Nothing Sharper than ASharp

Recently, one of my viewers pointed out that, if I was going to shower so much love on Choice of Games, I should also give praise to another developer who makes games where choices are impactful. That developer is Asharp, the folks behind the incredible King of Dragon Pass, and more recently, 6 ages. These are very, very different games than the Choice of Games and Hosted Games libraries, but they achieve the same goal for the player. They make you feel invested in your choices. You live to regret, or take pride in the decisions you’ve made, which may take a long, long time to reveal their true implications. I’ll explain why as best I can.

Both games, King of Dragon Pass and 6 ages, are strategy games. They are games of clan management. You have to build your clan into a respectable one by doing all sorts of things. Everything from forming trade routes with other clans to raiding your enemies to calling in favors from clans who owe you one. While doing all this, you must keep your clan happy, decide whether or not to listen to the advice of your advisors, and do what you can to achieve your clan’s goals. As this all goes on, you will have encounters that can help or hinder your progress. Sometimes encounters with other clans, sometimes with outside parties. Depending on the aspects of your clan the encounter calls into question, which can be many, many things including the perception of your clan amongst the others, the encounters can go several ways, regardless of whether you think the decision you ultimately make is a good one. And the best part is, the situation may not end on that one encounter. This is where time comes into question.

You must keep your clan surviving and hopefully thriving for years within the game, and possibly even decades. The decisions you make even early on, even those in the encounters you find, can affect you years, even decades later. You might get a positive outcome for one encounter, and be quite proud of yourself, only to discover a couple of years later that your choice lead to some negative consequences as well, for you or perhaps for a clan that was once a friend of yours. It may require you to rebuild either your own home, or relations with those you may have hurt. You never know, and that’s the beauty of the game. You can do the best you can, but you will still encounter hardship. You may have to make difficult decisions, and you may not realize you made one until you see the fallout. Both games are brilliantly executed in this way, and I love them for it.

Now, I’m going to be flat out honest with you. I am personally not good at these games. I’ve never had a super strategic mind, and the nuances of managing an entire clan tend to escape me a bit. I’m currently playing a game of 6 ages on the easiest level, and my clan’s in trouble. My food is low, I don’t have enough warriors, and they’re stressed out. In spite of all that, though, I’m going to keep fighting, because that’s kind of what the game is about. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a way to make it through. Maybe some chance encounter will give me just what I need. You never know in these games.

It’s hard to put into words what this game has accomplished. There is so much to these games, and so many considerations that are made as you play, yet they have managed to squeeze all that into a beautiful, understandable and playable package. These games are, for that reason, and for the power in every move you make, works of genius. Maybe I’m not good at them, but I love them all the same. Thanks so much for reading, folks, and as always, continue to be awesome!

Gamebreak: Youdescribe

Greetings wonderful readers! Today, I wanted to shed some light on a really cool organization, founded on an awesome idea. One that, to be quite frank, I wish more people considered. It has been embraced by some, and no matter what happens it will remain a positive thing, but I would like to see people really jump on this, both blind and sighted. That is why I’m writing this blog. The subject is a web site called youdescribe.org. Let’s discuss them!

Youdescribe.org is a web site dedicated to audio description of Youtube videos. It is actually created with the idea that anyone who is willing can contribute. It isn’t a network of professionals, it is a network of volunteers. Certainly, this leads to a combination of good and bad descriptions, but most who choose to contribute seem genuinely interested in providing the blind the descriptions they seek. In short, even with the bad descriptions, the effort is there.

Youtube, as I’m sure you know, is full of videos. I mean, we’re talking billions of videos. Youdescribe does not ask its volunteers to start from video 1, and begin describing until they’re done. That would never work. Instead, they leave the choice to the visually impaired who want the descriptions. Youdescribe has a search field. Enter something into it, and you’ll see 2 sets of results. The first set will show you any results related to your search that have already been audio described. The second is essentially a Youtube search, showing you Youtube results for videos that have not been audio described yet. If the search result you’re looking for is in the list of videos that haven’t been described, you can click a button next to the result that says “request audio description for this video,” and as long as you’re logged in with google, you’re done. The video will be added to the request list, which is accessed through a link on the homepage. Then, it’s up to the describers.

From what I can tell, it’s an easy system for the describers as well. They can actually use the same search field as the visually impaired do, because there’s another button right next to the request button for Youtube results. There is, in fact, a button which says “provide a description for this video.” So if there is something the describer personally believes should be described, they can do their own search and provide it. Second, they can look at the previously-mentioned request list, and pick something from there to add an audio description to. I have sent many a request myself, to be honest.

Actually recording descriptions is something I can’t say too much about, but there are a couple things I have noticed. You can record 2 types of descriptions. In one type, the audio description plays while the video does, which is perfect as long as you can describe events succinctly. However, there is a second type, which will pause the video playback while your description is being played. These can be mixed and matched in the same audio description for a video, meaning that if you can describe one thing while the video plays, but need more time for another thing later, you can do that. Again, I can’t speak too much for how this works mechanically, as I’ve of course never personally recorded an audio description, but it seems intuitive.

Audio described videos play in an accessible player when the visually impaired person selects them. During playback, they can access a suite of features, such as adjusting the audio balance between description and video, and even changing the audio describer if more than 1 person has recorded a description for the video. Once done, audio descriptions can be rated, and feedback provided. All feedback is handled through checkboxes, keeping it constructive and helpful for the audio describers. The idea is to keep them describing things, and improving as they go. It’s all an effort to help people, be they visually impaired, or audio describers.

To close this blog, I just reiterate that this is a really great organization founded on an awesome idea. I hope this blog has enlightened you to it if you didn’t previously know about it, and if you did, I hope it has increased your appreciation of it. Given my readership, maybe this blog will create more volunteers to audio describe more content. Even if not, I think this is important enough that the word should be spread. Thanks as always for reading, and continue to be awesome!

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!