playstation 4, and a Basic Run Down of said Features

Hello everyone, it’s been a while!  My long absence is due to a lot of things.  Mainly, I’ve been putting a lot of work into my YouTube Channel – I always have posted video game and anime covers over there, but in the past few months I’ve also started vlogging and been enjoying that thoroughly.  It kind of took over the blogging, since that and vlogging are very similar.  I enjoy both however, and have something to talk about now, so here I am again!  Honestly no clue when I’ll post over here again, so if you like my content, probably subscribe to my YouTube channel for more frequent updates.
I’ve noticed a spike in followers over here, and would like to say thank you!  I’m honestly surprised, considering how long ago my last post has been, but I’m very happy to see you here, nevertheless.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the content here, and will continue to enjoy it, no matter how infrequent I post!

 

I talk about a lot of nerdy things over here.  In fact, my last post was about how awesome the web series RWBY is.  I also talk a lot about gaming over here, but have never actually had a modern console…until now!  Me and my brother both went in on a Playstation 4 recently, and the very first game we bought was for a very specific reason.

 

Team RWBY in a fighting game Team RWBY in a fighting game AHHH AHHH AHHHH!!!!!!
I was so pumped!!!  As soon as I heard that, I was like “We are buying that game”.  It was so funny, because my bro had told me about the BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle trailer and was like “There’s some girl named Ruby in it?” and I just figured it was a new BlazBlue character until I was recommended a RWBY reveal trailer on YouTube, because I haven’t played BlazBlue since Calamity Trigger.  So imagine my surprise when I saw my girl Ruby Rose in a trailer for a fighting game!  And my favorite character Weiss alongside her!  It was so cool!

 

So, that was the first game we got for the console, no contest.  I had been gushing about RWBY to my brother for months, but me saying we needed to get the game because they were in it got him to finally check out the series, and now he’s just as hooked on it as me woooooo.
But that tangent aside, we haven’t had a newer console for years.  Not only that, but text to speech options weren’t even a thing the last console we had.  So, it was a major learning curve setting up PS4 accounts, learning the ropes, and all in all getting back into modern gaming, and how it works.  Thankfully, my Mom is always willing to read things for us just in case we get lost, but I wanted to focus more on the text to speech features in this article, because in all honesty I see them get a lot of flak by the blind community, and as a person coming into the newer era of gaming, I’d like to share my experiences as a new blind user of the text to speech features on the PS4, and of the PS4 in general.

 

Getting Started

 

Getting text to speech up is the tricky part I feel, because there’s no way around needing a sighted person to select the text to speech feature.  You have to go into settings, accessibility, and pick text to speech, and turn it on.  After that, it’s rather smooth sailing, and you can do everything the text to speech has access to.  I will say, I think Sony should set up some sort of feature where you can turn it on at system start, maybe some sort of button command, like apple devices have, but honestly, I’m used to this sort of stuff.  When dealing with PCs, you initially need to have sighted assistance to set up your screen reader, so I don’t see it as that big of a curveball thrown at blind users:  It’s something they’re used to doing, and have probably adapted to getting done easily at this point.

 

What is a little frustrating is setting up your PSN account.  I had to have my Mom walk me through the process, because it reads out pretty much nothing but the keyboard when you’re typing in commands.  You can go do all of these things on the website, I’ve noticed from further investigation (playstation.com) but I find it a lot easier to do all of the setting up on the console.  So pretty much, you need a sighted person to sit down with you and set everything up if you are a brand new Playstation owner, but once you get past that point, you can do pretty much anything that you’d do on the Playstation store, on the web browser.

 

Buying Games, Themes, and DLC

 

 

 

Another minor ding I have to give the text to speech, is that the Playstation store on the console doesn’t read at all.  It’s pretty obvious when text to speech won’t work in an area, because the console will instantly say “Text to speech not available”.  The work around for this, is to buy everything from store.playstation.com, which is so awesome and cool, and something my teenage brain would have never imagined being able to do.  When we first tried to buy BlazBlue on the browser, for some reason it didn’t work:  I have a feeling it had to do with the PS4 not being verified as ours yet to the webstore, because as soon as my Mom bought the game on the console itself, I went and  bought a theme from the PSN store and it worked just fine.  I don’t like the basic theme’s music on the PS4, it was driving me nuts!  So I did some searching for, you guessed it, a RWBY theme and am so happy I did because it changed the music to one of my favorite RWBY songs, so I always wind up humming it while I’m on the menu screen, and can’t wait to explore more avatar’s and themes.

 

Buying from the webstore is just like buying from Amazon or Ebay.  Add the game to your cart, and purchase.  I will highly recommend adding your payment options before purchasing, because it was a huge headache trying to add at checkout and I found myself just linking my paypal before purchasing to save that time, because for me putting in the info at check out wasn’t super accessible.  Some buttons weren’t registering when I clicked on them for some reason or another, but Payment options is a link you can just click at the top of any PS Store page, and add a credit card or link a paypal account easily, so I just did that.

