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?

Video Games

A Hero’s Call First Impressions

The time has come, my friends!  A Hero’s Call, the first fully blind accessible RPG is out!  It cam out December 29th, and you better believe I picked it up as soon as it was available.  I’d like to give my first impressions of the game after playing it all weekend.  I’m going to do this in a pros and cons format, because I feel like my initial thoughts would be easier to sort that way.  But I’d like to just preface this by saying overall, I’m loving the game.  It’s great to be able to immerse myself in an RPG adventure after years of not being able to do so because of lack of vision.  The navigation is great, and the lore and characters are great.  It’s fully voice acted, and I’m happy to say the voice acting is well done.  If you like a high fantasy, Skyrim style game then definitely pick this thing up!

 

But now, onto the review!

 

PROS

 

  • I love the battle system.  It took a while to get the hang of, but being able to choose your character class, and fight in a traditional turn-based style RPG.  I am always the mage class, so I decided to go with that on my first playthrough and have been having loads of fun.
  • The immersion that is given to the player is fantastic,  It feels like you’re living in the town the story takes place in, and it’s such a nice touch being able to find items and artifacts that build on the lore of the world you’re playing in.  I love finding books and reading them, and figuring out different aspects of the world.
  • The characters are so fun! And as I said in my opening statement, the voice acting is superb.  Really great job there.
  • It took a while to get used to, but I really like the navigation system. The maps aren’t without their flaws, but after figuring out that the RPG is a tile/grid system and how everything is situated, it’s pretty easy to navigate.
  • I love how on top of things the game devs are.  Already there’s a patch to fix some minor bugs, and they’re still working on things and keeping the players in the know.

 

CONS

 

  • As easy as it was to figure out the navigation system, at the same time it was a really frustrating learning curve.  That, in major part, is because the tutorials aren’t thorough enough in my opinion.  It took me dying a ton of times to a particular boss, backtracking a ton, and retracing my steps all the while dying too many times to remember to realize, oh hey, I can buy skills!  And really I just stumbled upon that because I was noodling around in the level up screen.  When I first tried to buy skills, it said I needed more points to do so – and I thought that meant it was more like a Final Fantasy V system where you had to buy tombs to unlock spells.  But no, you can buy everything in the skills list, and the first option is what you can upgrade to.  But the prompt when I upped the level didn’t sound like that’s what it meant at all, and I was really confused.
  • Along with that, the reason I had such a hard time with the navigation system was because the tutorial wasn’t as explanatory as it could have been. There’s a brief tutorial, but I kept on getting stuck trying to do it because I didn’t understand that switching directions and walking straight = walking into doors.  Overall, I just think the tutorials can be a lot more explanatory, so we’re not left in the dark with a lot of things.
  • Speaking of vagueness, the quest log could help you along a bit more with what to do? I feel like this is more a matter of preference, but sometimes I’m just stuck somewhere and there’s no surefire indication of what I should do next.  I’d just like a teeny bit more prompting on what to do in some aspects of the quests, to avoid confusion.
  • I’m really not a big fan of how many obstacles are in the maps. I feel like even with a sighted RPG, there wouldn’t be as many, but sometimes it’s just such a headache to get around and I want to progress in the game instead of wandering around aimlessly.
  • Major nit pick, but I would have really liked to have voice acting for the player character. It’s a little confusing to me why every other character is voiced, and the player character isn’t.  Just something that pulls the emersion  of the game away form me a bit, but not a deal breaker.

 

 

Overall, great game for the first game made by Out of Sight Games.  If you’d like to pick up a copy, you can do so here!  I’m looking forward to going back to Farhaven, have a fun time exploring heroes!

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~