VR is doing amazing things for disabled people. Whether it is simply transporting someone to places they might otherwise never visit, enabling gameplay with new means of input, or actually helping with treatment, this is one of the most interesting and rewarding areas that the technology has affected these past few years. But, no matter how transformative it can be for others, you might think blind people would have little use for VR headsets.
Hayden Else doesn’t think so.
Else, a radio announcer for Australian company NOVA Entertainment, is blind in one eye, and legally blind in the other. He can’t see far in front of him and struggles with hand-eye coordination. When it comes to playing traditional games on a screen, he can’t observe a lot of the detail that a developer has put into the world, and may not be able to tell what objects and items are.
Recently, however, Else got his first taste of VR in the form of a Google Cardboard unit. Cardboard’s low-end experiences might not measure up to what’s possible on an HTC Vive, but even so Else was, in his own words, “hooked”. So he bought a Vive, a new graphics card, and set about making his own VR game. That was seven months ago and now his robotic shooter, Mech Skeleton, is ready for release.
“One of the things I love about VR is how tactile an experience can be,” Else tells me of his decision to make a VR game. “While I don’t see a lot of detail on a regular screen, in VR I can walk up close to things and genuinely explore the world.”
Most Vive games also allow him to pick objects up and bring them closer to his better eye. It’s a transformative gaming experience for Else: “for me that alone is amazing.”
Mech Skeleton itself is a first-person shooter (FPS) of the run and gun variety. It uses arm swinging locomotion, keeping you on your toes with fast paced action. For Else, actually making it has been “so much fun”, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
“It can be hard for me to know how tough an enemy needs to be, or if I have made a visual cue far too obvious,” he explains. “I would place a light at the end of a corridor, thinking it was barely visible, my brother would put the headset on and say it was brighter than the sun.”
He also avoided the usual user interface elements, voicing all necessary information and using different beeps and tones to feed the player data. Else still struggles with the same actions he does in real life in VR, but it’s not stopping him from enjoying the world he’s created or the one others have made. “I will often reach to hit a button and miss or try to pull a lever when I’m not close enough, just like in real life,” he says. ” I also would not be first pick for a competitive team in #SelfieTennis.”
Mech Skeleton hits Steam tomorrow. If you’re interested in seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, we’d recommend you give it a look.