 

Downloading a Game

 

Downloading the game was by far the easiest, and coolest part.  You can download remotely from your web browser, technology is magic!  After purchasing the game, go to your download list.  Click “Download to PS4” and in real time, you get to see your game download to your console.  You need to turn your PS4 on first for it to work, but if you click it without the PS4 on, the browser page just says “Waiting” and once the PS4 gets on, it switches to “downloading” after a bit of time.  The page doesn’t tell you how much time it will take to download, but the PS4’s text to speech does read it out.  If you keep the webpage open while downloading, and the download finishes, “Downloading” changes to “Playable” and I’m sure this is average to people but like I said new console, new hardware to me, super super cool because I  remember having to have my Mom buy eeeeeverything on the Wii Eshop back in the day, so even though this is technically a work around, because you can’t buy on the PS4 itself, I don’t care because it works super well and allows me to download games digitally.  Of course, a physical copy is still an option, but you would still have to have some sort of labeling system for the discs, when…

 

Text To Speech Features on the PlayStation 4 as a Whole

 

The text to speech reads the games in the library, so you can navigate and start them yourself!

Does the PS4 read every section on the console with text to speech?  Not by a long shot.  I’d say it probably reads about 25% of the features on the console.  There are a lot of apps, you can’t use without some work around.  Does it read the things you would need to access the console?  Yes.  For that reason, I think the text to speech suits me fine.  I know this is a topic of contention amongst blind users, but I think the PS4 reads everything you’d need to fully function the basic use of the Playstation.  I know we’re used to having multi media everything on every device nowadays, but at the end of the day, the PS4 is a gaming console.  Can I easily access my game library without sighted assistance because of the text to speech voice?  Yep, no problem.  Can I send messages to friends, and add friends?  Yep, no problem.  Can I adjust most of the settings as far as gaming goes?  Yeah.  One thing I will say is there are some odd areas where the text to speech decides to not be available on some features.  Like I added a friend who sent me a friend request, but when I clicked to see who it was “text to speech wasn’t available” so I had to have my Mom read who it was, and make sure I was on ok so I didn’t accidentally decline said request.  Now, I know there’s a friends section on the Playstation.com website, but I haven’t used it.  Generally though, the web version and console version of the site work generally the same, so I’m sure you’d have no issues just adding friends via the site, since that’s how I changed my avatar.

 

Third party apps are a whole different story, and something I’m not going to hold Sony itself accountable for.  Sony, I’m sure, has made developers aware text to speech is on the console, so they can develop accordingly and it isn’t their job to build accessibility into those apps.  For example,  I was surprised to see Netflix works with text to speech really well.  I haven’t found a way to search, but you can browse through titles, pick them, play/pause, and change the language.  This means you can change it to have audio description and watch on the PS4, which is cool.
I was also surprised to see that both Spotify and YouTube aren’t accessible through apps, though YouTube is accessible through the Internet Browser app on the console.  Spotify is a completely graphical interface, and the work around I found to use it was to sync my account through the desktop app, and that way, I can remotely control my Spotify on my computer, and hear it on the PS4.  It works super well, and I’m honestly fine with this work around because I use Spotify mainly on the computer anyways, no biggy.

So all in all, the text to speech does the basics.  Let’s you open up games, add friends, join parties and communities, check notifications and trophies earned.  Could it do more?  Sure, but we’ll see what comes later down the road now that this feature is on the console and can be worked upon.  Anything can be made better, and I’d rather praise Sony for what it is doing right, then go on a crusade over what they are doing wrong lol.

 

Final Thoughts

 

I’ve only had my Playstation 4 for about a week, so I’m sure I’m no expert on using the console.  There are probably more work arounds, more features I just haven’t used, more hiccups as far as accessibility goes.  But as I said before, does text to speech allow you to play video games easily?  It does, and although watching Netflix, playing YouTube  and Spotify are cool features to have on the thing, I have other devices I can do that more easily on, and would prefer to do it on.  Gotta say it was fun rocking out to some RWBY songs I thought should be in Cross Tag Battle via Spotify while playing, but I was able to do that via remote access.  Anything you’d want to do on the console is doable, with an easy work around, or with the text to speech itself, which honestly I’m impressed Sony had the forethought to make things workable via using the web browser.    Honestly, living my entire life by doing visual things alternatively to be able to experience them, this is a huge step up from what I used to have to do to access console features, and I’m happy to see a huge break through, no matter how big or small.

