It’s OK to be Wrong: The Resident Evil 7 Revelation

“Nah, Resident Evil 7 isn’t playable at all by the blind,” I proclaimed to many people. “It’s missing all the features that made Resident Evil 6 playable, like the map trick we use. Plus the layout requires you to do a lot of backtracking, and also I tried the demo… Yeah, it’s not gonna work.” I’ve been saying this for a while now, as my discussions of Resident Evil 6 often lead to talk of Resident Evil 7. Well, it turns out, I was completely and totally wrong. Blind people have apparently been completing the game right under my giant nose, utterly ignoring the fact that I had dismissed it entirely. But how could this be? Am I not supposed to be knowledgeable about these things? Well, let’s discuss.

Here’s the first fun fact. People, as it turns out, are wrong all the time. Experts are wrong at least some of the time. It happens. There are many contributing factors to this. In the case of Resident Evil 7, I believe my problem was that I was holding it up to what Resident Evil 6 was, which is really quite a different game, rather than looking at it in a new light. I was concerned that I couldn’t navigate as easily, yet after following the examples I heard about and trying to play the game again, I discovered that with a little more patience, I could get to where I was going. I was concerned about the fact that ammunition was considerably less in RE7 than in RE6. I’m not far enough in the game that I can confirm how much of a problem this is, but facing facts, people have obviously gotten around this issue. These things are understandably difficult to argue when the facts are in front of you.

But here, folks, is the second fun fact. All of this, all of it, is OK. It’s OK that I was wrong, it’s OK for anyone to be wrong. It’s almost great, even. It shows the perseverance and determination of the blind gaming community that they kept trying, and found a way. It shows the depth of what accessibility means, and how things can be different even for those with the same disability. It stresses the importance of options when creating accessibility features, or in my opinion, any features.

We should, as a community, continue to feed each other what information we can about the games we play. We need to keep talking about them, teaching each other how we were successful at this or that game, and accepting as well that we, even amongst ourselves, are different. We all have different strengths and different skill levels, but so do the members of any other gaming community. To be clear, I’m not saying these things aren’t happening, just that they should continue. I just think an example like this brings their importance to the forefront. It’s a big world out there, and there are a lot of games in it. Let’s keep trying, keep playing, and keep working to make the ones we can’t play more accessible for everyone. Thanks as always for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Echoes from Levia: Echoes From my Mind

There is a game out there for IOS called Echoes From Levia: Soulbound. It is an audio game, made so it can be played by the totally blind. I have recently completed this game, and I have what may be some unique impressions of it that I wish to discuss. Impressions that are, at least, very different from those of my friends. Let’s get into it.

Firstly, I’m going to be completely, perhaps brutally honest. There is a lot wrong with Echoes from Levia: Soulbound. The game controls extremely poorly, feeling unresponsive most of the time, and slow and clunky the rest of the time. There isn’t a moment in the game where this isn’t plain. Movement is slow, and combat which should be, honestly, extremely simple, may not work out that way because of the game’s tendency to fail to recognize your input. Since you can only take a few hits, this just makes the game all the more frustrating.

On top of that, the voice acting is almost universally bad. When it isn’t, when a voice actor demonstrates their talent, they are hampered by poor dialog writing and direction. The editing, too, is a problem, as weird decisions made during editing completely take away any emersion. If several characters are supposed to speak at the same time, say while raising a toast and saying “Cheers,” they are never allowed to do so. Instead, each individual voice plays about a third of a second apart, making the whole thing sound like a seriously coordinated sitcom bit. It is, well, it’s cringeworthy.

It seems clear that Echoes from Levia: Soulbound was inspired by A Blind Legend, which is a game that plays similarly, but does literally everything better. Movement is not clunky, combat while still simplistic is actually fun and responsive, and the story, writing, and voice acting are all decent, though still not great. A Blind Legend is a good audio game that, given its 4 star rating on IOS, I would say did pretty well, and it seems Echoes from Levia is attempting to capitalize on its success.

Now here’s where things get interesting. I am aware that I have been quite harsh with Echoes of Levia, and I think that, given its pricetag, it’s worthy of that criticism. After all, even Frequency Missing is a better game, with better gameplay and voice acting, and it’s free. However, I still believe Echoes from Levia should be acknowledged for its attempt to iterate on games of this type. Yes, it is a bad game, but it did try some new things as well. For instance, when you’re walking through a city in Echoes from Levia, you’ll come across little cut scenes that feature random townspeople discussing events, or in some cases being a part of them on the side. These aren’t side quests or anything, just additional plot development which, I’m pretty sure, you can miss if you choose not to approach them. A Blind Legend, meanwhile, stays very linear and focused on the task at hand. It works well enough for that story, but there are some areas where A Blind Legend could have benefited from a side jaunt or 2. A Blind Legend never really asks you to explore, Echoes does try to do that.

Second, Echoes from Levia contains some pretty neat puzzle segments, requiring you to move carefully with very little room for error in order to find the solution. These are the game’s high point in my opinion, and again A Blind Legend’s focus on story progression and combat means these don’t really exist as much. It’s another touch that makes Echoes stand out, and deserves at least some acknowledgement.

So Echoes critics, I hear you. I am ultimately one of you. However, iteration doesn’t happen without developers willing to take risks and try new things, and I think Echoes at least achieves that. If the good things about Echoes can be applied to a game that plays, and is written as good as or better than A Blind Legend, we’ll have a fantastic product on our hands. I hope you found something to take away from this blog, and as always, I thank you for reading. Continue to be awesome!

