Noclip Podcast #05 – Steven Spohn (Ablegamers)

Noclip Podcast #05 – Steven Spohn (Ablegamers)

(relaxed instrumental music) – [Danny] Hello and welcome to Noclip; the podcast about people who
play and make video games. I’m your host Danny O’Dwyer and today I’m joined by somebody who kind of has a finger in both of the pies
we generally talk about; people who play games and
also people who make games. We’re gonna talk to him
about a lot of different areas of his work and
also the ways in which he enjoys playing games as well. He is the COO of
AbleGamers, he is a fellow Trending Gamer nominee survivor. I am delighted to be
joined by Mr. Steven Spohn. How are you doing my friend? – [Steven] (laughs) I’m doing well. Can we just talk about pies
for the next 15 minutes? – [Danny] I wanted to bring up the pie because I was trying to think about how you fit into the world of video games and, in a way, your work at AbleGamers is involved in both sides of the equation. You help individuals who have
trouble accessing video games to get controllers and the means by which to play the games they wanna do, but you’re also talking to game studios and hardware manufacturers about they ways in which they can make it so you don’t have to do the other thing. – [Steven] Yeah. The truth is when I did
the game awards video, one of the things that they
captured me saying was that I don’t know how I got where I am and I don’t know what I’m doing and it was the absolute
most truthful thing I had said during the whole piece. I don’t know exactly what
you would call my job. My job is literally
whatever AbleGamers needs and sometimes that’s talking to hardware, sometimes that’s talking to developers, sometimes that’s talking to fundraisers, sometimes that’s talking to people with disabilities who need tech support, so I have really become the Jack of all video game trade at the moment. – [Danny] I’ve got a lot of questions about your work at AbleGamers and we’ve got some from the Patrons too. We’ve actually been, like, I feel like we’ve been working on the
AbleGamers documentary, in some respect, either
us having conversations or filming stuff like we did last summer, it feels like it’s been going on forever and it’s something that we
eventually will get done. Today I kind of wanna talk
a bit more about Steven; about how you came to be
in the position you’re in because, like you said, in a way I can’t imagine anyone
else doing your job, but also I couldn’t imagine anyone doing your job until you did it. So, let’s go all the way back. When did you start playing games or when did you start
getting interested in games? – [Steven] I became interested
in video games actually thanks to a friend I
had made in high school. We were in a vo-tech class and we were doing AutoCAD designing and… – [Danny] Oh, cool. – [Steven] I, for just a brief hot second, I wanted to be an assistant engineer and then I wondered how much
work it is and I said, “Nah”. – [Danny] What was the name of the class? It sounded like volt-tech class. – [Steven] It was vo-tech. – [Danny] Vo-tech? – [Steven] Yeah, vocational
technical school. – [Danny] Oh, okay, okay. – [Steven] Yeah, vo-tech
is like the American, “We’re not going to real school, we’re going to fancy ‘you’re going to learn actual useful life skills’ classes”. – [Danny] Awesome. – [Steven] Yeah, like its
where your mechanics go and all the people who
are gonna do computers and what they do is, or
at least in my school, you did your math and your
science in the morning and then they shipped you on a bus during lunch to go to the other school. It’s kinda cool. – [Danny] Wow, we had
something similar in Ireland. It was called Leaving Cert. Applied and it was where all my
friends who are tradesmen went. Like electricians and plumbers and then they all ended up
moving to Australia anyway because the economy crashed
and nobody was building houses. So you were in that class and
you were learning AutoCAD. Was that the first piece of
software you ever encountered? – [Steven] It was the
first time that I had really worked on computers
for more than a few minutes. Of course, everybody had Oregon Trail on their MathLab or whatever, but I grew up poor so
we didn’t own a computer and that was really the only time I got to have hands on a computer from
multiple hours at a time. One of my friends there
worked at a computer shop and he was telling me how he just got all these parts for
computers secondhand because people would
turn them in for repairs and then they wouldn’t want them, so he would just end up fixing
them and taking them home, and I was like, “That’s amazing”, so he started talking me into
getting into video gaming and he told me about this fabulous game where you could go online
and you could have a life and you could do amazing things like walking around the town of Britain and you could fight dragons
and you could own a house, and I was like, “This is amazing”, and so he sort of talked me
into this persistent world, he was a Guild Master in his own right. That’s how I got sucked
in to Ultima Online and from there I just
became super interested in the alternative reality
that video games present. – [Danny] Was there an element of the escapism that appealed to you? Escapism is something that we all enjoy, but perhaps somebody in
your position, maybe, was there an added element
of escapism for you? – [Steven] For me it was the timing of where it hit me in life. I had gone into my senior
year of high school and I had discovered friends
and it sounds corny, cheesy; it’s something that I’m probably gonna get up on a stage and give
a TED Talk about one day, but it’s interesting how our school system kind of segregates
people with disabilities away from the main
population if you let them. They’ll put you in a special classroom and they will put you in a
special room to eat lunch and they really keep you almost walled off from everyone
else and I was super lucky that I had a friend who talked me into doing that and I made friends. Long story short, I sort of
got a huge case of senior-itis and I just didn’t want to
do the school thing anymore. I wanted to go have a social life because holy crap having
friends is awesome! And so I just wanted to go experience that and have fun with it and it was fantastic. The only problem was that
I was just at the age where we were transitioning from
middle-teens to late-teens so it was a couple of years of doing… – [Danny] Hell. – [Steven] Oh, hell! But also doing video games