 

So, if you want to pick up a console and are blind, I’d highly recommend the Playstation 4!  I will say I have no experience with the Xbox 1 and do know they have text to speech features as well, but if I’m being real with you guys, I really don’t care for the exclusives on there and prefer the PS4 ones, and anything I’d want to play on Xbox 1 is on PS4.  Playing games blind is always going to be a hurdle, and I think it’s important to show developers and hardware makers that we are willing to work with them, because just telling them to fix things when they are fixing things gradually just puts an air of negativity out there and doesn’t make them want to collaborate, or help the blind community.
I really hope this very long article helps someone, or interests someone haha.  I hope I made up for my long absence with this article!  Now if you excuse me, I’m off to use my girls against some Blazblue characters, can’t escape from crossing fate, Fight!

 

Uncategorized · Video Games

Happy Valentines Day!

I’m not in the habit of sharing my covers on this blog, because I like it to be more about talking about nerdy things.  But, since this is a nerdy cover, for a non-nerdy holiday, I figured I’d share it for anyone looking for some nerdy love songs to listen to!
I love Final Fantasy, I love this song, and have wanted to do a fandub of it for a while.  So happy I finally bit the bullet and did both this cover, and a fandub!  Definitely going to be doing more in the future, was tons of fun!

 

Hope you all have a great Valentines Day!  Don’t eat yourselves into too much of a sugar coma!

Uncategorized · Video Games

Making My First Game, Update 1

I’m done with the coding part of this little excursion and I’ve learned a lot about making a game during this phase.  Visual Novels aren’t crazy intensive games, but they’re games nevertheless and you go through the same things you would while making a VN’s code as you would a normal game:  Having to troubleshoot code a million times, getting music, art assets, voice acting if you’d like, and all in all, it’s been fun.  It’s definitely something I want, and plan to do again, but this first small game I’m doing has had so many ups and downs, and it’s only been a week and a half of working on it!  But I’m finally at the point where everything that needs to work in my script works, and I can move on to making music, and sending the asset list to my friend who’s doing the art.  Yay!

 

There are so many useful things I’ve learned from this experience.  Like, a lot of things I thought were broken code was me being a derp, and I’m lucky enough to have friends who know the python programming language who can help me out with things.  So I showed my code to my friend, and he helped me so much with figuring out how to organize things more efficiently!  The Ren’py forums are a good resource for asking and getting questions answered, but at the end of the day they’re mostly going off of what Ren’py says to do instead of using knowing python language to make the code a lot more streamlined.  I learned a lot I’m going to take into making other story based games in the future and I wouldn’t have without asking for his help, so yet again another reason why my friends are awesome!

 

 

I’d like to make a list of the road bumps I hit along the way of doing this first coding outing, to both document what I’ve been going thorugh, and to hopefully help anyone who decides to jump into making a visual novel if they happen to stumble on this post!  So I guess this is my development blog post of sorts, for now, because I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes when I have ot add in music, sounds, art, and hopefully finish the game!  It’s a small project, so I’m hoping it won’t take too long…but at the same time, I’m dreadfully nervous that I’ll go to add all of those things and break my code somehow, fingers crossed that doesn’t happen XD

 

Things I learned while coding my first VN:

 

  • Jump statements are probably the most important thing you can use.  There were so many times where I thought my script was broken, only to find I hadn’t set a jump statement to jump to a label that tallies points.  So the logic of the script kept on jumping to the ending that was right after the block of text when I really wanted it to jump to a points tally section to trigger evaluating points, so it could calculate what ending the player would get.  Now I just use jump statements for everything, it makes life so much easier!
  • Organizing your script was so important! There were a lot of times that I was rewriting things, and trying to figure out where I wanted to put what.  If I had organized, and planned my points system, and how I wanted to write my script better, it would have gone smoother.  For me, I know that’s definitely a learning form trying it ordeal, because I wouldn’t have figured out how I wanted to organize it if I hadn’t written it the way I did and went through this hurdle, so really valuable lesson.
  • Make sure all of your points are the value you want them to be! I ekpt on trying to make the bad ending in my game trigger, because I had every menu labeled with the points in a sequential order.  I hadn’t done that on one of the menus – the choice I was making that I thought was the lowest point value was really the middle path for the ok ending, and if I had actually checked that instead of skimming over it thinking the menu was fine, it would have made my life easier.  And on that note…
  • Always check your work! So many things I did were just me not checking every aspect of my code.  After a certain point, I double, and dripple checked everything because that was better than having to comb through the script a bajillion times…which, I had to do anyways because that’s just a fact of coding lol.
  • Another really valuable thing I learned was you don’t always have to use >= statements to evaluate points. On the Ren’py Forum, they always say have your points evaluated with a >= but my friend told me you can totally just evaluate if something it < or > and in my opinion, it just makes the coding make more sense, and skips over a lot of steps for the coding work.  Else statements are really nice in that regard, too!  Instead of having to figure out 3 point values, you can just say “If these two things are false, do this” and it’s nice haha.  Learned that way later, when one of my elif statements was triggering the ok ending every time because I had set it to evaluate the threshold for the bad ending.  So had to change that to just evaluate if it was < something and then use an else statement…and I hope that made sense XD

 

I’m so pumped to be done with the coding section of the game!  Now onto music and sound effects.  I told myself I’d be done with the coding by the end of this week, and I met that goal, so woo!  Of course, I didn’t think all of this troubleshooting would be involved…but live and learn!

