Inspirational Gamers: RPG Communities

Roleplaying games have been a part of my life since I was 14 years old. My first introduction to the genre was Baldur’s Gate, and then Neverwinter Nights grabbed hold of me from there. I had played RPG games on console before, but they’d always been solo endeavors. I remember getting Neverwinter Nights and being so excited that I could play a game with my best friends. Years of stories were crafted, characters made, and memories shared. These experiences lead me to find tabletop RPG’s with my friends Matt [ A Fistful of Dice ] and Darrin. We started playing home group tabletop games after that.

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I got inducted via Pathfinder and have, since then, never looked back. Now there are so many different RPG’s out there to experience, it’s hard to even know where to begin or how to get involved. I know the feeling, and it’s not fun. You’re a player on the outside wanting to find a community you feel will accept you into the fold. It’s what we all desire as gamers, a community that embraces our eccentricities and makes us feel loved and valued. Today I want to shed light on some truly inspirational friends that I have made over the past few years.

Each of the following communities has something to offer, and they all are filled with exceptional human beings. They aren’t only wonderful role-players, but the point of entry for getting involved in the community is really easy and they’re all willing and able to help. You have a place where you can learn new games, mechanics, foster creativity, and grow as a gamer. I’m going to go through each one of these and touch briefly on why I feel they exemplify accessible gameplay communities for those wanting to get into roleplaying games.

In this generation the concept of the standard “home group” table is hard to come by. These communities give those who can’t find that outlet an opportunity to do so.

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A group formed by four of my best friends, Absolute Tabletop, is a community that embraces creativity. They are a third-party publishing company for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons supplements. They’ve just recently started, but in a year’s time, they’ve created a devoted community that thrives on inclusive, creative and productive tabletop culture. They acknowledge all players of all skill levels, and promote teaching the game to anyone willing to learn.

The brain trust that is Absolute Tabletop: Tabletop Terrors’ Tim and James Kearney; AFistfulofDice‘s Matt Click, and BeABetterGameMaster‘s Michael Barker are exemplary stewards of what this hobby is meant to promote. They define the family like quality that I feel every tabletop experience should be. They are not only DM’s and players, but they’re quite good at teaching others how a game system works. They do so each in their own way, but their styles mesh so well, and it makes the point of entry like walking into a new home.

The people in the community are active, loving, and embracing of all skill types. They foster creativity in a way I haven’t seen before in most online communities. You don’t have to be a part of Absolute Tabletop to feel like a part of Absolute Tabletop. The group is composed of players of all walks of life and play styles. It’s ideally for those wanting to get into 5th Edition, but so many of the topics presented are system agnostic. Feel free to grab a character sheet, a handbook, a drawing pad, whatever floats your fancy – and Absolute Tabletop will embrace your talents and interests.

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This was the first group I was ever introduced to when it came to online gameplay. Up until the Tabletop One-Shot Group, I was only ever playing home games with Matt and the rest of our crew. The One-Shot Group has had it’s ups and downs for me, but what I love about them is that it’s a space where you can taste all the options available in the RPG community. Not everyone is going to want to play Pathfinder, nor 5th Edition. Sometimes we find ourselves longing for game systems that challenge us. We search for new mechanics and new ways to play so that our gaming variety expands and we learn new experiences.

If this something that inspires you I urge you to take a look at it. Headed by the wonderful gentlemen: Ian Christiansen, Andrew Knapp, and Lee “Juce” Patterson. Each one of them has a deep passion for the roleplaying community. They keep the community a fun, inviting, and accessible homestead for learning new games. They promote players trying new games and inspire others with their Youtube channels and their gameplay. Each player in the OSG can find something that interests them without much struggle. Timezones can sometimes be a pain, but for the most part, you’re going to be able to find a game any time of day.

If you’re into gore: Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Fate of the Norns, and Savage Worlds.

If you’re into fantasy: Pathfinder, 5th Edition, Adventures in Middle Earth, Mouseguard, etc.

If you’re into sci-fi: Fate, Call of Cthulhu, Numenera, etc.

It really doesn’t matter what you’re looking for, the OSG has something to offer everyone. The point of entry is really small. Anyone and everyone willing to play is welcome, as long as you adhere to being a respectful, creative, and open minded gamer. Feel free to join and just hop in. There will be a game for you waiting, and hopefully you’ll find fellow gamers who will become life-long friends.

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A group founded by my friend, Jarin “DnD”, this is the pinnacle of tabletop accessibility. I remember when Jarin joined the OSG for the first time and mentioned that he wanted to bring a group together. He wanted to showcase that tabletop gaming could still be achieved by players with disabilities. This group immediately tugged at my heartstrings and I admire Jarin for all of the work and effort he and his fellow admins. have put together. He is constantly updating Power Up Gamers, giving feedback, providing numerous games, and giving a look into how to run games in a more accessible fashion.

