No, the image above is not a mistake. It’s actually a screenshot from Hotel Blind, a game which puts you in a VR headset and takes your sight away. What’s the point in that?
Simple: to let you experience what it’s like to be blind. That’s why indie developer Serellan added both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive support to its blindness simulator earlier this month. Inspired by a real life story, Hotel Blind is a brief experience in which you use positional audio to find your way around a hotel room, completing tasks like working on your laptop and making a phone call. It first released all the way back in April, but as the studio’s Christian Allen told me, VR kept cropping up in post-launch conversations.
“In addition to gamers, soon hardware folks were talking about it, and we found ourselves first with a HTC Vive dev kit, then an Oculus Rift kit, and soon an OSVR Kit, along with a Nvidia card to run it all!” Allen said over email. “So after all of that it seemed to make sense to bring Hotel Blind to VR, which we showcased at E3 this year. Seeing people actually experience Hotel Blind at the show convinced us that this was a worthwhile experience to bring to VR.”
So how does Hotel Blind work? You’re given a blank screen to work with alongside traditional game controls either on a pad, keyboard, or Vive’s wireless controllers. You’ll enter your hotel room and, when you hit a wall or object, a text prompt will inform you of what you’re touching, replacing the sensation of feeling something with your hands. Using your memory and 3D audio, you have to form an image of the layout in your head to effectively navigate the room and check off your list of tasks.
“One of the interesting elements that VR brings to the table over the traditional PC version that we originally launched, is that players can’t simply write down a paper map,” Allen explained, suggesting the experience is actually harder within VR. Levels are also randomly generated so that you can’t simply memorize one layout and shoot through it.
While realistic, in concept it sounds pretty frustrating for players. That’s reflected in the game’s largely negative Steam user reviews, which Allen actually says “is kind of the point”. In fact, Ryan Knighton, the blind man behind the story that inspired the game (which you can listen to here) has given it his own seal of approval according to Allen, validating the struggle it depicts.
Sadly, Hotel Blind doesn’t support room scale tracking, and it strikes me as an experience that really suits it. A patch adding the feature might come if the game’s sales take off, Allen revealed, and he’d be excited to try and implement it. With some haptic feedback to indicate when you’re touching a surface or object, it could also be the perfect experience for position-tracked controllers like Oculus Touch.
Hotel Blind costs $1.99. For those interested in the subject, we’d also recommended checking out the touching Notes On Blindness, which has its own methods of depicting a life without sight.