First they gouge your eyes out, then the real fun begins.
To offer a gaming experience equally accessible to people across the vision spectrum, the French creative studio DOWiNO is building an entire virtual world based only in sound. In A Blind Legend, you assume the role of a knight whose eyes were cruelly gouged out. To add insult to injury, your wife has also been stolen away by a ruthless enemy and you’ve been left only with your auditory senses to lead you to vengeance.
The mobile game wrapped an ambitious campaign on European crowdfunding site Ulule in early July, raising over €40,000 ($53,652) to turn DOWiNO’s demo into a fully fleshed out game. With a release planned for early 2015, the completed product will be available to users for free through iTunes and Google Play. The videoless video game has garnered support from nonprofits like the French Federation for Blind and Visually Impaired People and the Valentin Haüy Association, who are collaborating on how to make A Blind Legend engaging for people with a range of visual ability. According to the DOWiNO designers, they “want to offer non-sighted people a proper video game, with a rich storyline and tailored gameplay, which is as interesting for this audience as for sighted players."
While playing A Blind Legend, the user’s screen remains dark, displaying only a vague, shimmering texture. Players maneuver through the game using simple swiping motions on their device to move their feet or their sword. The sound of your daughter’s voice guides your advance; you hear the clash of swords as you battle unseen enemies. Slowly, as the user acclimates, a complex, engaging environment begins to emerge. The audio is layered through binaural sound, a three-dimensional recording method designed specifically for headphones, which creates a convincing sense of sonic topography. To master A Blind Legend requires gamers to concentrate on elements that would just be part of the background in most other games.
“This is a subject that really matters for us,” Pierre-Alain Gagne, General Manager of DOWiNO, explained via email. “We want to make games for changing people’s behavior and attitudes towards subjects like disability, social responsibility, and sustainable development. Secondly, this is for us a new business model testing, to fund and create serious games with a community and address it directly to the community, without any intermediary.”
Despite the possibilities for touchscreen-controlled audio games, there’s still a dearth of options in which sight limitations aren’t a disadvantage. However, A Blind Legend isn’t the first product that has successfully presented sound environments as platforms for gameplay. Back in 1997, Warp, Inc. released Real Sound: Kaze no Regret by Kenji Eno, an all-audio, choose-your-own-adventure love story for Sega Saturn that came with Braille instructions. There’s also the more recent iOS Papa Sangre series, initially launched in 2010. The games are set in the land of the dead, and players navigate the creepy soundscape using only binaural audio and the gyroscope function of their mobile device.
Beyond gaming, building better interactive environments that don’t exclude the blind is essential to creating the most accessible future for digital technology. Hopefully, the hype around A Blind Legend will encourage more indie designers to make games where a user’s vision, or lack thereof, is inconsequential to the epic mission.