He delivers reviews and discussions on how to provide a more accessible atmosphere for all gamers. This is especially helpful for designers, like myself, who want to build new experiences. The group is open and willing to bring in any players. Everyone has their own play style and Jarin recognizes this. Some players may need to take more frequent breaks, some may have trouble communicating their character’s actions, but whatever your play style Power Up Gamers accommodates it.

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If you are a fan of Star Wars, I highly, highly, emphatically suggest you hit up Tides of Change. This group, headed by Andre Martinez, is a Star Wars fan paradise. Andre and a number of exceptional DM’s have taken the mantle to provide a community for those who love all things Star Wars. You can play using the Fantasy Flight Games set of games that span the vast timeline of Star Wars stories. There is clearly something for everyone here.

You want to play a Sith? Play a Sith!

You want to be a droid? Be a Droid!

Want to be a Wookie bountyhunter fighting against the Rebel Alliance? BE A WOOKIE!

The possibilities are endless and the gaming community here doesn’t care about the depth of your knowledge. They are willing to take you as you are and indoctrinate you into the lore. They see all players as valuable and know how important the Star Wars franchise is to countless others. I haven’t had a chance to be in a Tides of Change game yet, but if you want a bit of Force in your life, this is definitely the place to start. If you want to see how some of these games work check out my buddies: Jarl DM, MikethePiper, and Red Dice Diaries.

They have dynamite games that show off the game system in a brilliant way.

These are all of my current favorites, and there’s at least one group you can jump into. I hope that by showing these, players who are still anxious about getting involved in a game will see there’s no fear here. I’ve spoke at length about how tabletop gaming is beneficial and therapeutic for many players, and so, if you’re worried at all that you can’t roll with the best of us – don’t be.

We are all gamers here, and we all love this hobby – one dice roll at a time.

Fallout 4: A Nuclear Family

If, for some reason, you’ve been living underground in a bunker for the past decade you may not have heard of the Fallout franchise. If this is the case, I am sorry. I urge you to bust open that Vault door, step out into the light, and grab hold of Fallout 4. Fallout 4 follows the same trends that the established franchise has always experienced: vast open-world experience, exceptional story arcs, and riddled with enough bugs to make a radroach colony jealous. I say this to preempt this review, because I want people to understand that just because a game has flaws, doesn’t mean that it’s not a magical, fun experience that should be enjoyed.

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First off, let me start by saying Fallout 4 has so many complexities, so many side quests, and so much of well – everything, that I can’t begin to cover it all in the scheme of a single review. This game will eat up hours of your life, but you’ll enjoy every minute of it. Even with the technical hiccups that sprinkle themselves throughout the coding, like a frosted doughnut, Fallout 4 is just too good to put down.

As in all Fallout games you become the unnamed citizen who escapes the fallout of a nuclear explosion by securing yourself within a Vault, an underground bunker designed with the soul purpose of protecting citizens. In Fallout 4, you are a survivor of Vault 111, finding yourself staggering about the future in search of your family. This is about as much as the game gives you initially, and it’s the perfect way to start things off. The more vague the initial storyline is the more enjoyable an RPG game, such as this, can become.

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You feel like you have a sense of choice and decision making in Fallout 4 that I hadn’t felt in previous renditions. Fallout is know for giving exceptional player agency, and this is no different, but the method in which they go about it is. The stat system: S.P.E.C.I.A.L, and the massive Perks chart allow for endless possibilities of playthroughs. If you’ve never played, but want to have a specific style I recommend checking out FudgeMuppet on Youtube for specific builds.

The biggest change in the Fallout system is V.A.T.S. The “Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System” has been around in previous renditions, but accessibly, this new version falters where it’s predecessor succeeded. V.A.T.S used to pause the game entirely, which made the game more accessible for players with mobility based limitations to play it. The ability to be able to time your attack and prep where you want to shoot is a necessity to some players. Bethesda has removed this from the game and instead V.A.T.S. now slows down time, instead of fully pausing it. It functions all well and good, but many of the Fallout 4 enemies have faster A.I. and response times than the V.A.T.S has time to slow properly.

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The actual mechanics of shooting and moving around the vast environment are a rise above that now makes Fallout 4 a less clunky and more like a streamlined shooter. The crafting system in the game is massive, and I mean, MASSIVE. Each and every single piece of gear you can equip can be altered. It is a beautiful thing to behold. Now, no matter what gear you have, know you’re going to experience death – a lot. Fallout 4 doesn’t shy away from making the wasteland of the Commonwealth a beautiful, challenging death trap. If you can bear with the fact that there is key remapping, a requirement of precision skills in lock-picking, and lack of V.A.T.S. pause – you can get through Fallout 4.

