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New PortaPlay game simulates blindness

Players can't see past intro sequence.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Stevie Wonder's recent plea for videogames people with visually impairments can play has been heard all the way over in Denmark, by the ears of Hans von Knut.

He's the creative thinker at PortaPlay, a studio busy developing an innovative sound-powered action-adventure.

"Right now we are working on a demo of a game that uses only audio and no graphics. It's set in a semi-factual WWII era where the player is an allied spy dropped behind enemy lines to gather intelligence on a secret German doomsday weapon. The player is blinded during the intro and the rest of the game takes place in complete darkness," said Knut.

"The game has combat, stealth, dialogue and puzzles, and will also feature multiplayer so blind people can play against each other in the same way non-visually-impaired gamers do.

"We think a lot of seeing persons will be interested in trying the game," he added, "As many are curious about what it's like to be blind. And finally blind persons will be able to play computer games against seeing persons and actually stand a chance, which is something that a lot of people are looking for."

Knut explained that the idea originated earlier this spring when he tripped over some existing games for people with visual impairments. They were old and dusty and basically on-rails Mario-type affairs where sounds played when one of three buttons needed pressing.

Knut, who was once an audio designer, quickly latched on to the idea and was determined to implement proper "realistic audio environments" in place of the tinny arcade bleeps.

"By going this realistic way, the blind and visually impaired will actually be able to play the game with free roaming, the same way that they are able to navigate in their daily life using only their ears," offered Knut.

The project's garnered admiration in Denmark and has secured funding from Danish Screen - the regional film institute.

You can listen to what Knut and PortaPlay are trying to achieve by searching for Holophonic on Google. Knut suggested that in-ear headphones will produce the best results.

PortaPlay makes "edgy" web-based and mobile games to educate younger audiences. One of them offers a bizarre lesson on sexually transmitted diseases.

"One is a dating game for teens where they can invite each other [to play] nice and naughty games using their mobile phones as they try to become the most popular in their network. The game actually allows them to do the dirty stuff with each other in a fictive setting, but if they don't practice safe-sex they can catch sexual diseases and also transmit them to others," Knut told us.

"So it's a 'real-life dating meets The Sims meets safe-sex campaigns' game."

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