Love is blind.
Since I tried Beyond Eyes at PAX East 2015, my mind has been absolutely electric about it. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful, but its concept, that of a blind girl trying to find her way in a scary world, is also beautiful. Now at E3 2015, I had the opportunity to sit down with its creator, Sherida Halatoe, and pick her mind.
First, I was treated to a hands-off demo that took me through some key points. We started with the moment when Rae, the blind protagonist, meets Nani, the cat and her friend, which takes place earlier than the demo I played in March. This was followed by a stroll through the familiar grounds of the chapter I played, and then we came to a new chapter. Here, rain was falling, and Rae was carrying an umbrella.
The sound of the rain dulls Rae’s ability to hear and smell the environment around her, and when she would look back on the path she took, it was slowly washing out like water. Eventually, the rain pounded down hard enough that Rae could not “see” more than a few feet in front of her. The only anchor she has to the world around her is the occasional sounding of a ship’s horn in the distance. Compared to the wonderment of the section I had tried out, there was an authentic lingering sense of fear as Rae tried to find a path towards that sound.
Once the demo was done, I started with my questions for a brief interview. Enjoy reading this while you wait for the game to come out this summer for Xbox One and PC.
GameRevolution: So this was a thesis project for you when you were in school?
Sherida Halatoe: Yes, it was.
GR: What was your program?
SH: I studied game design and development. As a final piece, we all had to showcase what you learned and what you want to do. So normally, you choose a track you want to work on like art direction, game designer, or programming. And I didn't know which one I really wanted to be. I wanted to make a game that showcased what I did, which was based on telling stories through games and experimenting with new art styles.
GR: How much of this story is affected by your own personal experiences or interests?
SH: Kind of a lot. I mean, I've never actually been blind, but when I was [Rae’s] age, I went through some stuff and had to face the fact that things had kind of changed in my life. My father died when I was very young, and it was one of those situations where you feel very lost and very uncertain. At the same time, I took it as an opportunity to look at how I perceived the world. So instead of looking at a certain loss, where I lost one of my family members, I tried to look at it from a perspective where I could learn from it — what are the good things that a situation like that can bring?
It was a lesson I learned over the years. I wanted to put the message in play form. Sometimes things happen. For example, she became blind, and she's been very scared trying to find a way to get through it. But it doesn't mean that she can't grow. The way that she sees the world is very much in her own power. And as the player goes on a journey with her, I hope they'll see how she can — and they can — get beyond that path of thinking everything that is happening is defining who you are. But you have some measure of control.
GR: Have you consulted actual blind people for this project?
SH: Yeah, I did! That was one of the requirements because I was doing it as part of school, and they were going to ask me questions: How did you come up with this? So part of my research was getting in contact with blind people and talking to them. We have a museum in The Netherlands, and it's basically run by visually impaired and blind people. And it's this whole experience where they create several scenarios. For example, navigating through the kitchen. And it's all being hosted by blind people.
Everything is completely dark, and you get a guide who's visually impaired or blind, you get a walking stick, and they explain to you how these situations are from their perspective. So when they cross the street, these are things that they take notice of. Or this is how they know they're holding a can of beans or a can of tomatoes.
GR: So you had to do this?
SH: Yes. I think it's a global thing, called "meeting in the dark" where you can this. It's really cool!
GR: The scenario where you're trying to cross the street, is that informed by your own experience trying out these things?
SH: Absolutely. Though the scenario I was in, there was no actual traffic. We had to cross the street.
GR: Until I figured out how to move beyond that moment, I was thinking, "What is this scary, cloudy black wall?"
SH: The funny thing is last year I was at GDC and I gave a talk, and afterwards a girl came to me. And she told me how she was blind for a long part of her life, so it was the other way around — she was blind and became sighted after surgery. She said this [game] was very much how it felt for her, the feeling of that.
GR: Certainly you have other ideas in your head. Do you want to build more empathetic games like this or do you have other kinds of genres you want to tackle?
SH: Empathetic? Yes. I feel like one of the things I said I was going to be making was games where your character is not just an empty vessel. I want to give them personality. I want to go on that journey to keep making that sort of game. However, I feel like when this game is done, I'm done with this specific story.
GR: No Beyond Eyes 2: Back in Da Hood?
SH: [laughing] People have been making jokes about that!