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The soundtrack is beautiful and the dialog between characters, while sometimes expected, is quirky, exceptional, and keeps me coming back for more. The subtitles didn’t always play in certain parts of the game, and often times, would overlap one another if I had a radio signal on. The audio cues and subtitles don’t take away from the accessibility of the gameplay though, so you can finish the game without sound. Visually, it’s the most stunning game I’ve seen to date. The sprawling world of Commonwealth, combined with the lush NPC’s you can experience, gives such a depth that I couldn’t draw myself away.

Bethesda has really attacked the visual market by allowing for HUD, subtitle, and menu colors to be adjusted for ease of use. The color pallet for the game is varied enough that it shouldn’t affect colorblind players. I can’t speak to it, because I’m not colorblind myself, but there was nothing jarring or off-putting as I walked around Fallout 4. The subtitles can sometimes be difficult to read, but you can easily get past this by adjusting the color to something you can see from afar. If you can move past some of the jarring visual bugs and crashes, then Fallout 4 will wrap you up in it’s post-apocalyptic beauty.

Wrap Up:

Fallout 4 has one of the most well written and entertaining worlds I’ve ever experienced in a game. The Commonwealth is littered with people, and not just wall flower NPC’s I casually interact with. These companions, characters, and even vendors have such a depth that I wanted to play with each one of them. I wanted to experience their life stories, goals, and ups and downs, as much as I wanted to craft my own. They became a part of my family. I grew eager to see what would happen next on this journey. I now see what Fallout fans have been clamoring about for years. A beautiful world with such character you can’t help but be caught up in the chaos – and spend days exploring every facet of it.

It may have it’s hiccups from time to time, and Bethesda could do more to make the game more accessible in future iterations, but this version is quite refined. Fallout 4 gives the player so many options to experience the story however they wish. The crafting systems and settlement building feel like a whole separate game in and of themselves, and I could spend hours just altering my homestead. I haven’t touched the DLC yet, but from what I’ve experienced, I can’t wait. I want to get lost in this world again, and again, soaking up new stories of the Commonwealth like radiated Nuka-Cola.

  • Mods fix a lot of the problems in the PC and XBox One versions, but I wasn’t able to experience these first hand. The review is solely expressed with my PS4 journey, which doesn’t currently allow modding. 

No Man’s Sky: Far from Hyperdrive

There, before the grace of man, go the infinitesimal cosmos that stretch out before us. We yearn to step out into the great beyond, and as the cockpit opens up with a hiss from the airlock, we step out into the great unknown. This was the anticipated mood that No Man’s Sky built up. In the past few years I’ve been eagerly anticipating this game, like a kid waiting with his parents to watch the first moon landing. I was on the edge of my seat, and now that I finally have it – it’s far from the hyperdrive I was expecting.

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Hello Games promised a massive undertaking of a open world system that was seemingly endless. In every trailer I ever saw the set pieces were sprawling and beautiful, lush with foliage and fauna that would make any biology lab blush. They achieved a technological feat that has not been seen in games before, an algorithm to procedurally generate planets. Now, while that may sound amazing, it’s the implementation that matters. All the hyperdrives in the world don’t get you anywhere if you can’t deliver that sense of scale you promise.

Hello Games manages to deliver that sense of scale, but in doing so they faltered in delivering the other aspects of gameplay. The games control system is very limiting, and so players who may have mobility issues can’t adjust the control scheme to fit their needs. Each task is assigned to a specific button, which makes it difficult to achieve certain tasks. There is no tutorial in this game either, which essentially throws the player out into the wilderness and expects them to survive. Now, for able bodied players this may take some time to learn, but it’s still achievable to meander around aimlessly, learn a few buttons and play the game. The thrill of experiencing that first few hours of the game is at least worth something.

No Man’s Sky would certainly benefit from some sort of guided tutorial, especially when it comes to crafting and inventory systems. The game provides you with objectives, but doesn’t really give you any means of understanding how to accomplish them. It’s like throwing an astronaut out into the vastness of space without a spacesuit. The lack of explanation to some of the gameplay mechanics, especially crafting and advancing weaponry and upgrades, is a real downfall for the game as a whole. Players aren’t one to ask for you to hold their hand, but at least having a furthered tutorial would give players a better sense of how the world functions.

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In regards to functioning, let us break down the main core gameplay of No Man’s Sky. In the hours I spent playing the game, I found that there was a distinct pattern to every quest line which, within a few planets, became monotonous. You gather materials, you craft new supplies, you travel to a new planet, you repeat the process. It seems like fun, in theory, but the end result becomes this massive quest of scavenger hunt that has no real payoff. In addition to this, the game was riddled with functionality bugs which made what gameplay there was, difficult to cleanly experience. Crashes, crafting menu issues, freezes, and in a game that has no autosave functionality – that’s heartbreaking.

