A while back, I became excited about the prospect of games for non-sighted people. This came after playing a couple of LD26 games that involved elements of non-sighted play. I wrote about Conversion in a previous post, but You Must Escape is just as interesting.
You Must Escape was one of my favorite games of the LD26 (it was one of everyone’s favorites). It was moody, minimal, fun to control, and punishingly hard. The game models navigation by echo-location, representing sound as point particles that emanate out from the source of the sound. This is really compelling! Just moving around in the environment creates footsteps that are essentially explosions of little white particles, which bounce off the contours of the rooms and hallways, giving you a sense of their shape. You can also press the spacebar to make an intentional sound, which is louder the longer you hold the spacebar, or hold shift to creep, producing no sound. In addition to topography, you also get a sense of the ‘texture’ of rooms, because the particles change colour depending on the texture of the reflective surface. The textures presented in the game world are: grey for nothing, red for danger, and white for goal.
This by itself would be a fun game, but You Must Escape takes it further by introducing horrifying echo beasts: a source of sound that produces red particles, and registers as danger. These creatures are mobile, and track toward the source of a sound. The later levels are extremely difficult, as you must often stay completely still or navigate blindly by “creeping” around the level. In any case, the sound effects generated by echo beasts in motion are horrible alien noises, and the hero’s death-rattle is so awful that I found myself dreading death (actually, I gave up in the end: this game is too scary for me).
Reading the comments to You Must Escape was neat. One comment in particular stood out for me:
“I’m so bad at these blind sound-dependent games. I wish I was better at them. Good job.”
Since You Must Escape is not a sound-dependent game at all, I take “these blind sound-dependent games” to refer to games like Conversion, You Must Escape, and Traal, in which elements of non-sighted play take the fore. They force the gamer to create a model of their environment in a way they might not be used to, and I think this is a good thing. These elements are introduced in different levels of purity, or perhaps abstraction: in Conversion the game comes closest to being an actual non-sighted experience; in You Must Escape the game models a non-sighted experience; and in Traal, where the player must close their eyes from time to time in order to advance, we are just given a taste of non-sighted play.
Game designers are always systematizing elements of experience. Whether this is a physics engine, or a haunted forest, the designer chooses ways to evoke a particular feeling in their players. I feel like You Must Escape does an excellent job of being a fun game about echolocation, but not such a great job of evoking the feeling of actually echolocating. It isn’t so much a “blind sound-dependent” game; rather it is about blindness and sound-dependence. If you are interested in trying your hand at some games that actually are “blind sound-dependent games”, I recommend checking out blindside, papasangre, or nightjar.