Fear FEER: A Review of FEER: Running Blind

FEER is a new game for the blind out for IOS, and I want to warn you all, the title is apt. Not because the game itself is particularly scary, but because the unstoppable addiction that will grip you once you begin playing is very, very scary indeed. FEER is a game that I can only equate to audio games like Super Egghunt, but even that isn’t quite apt. Allow me to explain.

In FEER, you are in a post-apocolyptic world, and are one of the last vestages of humanity. You’ve heard that premis before, but there’s more. You head out believing you can save the world by collecting the light from fairies, who have made their presence known since the apocalypse. Perhaps if you collect enough of them, you can save this accursed world! Except, not really. The thing is, FEER falls into a game genre called Endless Runner. Yeah, your quest is doomed from the start. Something’s going to get you eventually, but it’s the in-between that matters. Actualy it can even be the dying that matters, but I’ll get to that.

On the surface, FEER’s gameplay is really, really simplistic. You run automatically, dodge zombies by swiping left or right between 3 lanes, just keeping them out of the center, gather light by running through the fairies’ positions, (indicated by a musical phrase), collect powerups like weapons to actually kill the zombies, light doublers which do exactly that, shields to protect you from them, and boosters to speed you along and make you temporarily invincible. You swipe up to jump over zombie hands that grasp at you from the mass graves that dot the landscape, and swipe down to slide under the ravens who have, for some reason, decided that zombies are cool and that they should, instead of eating all the dead flesh around them, peck out your eyes instead. It’s whatever. It’s not the story that matters. The point is, the basic gameplay is just that. That’s all of it.

But then, you see, 2 factors come into play. First, you run faster as time goes on, which is great except it leaves you with shorter and shorter reaction times. Jump quick, swipe fast, because you will get grabbed by something. And second, the game actually has a mission and quest structure. By completing quests, you can gain levels. For every level you gain, your score is multiplied by that level’s number. The quests are just the right mix of things to keep you playing. Fiendishly simple in some cases, and just hard enough that you want to work at it in others. I have seen enough of the quest types to love the variety, and to answer the question I had when I first saw quests. I wondered if there would be quests involving you collecting no light, and indeed there are. It’s fantastic and too much fun.

If you cannot see how those things combine to make a small, but supremely addictive game, you may not have played an addictive game before. Why do you think I’m writing this blog? I just started playing yesterday! But but… I’m ranked 13 in the world as of this writing! Must… Be… Number 1…

Seriously though, check the game out for yourself. It’s only $1.99 for the first 1000 people who purchase it, which apparently hasn’t happened yet. Give it a go, just do so prepared to be absorbed. That about does it for this blog. Whew! Now I can play more! Thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Frequency Found: An Accessibility Review of Frequency Missing for IOS

Frequency Missing is a game for IOS made with both the blind and the sighted in mind. As I understand it, it does possess graphics, but is also fully accessible to those who cannot see. Its take on the point and click adventure style is a different one than what I previously suggested, but in my opinion is just as valid. Let’s discuss.

A long time ago, I wrote a blog about how a point and click adventure could be made fully accessible to the blind. I discussed turning the clickable objects and people into menu selections that would then basically trigger macros. Frequency Missing uses a different idea. In that game, you hold your finger down on the touch screen, and move it around until you hear the ambient noise created for all objects in the game. You orient on it, moving your finger toward it, and when you’re centered, you hear a click of acknowledgement. If you then raise your finger, you interact with that object.

While I’m still perfectly OK with my original idea, I have to admit this one has a lot of merit as well. Unlike my idea of a menu structure, this allows you to know where items actually are on screen, and thus get a sort of picture of the room you’re in. The gaps left by noninteractable items are filled by voiced descriptions you hear when the character first enters that room. It’s a clever and effective way to immerse a blind player, and it works very well. This became most clear during a tense moment when I quickly had to get to a certain room in a building, and suddenly realized I knew its layout well enough to actually be quick about it. It’s a kind of intensity that would’ve been lessened by menu navigation, and it really made me grow to appreciate the way the game did things.

Its conversations are handled in much the same way, though they are easier than finding things around a room. Just hold your finger on the screen, and move up and down between conversation options. It’s intuitive, and it works. Best of all, the click you get when you’re on an option changes in pitch depending on how high or low in the menu that option is. Very well done.

