For those of you that read Jakub “Di” Dudkowski’s interview with Gajda, you’ll know there are players in our Tekken communities that go beyond just competing to also inspiring those around them. The UK’s Nick Palmer is no exception.
Many fighting game players have confidently claimed to their buddies “I can beat you with my eyes closed!”, but imagine if you really had to play Tekken, at a major TWT event with little to no eyesight. How do you even know what is happening on the screen? How is competing even possible? These are questions regularly asked to Nick Palmer, a UK competitive Tekken player who is registered blind.
I saw Nick play for the first time at VS Fighting 2017. Watching him adeptly frustrate his opponents with Xiaoyu, it wasn’t obvious that Nick had any barriers to play, until his girlfriend reached out for his hand and placed it into his opponents hand for the customary end of match handshake. It then dawned on me that Nick was an extraordinary Tekken player.
Nick started playing Tekken from the very first installment in 1995, and, like many of us, was drawn to how deep the game was compared to many other fighting games at the time. “I spent hours just going through each characters move list. By the time T2 came out I was completely hooked, and never looked at a 2D fighter since.”
But how limited is Nick’s sight and how does it impact his game? “I have less than 10% sight left…Retinitis Pegmentos (RP) is a degenerative disorder, so I’ve slowly been going blind all my life. When i first started playing Tekken I didn’t have great eyesight. At 16 I was told my vision was too far gone to try and get a driving licence. But it was good enough that i was unbeatable at Tekken!”
“I have tunnel vision, so I can only see a small area of the screen at any time. This means I have no spacing game anymore. I can watch my character or my opponent. I choose to watch my opponent. I have a good idea of where I am in relation to my opponent if I don’t move a lot. I know this sounds strange that standing still is more a plus than a weakness for me!”
It’s clear that Nick wouldn’t be able to remain as competitive as he does without some non-visual assistance from the game. Nick says there are two important types of audio cues in Tekken 7 that help him the most:
“One is with counter hits, any counter hit that leads to a combo has a distinct sound, like a loud echoing boom. If I throw out a magic 4 and I hear the boom, then I know to combo. The second is every snake edge has a sound attached to it, like a character screaming.” Does this mean that some characters are harder for Nick to play against than others because of the audio? To that he says,”Not because of their audio. Generally I’m beaten by players not characters.”
From talking to Nick, it’s clear that with the noisy, unfamiliar surroundings it’s not just the game of Tekken that can be challenging when blind and at such a large tournament.
“At VSF 2017, my girlfriend said “There’s JDCR, should we go over and say hello.” I said no, I didn’t want to look like a fanboy. (bit of a regret really!). Later, she was trying to direct me to a seat and sit me next to him. Unfortunately I had the wrong seat and almost sat on him! I’m not a light person, I’d have been mortified if I actually sat on him and injured him. Imagine if I had broken JDCR’s arm at an event. I believe he moved as he saw me about to sit on him. I was oblivious to it, and only found out after, so I didn’t even apologize. Sorry JDCR!”
Despite nearly crushing a Tekken legend, Nick still remains to have goals in Tekken and the FGC. He enthusiastically states, “I live in the middle of nowhere, well Nuneaton is almost the middle of nowhere! There is no scene around me and going to an event isn’t just me, I have to consider my girlfriend too! As long as there is a VSF 2019 and I have enough sight to play, I will be at VSF 2019.”
And with that, Nick has some final words.
“I have played videogames all my life, and played Tekken for as long as Tekken has been a thing. As my eyes have deteriorated the types of games i can play have dwindled. Mainly i play turn based tactics or strategy games, slow moving games where i can assess what’s happening before reacting. Tekken is an outlier for me, the fact i can play Tekken at all is somewhat of a miracle, but to be able to play other people and win with my limitations is just madness.
I didn’t know about competitive play until Tekken 7, and i certainly didn’t think it was something for me, until i was encouraged to go an event by a few competitive players. To anyone in a similar situation to me, I urge you to get out there and attend live events. For all the banter the FGC and Tekken community might have online, In real life they are a great group of people!”