I enjoyed what time I did manage to spend in the world, but once I felt I had experienced all that No Man’s Sky had to offer me, I felt lost. What do you do when a game offers you no real end goal? A countless, endless sandbox with almost Pokemon Snap picture archiving of new world items, with only the reward of monetary units to draw merit? No Man’s Sky does have an end goal – to arrive at the center of the universe, but it’s so vaguely depicted that I just felt like I was running my own game. The visuals weren’t enough to keep me entertained, and what I did manage to see was not user friendly.

The color schemes are vastly jarring and often similar from planet to planet. I’m not colorblind, but I have friends who are, and this color pallet is composed of a lot of reds and greens. It doesn’t help that the actual HUD that is present is fairly small and fairly transparent, making vision impaired users lives much harder. FOV sliders apparently were provided in the coding for the PC version, but with the PS4 version had no such functionality. It would be more optimized for users if players could have change the color of the HUD to make it more visible from a distance.

There was fun hidden in this gem amongst the stars, but the spaceship wasn’t entirely accessible. I had fun when I didn’t do what the game directed me to do, when I went off into the vast frontiers and just explored. I got caught up in dogfights with space pirates, and got to see vast galaxies. In truth, while they may have been similar, I did have fun during moments. The soundtrack is phenomenal and there are hours and hours of visuals to explore. It’s hard to have fun though, when you’re so bogged down by programming issues, crafting requirements, and a combat system that seems like it favors the AI over the user. A universe that seems endless, yet contains only a handful of similar alien NPC’s for me to briefly interact with.

Wrap Up:

No Man’s Sky feels like a game that got released while it was still being built. They launched it without the full mission in mind, and thus, the passengers began to dial S.O.S. back to Huston and request a do-over. I know the struggles of being a designer and wanting to provide a polished, finished product on a time table, and so I want to commend Hello Games for what they did with No Man’s Sky. They accomplished a beautiful set of tools that they can be proud of. They delivered a set piece that would make most movie studios drool. The next step is to allow a gameplay system that functions with accessibility in mind.

The team is already hard at work cleaning up patches to fix the glitches, but they also need to be aware of everyone in their audience. A few settings changes are desperately needed: An Accessibility menu, a colorblind filter that crafts colors to fit vision concerns, and an optimized lock-on system for enemies that isn’t linked to an upgrade that’s hours invested into the game.

I desperately want to love No Man’s Sky, because I feel like it’s the game I’ve always wanted as a child. I can’t though because, in the words of Robin Williams, No Man’s Sky has given me:

“Phenomenal Cosmic Powers! Itty-bitty living space!”

All the tools in the world can’t magically craft gameplay to be a fun experience. I hope they get all of these aspects sorted out and No Man’s Sky becomes fantastic in the coming months, but for now, I think I’ll just stay grounded until those tools are more refined.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Years ago, when I was a kid, I would have given anything to be Indiana Jones.

I was enamored with the world of archeology and that sense of adventure. When Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007, I immediately gravitated to the franchise and Nathan Drake’s journey. Nathan became a staple of my gaming life, and I went on each Uncharted experience yearning for my childhood sense of adventure. Naughty Dog captured it all, and made me love what gaming could do on an emotional and personal level.

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End brings about all of the past joy and fun I had, while expanding on the narrative and making nostalgic and meaningful choices to Drake’s journey.

If you’ve never played a Naughty Dog game, the studio prides itself on making story-driven narratives that leave the player lingering on dialogue, enamored with setting, and emotionally drawn to the characters. They fulfill all of this in Uncharted 4 to a spectacular level and even bring in new mechanics that make the game more accessible for players.

You follow Nathan Drake on his last adventure, and in doing so, the studio has taken ample strides to really showcase that this is the end. There are no bits of treasure left undiscovered, nor maps to be followed. This is the end, and it feels refreshing to see a studio who acknowledges this and gives us the most heartfelt send-off to an iconic character. Uncharted 4 displays it’s usual sense of adventure and intrigue, while showing us that Nathan is not an invincible video game icon. He is human, he is flawed, and he is, as always, that quick witted hero – now facing the realities of his decisions at the twilight of this journey.

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It wouldn’t be an Uncharted game if you didn’t start with a cliffhanger [ quite literally in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves ]. In Uncharted 4, we’re given a glimpse into the life of Nathan Drake that we haven’t seen before. His personal life comes under a microscope, and it’s an emotional wave of happiness, sadness, and struggle. We get to see Nathan engage with Elena, Sully, and now his brother, Sam, in a way that past Uncharted games didn’t give.