in your friends garage, to, “Hey, let’s go to the
club and pick up girls.” and its like “Well, the club has a stair to get into it, so I
can’t do that, oh damn”. So I started kind of
being walled off by life. Just happenstance of things
not being wheelchair accessible and here’s my other friend going, “Hey, here’s a world where your wheelchair doesn’t eff-ing matter”. I don’t know if I can
say swears on this show. – [Danny] Say whatever you want, man. – [Steven] Right, cool, so they were like “Who the fuck cares if
you’re in a wheelchair. Go play this world where
everybody’s equal”, and I was like “Oh, this
is my first experience where everything is a level playing field” and it was amazing, so… Was it escaping or was it choosing to forge a different path in life? I don’t think I’ll ever really
know the answer to that, but consequently, through
the butterfly effect, deciding to do that and
take that friend’s advice led me to where I am right now. – [Danny] You’re an
incredibly social person. I feel like everyone in
the industry has met you and had a conversation with you. I’ve noticed that you’re very good at advocating for people’s time, which is something that a lot of people who like having friends
and like being social, they sort of don’t put themselves
out there to, you know, they don’t want to be a
bother or something like that but I’ve always found you
to be incredibly inviting and sort of proactive in your friendships, which I think is a really important trait, especially the older you get. Video games, in that way I suppose, have sort of provided you with a lot then, in terms of both your social life and your professional life. Is it fair to say that
most of that sort of revolves around the world of games? – [Steven] I think it is now. I mean, you hit the
nail right on the head. When you’re in your thirties, going out and making new friendships is exceedingly difficult
and we could literally talk for the rest of the podcast about the difficulties of living the disabled life and having to fit in to
the norms of society. But as far as the video
games industry has been, to me it’s been a very
welcoming and inviting place and I am super honest guy, you know, you follow me on twitter, we’ve been friends for a couple years now. I, to my own detriment, I
am way too honest sometimes and I am sure that there
are people in the industry who love me and there are people who probably wish I would
just stop talking so much and I feel like if you don’t
have some people that think you talk too much then you’re
probably not making change and that’s what I’m trying to do. I have terminal illnesses,
I have a disability for those of you who don’t know me. I am aware that there is
that shot clock ticking and I don’t talk about it a
lot but I’m aware it’s there probably more than your average person and I’m trying to use all the time I’ve got to do something with it. – [Danny] It’s an interesting
dichotomy you bring up there, in that, in many ways, who
could say a bad thing about Steven and AbleGamers,
you know what I mean? At least, who could say
it out loud? (laughter) But you are kind of creating
problems for companies, right? Like you’re creating a problem that, by the fact that you’re even
having the conversation with it was a problem that they
thought didn’t exist. You’re fashioning it for them. (laughter) Is that the case? Like, is it different
now talking to companies than it was when you first
started doing this work? – [Steven] The difference really is that I didn’t make the problem. I shined a spotlight on a
problem that was in the darkness. It was always there and the
more technology advances, the less accessible it becomes, just by the very definition
of advancing technology. So, we banded together, me and Mark Barlet and Craig Kaufman, and a bunch of amazing people,
now AbleGamers, got together and decided that we were going
to take this problem head on and we changed a
multi-billion dollar industry. I tell you the weirdest thing that I could ever say to another human being because it is entirely
factual, you could prove it, in fact, we’re doing a
documentary talking about it, so it’s, you know, it’s
something that’s kind of shock and awe to even
try to talk about it, but here we are, years later, where developers went from laughing at us and walking away to now
coming to talk to us, so, you know, it’s pretty amazing. I am very fortunate in my
position that I am able to walk all these different
sides of the video game life. – [Danny] When you think about some of the ways in which you guys
have changed the industry, the one that comes to mind right away, for me at least, because it’s
probably the most recent, is the work that you
guys did with Microsoft on the, is it the Adaptive Controller, is that what the name is? – [Steven] Yeah, it’s called
the Adaptive Controller. – [Danny] What other stuff
comes to mind for you, over the years? – [Steven] You know, I think
some of the biggest were going into Harmonix and
getting to talk to Alex. Sitting down in his office and doing the whole Rock Band thing and talking about the various ways that you might wanna play the game. The fastest way I can tell this anecdote is we were sitting in his office and we were talking about how, if someone wants to play the video game, how many buttons would they
have to use at minimum? Could you do this if you only
had three fingers on on hand? Could you do it if you were one-handed? You know, yes, no, yes, no. So we talked about that for a minute and I just came up with a question to ask; “Why did you come up with three buttons as the minimum to be able to play?” and his answer was, “Well,
it’s just the number that we thought was the smallest that
people would ever wanna do”. I said, “Well, what
about somebody who only has the ability to push one button?” He said, “Well, we never
thought anybody would want to be able to play Rock Band
with just one button.” I looked him in the face
and I said, “I would.” And the color just drained out of his face and he just nods his head and goes, “Okay, we’ll have to work on that” and that was sort of a
great beginning point for, not only my friendship with Alex, but AbleGamers as a company we have worked with Harmonix ever since and they’ve been really great
partners of the business and I’ve made some good
friends over there as well. It’s this amazing thing of how, one of my friends put it best, my job title is to go out
and be who I am very visibly and let people learn
