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!

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!

Pressing Buttons: Quicktime Events and Blind Gamers

Greetings readers! Right on the heals of my Shenmue discussion, I wanted to talk about quicktime events As a refresher, quicktime events refer to those moments when you’re watching what appears to be a cutscene, but you must suddenly press a button to achieve something. Failure to press the correct button by pressing the wrong one, or not pressing it in time, results in a failure of the attempted action, which can sometimes lead to the demise of your character. How, though, do blind people deal with these moments, and what do we think of them? That’s what we’re about to talk about.

First, it’s important to note that there are basically 2 types of quicktime events. The first is one where, regardless of how many times you retry an event, or how many playthroughs of a game you do, the button you need to press never changes. These are the ones blind people are sort of OK with, because we gamers don’t typically mind memorization. If we can memorize a quicktime sequence, that becomes the bit we feel good about when going through that section of the game.

The second type is the worst for us. Quicktime events where everything changes every time cannot be memorized, so we can only rely on, pun intended here, (blind luck) to get through those moments. My first tip to game developers who intend to put quicktime events in their game is to avoid this method. Giving us the option of memorization isn’t quite an accessibility feature, but it is a nice perk.

There is another sort of quicktime event type involving directional movement along with a button, such as pointing a cursor at the proper spot before executing your button press, but that’s another can of worms I don’t think we need to open. This would, in a way, be an even worse option than the random button presses, since we have no idea where a cursor would be in that situation. Telltale does this sometimes, and it’s so, so very agrivating.

So I’ve now given you an idea of how we feel about different types of quicktime events, but let us now approach the big question. When it comes to accessibility, if we’re actually talking about a game with accessibility features implemented, what should be done about quicktime events? My answer might surprise some of you. I’ve heard a lot from developers that the answer to blind accessibility is to remove quicktime events entirely, or make them skippable. This, I tell you now, is the wrong approach. Well OK, in my opinion it is. You’re bound to hear several different opinions on the subject, but hey, another key to accessibility is options. We love options!

Anyway, personally I believe the correct approach is to treat quicktime events like the rest of the game, and make them accessible. Don’t remove them and thus remove the challenge. Don’t make us skip them and potentially miss a great part of the story. To me, those are unacceptable options, and honestly, copouts. Make us feel the intensity of those moments like anyone else. Get some voiceover of the names of each button, or use text to speech. Apply this to the quicktime event so that the button we need to press is spoken right when or right before we need to press it. Do this, and you can even keep your randomized button quicktime events, because we’ll still be properly alerted.

If you don’t want to apply a voice to the button, apply a sound. Create a sound that is different for every potential button we might have to press, and play it at the time it is needed. We can memorize those as well. The important thing, though, is just to give us as close an experience to the one a sighted person has as possible. That’s what we want. We’re not asking for easy mode.

And that’s it, I suppose. Quicktime events are an interesting mechanic, and possibly far more elaborate than some thought, but they do not have to be bad things when it comes to accessibility. I guess that’s my point. With the first type of QTE, the one where buttons are never different, (Shenmue is an example of this), we can deal. Make them accessible, and we will love them. Thanks all for reading, and as always, continue to be awesome!

Audio Games: Inspiring a Mission of Accessibility

The work that I do these days has a lot of inspirations behind it. We’ve been through many of them on this blog. Today, though, I want to talk about audio games, and their influence on my way of thinking. There are hardworking developers, usually a single individual or team of 2, that make and have made audio only games for the blind, and they don’t get enough credit for their work. It’s time to give them what I can.

The inability to play a lot of video games leaves a lot of holes in our entertainment choices compared to your average sighted individual. Audio game developers sprung forth from this emptiness, seeking to fill those gaps with quality games of all types. Their motivation was to make games resembling those everyone else knew and loved which could be played by the blind. To me, though, they served as both inspiration, and proof positive that my ideas could work.

I can’t even begin to list all the inspirations for me that have come from audio games, but I can go over a few. Audio Games like GMA’s Shades of Doom showed me that shooting enemies blind was possible if you had enough audio indication of where they were. It also showed me that, with a little extra input, we could locate objects lying on the ground. It even had a few secrets for people willing to blow stuff up, which of course I was. It’s a fantastic game that I still enjoy playing today.

Another pretty sweet game called Superliam, created by L-works, taught me that even side-scrolling adventures with occasional platforming elements weren’t out of the question. A fast-paced, sometimes quite intense thrillride, Superliam’s gameplay was frenetic and fun, and I finally got to experience those super Mario moments where you accidentally jump just a little too far off a platform. Whoops!

My mind continued to expand when I played a game called Monkey Business, currently owned by Draconis Entertainment. Monkey business offered up a 3D environment filled with things to find and interact with. One particular level is actually an old western town, and is probably the best example of this. Hear the piano playing in the saloon, walk toward it, and right on into the saloon, where anything might happen next. It felt alive in a way that Shades of Doom didn’t quite replicate with its tight corridors. I personally believe, as crazy as its premis is, it holds up as one of the best audio games to date.

Remember a long time ago when I published my ideas for how a point and click adventure game could be made accessible through the use of interactive menus? Well, that idea was also inspired by audio games like Grizzly Gulch, and Chillingham, both from a developer known as Bavisoft. Sadly, as I understand it, you can no longer play Grizzly Gulch on modern systems, but I’ve heard Chillingham still works. At any rate, those games used systems like that for all of their gameplay. Navigation, inventory management, using one item with another, all of it. Honestly, even combat was sort of menu based, as targets would appear on your left, in the center, or on the right, and you used your arrow keys to switch between those 3 options. Actually, if you were insane, the hard difficulty levels of those games switched things up from 3 options to 5 during combat. It was not easy. I remember both of those games fondly, and still wish Chillingham actually got its sequel. Freakin cliffhangers.

I believe the point has been made here. Audio game developers were the original outside the box thinkers. Their desire to create, and their ingenuity allowed them to come up with amazing ideas that, as far as I’m concerned, developers can apply today. Everyone out there who is a developer of any game, and is looking to make their game blind accessible should check out some audio games. Learn how those developers got around the issues that might exist, and build off of that knowledge to make something awesome happen. These days, we’ve got zombie shooters just for us, we’ve got a card battle game, we even have a couple RPG’s like A Hero’s Call thanks to the entrepreneurship of Out of Sight Games. We’ve got all these, and more as well. You can find more information, and eeven links to these games, on www.audiogames.net

One final clarification. While audio games are, as many other things are, an essential part of the groundwork for making games accessible to the blind, they are still games produced by small teams. This is why I have said before that audio games don’t quite match the scope of today’s epic experiences. This is why the mission of accessibility holds true. You just read that there are actually a lot of audio games out there, and we love them, but we still want to play what everyone else is playing. We still want to play EVERYTHING else. Thanks all for reading, and of course, continue to be awesome!