Players can explore a medieval village, embark on a lengthy quest, and clash in a sword duel with an enemy in a new computer game, all without ever having to glance at the screen.
The Vale is an all-audio PC game created for the visually impaired community by Dave Evans, the founder and creative director of Falling Squirrel. All that’s required to play the game is a controller and a pair of headphones, plus a certain amount of curiosity.
Evans started out as a filmmaker in Toronto, where he learned screenwriting and voice-over direction. He later decided to put his storytelling skills to use in game development. He spent some time working at a Triple-A video game company, a classification denoting extremely high production standards.
“A lot of people who go into video game development have artistic sensibilities and are inclined to work on producing stellar visuals,” he said.
Evans was interested in pursuing something other than visuals. So he started work on a new personal project — a challenge to develop a game devoid of visuals and that’s when he discovered the smaller, developing niche market of all-audio games.
“I started understanding that there are people who could really use this,” Evans said.
Evans wanted to develop a new game for visually impaired gamers — one with paralleled story depth to large-scale games such as Skyrim or Uncharted, which are popular with visual gamers.
“Recent advances in virtual reality technology have opened new doors to create audio games with an incredible psychological effect of intimacy and fidelity,” Evans said.
Evans utilized what’s known as binaural audio recording technology — the use of two microphones that mimic human ears — to replicate the intricacies of human hearing in 3D space.
Players can navigate at their own will in the 3D audio-space of the game, choosing to engage with or flee from life-like characters, enticing quests, and mortal dangers. Sounds in the game grow louder and feel closer when you move towards them, and become faint, eventually disappearing, when you retreat.
With this dedicated attention to detail, he hopes the game will be able to produce moments that allow visually impaired players to relate.
At the same time, he hopes to create a gaming experience that will have sighted players saying, “I’ve never thought of [blindness] that way.”
He reached out to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind during early development of the game. There, Evans found support by way of Martin Courcelles, a visually impaired gamer who helped test various versions of The Vale.
The two formed a close working relationship and Courcelles became a knowledgeable partner in the blind community for Evans, who is fully sighted.
The Vale’s main character is the second-born child of a medieval monarch who is visually impaired. However, he is not defined by his visual impairment. It’s a trope present in other games revolved around visually impaired characters. That was important to avoid for Evans in creating the game.
He focused more on the philosophy of listening — a tenet he believes both visually impaired and sighted gamers can both get behind.
The Vale is expected to release in June this year.