An Interview With Before Your Eyes’ Developers, a Game You Control by Blinking

Out this month, Before Your Eyes is an innovative indie game that challenges conventional game mechanics.

You see, rather than using keyboard or mouse, or a controller, this story-driven title uses the player’s blinks to move the game forward. You’ll follow Before Your Eyes‘ main character through brief but impactful moments that are gone in the blink of an eye. And yet, in spite of these short glimpses of a life, the players feel instantly connected and part of the story.

We sent some questions off to the team at GoodbyeWorld Games to learn more about the game mechanics, inspiration behind Before Your Eyes and more. Of course, our biggest question was what inspired the idea of Before Your Eyes‘ blinking mechanic. It is an incredibly interesting idea that we really wanted to learn more about.

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“Really, the idea of the blinking mechanic inspired the game,” said Will Hellwarth, CEO and founder of GoodbyeWorld Games. “Years before the technology was even remotely capable we were talking ideas and as a ‘what if’ we started talking about what we would do with a sensor that could tell when the player blinked. I remember at the time thinking the coolest thing would be something where you don’t know which blink is your last, and then didn’t really think about it until 2014 when the combination of available software and a great class pushed me to try weird ideas and I put the first demo together.”

Like with any game mechanic or element that has never really been attempted before, there are some challenges that come with it. We wanted to know if it was difficult to implement or if the team came across any particular challenges when creating this mechanic.

Lead writer and creative director Graham Parkes responded, “Yes, absolutely, and that challenge was there in creating every single aspect of the game, be that technical, design or storytelling. There wasn’t a clear rule book on how to do this right, so we sort of had to make it up as we went along.” He expanded by mentioning that, “Our lead designer Bela Messex made the realisation early on that the blinking and eye tracking isn’t really a mechanic as much as it’s a new form of controller. So we were designing both a totally new controller and then a game to play with it.”

Before Your Eyes

Playing games using eye control in general isn’t an entirely new concept; companies like Special Effect have been using similar technology to help players with disabilities be able to enjoy their favourite games without needing a standard controller. But the concept of blinking to control a game feels new, fresh and exciting. Parkes went on to say that the challenge of designing a new ‘controller’ based on the blinking mechanic was what kept the team excited and motivated. “We all love video games with all our hearts, but also feel that there is so much potential for the medium that really isn’t being explored. Knowing we were creating something genuinely new kept us pushing through the frustrations.

When you begin your playthrough of Before Your Eyes, you’ll be taken to a calibration test in order for the game to calibrate your blinking as well as check for elements in your room that might affect gameplay, the angle in which you’re sitting in front of your camera, etc. We wanted to know more about how the team perfected this test to make sure that the blinking worked seamlessly.

Game director and composer Oliver Lewin responded that, “We didn’t have much of a playbook at our disposal for how to onboard players to this new use of tech in games, so we spent a long time making it logical and effective. It proved very challenging to craft a user-friendly calibration sequence that was also adaptive to the countless amount of environmental variables that occur. If the sun sets mid-game, the player has their camera at an unusual angle or there’s a bright fish tank behind them, these are all factors that have to be considered. We’re proud of what we accomplished on that front – especially the work of our lead engineer Richard Beare – and grateful for the fact that players are eager to try totally new mechanics out.”

Before Your Eyes

Before Your Eyes‘ blinking mechanic is certainly innovative, but also complicated because people blink at different speeds and times. We asked the team if they were worried that important parts of the story would be missed because of this or if this was the intention.

Hellwarth responded that this was absolutely the intention. “In earlier versions this was even more the intention and the player would cut to the next scene/view every single time they blinked, but we ended up striking a balance that both gets the shocking moments of transition and makes it so everyone feels like even if they couldn’t keep their eyes open for some things they wanted to see, they don’t feel like they missed crucial story points.”

There does happen to be a setting you can change in the game that allows you to use the click of a mouse rather than a blink to play through the game. If you really want to get every piece of dialogue, you can turn this on, but we (and the team) highly recommend playing it as it was intended first.

Hellwarth also mentioned, “…there are some great pieces of dialogue and voice acting semi hidden at the ends of a lot of the scenes to reward people who are interested in that particular moment.”