lessons from my experiences and I’ve been able to thread this needle of using personal experience
and second hand experience from the gamers I’ve met along the way to then translate that
into the friendships that I’ve forged in the industry and then turn that into making
changes for other people. So it’s this tightrope
act of making sure to be friends with everybody
because the only way that you really can get people to make
change is if they want to. If they don’t want to,
they’re not gonna change. – [Danny] When you think
about changing those games, were there games when you were
growing up that you were like “Oh man, I’d really love to play that”, but then you realized that there were barriers in your way to doing so? – [Steven] Yeah, I can tell
you that I wanted to play Dance Dance Revolution and
that’d be a great sound bite. (laughs) Of course I’m in a wheelchair but I’ve always been a
very realistic kind of guy. I am a logic-based person,
I have the weird sort or emotional Spock thing going on where I wear my heart on my sleeve and I will fight for anybody if I believe in them, but there has to be logic in my brain, also why this is a thing, and I’m never gonna be on
Dancing With The Stars. I’m never gonna be a ninja. It’s just not in the cards for me. So I am okay with that and
there was no particular game that I wanted to play that made me start advocating for people. It was simply having a disease
that was advancing slowly, taking away abilities one by one, made me go, “Oh, shit, I
guess I need some technology” and somewhere along the way I
discovered that it was a lot more fun to help other
people than to help myself. – [Danny] What was it like then for you, trying to gain access to that technology? Presumably you were doing that
before AbleGamers existed, so was it a case where your
conditions were getting worse and you were effectively
looking for solutions as the issues presented themselves? – [Steven] So it’s interesting
when you’re doing a technology upgrade as
someone with a disability because it’s often a mismatch of just MacGyver-ing your way through technology. To eat potato chips, I
used to use hot dog tongs as I couldn’t lift up my biceps, but I could rotate my
wrist so I would just pick up one chip at a
time with a hot dog tong. It’s the same thing with video games. I used a little tiny dental hygiene tool that has a little crook on the end of it, has a little rubber tip and I would use that to push
W, A, S, D when I couldn’t reach it and operate the
mouse with the other hand. So I was already using technology, it was just this way… Doing things the low-tech way was beginning to start to fail, so I had to find a little
bit more high-tech solutions. – [Danny] And how did you do that? Did you fashion stuff yourself? Were there people out there
making custom rigs for people? – [Steven] Well, you know,
I started doing it by finding ways to play video
games with only the mouse and just getting rid of keyboard entirely. Fortunately, I had found
a program called TrackIR which generally allows you
to look around in the cockpit of a Microsoft Flight Simulator and when you’re looking around, you’re also telling the computer to push different
directions and I found that you could use this to
push keyboard buttons and it was a totally unintended thing that this program was offering. They were trying to use
it to help people have a more virtual experience, more immersion, and I ended up using
it as a disability tool and now I teach others
how to do the same thing. – [Danny] That’s incredible. So you sort of hacked it in a way to be quick key-binding stuff. How many buttons could
you set up on a TrackIR? How many directional
ways are there to use it? – [Steven] So the best
way to think about it is to think about a dartboard. – [Danny] Okay. – [Steven] If you think
about each position, each little block, being a different key then the laser pointer that is attached to the brim of one of my hats
allows the laser pointer to move around based
on the way I’m looking. – [Danny] Right. – [Steven] So I can move
it to whatever block. The only downside of that
technology, of course, is if you’re thinking about
moving in a straight line. If you gotta get to block number three, you gotta run through block
number one through two. – [Danny] Right. – [Steven] So, it sort of
becomes this interesting way of lining up the buttons
so that they don’t do the wrong thing at the wrong time. – [Danny] It sounds like
key-binding is something that is one of the most
powerful ways of allowing people to use controllers
in these interesting ways. You say using a mouse
only; I imagine setting up ‘run’ to be right-click
or something like that would maybe fix one sort of problem. We talk about the hardware issue, but also one of the
biggest issues in games that has sort of been
slowly fixed over the past five, 10 years, well,
maybe closer to five, is the ability to re-bind controls, which certainly has never been
something that was standard and is a lot more common now. Is that a big issue with
accessibility as well? – [Steven] Yeah, re-mapping
has gotten a lot better. Now, re-mapping is almost as standard as closed captioning is
for TV shows and movies. That’s a lot thanks to the groundwork that people have done,
demanding it to be a thing. It’s not just a disability thing. Everybody loves for you
to be able to re-map things so that they’re more comfortable, so that your hand isn’t
stretched out in weird ways that the developers didn’t quite think somebody would try to do. So it’s good for
everybody, it’s good design and it allows us to be
comfortable playing video games. – [Danny] So what other big
games were you a fan of? Or what other games were
you a big fan of, rather, back in those days, back
in the Ultima Online days? Eventually those doors closed, but you could’ve got back
into that fantasy world. So what other games are your
favorites when you look back? – [Steven] Back then Diablo
was huge, I loved that game. Star Wars Galaxies
actually was the bait that Mark used to get me into AbleGamers. – [Danny] How’d he do that? – [Steven] Okay, so I loved
Star Wars Galaxies so much. Star Wars Galaxies was, and maybe is, my favorite game of all time and they had just changed it to the NGE and the NGE made it more into
an action simulator game, which took away a lot
of the accessibility. – [Danny] Oh, really? – [Steven] Yeah, in SWG, the
original vanilla version, you had macros, you had slash commands, you had buttons on the
