Awards Nominee Spotlight: Blindside

People-eating monsters have taken over the city, and it’s up to you to make it out alive. One catch: you have suddenly become totally blind.

BlindSide, a Games for Change Award nominee in the Most Innovative category, gives players the experience of living without sight as they hear their way through a danger-filled city. It is a single-player, audio horror adventure game without any visual elements, where players navigate the main character, Case, by rotating their iOS device or using their computer’s keyboard.

BlindSide was inspired by one of the designers’ temporary experience with blindness in high school. To learn more about the creative process behind the game, we reached out to developers Michael T. Astolfi and Aaron Rasmussen for a Q&A, below.

What motivates you to make games for social impact?
In the case of BlindSide, we were partially motivated by Aaron’s personal experience with blindness. He wanted to share with others his experience of waking up blind in a world strongly oriented towards those who can see. We thought that by creating a rough simulation of the sudden loss of sight, we might be able to provide players with both an engaging piece of entertainment and also offer them a better understanding of how much we rely on sight to complete even simple tasks.

How long was BlindSide in development, and what development tools did you use to make it? What’s your team’s background in making games?
It took us about a year to finish BlindSide from concept to launch. We both had other ventures/day jobs, so we joke that BlindSide was primarily created between the hours of 12 a.m. and 4 a.m. We used Unity Pro as our game engine, and a variety of audio tools for sound creation and editing. This was Aaron’s first game, not counting the ones he made on his TI-83 in high school, and it was Michael’s second public release after receiving a Master’s in The Design and Psychology of Video Games from NYU’s Gallatin School.

What do you want people to take away from your game?
We want people to come away with a little more perspective on what it’s like to be blind, and what navigating a world without the use of sight is like. We want people to take away an exciting game experience, but hope it increases empathy as well.

What was the biggest challenge in designing an audio-only game? What advice do you have for other developers who are creating audio-driven environments?
We aimed high with this game, and created a fully collidable 3D world you could move around in freely. Striking a balance between too much exposition and too little was difficult. One of the hardest parts was realizing that without graphics some simple tasks, like crossing the street, could become major game challenges, and embracing that fact rather than fighting it.

The other big issue for us was cutting down our audio environments for mobile. One of the outdoor scenes went from over 30 simultaneous sound sources to 14. Our advice to other developers is to aim high — don’t forget that people navigate our world without sight every day. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to create as rich of a game experience without graphics as you would with them.

Is there a game for change you wish you had designed? What is it and why?
Aaron: Yes, it’s not one of the nominees, but I wish I would’ve created Battlefield 3‘s single-player campaign. It might be a major, triple-A release, but so much effort was put into a compelling experience that I walked away from it feeling, in a visceral way, that war was terrible. It’s easy to romanticize battle in first-person shooters, but I think they did a great job of drawing in a human element and conveying the sadness of war even in moments of triumph.

Michael: Foldit for sure. Not only does it put the internet to work on meaningful questions that have helped generate significant medical breakthroughs, it’s also a teaching tool, and a lot of fun. It’s a great example of the potential games have to exist as more than just entertainment. This medium provides a fantastic opportunity to bridge disciplines in unique ways, and to grow in otherwise inaccessible niches.

What do you think of the current state of games for social impact?
Games have reached nearly the same level as movies as an art form, and any sufficiently disseminated art can create major social impact. It’s amazing that in our lifetimes, games have gone from very simple, stylized narratives like Super Mario Bros., to emotional experiences that can make you cringe from racism like in BioShock Infinite, or contemplate your own mortality like in Passage.

Edited by Noalee Harel, Games for Change intern.


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