The game comes from an original idea of Sherida Halatoe, a dutch game designer born in 1986; in 2011 she develops a first prototype for her graduation project . The challenge is very hard: to represent the world perceived by a blind girl through the other senses. The absence of visual perception, normally associated to black color, is represented on the contrary with a totally white screen; as the child progresses and perceives objects, sounds and smells, the game world takes shape and color, with an effect that resembles a series of watercolor brushstrokes on a white canvas.
The technique through which colors and shapes come to life on our screen is amazing, an astoundishing example of dynamic and interactive painting embedded in gameplay. The mechanism is extremely accurate and faithfully follows the movements of our tender avatar. Rae, this is the name of the blind girl, moves slowly groping trough the milky world; as all blind people, she tries to help herself touching her surroundings for a better orientation.
There where Rae passes or puts her hands, graceful watercolor brushstrokes draw the surroundings with a visual effect of rare beauty and precision, which can not be described and deserves only to be experienced. Sherida encountered significant technical difficulties in realizing this idea, but she never gave up; she began to work alone and founded a personal developement studio, Tiger & Squid; the turning point was the collaboration with the veterans of Team17.
Beyond Eyes is not a traditional game based upon challenges, it is a virtual interactive experience centered around deep feelings and contents, where even hearing arouses emotions. Rae is able to perceive distant objects thanks to the sound coming from them. For example, if you hear a church bell, a church tower appears in the background for a moment.
Sometimes hearing is mistaking. It may happen that Rae hears a water falling sound and a fountain promptly appears on the screen for a moment; when she approaches the sound source, there is no fountain, but only a drainage pipe! And Rae gets sad!
This misleading perception mechanism comes several times, and with different objects; a very touching experience, with deep metaphorical meanings.
Smelling is important too. Odors are displayed as colored strips that originate from the smelling objects; when strips come to Rae, he is able to see the object even in the distance. Even here you could be deceived.
Rae moves away from home and gropes through fields, rivers and cities for a specific reason: she is looking for Nani, a kitten that used to visit her garden but one day disappeared and didn’t come again. Her wandering will keep us busy for 2 or 3 hours, depending on how much we explore, and it will be very touching and adventurous. She will get in contact with many animals, some will frighten her, others will help her; she will meet other people too, but i’m not going to tell more: no spoiler!
The game offers many challenges: we have to find the right path, be careful to cross busy roads, to wade streams, to climb fences etc. etc. Sometimes we have to solve even small environmental puzzles collecting and using objects.
The ending is the icing on the cake and gives credit to an artwork that someone underestimated and misunderstood when it was published. Several critics on mainstream magazines complained about the slowness of the blind child and wanted her to move faster …. No comment!
Perhaps larger budget would have produced a more complex and deep adventure, more touching situations, with more meetings, relationships and dialogues, more poetic and visionary moments, more composite storytelling, more substantial interactions, etc. Who knows, maybe in the future the same Sherida or some other far-sighted and sensible game designer will develop such a masterpiece!
For now, my rating is the following:
Hands up who does not find a certain resemblance with the artistic game The Unfinished Swan by Giant Sparrow team, published in 2012 on PS3. Check it out!
Blindness is white and milky also in a dystopian novel of the Portuguese Nobel Prize Saramago, translated into english as “Blindness” and published in 1995.