And speaking of well done, the game itself is well done. Accessibility aside, the story is interesting if not necessarily mindblowing, and the voice acting actually isn’t terrible. Again, I wasn’t blown away by the performances, but I have heard far, far, far worse in games before. I was overall very pleased.

Best of all, though, this game is free! How can one argue with that? A well-done, decently-written, decently-acted fully accessible interactive story that is free! Frequency Missing is a must-try for any blind IOS owner, and for anyone interested in different types of accessible interfaces for games. Check it out, and enjoy the mystery! As always, thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

I Know Jack: My History with the You Don’t Know Jack Franchise

Back in the 90’s, there was an online magazine for the blind called the Audyssey magazine. It was our gaming magazine, and talked about audio games, text games, and even what we called mainstream or commercial games as long as they were accessible. According to that magazine, a certain game series known to party gamers as You Don’t Know Jack, was the second most accessible commercial game in existence. This was, at the time, probably true. It’s a series I grew up loving, and it is likely part of the reason for my current appreciation of modern comedy. Today, I just want to talk about it, and about my history with this amazing game series.

You Don’t Know Jack was named the second most accessible game back in the day because it was about 98% accessible. It was and is a comedy trivia game. You could play alone, or against your friends, and the game had a host who would read aloud all of the questions and answers. They would even make jokes between questions, and sometimes question-specific jokes for choosing certain wrong answers. Features like this actually got more complex as the series went on, and hosts gained the ability to criticize an individual player for getting specific answers wrong throughout a game. For instance, “Man, Player 2, you must be tone deaf or something because you got the last 2 music questions wrong. Take note, other players, now’s your chance!” That’s not a word for word quote from the game, but it’s an example of what later games did.

Anyway, the only inaccessible part of the game is, sadly, at the end. A segment called the Jack Attack leaves you with a clue, and bunches of words scrolling across the screen that you must match up with that clue, hitting your buzzer at the correct time when the right answer is present. The problem here is that nothing but the primary clue is read aloud, leaving us virtually unable to play this portion unless we decided to randomly press our buzzers and hope for the best. It ultimately didn’t detract too much, as we could still win the game if we were far enough ahead or if the other players did poorly, but it was still kind of unfair.

Fair or not, I enjoy many many hours spent playing each and every version of the game, loving the ways in which the game changed, the new question types that were added, the occasional appearance of celebrities, all of it. The first 3 volumes contained what I would say were minor changes at most, but the fourth volume, officially called You Don’t Know Jack: The Ride, was something special. For the first time, each game session was a linear episode. No longer were you able to choose your own categories, but the upshot is that it allowed the developers to do creative things, like giving each episode its own little story. The language episode, where the host gets progressively more and more drunk as the game progresses, stands out as one of the best, as he can barely read the questions toward the end.

Best of all, the whole game had an overarching story as well. This was never done again in the world of You Don’t Know Jack, but I think it was great. The story wasn’t anything to write home about really, but it did contain a couple funny plot twists, and resulted in one particularly awesome game feature. As the story progressed, the hosts of your games would actually change between those who had hosted you Don’t Know Jack games previously. This even included the host of a You Don’t Know Jack spinoff game called Headrush. It was awesome, and made for a grand experience as each host had different attitudes and entirely different commentary on your gameplay than the others. It was a lot of fun.

Things continued to progress, and there were more spinoff games as well, such as You Don’t Know Jack: Louder Faster Funnier, which is for some reason not included in the collection available on Steam. You Don’t Know Jack 5th Dimentia, essentially Volume 5, allowed for online play, but for some reason sacrificed audio quality. The humor was there, the complex in-game responses were there, (you were criticized if you happened to be using AOL at the time), but all audio quality suffered a downgrade. The game was still quite fun, however, so I didn’t complain too much about that.

You Don’t Know Jack Volume 6: The Lost Gold was, I feared, the last outing for the game. It only had 300 questions when most other games in the series had 800 to 1200 questions, it had the same low audio quality as 5th dementia, and had an uninspired and weird story about reclaiming the lost gold for some ghost pirate. I still enjoyed the questions, and found humor in them, but the game was the most meh of the bunch.

Fortunately, You Don’t Know Jack saw a revival on last generation game consoles, including 4 awesome DLC packs. This brought back the episode format, and some new features, such as the Wrong Answer of the Game, which would give you a prize for choosing the sponsored wrong answer. All this was tremendous, and audio quality was back up to standard. This was the revival I had been waiting for.