They strip away the mysticism, the folklore, and the over-arching paranormal that usually pervades the Uncharted series. They give us a meaningful story about the people Nathan loves, and the chemistry between all of the characters is impressive to say the least. The journey this time isn’t some paranormal means of finality, but they simplify it to a simple search for buried treasure. That’s it. A lost city of pirate treasure,  begging to be discovered by Nathan’s long lost brother, Sam, thought to be killed 15 years ago.

Uncharted 4 explores what it means to be drawn into a passion with unbridled obsession, enough to even make a man forget what is truly important in life. Are you still going about ruins and exploring exotic locals, laying waste to countless mercenaries on your way to an undiscovered treasure? Absolutely. Are there still tombs and puzzles for me to solve? No doubt! Does it mean more, and are the relationship deeper than before? Yes. They are. What matters is that Uncharted 4 really provides depth where past iterations were merely scratching the surface of what it means to be Nathan Drake.

 

Mechanically, the game functions just as beautifully as it’s past predecessors. It focuses on that stealth cover and shootout gameplay that veterans of the series will love, but they’ve made the mechanics and ease of use seem simplified.  It felt more fluid than ever before to be Nathan Drake, and with small additions to mechanics, it didn’t overbear the user with a whole new set of tasks to undertake. In fact, Uncharted 4 gives the player a list of options to make ease of use and access to entry much easier from an accessibility stance.

Upon opening the game, beyond the opening music that always gives me chills, I investigated the Accessibility Options menu. Yes, the game has it’s own Accessibility menu. I was blown away by the plethora of options that gave more ease of use, even to players who have full functionality. If it’s modality you’re worried about when asking yourself, “Can I play Uncharted 4?” the answer is, “Yes. You can!” They’ve identified trouble areas from past iterations such as:

  • Repeated Button Presses – Player to hold button vs. pressing in QTE’s [ Quick Time Events ]
  • Camera Lock On – This allows you to use the Lock On function with just one stick.
  • Aim Lock On – This allows for the gun to snap to an enemy automatically.
  • Vehicle and Camera Assist – To allow ease of use by moving the camera around the player.
  • Subtitles – Detailed subtitle settings for deaf/hard of hearing players.
  • Colorblind – Minor changes in color setting for Multiplayer teams.

All of these features made the game accessible, and even for an able-bodied player like myself, I found them useful and helpful in regards to experiencing the journey at it’s full potential. I got to experience new mechanics, like the grappling hook, without feeling overwhelmed. I wasn’t bogged down with mechanical hang ups, which allowed me to focus intimately on the story that unfolding in front of me. I laughed, I cried, I shot thugs in the face – and it was magical.

Wrap Up:

My journey with Uncharted 4 has been a long one, but one that I feel has come to one of the most satisfying conclusions in the history of my gaming life. There are countless fan service easter eggs tossed about this journey, and the fact that Naughty Dog went about making it so that these moments could be accessible to more than just the able-bodied community is a blessing in and of itself. Thank you Naughty Dog. Thank you Nolan North. Thank you to everyone who has been a fan of this series, and who has been given the opportunity to be the most bad-ass, charismatic, and memorable treasure-hunter since Indiana Jones.

There are no cheap sells of a half-assed prequel or sequel on the horizon. Naughty Dog gave a memorable story, combined with accessible use, exquisite storytelling, and characters that breathe. They actually have goals, fears, obsessions, and for me – that’s what sells a game. A game where I can FEEL the story. A game where I’m not restricted to my real life, and I can view myself as Nathan Drake for at least a few hours more… and that’s all I can ever ask for.

Thank you Naughty Dog. These past few years have been a blessing. I look forward to the next story you write, as I watch Nathan Drake fade away into treasure-hunting retirement.

I am fulfilled, satisfied, and damn it – I want to go treasure hunting now.

Tech Talk: Button Mapping Gets Updated!

It’s been a while since I’ve ventured into the realm of console gaming.

The other day, while playing around with my PS4, I found that they’ve released some pretty awesome updates for game accessibility. In 2012, I was just discovering that game accessibility was a discussion that needed to be had. I hadn’t the slightest idea on where to start though, that was, until I found The AbleGamer’s Foundation. AbleGamers helped to inspire me to create this site and focus on a generation of gaming that would be inclusive, accessible, and fun for everyone.

I’m so happy to see that finally we’ve reached a generation of gaming where no matter HOW you play, you are given methods TO play. Inclusion vs. Exclusion.

Now, on to the topic at hand: BUTTON MAPPING and other ACCESSIBLE updates.