Listen to my Story: How I Came to Play and Love Final Fantasy X

When I first heard the glorious music, sound effects, and yes, voice acting of Final Fantasy X, it was on my brother’s Playstation 2, which was most definitely his and not ours and we were not to even think about touching it without his permission. Anyway, I heard him begin the game, and at first was, believe it or not, unimpressed. The voice acting was cool, sure, but I knew from the second that first full motion video played that the game had to be ridiculously short. It just had to be. That was always the tradeoff with games that used FMV, right?

Obviously, I was very, very wrong. I was used to the way things used to be, and Final Fantasy X, though not a launch title, was fairly early in the PS2 era. I quickly learned that the game was actually quite long indeed, and get this, it had a bunch of those little FMV’s too! Now I was officially impressed, but I still kind of dismissed it. After all, I had never been able to play a full RPG before, so why should I be able to now? Even with voice acting, it just wouldn’t be enough, would it?

I remember that I actually tried the demo first. Back in the days of demo discs, I used to receive one per month, and would always mess around with them. I had success with the demo, but even then, I thought it was just a one off. The demo is fairly short, and mostly just demonstrates combat with very little to worry about otherwise. I wasn’t quite there yet.

It was actually my brother, the very person who got me into video games in the first place, who suggested that I try Final Fantasy X. “You should start your own game!” he said one day after a particularly difficult battle. I scoffed at the idea, but by this point in my life I had already done some pretty cool stuff in games, so I figured I’d at least try. And so, one fine morning, I started playing Final Fantasy X, and did not stop for many, many hours. Turns out it was pretty playable after all.

Make no mistake. Final Fantasy X requires a lot of patience if you’re blind. In the first many, many hour session I played, I didn’t get as far as a sighted person might in the same amount of hours. The facts are that the game isn’t designed with us in mind, so we have to take some things into account. We still can’t actually see where we’re going, so we have to be willing to wander a bit until we can find our destination. We also can’t see items or people in the world, so it behooves us to basically mash the X button as we wander in order to find people or items and interact with them. It’s kind of a silly system, but ultimately it works.

The good news for us is that there is no jumping of any sort. This means that there is never a platform we need to jump to, and thus we know that, wherever our destination is, it’s on the ground we’re standing on. It’s hard to explain why this is important, but consider this. If the option to jump even exists, it’s reasonable to expect that you have to use it in some circumstances. If, like us, you cannot see the platform you must jump to in order to proceed, how would you know when to jump? Even if you just jumped around the whole time, you may not even realize you’re on a new level than you were before, and may keep jumping right off of it. In short, with games that aren’t designed to be played by the blind, the less jumping the better.

Here’s another piece of good news. Combat menus in Final Fantasy X don’t wrap. This means they can be memorized, and even used to determine whose turn it currently is. For example, when the game begins, Tiad the main character only has 2 options in his combat menu: attack and item. Aurin, however, has 3 options, because he possesses a magical ability called armor break. Using this small difference, we can tell if it’s Tidas’s turn, or Aurin’s. The combat menus of all characters will grow as they level up and gain new abilities, but that just means we need to pay attention to when our party members learn new tricks. It’s pretty awesome, and enables us to use essentially the same strategies anyone else would in combat.

Speaking of leveling, though, that’s one of the problem areas of Final Fantasy X. Yes, the game can be played if you’re blind, but with 2 exceptions. One is the leveling system called the sphere grid, and the other is certain sections of the game called the cloisters of trials, which are unskippable and in some cases quite complex.

Back to leveling, though. The way the sphere grid works seems simple enough. As you fight, you gain sphere levels, which enable you to move an equal number of squares on the sphere grid. You also earn spheres, which are used to unlock sphere grid nodes, which ar what actually increase your stats. You might be thinking, “well, can’t you just muddle your way through it and level up a bunch of stuff?” And sadly, the answer is no. You see, as long as you have the sphere levels for it, you are not limited in movement. What I mean by this is that you’re just as able to move backwards as forward, and if you cross certain paths, you will end up in the abilities of your other party members. This latter can be useful in the late game, but is certainly not ideal when you’re just starting out. And, because the sphere grid is full of complex pathways, we couldn’t reliably know which way we’re going, which nodes we’re heading to, or whether we’re just going backwards.

The cloisters are trouble for a different reason. They are all puzzles involving the removal of certain spheres, (notice a theme?) from one spot, and placing them in the correct other spot. We can certainly remove and slot these spheres, but remember we don’t actually have a reference for where we’re going. We could remove a sphere, wander around for a bit, find an empty sphere slot and slap it in, only to then realize we placed it right back in the slot we took it from. And that’s only one problem. We also have no idea which sphere we removed, as there are several different types, some unique to the particular cloister you’re in. Think I’m done? Nope. You also sometimes have to push pedestals into very specific locations, or away from locations they’re blocking, and so on. It’s kind of a nightmare for a blind person.

Aside from that, though, the game is quite playable. We are even helped out by the roads in the game, which are essentially straight in most cases. Crazy, right? There’s another unplayable bit called Blitzball, but it is fortunately not necessary to succeed at Blitzball to complete the game. It is necessary to play it once, but you don’t actually have to win. Certainly I would like to be able to play Blitzball, but part of playing games like this, games that nobody expected a blind person to play in the first place, is acceptance of an inability to do certain things in those games. Always, always try hard, but be ready to accept that some things just might not work.

I’m sure there are some little things I forgot. The playability of that game is kind of like the playability of Diablo 3. So many little things combine to allow us to play it as much as we can. I am proud to say I have beaten the game, and I have my brother to thank once again for steering me toward something great. The funny thing about that particular incident, though, is that he never did that before or since. Aside from that and the practical joke that got me started, he has never tried to get me to try something. It sort of makes me wonder what inspired him that time. In any case, I hope this has enlightened some of you fine folks. I am of course willing to answer any questions I can, so please discuss and ask and share. Thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

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!