The revival continued when the You Don’t Know Jack mobile game came out. The accessibility of the app wasn’t great, but once you worked it out, this was really cool. It brought us back to the days of what used to be called the Netshow, which had new episodes coming out on a regular basis. This was like that, with a new episode coming out every week, referencing modern pop culture, or real current events in that typical You Don’t Know Jack way. Personally I wish this had lasted longer. The inaccessibility troubles were worth suffering through, in my opinion.

Fortunately, the geniuses at Jellyvision weren’t done yet. You Don’t Know Jack came back again, episodes and all, in the first Jackbox Party Pack, which allowed you to play with up to 8 players for the first time. It retained the format of the previous console releases otherwise, including the wrong answer of the game, and was awesome. It didn’t stick around for Party Packs 2, 3, and 4, but I’m happy to say that it’s about to return again in the Jackbox Party Pack 5. You Don’t Know Jack will never die!

It has been over 2 decades since the YDKJ series began, and it remains one of my favorite game franchises to this day. I wish the devs would take a shot at making that last portion of the game accessible, but though it appears this may never happen, my love for the series lives on. If you’ve never tried it before, you can get 9 of the YDKJ games in a collection on Steam, which includes the amazing YDKJ: The Ride. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to provide feedback, or leave comments, or conversate with me about this. Continue to be awesome!

Blind Gamer Logic: Why the Old Republic is Better Than WOW

Thousands, perhaps millions of people would likely linch me for the title of this blog, but the sad news is, if you’re a blind gamer, it’s true. Granted, we can’t really play either of these games, (I personally don’t count autofollowing people in WOW as playing since it leaves you unable to do anything on your own), but we can sure listen to both, and the Old Republic stands out as a better game for us to listen to on the surface. Let’s discuss why.

I’m going to start with the biggest and most obvious thing. The entirety of The Old Republic’s dialog is fully voiced by a record-setting voice cast. Even your character’s responses are voiced. In fact, conversations have a sort of flow to them, like cutscenes. This is far from perfect in the early game, as they use a lot of simple sound effects and, I assume, animations, but picks up a great deal when you get into the expansion content. Conversational cutscenes feel much more fluid, and like an animated TV show. Don’t get me wrong, though, the whole game is fun.

WOW’s dialog is, sadly, not fully voiced. Your character doesn’t have a voice at all aside from pain and death cries and a few battle-related phrases, and quest givers tend to only speak words of introduction, leaving the rest of what they have to say to you to text. I will add, though, that I’ve been told by a friend of mine that later quests in WOW are fully voiced, and that it’s only the early game that isn’t. This is somewhat reasonable, considering WOW is 14 years old, but at the same time I find it a little curious as well. Look at Diablo 3, where Blizard gave voices to characters who didn’t even need them. Every book you find in Diablo 3 is read aloud by the voice of its author, which is great, but certainly not necessary considering many of these authors are characters you never meet. If Blizard is willing to go the extra mile and get a massive voice cast, why could they not add voices to the early game characters since they constantly update WOW anyway? It’s forgiveable, but I think it is a worthy question at least.

The next reason The Old Republic is more easily digested by the blind is something I’m calling Sound Education. The thing about the Old Republic is, well, it’s a Star Wars game. If you’re listening to someone play it, you’re probably already a Star Wars fan. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you are already familiar with Star Wars sound effects, which The Old Republic uses heavily. They even use the obscure ones, like the sounds for different types of speeders and so on. There are new, game-specific sounds to learn, sure, but the barrier is much, much smaller if you know what Star Wars sounds like. The Old Republic is Star Wars through and through.

This is a luxury you simply don’t have with WOW. It is its own beast, and thus the sound for every ability, every type of equipment, all of it must be learned from scratch. This isn’t actually a problem, since we blind gamers are used to learning new sounds all the time, but the differences between the learning curves of these 2 games is worth mentioning.

Now, keep in mind that I said the Old Republic is better for us to listen to on the surface. It is, as it provides all we need in order to enjoy the experience, even if the person playing tells us very little. However, WOW’s history cannot be denied. Its world, its story has developed over years and years and years, and is thus much larger and even more filled out than that of the Old Republic. If you have someone who is willing to tell you the things you aren’t told and can’t figure out from context, if you have someone who is willing to read that unspoken dialog and carry you through the story as well, WOW could potentially turn out to be the better game for story than TOR.

