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  Mechanic #149 - Blind Man's Map
Posted: 02/03/12

A set of maze games that you can play with your eyes closed.

  Blind Man's Map



Fig 149.1 - Looks aren't everything.


I came up with a simple idea - navigate a simple maze using your mouse without touching the walls or any obstacles. The trick is that you can't see the maze. Instead, a low static is heard in the background at all times and it gets louder the closer your mouse gets to a wall. The obstacles themselves makes noises - different noises, like hums or repeating beeps or what have you - and you navigate your way through the maze by these aural landmarks.

It's a simple idea and an obvious one. Too obvious, I thought. There's no way that this idea hasn't been implemented yet. Somewhere out there is a Flash game like this. I just know it. So I decided to come up with a few other "blind" games that involve sound, but not graphics (at least, not heavily), hoping that I'll hit something that hasn't been done yet.

  Blind Treasure Hunt

This is a game that is broken up into a grid of rooms, with each room having various ambient sounds. For instance, you might hear birds chirping, a bubbling brook, the wind rustling through tree, two guys arguing under a tree about whether they were waiting for someone or not, and so on. Not only would you hear the ambient noise for the current room, but also the four adjacent rooms (only somewhat softer, since it is farther away). You can 'concentrate' your hearing to hear only the current room, or direct your listening in a specific direction, hearing only the room that way.

(I imagine that this game with no graphics would have simple keyboard controls. The arrow keys will move you. Space bar will concentrate. Space bar plus arrow keys will listen in a particular direction).

Your mission is a simple one. Somewhere in this forest is a music box. You have to find it, open it, and take the treasure within. However, to do so will require finding the key to open box. In one of the rooms is a guy mumbling to himself about where he dropped the key. Keys make no sound, so your only way to find the key is to find this man and use the clues he mumbles about to find the room with the key.

The reason why there is a two step process here is that I want the forest to be something you cross repeatedly, rather than a maze that you navigate once. Finding a music box can be as simple and just randomly navigating the rooms until you hear it. But finding a key based on a description will require you to have a mental layout of the world. More over, getting from the key's location back to the music box (which you will likely have discovered first) requires a mental layout, as you are going to a known location from another known location.

So I'm trying to give purpose to wandering around, lost in sounds, rather than just random wandering and lucking upon the goal.


In this game, you spend the first couple minutes in the trunk of a car, listening. It's entirely black and you can only hear the sounds of the car driving on the pavement and of the various sounds happening outside. After this sequence is over, you are released and it is up to you to find your way home by retracing your steps based on what you heard.

Some sounds are repeating, like construction work, so you'll know for sure that you are near something you heard before. Some sounds only happen in the car, like running into potholes or over a metal bridge, and it will be up to you to make the connection. And some sounds happened, causing something in the world to change. You might hear a crash, and it will be up to you to figure out what made that sound by how it changed the environment.

This is, admittedly, a bit of a one trick pony. Once you know the various sounds, there's very little challenge left in it. However, if it were just a single level of something like a FPS, it could be a quite effective sequence.


This is a FPS game in which you can close your eyes. Removing your sense of sight will enhance you sense of sound. Simply put, the things you can hear are directly related to the things you can see. Seeing an explosion will result in a loud boom sound. However, if the explosion happens somewhere behind you, you'll still hear it, but it won't be as loud. When you can see, all sound is monaural. That is, sounds have intensity, but not position in space.

When you close your eyes, however, the sounds become more fully realized. Through the use of positional audio, you can hear sounds with relation to your avatar - and to his facing. You can tell the explosion sound is coming from behind you, and how far. More sounds can be heard; more subtle sounds will be played relative to the character. You can hear, but not see.

You can also turn off your hearing in order to improve your sight. I'm thinking that sight has some sort of blur effect, as it focuses only on what you have the cursor pointed at. Focus on something close up, and things in the distance become blurry. Focus on a distant object and things close up get blurry. When you turn of your listening ability, you get fully focused eye sight (like you usually get FPS games).

The trick to this concept is to balance sound and sight, such that there are occasions when you'll want to hear but not see (invisible enemies, a minefield of beeping mines, navigating a maze by following a sound), occasions when you'll want to see but not hear (firefights with enemies close and far, but all in front of you), and times when you'll want both (enemies that make a sound before attacking, surrounding you on all sides). I think it will be difficult to get players to accept purposely gimped visuals and sound for the chance to have superior versions, but not simultaneously, but it's a novelty and done right, could be a unique experience.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.