Interview: How ‘Perception’ Developer Created A New Kind Of Challenge

It’s not always easy to create a good protagonist in a video game. With Perception, though, The Deep End decided to make its protagonist blind, which offered its own kind of challenge. The final product, though, is a fun adventure game that offers a unique gameplay experience.

In an interview, The Deep End’s Amanda Gardner discussed the unique challenge of bringing the game to life, as well as talked a little bit about the background of the company.

First, could you give me a brief background on The Deep End Games and your developers?

The Deep End was founded by Bill and Amanda Gardner. Bill had worked at Irrational Games for around 15 years, and was Lead Designer on BioShock and Design Director on BioShock Infinite. When Bill had the idea for Perception, we immediately started collaborating and planning. We invited some of our favorite people from Irrational and elsewhere in the industry to help us out on the project. We work from our home, and contract the other people who work on it as well. We use skype, Gchat, and other programs to collaborate remotely. Almost immediately, Bill tapped BioShock Infinite’s Audio Director Jim Bonney to be our sound guy. He’s a freaking genius! We knew that audio would be central to Perception, so Jim was a natural fit, and we believe he hit it out of the park.

How did the initial idea of creating a game with a blind protagonist come about?

Bill was in grad school and the professor said “you’ll have a brilliant idea before you get to the car” as a challenge to his class. The seeds of Perception hit him as he opened the door, and the rest was history. He came home and we chatted – we’ve partnered creatively a number of times before – and then the story really started coming together.

Did you face any challenges in creating a game with a blind character as the protagonist?

Absolutely – it’s so important that Cassie wasn’t a stereotype. We wanted her to be real as a character. The amount of research Bill did into blindness was huge, in fact, it was his grad school cumulative project, so we certainly put in our hours of due diligence. It was fascinating! We hope the care we took shows.

How did you tackle the challenge of creating a video game, something that is very visual, from the perspective of a blind person?

Well, definitely the research, and most certainly talking with echolocator Daniel Kish. We found his TED talk on echolocation, and it really was a catalyst for inspiration. We were even lucky enough to take him out to dinner and witness his echolocation skills ourselves. He’s amazing, and his charity World Access for the Blind teaches blind people how to navigate through sound. He’s a truly amazing individual. After the inspiration on that front, we took a long time trying to decide what it would look like in-game. Now, obviously the game is an artistic representation, since we aren’t blind and aren’t able to articulate ourselves what echolocation looks like, but we did try to represent it in a way people could understand. We mainly used videos of schlieren physics to inspire us.

How did you decide to balance the protagonist’s blindness with gameplay that wouldn’t frustrate gamers, but still challenge them?

It’s a fine line. We had to try a variety of factors over and over to see what felt right. How long should the tap’s effect last? How big should the radius be? Should it be different on different textures? On and on. We basically balanced these factors until it felt satisfying, exciting, and still challenging.

Can you talk about any projects or games that you’re working on for the future?

We have a few really exciting ideas, but nothing we can talk about just yet!

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