screen that you could click, you could do macro ability to do more than one action at a time. It was a very very friendly game for people with disabilities
and they didn’t even realize they were designing it that way. They were just trying to make
it friendly for everybody. So, it just happened to be accessible and I happened to latch on to it as the most amazing thing since pizza and it was great and
they changed it and then, right after that, they were gonna change it again for the combat upgrade and they were gonna make it into this, I don’t even know what kind
of ‘Barbie Ken Dreamhouse’ thing they were trying
to do with this game, but it was just destroying
it from the inside out and then then closed it so I literally told Mark that I would
come work for AbleGamers, volunteer my time, and
at the time I was just being a writer and
trying to help the cause, and I would do it, but only
if he would give me the email for Smedley so I could tell him off. (laughter) – [Danny] And did you? – [Steven] I did, yeah, absolutely. – [Danny] Oh, God. – [Steven] I wonder if
he still has that email. – [Danny] Did he respond? – [Steven] No. I was nobody then, so just an angry guy yelling at him, which he had a bunch of those already. – [Danny] How long is
the email, do you reckon? Is it like one paragraph or
was it like 20 paragraphs? – [Steven] It was like five
paragraphs with expletives and doing something between
rational explanation of why he should change
it back to, you know, “I hope both your eyebrows catch on fire!” (laughter) It was not my most refined moment but I was just so passionate about it. – [Danny] Yeah, shoot
your shot, fair enough. So what have you been
playing at the moment? We were playing a bunch of
PUBG I remember last year and then you went off and
joined the Fortnite gang. You said you could never be a ninja but there you are, every
day, playing Fortnite. Are you still playing it? – [Steven] Actually, no. I don’t play Fortnite
as much as I used to. It is still a fun game for me, but I’ve actually began to fall away from first-person shooters a little bit. I’ve been doing the Rocket League thing, I’ve been really into
Kingdom: Two Crowns recently, just playing that 8-bit life. Yeah, it’s the third
installment of this franchise where you’re just a little dude or a queen that’s got a kingdom to take care of and there’s little greedy
things that are trying to take all your money and beat
up your people to get it, so there’s no fighting
involved so, I don’t know, I’m one of those gamers that, I used to run a violent game like a Diablo and then I would run The Sims Online. I would just bounce back and forth to satisfy both sides of my brain, so I guess right now I’m just like, “I don’t wanna shoot people, I just wanna watch little monsters be murdered.” – [Danny] Okay so by that rationale, Rocket League is the violent game? – [Steven] Yeah, well, if you’ve ever seen me play Rocket League, it depends how many times I get scored on. – [Danny] Oh dude, I swear to God, I have never been as
angry and stressed out as when I play Rocket League online. – [Steven] It’s like a stress test, they should replace that
at the doctor’s office. – [Danny] I swear to God,
I had to start playing on PS4 because then I couldn’t
type shit at people. (laughter) Then I just started
doing it on that as well, bringing up the little
PlayStation keyboard. In between goals where
you’ve hardly any time to trash talk anyone and you just
figure out ways of doing it. – [Steven] What a save,
what a save, what a save! – [Danny] Oh, yeah, totally and all that sarcastic
stuff for sure, yeah. It’s ridiculous. Did you do a ‘Top 10’
list or anything for 2018? – [Steve] You know, I think
I’m one of the three video game industry people that
didn’t do a ‘Top 10’ post. (laughter) – [Danny] You need to
get Alex Navarro over at Giant Bomb to email you as well next year. – [Steven] Apparently, yeah. Next year I need to get
on the list, I was like, “every one of my friends
has a list, what the hell?” Damn. – [Danny] So what was the stuff last year that really caught your eye? Were you playing a lot of those games? Well, playing Rocket
League I guess, since 2017. – [Steven] (laughs) Yeah, it was a good year for video games, man. The one I wish I could have
played the most was Spider-Man. Man, that looked like an amazing game. I couldn’t personally play it, so it was actually one
of the only games that I sat on Twitch and watched friends play from the beginning to the end. It was so good. I loved it so much. – [Danny] Is that because
it’s a console game and it’s just the accessibility issue? – [Steven] It was the way
that the accessibility was set up was just a little bit rough for trying to aim and change your weapons. Anything that has a weapon wheel just adds another layer of
complication for people who have a limited number of buttons
that they can push, so, yeah. Even if you were using a
QuadStick on a console, the weapon wheel is just
difficult, so, you know. – [Danny] How does the QuadStick interface with the PlayStation? Because obviously Microsoft
now has a controller that’s like officially doing it. Do you have to hack it to get it to work? – [Steven] Yeah, its just an adaptor. – [Danny] Oh, really,
just like off the shelf? You just get it off Amazon
or something, or eBay? – [Steven] Well no,
it’s not off the shelf, but there are adapters out there that let you use PlayStation and
Xbox things, vice versa, depending on which console
you need to use the most, so we can put a QuadStick on either one. It doesn’t really work on
a Swtich, unfortunately, looking at you Nintendo. But, yeah, PlayStation
and Xbox works just fine. – [Danny] Is it the type of
thing that they know about and they’re cool with or they know about it and they’re just gonna go, “Ah, whatever”? Like what is it that
Nintendo are doing that stops people being able
to make adapters for that? – [Steven] You know, I’m not really sure what I can say, legally. I can tell you that it’s still
works on Xbox and PlayStation and it doesn’t work on Nintendo. (laughter) – [Danny] Fair enough. Sorry, you were saying, what
other games are you playing? – [Steven] The God of War series was, of course, super amazing. I had a lot of strange
indie taste as well, like Tricky Towers was a
really good game I found. Just something sort of different. I loved Into the Breach. I think the only one I’ve lost a lot of time into was Odyssey. Odyssey is just so good;
