Playing with the concept of sight in video games isn't especially new. Whatever the purpose – tension, difficulty, realism – removing or impairing the player's ability to see their surroundings is common in everything from text-based adventure games to recent blockbuster The Witcher 3.
For some games – especially horror games – sight is everything. P.T., the Konami produced playable teaser recently removed from the PlayStation Store, used the act of viewing as its primary method of interaction. Games like Slender and SCP Containment Breach use sight as a means of controlling the monsters within, giving or denying the player incredible power with just their ability to see.
The Deep End Games, a Boston-based indie studio, launched a Kickstarter campaign for their game "Perception" last week, to much fanfare and acclaim. Taking the idea of sight being a tool for the player to use and running with it, Perception puts the player in the shoes of blind heroine Cassie, who uses echolocation to 'see' her world, explore a stately home and solve mysteries.
It's a fantastic concept, an effortlessly shareable idea as more and more people use games to experience the world from different points of view. And, for Italian developers Tiny Bull, it is the source of much consternation. Because the team at Tiny Bull has been working on something quite similar for over a year now.
Come to See my House, the winner of the Turin Global Game Jam last year, demonstrated a Unity-driven prototype for the game that would become Blind, Tiny Bull's first foray out of iOS development and into VR gaming. Giuseppe Enrico Franchi – now the lead developer on Blind – and his team created a playable game utilising echolocation as the primary method for 'seeing' the world. It's an interesting game, where the player is forced to tap a cane to create a ping through the world, but tapping the cane allows a monster to see the player.
As with all Global Game Jam games, you can see what the team put together for yourself.
I talked to the CEO at Tiny Bull Studios, Matteo Lana, about how the Blind team took the situation.
"At the beginning it was like, pretty hard hit to read that someone else had gotten the attention that we were hoping to get when we would have announced our game," Matteo said. "So I'd say the first 24 to 48 hours were a bit hard for us, troop morale was pretty low, but then i think we were able to turn that around, especially thanks to the Surprise Attack guys, now i think we've got a clear head and nothing has actually changed for us."
It's interesting to hear that so little has ultimately changed for the team. Obviously Deep End Games' Kickstarter came as a surprise, but it's not stopping Tiny Bull from working. The primary concern for Tiny Bull was looking like they'd simply copied the idea and churned something out, but after they pushed past that anxiety it was business as usual. I asked Matteo about the similarities in the projects, and I was surprised at how calmly he responded.
"It was weird, of course," Matteo told me. "These kind of things can happen, ideas are all out there and I think it was just a matter of time before someone had a similar idea. We were surprised, of course, we hadn't heard about anybody else doing something like that, and finding out that someone was already developing something like that... I mean they do have a vertical slice which is pretty cool. We don't know how long they've been working on it, but it's probably less [time] than what we've spent on Blind."
There's no malice to his voice, no animosity or suspicion. Not even resignation, just a very matter-of-factual credulity as he explained the situation from his perspective. Launching a game to Kickstarter forces teams to develop in a specific way, forces them to prioritise certain consumer facing elements over others when they work to create their game. It's the vertical slice shown in the gorgeous trailer that gives people something to hold onto with Perception.
The moral of this story isn't the vertical slice, or even staying cool under pressure. The real takeaway is that innovators innovate, no matter what. An idea is nothing until you turn it into something. That to make a good game, you have to actually make a good game. Both Tiny Bull Studios and Deep End Games appear to be onto a great idea here, but only time will tell whether either manages to execute on it.
We reached out to Deep End Games for comment on this story, but didn't receive a response at time of print.