In the last few updates for PS4 and Xbox One they’ve included a segment in the settings called Accessibility Features. In the Accessibility Features there are a number of different menus which can aid you in customizing the game/system experience:

PS4:

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TEXT TO SPEECH:

  • This function allows the user to use a Text to Speech function via the On Screen Keyboard. It’s not perfect as it currently only works via English language setting, but it does allow you to control the system with vocal commands and in messaging in some games. I will say that blind gamers, I want to hear from you because I can imagine you’ll rejoice in this new functionality.
  • It’s only available with some features though, so the limited functionality makes it a work in progress. It provides settings for reading speed and volume of narration [ 3 settings for slow speech, 3 for fast speech ] The functionality is just beginning and it’s going to be a massive boost for players with mobility and vision issues regarding texting, messaging friends, creating groups, etc.

    I can only hope that this’ll improve to provide more to game experiences as well.

ZOOM:

  • The Zoom feature allows the user to Zoom in on items on the screen to see them better. I can’t say how much I appreciate this aspect and it’s fairly simple to accomplish on the fly. You merely have to press the Square and PS button and initiate the Zoom feature. The D-Pad or Analog stick allows you to move the Zoom around the screen.
  • In games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Witcher 3, etc. I’m overjoyed by this function, because the menus/descriptions/writings are all done in such a small text that it’s often hard for me to see items in-game. The Zoom feature essentially pauses your current game, not allowing you to play the game as long as you’re zoomed in. It only provides one level of Zoom, but that’s more than enough to provide aid.

INVERT COLORS:

  • Invert Colors functions exactly like it’s namesake says, and while I would love for them to change “Invert Colors” to an overall “Colorblind Adjustment” feature – the feature works as described. It changes darks to lights, and lights to darks, reds to blues, etc. It can definitely help in certain areas as it functions in both menus and in-game. If you take screenshots though, you’re out of luck. The colors will stay static to the original.
  •  I will definitely be taking this functionality for a spin via games like Arkham Knight – where the Detective Modes of some of the characters can be highly disorienting and jarring. If the functionality works on these areas of the game, then I think we’ll have hit a home-run with it’s current functionality. Here’s hoping for further color pallet changes and I’m excited for this one!

LARGER TEXT:

  • This function increases the size of text in menus, and presumably in games. I haven’t given it a go in games that have smaller text, but I’m going to give Inquisition a go here in a bit and update if it works. It definitely does a number on being able to read smaller range text. I don’t have great vision and sitting from my couch the Larger Text function works wonders so I don’t have to sit closer/strain my eyes to see.

BOLD TEXT:

  • This function increases the visibility of text by making it bolder for the user. It’s pretty much self explanatory. I will say that this function, in it’s current state, only applies to certain aspects of the system like menus. The in-game text stays the same, but I would love to see this functionality expand to games. There are so many games I’ve played where text is too fancy or too small to read from far away.

 I will test this further, but for now it’s a step that needs further work to be polished.

HIGH CONTRAST:

  • This function increases visibility of text and buttons by, essentially dimming the screen or adjusting colors to make items more visible for players. This is a really nice feature and it works fairly smoothly in most cases. The small test I ran with it: It runs wonders for system menus, reducing the shimmer of the standard PS4 blue. Premium themes, however, are not affected – so I suppose simple is better?
  • In-Game the High Contrast works, but not great. You do get a bit of an adjustment and it is visible, but overall it’s nothing that adjusting your own Brightness and Contrast settings via the game couldn’t already do. It may not work on all games either, I merely used a small sampling of games, but for now it’s a welcome change from what we had before.

CLOSED CAPTIONS:

  • We’ve all heard of these before. The Closed Captions functionality is nothing ground-breakingly new, as it’s been used via TV shows and movies for years. I was excited about this, however, because I have deaf friends. Closed Captions options would do wonders for their overall enjoyment of gameplay, and I was hoping that it would outshine the standard “Subtitles” functions that most games offer. If it turns out it’s simply for videos and DVD services I’ll say this is an opportunity missed.
  • I’ll have to delve into this in dialogue heavy games, but essentially, it’s supposed to allow for not only subtitle text but sound text/qualifiers during games/movies/etc. I do appreciate the functionality menu being able to be customizable for the Closed Captions. Giving players the option to set color/font/text size/etc. is really a wonderful approach so as to keep the new features from being too intrusive on the game content.

BUTTON ASSIGNMENTS:

  • Here we are – the promised land. The holy grail that console players have been searching for in accessibility for years. This is it, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Well, sort of.

First, let’s start off with what PS4 does well. The functionality and ease of use in this button mapping system is genius and very well done. It allows for the user to pretty much remap any button to any other button. I can officially take the X button and change it to D-Pad Left, or the L2 trigger and change it to O if I want. The combinations are amazing, but why does this affect you – the gamer?