 

I’ll keep you guys posted on my next set of progress

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!

Uncategorized · Video Games

A Hero’s Call Impressions After 2 Weeks of Playing

I’ve been playing A Hero’s Call on and off for the past two weeks, and I realized something.

 

I don’t like open world games.

 

I went into this RPG expecting it to be something else:  The impression I got from the advertisement of it was a linear, story based RPG, much like a Final Fantasy, Tales of, or any other JRPG series that is heavily based on plot. While there is a plot, it isn’t a heavy one.  It’s one that gets the purpose of the game across:  Explore a ton, find quests, have fun just experiencing the open world format of the game.  It bothered me that the game wasn’t a more story based game, even though there are story points sprinkled in here and there, full blown lore, and interesting enough characters.  Is the writing in the game perfect?  I don’t think so.  I think the story and characters could have been fleshed out a lot more.  Right now they’re rather generic fantasy characters, and although they’re likeable enough, it leaves something to be desired
There are points where you can talk to characters and get more information about them.  I think maybe once, in a specific area?  I’ve tried talking to them at different points of the game and haven’t gotten anything new to speak to them about, other than one character, after I finished one of the major plot centric quests, so perhaps that’s how you get new dialogue.  I got this super cute scene with all of the characters after having every party member which was nice, but once again, the characters aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, and don’t talk to each other much so it fell a little flat.

 

After realizing it was an open world game, I sort of just started to deal with it, embrace it, and explore.  Instead of trying to get the plot centric quests done, I’ve decided to do a lot of smaller quests while doing things to further along the main line quest.  So I’ve done that, and I’m enjoying the game a lot more.  It still has a lot of the flaws in it I mentioned in my first impressions post, but playing this game as an open world game instead of as a linear storytelling RPG is a lot more enjoyable.
That being said, going off of this as an open world RPG, I feel like there needs to be a lot more to explore.  I understand, it was  a new developer, doing an awesome new audio RPG, but why not do a story based game with more linear gameplay, so you don’t have to make huge areas and the like?  There are a lot of maps, but comparing it to mainstream, open world RPGs, it just leaves something to be desired.  There’s a lot of dead space in the maps, as well, and a lot of empty space in town areas that could have been filled with sound effects of people being active there.  Some good examples of this are the tavern, general store, and temple:  all three of them only have the head priest, the store owner, and the tavern and inn owner in them (plus a mercenary for hire in one of the rooms) but why not add some people walking in and out?  Or even just some crowd ambience, so it sounds like you’re walking into a busy tavern at certain times of the day.  Why not have people whispering to themselves about the priests preachings, or the general store owner conversing with a townsperson, or client when entering sometimes.  Just little bits of polish I think could have taken this game over the top, with a little more development time.

 

As I said earlier, sometimes it feels like you’re just wandering somewhere and the character is going no where because of how big the maps are.  With audio only, the footsteps sound like they’re walking in place at times, especially in echoey cavern areas.  If there were some sort of indicator as to whether or not you were moving that wasn’t just footsteps, for derpy people like me who can’t always tell if they’re moving, that would be great.

 

Like I said, open world games just aren’t my thing.  I’m enjoying the game, but given the choice between a game like this, and a game like say, Tales of Symphonia or Final Fantasy VI, I’ll pick up the linear story based game every time.  I like world building, character development, and stories being told that have a clear beginning and end, and I just don’t get that in open world RPGs.  Still fun, but not my cup of tea.

 

I feel it’s important to hold audio game developers to the same standards as other mainstream, or indi developers.  We’ll say indi developers, because they’ll be on the same playing field with the resources available to them.  Audio games will never get the recognition they deserve if they’re just given a pat on the back for existing, and that’s why I’m critiqueing this, just like I would any other RPG I’ve played.  My major critique about the game in general is that it could have had a bit more polish before release, but I get wanting to get the game out for people to play and fixing it with patches later.  A Hero’s Call was only 20 USD, and for the price I think it’s definitely worth buying it, even if it’s just to support the advancement of audio games made to this quality of standard:  it’s amazing what the developers have done with the game, and I’m excited to see what they do next.  Fingers crossed they do an RPG that’s more my style!

 

If you’re playing A Hero’s Call, would love to hear your thoughts on the game!  Do you open world RPG fans find it very enjoyable?