But its unique control system isn’t the only thing that sets Before Your Eyes apart. Not only does it have a great soundtrack but an engaging story that focuses on music and other artistic mediums. We asked the team if there was a reason behind the artistic focus, and if music and art play a big part in their lives as well.

Before Your Eyes

“I wanted to tie music intrinsically into the narrative from the start, really because I knew we had Oliver on board,” responded Parkes. “It’s rare to have a full time co-director and producer who is also a fantastic composer – so I knew by tying music deep into the narrative, we could really capitalise on his talents. Also I knew in terms of writing, he’d always be there to check my dialogue, and bring a lived authenticity to it.”

Painting also plays a big part of Before Your Eyes’ narrative. “Painting was something we landed on more from a gameplay angle,” says Parkes. “It just seemed like it could be very fun – allowing players to co-author these paintings with their blinking.” He goes on to say that, “Thematically, I think this is really a story about ambitious people. We could have focused on any ambition – be that sports, or science, or business or whatever. We just zeroed in on art, as that was what was closest to us.

“But there is a dark side to having grand ambitions,” Parkes continues. “I think our culture celebrates ‘greatness’ rather than just plain goodness. So you internalise this idea that your life will have been meaningless unless you achieve certain goals, and you start to live with your head in the future – focused on who you want to become, rather than who you actually are. I wanted this story to challenge that, and bring people back into the present a little bit.”

Going back to the game’s soundtrack, it really helps the player feel immersed in the story and lives of the characters. We wondered what kinds of inspiration the team used to help create such an emotional connection.

Before Your Eyes

Before Your Eyes has a lot of breadth of setting as it goes from nostalgic to comedic to surreal, etc,” Lewin responded. “Our temporary track inspiration playlist had a lot of variety on it, from Joe Hisaishi to Philip Glass to Nico Muhly to Aphex Twin to the ambient artist Chihei Hatakeyama (to name a few). I was joined in writing the music for the game by our audio lead Dillon Terry, so there was also a tight collaboration there and this helped a lot in tackling that tonal breadth from a musical perspective. Then we’d sit down and play the game through with Graham to make sure that the music felt consistent stylistically, and that it was expressing the characters’ emotions well. In terms of the emotional connection, the characters are complex, with unique flaws. I think we sought out simple melodies that would highlight the innocence of each character, and the tenderness in their connections with each other.”

In regards to story, Before Your Eyes follows the life of a man from a very young age to the end of his life. There were thousands of different stories that could have been told. We asked the team why they chose this one in particular.

“This sort of lack of constraint in the bounds of the story was really challenging,” Hellworth said. “We went through a lot of iterations of the game and many, many more interactions of the script where we were really struggling to find a good conclusion. I think we really hit our stride when we decided to make it more about our own experiences and started looking to our own home videos and treasured family artifacts and stories.”

Before Your Eyes

Parkes told us that Will, Ollie and himself are childhood friends so they had many shared experiences they had together. When it came to personal experiences that inspired the events of the game, Parkes mentioned, “Early on in the process we took to digitising and sharing old photos and home movies of our childhoods to serve as inspiration. We ended up modelling the home in the game almost exactly on Ollie’s parents’ home, which we’d all spent a good deal of time in over the years. There are so many little things like that in this game that the player would have no way of knowing about – but I’m a strong believer that in this almost magic way, those things can still be felt.”

Hellworth added, “The story we ended up with is really one about our own memories and also our own anxieties about death, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

As an closing thought, we asked about whether or not the team had any plans to make a VR version of the game. After all, we felt that the blinking mechanic and viewpoint of the game would lend itself well to virtual reality. Lewin answered by simply saying, “We’ve experimented internally with VR builds and it does work really well, but the goal at the outset was moreso to exploit webcams in part because of their ubiquity. With that said, there’s now great tech commercially available featuring front-facing cameras within VR headsets. Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 SXSW festival, we made a VR version like this that we were going to show publicly. As of now, we don’t have any active plans for a VR port, but keep your eyes peeled.”

It was an absolute pleasure to get to play Before Your Eyes early and experience this innovative and inspiring title before it heads out into the public. A huge thank you to the team at GoodbyeWorld Games for answering our questions and giving us the opportunity to enjoy their fantastic title.

Before Your Eyes will be available on PC on 8th April.