I can’t stop playing it. – [Danny] My wife is playing it too. It’s the most game I’ve ever seen. – [Steven] It is ridiculous, it is. I mean there were so many good games that came out last year, but Odyssey is maybe the first one in forever that I’ve been playing off-stream. There’s usually, for me, only two kinds of games that I play; either I play them for work or
I play them for stream work. Don’t you get it where it’s
like, I’m sure, just like you, I don’t like play just to play very much, so when I do, a game’s gotta be great and Odyssey was fantastic. – [Danny] Did you play the Origins? The one that came out the year before? – [Steven] I didn’t. You know, Odyssey was actually my first venture into Assassin’s Creed world. – [Danny] Oh, cool. It’s crazy how people are, I feel like there’s two groups of people; there’s the people who
played so much Origins that they just can’t play
Odyssey because it’s just like, it’s just so too much, too quickly and then there’s people
who didn’t play Origins who are loving Odyssey because it’s a lot of the same sort of systems and stuff that worked there, but in a much bigger
map with so much stuff. It’s ridiculous how much
stuff is in that game. Like how much of the
map have you uncovered? My wife’s been playing for
months and like a third of the map has been opened up. – [Steven] You know, I
probably have got a little over half of it at this point, and it just seems like the
game just keeps going and, I gotta say, I’m into it though. It’s one of those games where I’m finding I don’t mind how much time
has been sunk into it. Normally by like hour 50 I’m like, “Alright, come on, we gotta wrap this up”, but this one I’m like, “You know, I could probably play this off and on for the next year,
I’d be alright with that.” – [Danny] What is it about it? Is it the setting or the combat or is it the ticking off the things on the list? There’s a lot of ‘do
these things’ and then you do the things and
they give you stuff for it and you’re like, “Yeah,
give me more things to do.” Is it that? – [Steven] I think it’s a combination of the story and the never-ending tasks. I love the bounty hunting
system, oh my goodness. I love how you just randomly get hunted and then you get to kill them
and then more people hunt you. It’s just awesome. – [Danny] That’s rad. What are you playing at the moment? So you’re playing that at
the moment still, are you? – [Steven] Yeah, I mean
whenever I get spare time, that’s where I’m sinking
my time right now. That was after I beat Far Cry. I don’t know if you got a chance to sink your teeth into that but, man, that was a mind trip. – [Danny] Yeah, that was another one, my wife is basically just on the Ubisoft open world ticket at the moment, so that was another one I watched her play a lot in the evenings. Had you played previous Far Cry games? Was that your first foray
into that one as well? – [Steven] That was
another first note as well. It seemed to be my year
to break into story games. I guess now we’re looking
back at it and I liked it but, this is gonna turn into
spoiler-cast if I’m not careful, but, man, the ending in that game. At the end of the day I am a writer who just happens to be
doing other things right now and so I love, love, love a good story. So, if it had something that can just grab my attention and make me wanna find out what happens
at the end, then I’m in. – [Danny] You’re one of the first people we’re talking to in 2019, I mean you’re one of
the first people we’re talking to on this podcast,
this is the 5th episode. I feel like I haven’t been able to stop and take stock of what’s
coming out this year. Is there anything, I have
a list in front of me here but is there anything
off the top of your head that you’re looking forward to? Because I feel like 2018 actually ended up being a fantastic year but
I worry that we ended up going into a slower
one, when that happens. But is there anything off
the top of your head that’s popping out that you’re
looking forward to in 2019? – [Steven] I don’t know,
it can’t be a slower year than last year. Last year was just boom, boom, boom. I would say, right off the
top, and the same thing everyone is gonna say is Anthem. If Anthem is bad then I am going to riot. I’m going to grab a pitchfork and I’m going to the studio
and I’m gonna stand there and be like, “You guys fix it.” I’m gonna do it in a
very non-threatening way. I’m just gonna stand there and it’s gonna be a safety pitchfork, there’s gonna be little
plastic things on top of it. – [Danny] (laughs) Orange tips. – [Steven] Yeah, orange tips on it. I’m gonna have a peaceful vest on me and just be like, “I just
want you to fix the game.” – [Danny] Well you say
you’re a fan of stories, does that mean, are you a fan
of Dragon Age and Mass Effect, the other BioWare games? – [Steven] Oh yeah, oh my goodness. Dragon Age: Origins is… (laughs) So Dragon Age: Origins, I love it so much, so anybody who really is a fan of mine may have picked up my one and only
book that I have out there and if you look hard enough at the book, you’ll see that one of the
main characters is actually nearly directly pulled out
of the Origins video game. – [Danny] Oh, careful, this
is fucking EA man! (laughs) – [Steven] I did not steal their IP, but that was like my main inspiration. It was so good. – [Danny] That’s awesome. – [Steven] It was like, you know, the character and the everything just was so great to me that I was like, “I have to create my own version of this and plug it in somewhere”, and I ended up doing that. – [Danny] That’s right,
what’s the name of the book? Where can you get it? – [Steven] It’s a horrible book,
you don’t wanna go find it. (laughter) – [Danny] Hey man, I a 33
year old video game fan. I don’t read books, I just buy them and put them on my shelf. – [Steven] That’s fair. So the book is called The Finder. You can get it on Amazon still. I got it under my pen name, Steven Rome. Honestly, I hired an editor but the editor really kind of let me down
so there’s grammatical errors and there’s an audio book uploaded to it. I really tried pretty hard and
it sold actually pretty well. So I’ve actually got a screenshot. Back in the day, you
could put your Amazon book up to be downloaded for 72 hours for free and I put it up to be downloaded for free and it was downloaded as much
as Game of Thrones was bought. – [Danny] Oh wow. – [Steven] So I’ve got picture
