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!

Shenmue: A Quiet Revolution

Shenmue is an intriguing series, and possibly a bigger deal in the game industry than you realize. You couldn’t be blamed for not thinking so, as it actually did quite poorly upon its initial release. The sad reason for this is that the Sega Dreamcast, the console upon which Shenmue was originally released, was up against some stiff competition at the time, and wasn’t ultimately fairing that well. Nevertheless, Shenmue remains one of those landmark moments in gaming. Let’s talk a little about why.

Though both Shenmue 1 and Shenmue 2 have relatively poor audio quality, bad voice acting, and from what I’ve heard, subpar graphics, the games achieved things that, though uncommon back then, are very, very common today. Shenmue was, for instance, the very first game to coin the term QTE, or Quicktime Event. These are defined as events that flow like a cutscene, but have moments where you must press a button within a certain time limit to succeed. Failing to press the button would result in something unfortunate happening, all the way up to the possibility of your character’s death. These things are ridiculously common today, and are in fact the basis for entire games in some cases. Look at Telltale and their library of games. Look at David Cage’s games, such as the recent Detroit: Become Human. That’s almost literally how the gameplay of those games works, and it all began with this little Dreamcast phenomenon.

Also, as hard as this might be to believe in this day and age, open world exploration games were also uncommon back in the day. The idea that you can explore the entirety of the game’s world, enter nearly every building, and interact with every citizen was astounding in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It’s more the norm these days, but this kind of freedom blew the minds of Shenmue’s fanbase back then. Even now, playing its rereleased versions, it seems pretty impressive to me. The fact that you can ask any of the game’s many, many characters about the person or thing you’re currently looking for, and even if it’s not helpful, most of them have a unique response to the question, is quite amazing even by today’s standards. While most games today will allow you to have a unique conversation with their characters, it’s often specific to one event or place, but in Shenmue, you can focus everyone’s attention on your goal. Neat stuff.

I believe Shenmue and Shenmue 2 were part of a quiet revolution in what could be expected from a game. They may not have done well in terms of sales, but I believe the industry saw the accomplishments they made, and improved upon them over time. I believe Shenmue is the reason some other games exist today, and I think it deserves a lot of credit for that.

We now have Shenmue 3 on the horizon, due to be released in August of 2019. My thoughts on Shenmue 3 are a bit different. I do not expect Shenmue 3 to innovate as 1 and 2 did. I expect that Shenmue 3 is more about fan service, about continuing Rio Hazuki’s story, than it is about innovation. Keep in mind that this is a game funded by Kickstarter, and isn’t being made on a super high budget in comparison to many games today. Also keep in mind what it’ll be up against in the open world scene. You know, that massive open world RPG called Cyberpunk 2077? Based on the recent footage that was revealed, and the explanations that went along with that footage, I don’t think Shenmue 3 will stand up to Cyberpunk 2077 as a comparison. I believe Shenmue would get pummeled in that instance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since its predecessors were at least partially responsible for Cyberpunk’s open structure, but it is an interesting observation of how things have changed in the game industry.

Nevertheless, I do think Shenmue 3 will be good. I think it’ll be fun, and I think it’ll be a worthy conclusion to Rio Hazuki’s story. And hey, maybe I’ll be completely wrong and it’ll blow all of our minds with its crazy new ideas. Eitehr way, I’m still looking forward to it. Shenmue’s beginning was and is a great one, and I’m glad it found a new home on modern consoles. It is deserving of its legacy and its following. If you, dear reader, haven’t checked it out yet, give it a look or a listen. You might be surprised. Thanks as always for reading, and continue to be awesome!

My Perception of Perception: A Rant and Review from a Blind Gamer

I never thought the day would come when I would regret backing something on Kickstarter, but it has finally arrived. I do not back Kickstarter projects very often, because I have little enough money that I have to make decisions on how to spend it. However, if I really believe in a project, I will take that leap. Such was the case with Perception by the Deep End Games. Allow me to explain what got me hooked.

Perception is a game in which you control a totally blind character named Cassie as she explores a mysterious house. It’s a survival-horror style game, made by developers who have done work on games like Bioshock. Now guys, just looking at it like that, it sounds utterly amazing. I was totally in.

Then, over the course of the Kickstarter campaign, and finally getting a chance to try the game myself once it was released, I have learned the awful truth. The game is, in fact, an insult to the blind on not just 1, but 2 completely different levels. Let us discuss.

First, let’s talk accessibility. After all, you would think that, if you’re playing as a blind character, then a blind person would be able to play the game, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact, the 2 primary focuses of the Kickstarter campaign were the voice actress for the main character, (and yeah, she’s pretty good), and the visuals. That’s right. Look, ladies and gentlemen, upon these visuals which, if the character were actually blind, would not exist. Aren’t they gorgeous? Isn’t the art style, like, so super cool?

Now, OK. If I force myself, I can get past the visuals being there. It’s a sighted world, and we want them to get some enjoyment out of this game. Sighted people like graphics, therefore we need goodlooking graphics. But then, I’m yanked backward because… The developers should want EVERYONE to enjoy this game, right? Should the blind not be invited to hold Cassie up as their own video game icon?

Apparently not, because I promise you, I guarantee you they barely tried at all when it comes to making their game blind accessible. Oh yeah, it was brought up during the campaign, and they addressed it pretty early on. Their answer was, quite honestly, pretty disgusting. This isn’t word for word, but they said something like, ‘Well, we tried, but we just can’t find an engine that will work for us.”