That, my friends, was the inspiration for writing this blog. My fiancé has just recently started playing WOW, new character and all, and she has been reading all that lovely text. I already find myself being drawn into the history of the race we chose, (which was Blood Elf), and the specific quests that pertain to that race. This made me really think about these 2 games, and give WOW a little credit where it is certainly due. I hope you’ve found this article interesting, and I encourage you to discuss and give feedback. Thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Madden NFL 18: I’m Not a Football Guy

Well, folks, the subtitle says it all. I am not a Football guy. I’m not even really a sports guy except for Baseball, but hey, there’s already a blog about that. Today, though, we’re talking about the Madden franchise, specifically Madden 18 as I have not yet tried 19. There’s a lot to say, so let’s talk!

Electronic Arts did a great thing when they chose to allow Karen Stevens to work on accessibility for them. I’m not saying that just to get on her good side, it’s completely true. Not only does she do good work, but many, many other developers won’t even take the steps that EA has. For all the criticism EA gets, this is one thing they did absolutely right, and something they deserve notice for. Good on ya, EA.

Madden 18 introduced a few accessibility features that make it easier for the blind to play. These features are perhaps small to some, but they’re extremely helpful. Furthermore, these features were patched in. It’s worth pointing out that adding accessibility features becomes way more difficult and way more costly after the game has already been completed. This means that what EA did here was even more awesome. Maybe there were only a few additions, but this was still a huge step in the right direction for accessibility.

On the surface, what the additions for the blind amount to are differently-used controller rumbles which give us queues we need in order to play. Whether or not the play we’re executing is a passing or a running play is indicated by a long or short rumble respectively. When a receiver is open and the ball is thrown is indicated by a rumble as well. And the biggest one of all, the kick meter rumbles to indicate when it begins moving, then again for power, then for accuracy. It’s all pretty awesome.

But more than the features themselves, Karen Stevens took the time to write a complete accessibility guide for the game, which includes written descriptions of all menu layouts, explanations of how best to use the features that were added, and even a list of the quicktime events in the game’s Longshot story mode. It’s an extremely comprehensive guide, and is just as important a part of what was done as anything else. This guide, as well as guides for other EA games which have implemented accessibility features, can be found at www.ea.com/able

I think, though, that the most important thing to talk about here is how this game made me feel. This is actually the reason I mentioned not being a Football guy. This is the intangible stuff. Even this blog will likely not do it justice, but hey, I’m gonna try anyway.

There is a lot I don’t understand about Football. I don’t actually know what most of the play names mean. I don’t know much of the terminology. I would fail a quiz on Football basics. All these things are true. Nevertheless, the first time I took the ball and began to run, spun past 1 defender, then another, and zoomed into the end zone for a touchdown, I felt great. I felt like I had just done something awesome. Something that, before, I would have struggled mightily to do. That’s what accessibility can do for people, and that’s what Madden did for me.

It didn’t matter that I don’t typically play Football games, or watch Football, or follow Football. That wasn’t the point. I was playing a game which had been adapted to help those of us who are blind, and doing well at it. What I was feeling is the reason accessibility should be the norm, because it taught me that you don’t have to be a Football guy to experience that touchdown thrill.

I got that same feeling playing through the game’s well-crafted, well-acted story mode. I felt like I was the star of a really quite good sports movie. It wasn’t perfect, since I still didn’t really know what dialog choices I was making, but there were still plenty of moments when I resonated with the characters, who are portrayed as people, not generic Football robots. I felt good as the protagonist stole the show during his high school years, and I felt sad for him as he struggled to maintain friendships. This isn’t necessarily a review, though I guess I’ve made it clear that I think it’s pretty great. Again, though, we come back to accessibility. Remember, this story mode is riddled with quicktime events. It is thanks only to that accessibility guide I mentioned that I was able to enjoy this as well. An entire section of the game was opened to the blind just because someone took the time to write about it. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.

As I write this, I’m actually playing through the Madden 18 story a second time, making different choices and enjoying how the story unfolds all over again. I may never get the best ending, but I may indeed get a different one this time, which will be awesome. It’s just a wonderful thing to be able to do this in the first place. Ultimately I feel like what I’m saying is that Madden 18 is a great example of how a few accessibility additions can make a giant impact on our appreciation of a game. I hope that comes across, as jumbled as this blog seems to me. Now then, I’ve gotta go get drafted, hopefully a bit earlier than last time. Thanks as always for reading, and continue to be awesome!