 

  • Well the functionality is easy to use. You can swap buttons pretty much on the fly by dropping in and out of game to make button configuration changes. The only downside is getting accustomed to your new controller baby. You now have your own personal ‘special-snowflake’ controller, and the game functionality is hard coded. It doesn’t recognize that you changed your X‘s with your Y‘s or your L3‘s with your R1‘s.
  • VERDICT: If you’re a Tutorial based gamer, you’re going to need to train yourself in your new setup, otherwise this is like walking on the moon for gamers. Is there more that can be done? Absolutely. Will there be more done? I certainly well hope so!

XBOX ONE:

NARRATOR:

  • Now I don’t have an XBOX ONE, so this video above is a nice buffer on exactly what the functionality of each piece does. Let’s start off with Narrator. Narrator is a lovely little device acting much like a digital reader for many. I am fascinated by this functionality [ and if it functions as well in-game as it does in this example…] because it speaks, quite literally, volumes to blind players who could use the benefits of a narrator function to navigate games, menus, etc.
  • The voice is very much like Tom-Tom or the old MS-DOS voice cast, but I’m going to hope that eventually they’ll give us other methods than just speed to adjust the narrator we wish to have.

  How cool would it be to have a celebrity voice narrate your XBOX experience?

MAGNIFIER:

  • This function is identical to the Zoom function on the PS4. However, there is something I’ve noticed that Magnifier does that Zoom does not. It has the ability to zoom further instead of being a static zoom setting. This could be really useful if I’m playing in a highly detailed game and need to spot an objective or a pathway and I can’t clearly see it. It works in menus though, and based on what the Support says about Magnifier it seems that it’ll pause all other controller functionality when Magnifier is on.

CLOSED CAPTIONS:

  • This function is exclusively for the XBOX video/DVD/Blu Ray functionality. You can create a custom captions style, but the fact that the functionality is limited simply to their video services is pretty short coming. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to deaf gamers who’d prefer if the subtitle/closed captions settings of games gave them the ability to not ONLY read TEXT, but SOUNDS, MOTIONS, etc. If a player knows more of their surroundings, the more they will be immersed in the game.
  • Come on XBOX, get on that bandwagon and make it happen. A cross-game Closed Captions function would make the accessibility market crack open for you guys. It does give the players access to text customization options, but if it’s only for video captions, then it’s falling short of what expectations ought to be.

HIGH CONTRAST:

  • This function is similar to the PS4, however, it’s minimal at best.
  • The only contrast it provides is making the dark areas darker and providing a bright turquoise with white borders instead of the standard color scheme. It also turns off any custom backgrounds and content, so as to ‘unclutter’ the visual space. I think it’s nice, but other than ease of reading it doesn’t change much. I hope it changes aspect like this In-Game as well as Menus.

BUTTON MAPPING:

  • In the battle for best Button Mapping setup, PS4 wins. The simplicity of the XBOX setup, while it may look nice, is only shown in Standard Controller. The Advanced features that extend past 1 configuration setup per user, are only extended to the Elite Controllers. This is something they don’t show you, but if you go to the XBOX ONE Support, you’ll see the Configuration information.

XBox_Buttons

  • The Ease of Use functions are simplistic and easy to use, but with the sort of minimal aspects you can adjust at a time, it’s a bit of a disappointment. I am proud to see that they took into account the need of button configurations, but asking players to buy secondary controllers to gain additional ease of use options for button mapping it’s a shame. I hope that, at some point, the button mapping options will just become standard, but until then, they’ve made a start and it’s lovely.

 

If you’re still interested in game accessibility and the strides that are being made I have two sites for you guys to take a look at. Both of these organizations are making insanely, fantastic strides in the realm of game accessibility:

AbleGamers Foundation: http://www.ablegamers.com/

Special Effects [ UK ]: http://www.specialeffect.org.uk/

Keep on gaming everybody, and remember:

One Input at a Time, We Aim for Access for All.

PNW RPG Research – RPG Therapy

In a previous blog post a few years ago, I mentioned the social and developmental benefits of roleplaying games.

Tabletop gaming has come a long way in terms of popularity, and I’ve found that there is research out there that supports the use of tabletop gaming as a form of therapy. I want to thank, Nate from WASD20, for bringing the following organization to my attention.

On January 29th, 2016 – PNWATRA comes to Portland, OR.

ATRA

The American Therapeutic Recreation Association specializes in providing rehabilitation and recreational therapy services to promote health and wellness in patients. I am fascinated by ATRA’s work, and I wish I could attend this year. Presenter, Hawke Robinson, will be presenting a discussion on RPG’s as a form of Modality Therapy.