of my book right beside George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. (laughter) – [Danny] That’s rad. Yeah I see it here, right here on Amazon. Go pick it up everyone, 13.95
paperback, Amazon Prime, you can have it by the time
your next bowel movement comes, that’s the way Amazon works
now, it’s pretty good. – [Steven] Yeah, if you need
bad reading material, then… It’s so sad too, because
it’s one of those things. It was a good story in my head and then it’s like you can tell there’s a certain point in there that I just wanted the book to be done. So I was just like, “You know
what, I’m just done with it”, and it goes from a very slow-paced book to “Alright, it’s done.” – [Danny] Steven, I feel like
people go their entire lives trying to write their books so do not kill, or kick
yourself over the fact that your first novel wasn’t exactly
what you needed it to be. That’s incredible. Are you writing another one? Are you looking to write another one? Are you too busy with AbleGamers stuff? – [Steven] You know, I am super busy, but this is actually
AbleGamers’ 15th year. So, as I was saying to you privately when I agreed to come talk to you, not only because we’re good friends and I wanted to help you launch this thing and if three of my fans will
come listen, that’d be great. You know, its one of those things where I’d like to get into the writing and doing some of my own flights of fancy that I’ve been putting on
the back burner for so long because I feel like after 15 years I’ve put in a little bit of blood and sweat into the cause
and now maybe I can do a couple of other things I wanna do before the shot clock quite runs out. – [Danny] Well, I think
there’ll be a lot of people who would be
interested in experiencing whatever you put out there
into the universe, so… Let me tell you about this
place called and it lets people do
their dreams and get funded by the people who want to
experience those dreams. – [Steven] Really, I’d
never heard of that, Danny! Do you have one of those? (laughter) – [Danny] Steven, can I
ask you some questions from people who pay us money? – [Steven] Nope! I’m out of here, bye everybody. (laughter) – [Danny] Thank you to
Steve for being here. If you wanna get your questions in, go to If you’re on the $5 tier you
also get this podcast early. You don’t get it exclusively. We had some people be like, “Hey, I can’t get the podcast” and we had to be like,
“No, you literally can’t, everything we do is available, except the behind the scenes stuff”. But if you’re on the $5 tier you get this beautiful podcast early as
well as a bunch of other stuff and we put the word
out for some questions, we got a bunch of them. I’m gonna ask about two
or three of them here. This one’s from Matthew Glenn, he said, “What accessibility feature should indies and small teams prioritize when hoping to be more accessible?” Any come to mind? – [Steven] You know, I think
the thing about being an indie, and I’ve had so many great conversations with Rami about this, indies have such a
luxury of being flexible. Being an indie developer
is super hard, right? It is back breaking work in a mental way. It is blood, sweat, part of
your soul going into this game and here I am telling you
you have to do even more. To indie developers out there, keep in mind everybody
on the accessibility side understands that you didn’t need one more thing to worry about, but if you add things
like re-mappable keys, you add things like sliders
for all of your settings, or allowing people to edit the INI files instead of keeping them hidden or encoded. Allow people to move the
game as much as they can, without breaking your
game or altering it, ` then let them play it your
way and you’ll have more sales and you’ll have happier customers. It’s interesting how some
games tackled problems. Let’s take, for example,
one of my favorite indie games of 2018 called Raft. Raft was a cool little indie game where you basically were on a raft, spoiler! You had to fish junk out of the ocean and build a bigger, better raft that had air conditioning somehow, I don’t know. It was a fun game but the settings in it were bare and minimal and when I reached out to say, “Hey, I can’t play your game because the mouse sensitivity is very low, you capped it barely above what
you’d need to move the mouse across the screen if you
got an entire mousepad, not to mention you don’t
have the ability to re-map, you didn’t have stuff like that. And within two days they turned around; they added the ability to map the mouse, the added the ability to
uncap the mouse sensitivity. These are all things that don’t take developers a lot of time,
but if you don’t do them, they can lock people out of your games. I happen to be one of the
people that gets caught up in those times when you’re alienated, so I always recommend, you know, do as much as you can with little effort and things like adding
settings and adding re-mapping are often relatively easy, nothing is “easy” in development, but if you do it early
in development cycle, it’s doable without too much cost. – [Danny] Raymond Harris
asked the question, “Have you tried Microsoft’s
new accessibility controller, if so, what do you like
and dislike about it? I mean you guys were involved in the whole R and D aspect of that, is that correct? – [Steven] I was privileged
to be one of the people that Microsoft pulled into it first. Me and my co-worker Craig,
we were the ones that were asked to come sign some NDAs and check this out on a low key, ‘here’s a tablet with
a drawing on it because our lawyers won’t even allow
you to look at the real prototypes, so here’s what
it looks like’ kind of thing. Yeah and then from there
we brought in AbleGamers and we became an entire
organization to help, not just one or two of us,
but everybody had a hand in making this thing better, so it was great to get
to be a part of that and it’s honestly going
to go down in my brain as one of the highlights of my career. I had a very small part in
personally bringing about a controller that is now
available in freaking Walmart. Well, technically the
Microsoft Store, whatever. Walmart, Microsoft Store, same difference. I’m definitely not gonna
get an angry message from Microsoft PR
tomorrow, its fine, right? (laughter) – [Danny] Matthew Rogers
asked the question, “Do you find that people with disabilities often write off video games as a hobby and don’t realize that there are organizations like AbleGamers out there?” – [Steven] I do. I think one of the things
that my job has become has been fighting against
