PAX West 2017: Blind VR Sees the Creation of a Great Experience

Despite the fact that it now feels like it has been available forever, virtual reality is still a fledgling platform, one that requires a huge amount of experimentation to produce the best titles that utilize the technology. There have been plenty that do it quite well. Others fall flat, bringing forth nothing more than laughter at the ridiculousness of the failure. Still, when a title nails it, the benefits of the platform are brought into stark relief. Based on my demo of Blind VR, Surprise Attack Games and Tiny Bull Studios nailed it.

The demo starts off with a brief comic book cutscene with a woman driving along with her child on a winding road. Calamity occurs when an accident happens. The woman wakes up in a mansion, seeing nothing but blackness. She has been rendered blind. She’s not completely helpless, as our protagonist’s affliction works off of Daredevil rules. Sound allows her to see via echolocation. What this means for the player is that when there is noise, whether from a record player or the dropping of the book, she can see the details in the room, in striking black and white. If it is etched, or contains a deep texture, the player can see it. This means that we can make out the details on intricately carved tables, or the ridges of a drawer handle. There are those that might point out that this isn’t how blindness works. My response is “So?” It looks cool, and is a neat mechanic.

The gameplay itself could best be described as a walking simulator, except more puzzle intensive. I wandered the halls, tossing books and pictures to the ground to help me see while following the instructions of a mysterious voice that professes only a desire to assist. Eventually, a walking stick was procured, and sound could be created by rapping it against the ground, furniture, or a hapless onlooker that got too close to me while I was playing the demo. (Sorry about that.) This led me to a larger room where three statues had to be located and installed on a table to progress. The puzzles were rather easy overall. In fact, I solved the first one so quick, I don’t even remember what I did. It involved a music box. Taking notes while in VR is hard. Another had me crack a safe using only the clicks of the turning dial as a clue, while still another forced me to use a magnet to get a ball through a maze.

The ease of the puzzles is an intentional design choice. Tiny Bull Studios’ goal is to tell a story and give the player an experience, not stump them. This means that, when they quote that a full run through will be between three and four hours, they are promising that it will be quality time, not “wandering around aimlessly” time. Ample credit should also be given for the developer trusting players with direct control over walking via the controller. There’s no teleporting nonsense here, and the art and framerate worked in such a way that there was no inkling of VR sickness rearing its head. This goes for less VR experienced folks that I witnessed trying this out, as well.

I guess that the best compliment I could pay this demo is this: during a meeting with Survios, makers of my favorite VR titles so far, they asked me to recommend a demo to check out during their free time. Blind VR was the first title that popped in my head. It’s stylish and engrossing, offering a fresh perspective on precisely what the technology can do.