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Innovative Narrative Game 'Before Your Eyes' Uses Dishonesty To Reflect Human Nature

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Innovative Narrative Game 'Before Your Eyes' Uses Dishonesty To Reflect Human Nature

During my time with Before Your Eyes, I was stunned by the way it got under my skin, and subsequently wrote about the way this incredible indie title allowed me to confront a traumatic issue. Combining a masterful narrative with a gameplay progression system based almost entirely on blinking, it spoke to me like nothing else ever has. 

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Before Your Eyes is a short indie experience for PC and Mac that utilises a physical camera for the core gameplay mechanic. Each time you blink in real life (as recorded by your camera), your character blinks in the game. Blinking is used to answer questions, finish scenes, and even skip sequences entirely. 

After playing the game, I spoke to the game’s creator Will Hellwarth, and game director/composer Oliver Lewin. I wanted to know where the idea for this unique title came from. 

Watch the trailer for Before Your Eyes here

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“The idea definitely predated the game by a long time”, says Hellwarth. “It was really a question of just waiting for the technology, keeping an eye on it, and having a good opportunity to do it.” Lewin adds, “From the outset, we always knew part of that idea was this kind of reflecting on life. It was very much about the passing of time, and letting go and reflecting on the past.” 

Before Your Eyes covers the sensitive topic of childhood illness, and this is something that writer Graham Parkes drew from personal experience when working on the game. 

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“He had a childhood illness that led to a lot of pretty serious health conditions at a young age,” Lewin explains. “I think he drew a lot from that as a personal touchstone for inspiration. That's why we turned to focus more on a younger person - which obviously we can kind of relate to more as well - as opposed to someone who is 99, on their deathbed. That's where that kind of came from.”

Will Hellwarth and Oliver Lewin / Credit: GoodbyeWorld Games
Will Hellwarth and Oliver Lewin / Credit: GoodbyeWorld Games

The game’s direction from here was a different kind of challenge, as it was drawing on an area the devs haven’t personally experienced yet. “From a making of the game perspective, the part that we were struggling on the most was the second half of life,” Hellwarth opines. “It was also a bit of a recognised constraint of, you know, if we really want to go personal and be honest, let's make it about a chunk of life that we can really say something about.”

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It was at this point that I had to ask Hellwarth and Lewin about the narrative design of Before Your Eyes. You see, the game has you tell the tale of your character’s life. This involves making some choices as part of the interactive gameplay. While these choices may seem small, they make it clear that you’re not telling of events set in stone; you’re making up your own story. 

However, this twist wasn’t apparent to me when I was first playing Before Your Eyes. I was so invested in the gameplay that I was blind to the subterfuge. Was this an intentional design choice to try and warn the player of what was ahead? Had I simply missed it on my playthrough?

Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games
Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games
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Will Hellwarth responds with pleasant surprise: “Now you're making me think! I mean, I'm just getting that now. We should’ve done more of that!” Maybe I’ve read too much into this, I think, until director Oliver Lewin answers. “That touches on the question of the definitive difference between a choice and just a moment of interaction, because I think the game plays a lot with light choices or interactions that have sort of soft branching effects within the scene or outside of the scenes.”

“Graham oriented it very much around a twist”, Lewin continues. “And I think that we had long had this kind of premise of a character, you know, a person sitting with a kind of ferryman to the afterlife who said, ‘Tell me your life,’ And I think that Graham - it kind of dawned on him at a certain point that it would be interesting to look at that moment of, you know, not a foregone conclusion that the person sitting across from that ferryman is just going to recount exactly what happened to them. It would be more interesting and maybe more telling about that person, and every person, if that person maybe didn't say exactly what happened or revealed what they wished had happened.”

This idea of a dishonest storyteller is a huge part of Before Your Eyes, as it’s natural for a person to get creative with the truth when telling a story they don’t want to accept. “That then gave us this opportunity to go into this really interesting territory of seeing where the falsehood begins,” Lewin explains. “Like, can you pinpoint exactly where it is? Or is it more of a spectrum, that kind of the reality dissolves away and the falsehoods emerge and kind of take over? And I think you're touching on a really interesting question of like, trying to pinpoint exactly where that is, and how the interaction and the gameplay style kind of evolves with that point in the game.”

Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games
Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games

It’s apparent from our conversation that GoodbyeWorld Games (the studio behind Before Your Eyes) isn’t lacking in ambition. In fact, there was a lot of content that never made it into Before Your Eyes. “The big one is we wanted to do a lot more branching,” explains Hellwarth. “I think that's a common story in gaming, but we had designs on three different fantasy stories - I'll just say that to be as vague as possible - that your player could pick from, and so that there'll be a very large degree of difference between playthroughs.”

Sadly, it’s an accepted part of game development that you can’t fit everything in. Lewin opens up about how the team’s philosophy helped them make the hard decisions. “I mean, we were also making this game about accepting reality and its limitations, so we could always refer back to that be like, okay, like, we have to let go.”

One of Before Your Eyes’ strengths is its relatively short runtime of between one-and-a-half to two hours. When a game is about as long as a movie, you’re able to get swept up in it in a different way to longer titles. “We always loved games like Journey and Inside, that we could play in one sitting and just, like, get hit by emotionally,” elucidates Lewin. “The idea of a one-and-a-half, two, two-and-a-half-hour game - we love that. I think that it's a huge part of the success of the game.”

Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games
Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games

So where does Before Your Eyes go from here? It’s a short, accessible title that’s currently available for PC and Mac, but is there potential for other platforms? Hellwarth keenly answers: “There's two answers. One of them is, we can't tell you one of the places it's going. And then the other answer, which is a fun kind of speculative answer is, uh, we've made a VR build.”

He continues: “Our previous financier was very interested in VR and initially the project was for us to make a VR version for them. We'd love it in VR, it's super fun. I think it’s the best way to play it, VR and eye-tracking. By the way, this is only for a handful of headsets. So Vive Pro, iPhone. But yeah, we're just waiting for the next version of whatever VR headset that's popular to start doing pupil-tracking.”

Lewin opens up about how it’s not just VR that the team are looking to expand into: “We're really excited about the idea of more people being able to play it. So anywhere that there's a front-facing camera, we're looking at it right now and trying to make things happen.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like Before Your Eyes could be coming to mobile to me. 

Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games
Before Your Eyes / Credit: Skybound Games

It’s clear Hellwarth has more plans for expanding the game. “I'd like to see an eyes-only version, which uses pupil-tracking instead of a mouse. You can look and you can do all the choices and all the selecting with just your eyes.” As a fan of the game, this idea really appeals because it would result in a more honest experience.

The mouse controls mean that you can give yourself a bit of distance from the in-game events, because it’s a lot easier to dictate what your hand does. If the game is running off your eyes constantly, it would be a lot harder to keep control of what’s going on, meaning the game would be responding based on your raw emotions.

As our conversation draws to a close, it’s exciting to see that the good people at GoodbyeWorld Games have more irons in the fire. Hellwarth gives us a brief but tantalising tease: “We've got several projects up. The main one - if you're a fan of Before Your Eyes - you'll enjoy it. And that one is tentatively being kind of held up by Graham, the writer of Before Your Eyes. And then I'm also looking at spinning up a couple of projects that are very, very different from Before Your Eyes, like drastically different. So look out for those soon as well. But, yeah, a couple things coming up from GoodbyeWorld Games.”

Thank you to Will Hellwarth, Oliver Lewin, GoodbyeWorld Games, Skybound Games, Heaven Media and Kris Wall for making this interview happen. 

Featured Image Credit: GoodbyeWorld Games / Skybound Games

Topics: Interview

James Daly
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