the stigma of being a gamer, let alone having a disability, so, in a lot of ways, 15 years
ago when I got into this game and when AbleGamers first started, we were not only fighting
for people with disabilities, which, back in the early
2000s and early 90s, was not as welcomed as it is now and neither is being a
gamer and both of those had negative connotations on them. If you were a gamer, you’re lazy. If you were disabled, you’re lazy. We had to fight all these
stereotypes and yeah, I think that there are so many
companies out there who don’t even understand what we do, what I do and my daily operations
and what my company does and what even is represented by gamers with disabilities
being a part of the world. I don’t know that
everybody’s quite yet aware. I think we’re making it so. I think people like Danny are helping us push the narrative into the mainstream that it’s not some little niche bunch of people that just wanna
play a couple of games, but gamers with
disabilities are everywhere. People like Halfcoordinated
who are out there on the stage of Games Done Quick, who are out there pushing, me
being on award shows pushing. I think we’re all doing our parts and I think everybody who is listening can do their part by saying to their friends, to their family whenever
the situation comes up, that people with disabilities want to enjoy every
hobby, including gaming. I think it’s gonna be
interesting watching companies get involved more and more
as they figure this out. – [Danny] We go back and look at the commercials of the 90s, where the prevalent
idea of the teenage boy, the white teenage boy, right? The able-bodied, white
teenage boy was the… – [Steven] Straight,
able-bodied, white teenage boy. – [Danny] Yeah, lets keep going! Eventually we’ll find that gamer. (laughter) The one that gave birth to us all. Do you find that accessibility and people with disabilities
have a place at the table now in a way that they didn’t
five or 10 years ago, or it is for people like
you that are visible, but for most people it’s not? – [Steven] Here’s the thing. I think that accessibility
has come a long way in a lot of ways thanks to
the work that has been done at AbleGamers and our allies and our people that care
about our narrative, right? There’s no question,
accessibility is better. Full stop, period, end of sentence. However, to continue the conversation, if you are not somebody
that has a high profile, you do not have as good of a chance of things being made accessible quickly. I am extremely privileged,
in that if somebody gets a hold of me and says, “I can’t play this game because of this feature being in the way”, chances are I can get
to a developer and say, “Hey, is there something
you can do about this?” Sometimes they can do it
quickly, sometimes they can’t. I’ve had developers literally,
and I will not tell you who, go behind their bosses back and find code and tell me slash commands in engines to get around the accessibility things because the publisher didn’t
want to deal with the problem and the developer cared
enough that they were like, “Just tell them to do
this and it’ll be fine.” Okay, cool, I am super
privileged in that I can do that, but there’s not a lot of people in my position that can do that and I can’t do that for every
single person all the time. Everybody at AbleGamers
has their people that they can turn to and they can
make magic happen sometimes, but there’s only so many of us and only so many hours in the day, so you can’t do that for everybody. What happens if you’re a gamer
who can’t play a certain game and its because of a feature in a game and there’s nothing that can be done until that feature is changed? Well, you can tweet and you can email and you can send a feedback report, but you have to wait your turn, right? So there’s definitely
a position of privilege there for people like you and me who are in the game industry because we have the right ears. We try to do that honorably. Danny and I try to use our power for good. At least I do, Danny, I don’t know… – [Danny] No, no, honestly
please don’t even say us both in the same sentence because you give me credit that I do not deserve. The work that you’ve done is literally changing people’s lives. Maybe I’m making people
smile a little bit, but you’re doing some work that is really affecting people in
incredibly important ways. – [Steven] I think we all have a different part to play though. I think that everybody who’s listening has their part to play. This magnification of
positivity that I have turned my “brand” into, if you will, is 100% honesty and compassion. We’re all playing a part. I think anybody who’s
listening to the 75 minutes of this that we’ve done so
far is doing their part by absorbing this information
that they might not have known, about the struggles of
people with disabilities. They may not have known that
these are problems and issues. Now they can watch out for them. Now they can be an advocate. But, to get back to the original question, you do everything that you can and I think that we’re
in a position that we can make as much change for as
many people as we possibly can, but I think that there are minority groups who are very vocal. The LGBT community which,
of course, I support and Blacks in Gaming is one
of my favorite GDC groups. I support every minority I can because I know my own struggles and while I may not know theirs, I know how difficult mine
were and I can imagine and empathize with their struggles and I try to amplify where I can. The problem that I always find, and it breaks my heart,
is that I’ll see people that I respect so much in the industry, tweeting about how we need to support races, genders and sexualities and then they’ll leave out disability and I don’t understand why
we’re still not putting disability on the same level
as these other minorities. Because guaranteed every
single one of those groups, there’s also people with
disabilities within that group. So I would like to see when
we’re all unifying a bit more, to say that my LGBT friends
who are disabled need support, my black friends, my latino
friends need support. We are all in this
together and I think that if we continue to amplify each other, we’ll make this battle
just a little bit easier. – [Danny] Is that why you
make yourself so public? Like, you talked about your brand, right? You don’t strike me, I’m
not gonna bullshit you, you don’t strike me as
someone who suffers fools, you’ve got an incredibly