It may not appeal to everyone, but I urge you to take a look at his former presentation, or even visit his seminar this year. He gives insight to how we can take the RPG community to a level where it goes from just a fun past time, to a meaningful, viable form of therapy for people with OT/PT/ST treatments.

The social interactions alone speak volumes and, I can say from personal perspective, that I would have loved to have RPG’s as a form of therapy in my youth. A patient dealing with modality complications can improve their confidence, social interactions, mobility, and interpersonal goals in recovery through RPG therapy.

The RPG community is vastly becoming viral, mobile, and inclusive via Facebook, Google+, and Youtube. If patients/players are wanting a more face to face interaction though, I highly recommend you check out this wonderful project being headed up near my own neck of the woods:

THE RPG TRAILER:  https://www.gofundme.com/rpgtrailer

This project is being headed by Robinson in Spokane, and unfortunately, he hasn’t seen enough traffic to make this happen. It’s been 7 months, and not much has changed. Hawke, I love what you’re doing sir and I want to see this come to life. RPGs offered so much for me as a child and, even now, as an adult.

It means so much to me that you’re passionate about this goal of inclusion and developmental research. I want to reach out and help promote this goal, because I know many more than myself could benefit from such a wonderful service. If you ever need a DM to help run games for this when the trailer is finally finished, please feel free to contact me.

God Bless you Hawke!

You make so many people’s lives better through this research.

It’d be a blessing and a joy to bring recreational enjoyment of RPG’s to others!

If there are others out there, who would love to experience 5E, Call of Cthulhu, or many other RPG’s and use it as a form of therapy, I recommend checking out the Tabletop RPG One-Shot Group or Absolute Tabletop, or – if you’re into Star Wars: The Tides of Change Roleplaying Game Club. All of these groups are highly inclusive and provide opportunities for online gaming experiences to all.

This loving, caring, fantastic group of individuals has really helped me open up socially, and I know that they’re willing to introduce and embrace others in the love of RPG’s.

Let’s help Hawke achieve his goal, and may your dice roll high!

 

Game of the Month: That Dragon, Cancer

Cancer.

It is a perplexing demon that seeps into the lives of even the most innocent. A tar-like dragon that rears its maw, and devours our hope. It attacks the ones we love the most, and it tears us from them, unceremoniously. In a year that’s already started off with many of our beloved musicians and actors succumbing to cancer, I wanted to take the time to share a game that truly evokes the challenges that cancer brings with it. I hope that the personal story of developers, Ryan and Amy Green, touches you and moves you to be inspired as it has me.

joel_1

I had been following the developers of That Dragon, Cancer since they started their Kickstarter campaign for the game back in 2014. I was immediately drawn to the personal story and emotional love letter that the Green family had created for their son. It tells the emotional journey of their family as they dealt with the devastating news that their son, Joel, was diagnosed with AT/RT. An aggressive form of brain tumor that would require tireless hours of care to try and combat, when he was only one.

joel_2

In March of 2014, Joel passed away. In the wake of this tragedy, The Green Family made it through with faith and hope. They decided that the best way to honor their son was to share with the world their personal journey: the joys, the falls, the faith, and the feels. It’s all present, and I can’t even begin to express how beautiful I think this game is. It’s not just a game, and so I can’t rate it as I would others.

This is a family’s journey.

A way to give hope to those who are also dealing with these ordeals in life.

A look at faith, family, and much more.

I could go on and discuss the game mechanically, visually – the surrealist artistry of how you take this journey through a series of emotional mini-games, but I won’t. I can’t say enough about this game. It’s breaking the boundaries of what we consider “classic” game motifs. That Dragon, Cancer, defies AAA titles and states that games can be far more evocative than developers had ever imagined. Ryan and Amy, I am honored to have played your game and it brought me to tears. Your devotion and faith is astounding and That Dragon, Cancer should be seen/played/heard by as many people as possible.

In an era where cancer is devouring, you are bringing faith and hope back to people. Your family is showing that, even in times of deep distress, faith can change anger into hope.

God Bless you Green Family!

I highly recommend you pick this game up. It was released on January 12th, which would have been Joel’s 7th birthday. It’s currently on Steam, PC, and Ouya for $14.99. It’s one of the most beautiful expressions of love, hope, and faith that I’ve ever seen in gaming and I hope that, through their testimonial, we’ll be able to finally shed light unto that Dragon’s lair – and end cancer, and it’s hoard, once and for all.

That Dragon, Cancer: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/preorder/

Family: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/our-family/

Blog: http://www.thatdragoncancer.com/thatdragoncancer/

 
Now, I’m going to eat pancakes in honor of Joel, as I wipe my tears from my face.