So what that tells me is that The Deep End Games was basically looking for a magical win button. Some piece of code they could just plop into their game, and boom! It’s accessible just like that! I feel like they googled “Blind Accessibility Engine,” and when they didn’t find anything, they said “Oh well, we tried.” I do not believe for one second that they consulted with a single blind gamer to discuss how the game might be made accessible. They certainly didn’t consult with me, and I’m a pretty good resource for this kind of thing. And maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong, but hey, perception is everything, right guys?

Here’s the worst part, folks. There are building blocks for blind accessibility in that game. Yeah, that’s right, they actually did a couple things correctly which, had those things been expanded upon, may have made the game accessible to us. For instance, Cassie’s 6th sense ability can be used to point you toward your next goal. It works very much like Resident Evil 6’s accidental accessibility where it shows you your objective, and points the camera at it, making forward movement then lead you in the right direction. Of course, this feature only mocks us, because it is taken away from you several times, asking you to “explore to find your next goal.” We also run up against the Resident Evil 6 problem of getting stuck a lot, but the point is that it sometimes helps, but not as much as it could.

The second thing they did right is that the audio recordings you can find have ambient environmental noise before you find them. The sound is like that of a running tape in a tape recorder. You can hear these from decently far away, though, so finding them is still difficult. Also, the “memories” you can interact with, or more accurately, things that trigger memories, have ambient ghost whispering noises that play until you find them. The problem here, though, is that the whispers are infrequent, so if you miss one, you may be wandering for a bit until you hear it again.

And third, the ironically funniest of them all, Cassie’s phone is almost completely accessible! Why? Because it has to be. Once again, they did not do well at passing her off as a real blind person, which we’ll get to later, but they would have failed utterly had Cassie’s phone not been equipped with Text to Speech. So yeah, I can listen to her text and voice messages, I could read a note if I had found one as she uses her phone to scan it, and I can listen to her… Oh wait! Look! Another glaring problem! Yes, most of her phone is accessible, but the text to speech does not read the items in her music collection. Sure is lucky she only has like 3 or 4 songs, instead of the hundreds and thousands most people do today. Whew!

The point that I’m making here is this. Everything that might be considered an attempt at accessibility was done in a half-hearted manner, and maybe most of it wasn’t even done for that reason at all. The developers never really tried, or even cared all that much about accessibility. But putting accessibility aside for a second, let’s get to part 2 of this rant. The second reason this game is an insult to the blind.

A message to the Deep End Games. Blindness does not work the way you think it does, or the way you desperately want it to work so you can justify your game mechanics. The game begins insulting the blind during its insanely short tutorial. “Sound is how we see,” says Cassie’s teacher, who is apparently a super knowledgeable blind person himself. Well actually, Mr. Teacher, that is not completely accurate. Sound is only one component. Turns out we have 3 other senses that we also use, all of them working together to compensate for a lack of vision.

The insult continues as you learn how this apparently works. First, we hear the sound of a fan, and the teacher asks what it is. It should be noted that the audio design takes a hit here, as the fan was not on before the teacher asks what the sound is, and when it does utrn on, it is just there, at full strength, rather than spinning up the way a fan would. Anyway, Cassie identifies the sound as a fan, making no other observations about it than that. Yeah, I actually made one. To me, it sounds like a fan with a small piece of paper or plastic caught in the blade. I made that observation without even tapping my cane! Let’s talk about that, though.

The teacher asks Cassie what’s in front of the fan. Apparently the only way Cassie can figure this out is to tap her cane. Yeah, the only way. She is in fact instructed to do this by her fully grown, very knowledgeable blind teacher. She does, and just like magic, she knows there’s a coffee mug in front of the fan! Wow! Now, maybe her cane actually hit the mug, which ya know, would risk knocking it over and possibly breaking it, but let’s say it did. I can’t verify that, being blind and all. But then why, if the mug was in cane-striking distance, would she not just reach out and find it that way? The whole thing is completely ridiculous and wrong, and sets up the game mechanic they’re trying to demonstrate to feel like an insult everytime you use it.

So here it is. Here’s the conclusion to all this. Perception is a terrible game that could have been great. Had any actual effort been put forth to make it accessible, it could have been a game that brought the blind and sighted together in a cool survival horror experience. And in this time, where video game accessibility is actually starting to become an accepted and widely-discussed part of game development, it is a shame this was not done. It is an enormous, enormous missed opportunity. The ntire game comes off as an attempt to cash in on a new survival horror idea without considering the immense possibilities that could lead to, and then tries to pat itself on the back for taking a couple real world inspirations. (Be My Eyes is used in the game, and it is a real app for the blind). I am finding it difficult to truly express my anger and disappointment with this title, and I worry that it will actually become a step back for the blind, making people who play it think we just swing our canes around everywhere like bumbling idiots. (It is actually possible to walk around and unknowingly break small things during the game). I understand this rant may unpopularize me with some, but I feel it needs to be said for the sake of the blind community.

Game Accessibility Still Making News

I’m happy to report that another wonderful article about game accessibility has surfaced, featuring a couple folks I know, a couple I don’t, and a little smattering of me! It’s written by the same person, (Richard Moss), who wrote the last accessibility article for Polygon, and is just as detailed, just as well-researched, and I assure you, just as long. Check it out