intelligent head on your shoulders and you talk about this
like feel-good brand that’s really really important. Do you have to be watchful of people who would try to utilize
that for their own optics? Like who would try and manipulate or would try and use
the feel-good narrative to make their brand look good and then ultimately not
really invest in your mission in a way that is substantive? – [Steven] Oh, absolutely. It is a hard and fast
rule at my place of work, that no one with a disability is to do work without being
compensated in some way. It does not have to
financial because sometimes the government frowns
upon that kind of thing, so maybe someone who is
on government assistance can’t take a payment because then that could endanger their insurance, and that we would feel horrible about, so instead maybe they
get a copy of the game. Maybe they get a free tablet. Maybe a new webcam, who knows? It’s that you don’t use people. You utilize their skills, you
utilize their experiences, you do not use them. And I think that’s something
you have to watch out for, and again, just anybody
who has followed me so far, or if you plan on following me, Danny knows all too well that I am a lover but I’m also a fighter. If I see an injustice,
I will strap on a sword and I’ll go to town. I have no problem with
picking up the battleax and running into the fight. I am not somebody who thinks
the world is rose colored and we can just all love each other because that’s the right thing to do. I think sometimes there comes a time where all people must fight. – [Danny] And whenever the battle happens, I’ll be, hopefully,
standing right beside you, swinging my morning star as well. (laughter) Steven Spohn, an absolute pleasure to talk to you as ever, my friend. Where can people follow your work? What are you up to? Where can they consume
your delicious content? – [Steven] (laughs) I don’t want that advertisement on my phone. My most active place right now is Twitter. I find it’s the best place to amplify positive messages to fight
some of the darkness; you can find me @StevenSpohn and you can find me on Twitch at the acronym that is my name: SteveInSpawn, like the comic book character, and I stream on twitch five days a week, just trying to showcase that
people with disabilities are out there and we’re
not innocent snow flowers that don’t so anything but
sit around and watch TV. We’re out there playing games, we make dick jokes and we’re
funny and inappropriate and we’re just human
beings like everyone else and I’d encourage anyone
that has a disability that happens to be listening
to the amazing Danny O’Dwyer, that you too should go
out and live your life as visibly as you can because that’s the only way that we’re
gonna change the world. – [Danny] Steven, thank
you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. We’d love to have you back on if you’re up for it again in the future. – [Steven] I’d be more than happy, Danny. Thanks for having me. – [Danny] No problem. Thank you, as well, for listening, everyone out there. We don’t know who’s up next week, but if you follow
@NoClipVideo on the Twitters, you’ll get an update over there. I’m @DannyODwyer on Twitter. If you have any feedback
or any ideas for guests, you can also hit up our
sub-Reddit, r/Noclip, or if you’re a patron there is always a Patreon post you can just jump into, or hit us up on the DMs. The podcast is available on
iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, the whole sha-bang. Anywhere podcasts are sold, stick ‘noclip’ in there and hopefully we’ll pop up. We also have a new
YouTube channel as well. If you type ‘noclip podcast’ into YouTube, we’ll get that short URL soon enough, but until then if you hit that up, you’ll be able to watch, slash, I mean ‘watch’, it’s just a static image, pretty much with some
gameplay in the background, but it’s up there on YouTube. We also have full transcriptions as well. We don’t talk about it very often. We do closed captions
on all of our videos, but we actually also provide
full transcriptions of the docs if you go to our Libsyn
page, so that’s like and
there’s a link in all the descriptions no matter how
you’re listening to this and you can go check that out as well. Patrons get the show early. $5 if they’re on the $5 tier. Thank you to them for making this ad-free and making it possible in the first place. if
you’re interested in that. I hope, wherever you
are, this finds you well. I hope you’re enjoying some video games and we look forward to
talking to you again on the next edition of the
Noclip podcast, next week. See you then. (relaxed instrumental music)

15 thoughts on “Noclip Podcast #05 – Steven Spohn (Ablegamers)

  1. As a person with disabilities but that have full use of their fingers, hands and arms, growing up video games were a great way for me to get into a world where I could walk and do incredible things I couldn't do in real life. but as things like kinect, vr and what not cropping up, I relate to feeling like I may be left in the dust with my favorite hobby, without a way of allowing to me to walk and move around in the game without doing so in real life..

  2. Has quickly become my favorite podcast, keep up the good work you are the inspiration that keeps me working on games!

  3. This is a really important job Ablegamers and Steven is doing. It might not affect me directly, but we all know people who have disabilities and giving them access to gaming is something we can take for granted.

    God forbid if you ever get an injury or disability then its comforting to know you have Ablegamers improving access everyday. Danny shining a light on this topic is very illuminating to me, thanks

  4. Did Insomniac invent the weapon wheel? People give credit to others (Rockstar?), but afaik, Ratchet did it first. I could be wrong.

  5. This was amazing.

    As someone who works with tech every day, installing systems etc, I am now pondering how I can make it easier and more accessible in ways I hadn't considered.

  6. "Be Friends with everybody because the only way that you can really can get people to make change is if they want to, and if they don't want to they wont change." That's an incredible way of living right there and hes completely right.

  7. These podcasts are fantastic. It is so good to get conversations with people that aren't shrouded in the hype/marketing machine of the persons latest game/book/whatever.

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