PREVIEW: Blind [VR]

VR has grown as a platform to deliver experiences that we can’t see in real life, such as exploring a decrepit space station in zero-G or donning the Dark Knight’s cowl and investigating a murder from his point of view. But what about experiencing the anxiety of blindness? An Italian developer called Tiny Bull Studios is trying just that with Blind.

Blind is a first-person monochromatic game where the player is a blind woman who uses echolocation to “see” her surroundings. After a short while the environment (in this case, a mansion filled with puzzles) returns to darkness and the player needs to press a button to create a sound which will make the world visible to our character. The player then needs to complete puzzles (which in my demo mostly consisted of “put this specifically shaped object here”) in order to progress through the mansion. The demo I played used the Oculus Rift coupled with a pair of Touch Controllers.

At first Blind is a visually interesting game in that the player uses echolocation to illuminate the world. Reaching out to grab objects with the Touch Controllers and manipulating them around the environment is necessary to complete puzzles, all while maintaining a means to see. The game has a counter-measure for people who try to spam echolocation however; if the player constantly presses the “tap” button to make sound too frequently in a small space of time, the world becomes far too bright and the screen will become completely blurred for a while. Moderation and patience is needed to play this game.

Upon first glance Blind may look like another me-too horror game set in a creepy house, but the rep who showed me the demo assured the game is much more in line with suspense than horror. The player is in the uncomfortable position that feels like something could pop out at any moment and take advantage of our nulled visual sense, but in actuality the game is trying to portray the difficulty of someone who is blind trying to make their way around a room with obstacles. The game does have an antagonistic aspect however in the form of The Warden: a male character with a meat tenderiser-like face who is describes as someone trying to goad and negatively influence the player. As mentioned before the game isn’t supposed to be a horror game, however while I was watching the person before me play, The Warden pops up on-screen at the end of the demo and visibly scared them.

Blind's monochromatic art style marries well with its echolocation mechanic.

Blind’s monochromatic art style marries well with its echolocation mechanic.

Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the end of the demo myself as one of the controllers stopped working, which caused the game to split the the vision for either eye piece in the headset to each in-game hand, and prohibited me from being able to move or navigate. The game was noted as a vertical slice of an unfinished product so bugs were bound to happen, but throughout prior play-throughs this was the first time for the organisers where the hardware itself had failed like this. While watching another player earlier in the day their game bugged and caused them to levitate towards the ceiling, stopping them from being able to reach down and pick up objects or complete puzzles. Hopefully these kinds of problems will be fixed when the game releases.

Another issue I encountered was the way the game lets the player navigate. A work-around a lot of VR games are trying to use to avoid player motion-sickness while moving is to instantly switch the direction the player faces via button presses. Rather than walking forward with the stick and turning your head to move around corners, you press a button on either hand to turn a few degrees in that direction. I found this a much more disorienting method as it caused me to move in an unnatural manner and for a split second trick my body into thinking it was still walking in one direction after already turning. Stopping and turning was a much more comfortable but again felt completely unnatural.

Blind was an idea birthed from a 2014 game jam.

Blind was an idea birthed from a 2014 game jam.

The puzzles themselves were quite simplistic which makes me hope the full game will provide more challenge, however the game gives very little direction in what you’re supposed to do. Towards the end of the demo was a room with a short tune playing from a music box. I spent a few minutes wandering aimlessly about the room and because of the echolocation, I wasn’t able to see too far ahead of myself and with the monochromatic art style I couldn’t decipher which objects around me were important and which were not (such as books on a shelf, candlesticks on a desk or cushions on a chair). After a long while I figured out that an unsuspecting box on a shelf opened up to be another music box with five buttons in it. The puzzle was that the player had to listen to the tune playing and use the buttons in the box to work out the correct sequence to replicate the tune. The puzzle itself was clever but given the limitations of the character’s ability and the art style, the puzzle seemed to take much longer than I would have liked to work out the task.

Developers Tiny Bull are using some clever ideas in Blind to present a game that gives blinded players the ability to navigate and progress through their surroundings. The main downside for now apart from small bugs that can be easily fixed is to more clearly guide the player into recognising what the puzzle is actually about so that they can more comprehensively figure out the solution. At the moment the demo shown seems to be going the classic point-and-click games route of clicking on everything in the area and stumbling upon the solution. Blind has the potential to be an interesting VR title and hopefully the developers will expand on that into a more insightful experience.

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