(Pocket-lint) – When you’ve been playing games as long as us, you get used to a few physical constants. Controllers might get iterated upon, but they’ve all got buttons; motion controls felt bleeding-edge once, but they’re far from it now; even hand-tracking in VR is becoming easier to access.
Controlling a game by blinking, though? That’s a new one, for us. Before Your Eyes is a new game from indie studio GoodbyeWorld Games, and at its heart is this fresh mechanic – one that has you using your webcam to blink through scenes as a character reflects on their life. It’s moving stuff, but also technically interesting, and we caught up with GoodbyeWorld Games to chat about just how it works.
A long-standing goal
Will Hellwarth, the studio’s creator and founder, has been nurturing the blink mechanic for years – it was an idea that he formed at college way back in 2014, and the road from there has been a steady one. The game’s gone through iterations, appeared to acclaim at shows like the Independent Games Festival (IGF) and IndieCade under an older title, all the while slowly shaping into the full title that’s releasing this year.
The story as he tells it is a classic in the tech and gaming sector – “We basically said, ‘Look like if it gets into IndieCade, we’ll keep working on it. Okay, if it gets into IGF, we’ll really take it seriously’.” With each milestone met, the game became more real and the team working on it slowly grew.
Webcams are a huge part of daily life for most of us now, but back in 2014 facial recognition was still closer to its infancy, and the algorithm that GoodbyeWorld Games uses to actually detect blinks has hardly been a fixed asset this whole time. Lead engineer Richard Beare joined the studio to find that it worked perfectly in some circumstances, and in more limited ways under others. Ensuring that blinks (or eyes staying closed) are detected consistently has been important.
As he explains, although laptops with webcams are common, “I dug really deep into finding a way to make this work for all different kinds of lighting scenarios, all different kinds of shapes of faces, shapes of eyes, cases where you’re wearing glasses, people wearing hats, different cameras – you’ve got really low resolution cameras, you’ve got high resolution cameras, you’ve got to account for noise and jitter.” All these elements needed to be worked around, but the end result is the consistency that they always hoped for.
Another big technical factor for the team was ensuring that the game would run on lower-end machines – after all, when a webcam makes the experience sing, you want to make sure that as many laptops as possible can run it. As explained by Oliver Lewin Game Director and Composer on Before Your Eyes, “laptops are such a big deal for us, just in terms of the player base that has built-in webcams.” This contributed to the game’s art style and direction, but Lewin also says, “In equal measure, though, like we like that style, visually, a sort of low-poly, minimalist look.” In this case, it worked nicely on two counts.
That minimalist style means that, while the game is only releasing on PC for now, it’s nicely positioned for different platforms down the line. Not least among these, modern smartphones increasingly pack in sophisticated selfie cameras and scanners that could well suit the game, and also often have the graphical power to likely run it. Lewin confirms that there are no concrete plans as far as ports go at this stage, though – the game’s launch will be key in determining whether that sort of evolution is viable, but agrees that phones and tablets would be a natural fit.
Similarly, with VR platforms embracing eye and mouth-tracking in recent months and years, there’s also an internal version of Before Your Eyes that works incredibly immersively with the Vive Pro Eye system as a proof of concept, letting you play in VR and detecting your blinks even more naturally. Whether that ever sees the light of day commercially is another question, though.
For now, though, the release of Before Your Eyes on 8th April after years of development and iteration will represent its own milestone, and it’s a unique experience that is well worth trying out if you’ve a hankering for something new.
Writing by Max Freeman-Mills.