In mobile video game A Blind Legend, players see nothing. The only thing that guides them are strange thuds, rustling leaves, and the voice of a girl—all coming from multiple directions. This is what gaming feels like for the visually impaired.
"The video game industry is one of the largest cultural ones in the world, but it isn't very accessible to people who can't see," said Pierre Alain Gagne, the general manager at DOWiNO, which developed the game. "There are books in braille, but not much in the way of gaming for the blind."
DOWiNO are a France-based games studio who want to make video games more accessible to the visually-impaired. Last year, the studio partnered with radio station France Culture to crowdfund A Blind Legend—a free audio-only mobile action adventure—which launched earlier this month.
The game follows blind knight Edward Blake, who, guided by his daughter Louise's voice, sets out on a quest to save his wife Lady Caroline, who has been kidnapped by a mad king called Thork. Throughout the game, Blake must use his auditory senses to avoid traps and ambushes, and fight with members of Thork's faceless army. The smartphone touchscreen acts like a joystick, with players either swiping left, right, forwards, and backwards to move their feet or sword. Louise provides the navigation instructions, and as the game progresses, the soundscape grows increasingly multi-layered.
While regular video games rely on a combination of visceral visual and sound effects, A Blind Legend transports the player into a medieval story line enlivened by 3D binaural technology. Instead of visuals, binaural tech makes sound seem immersive—like the game is coming from all different directions.
In France, according to DOWiNO's press statement, there are roughly 1.7 million visually impaired people, with 207,000 who are severely visually impaired or completely blind. Roughly 8,000 visually impaired people in France use computers, but around 24,000 want better access to this tech, and the benefits that come with it, added DOWiNO in its press statement.
The creators of A Blind Legend, explained Gagne, aimed to give blind gamers better access to video games, and want to provide traditional gamers with an unconventional gaming experience.
Yet making a video game that has zero images is pretty challenging.
"We had no previous references telling us whether we were heading in the right direction or not," said Gagne. "When you write a script, or create a character, you always have an image in mind. But this time around, we had to adapt everything so that our ideas were communicated aurally."
The team worked with several associations for blind people in France throughout the creative process; firstly to ask them whether the idea held any weight among the community, and secondly to gain their feedback on the prototype versions of the game.
"[Blind people] are used to listening carefully to sounds in the environment in order to navigate, so at the beginning, they were quite demanding and critical [of our work]," said Gagne. "But at the end, they became really enthusiastic and motivated about finishing the game. [...] The people who finish the game quickest now are those who can't see."
In recent years, creators in the gaming sphere have started to design games catering to a wider audience. British developer launched the Papa Sangre series in 2010, and in 2014, Incus Games created Three Monkeys, an audio-only action game for the visually impaired.
DOWiNO hope that their 3D binaural technology for gaming gets adopted more widely by other games studios in France.
"The aim was to open a door and to show that it was possible to make a game without images. If others start making these kind of games, it's all for the better," said Gagne.