The Independent Gamer is a curated roundup of news from indie gaming, landing here every other Friday.

From Los Angeles-based developer GoodbyeWorld Games and publisher Skybound Games comes Before Your Eyes, a narrative that tasks players with navigating the story by using their own blinking eyes. It’s the dev’s first full length project, set for release on PC via Steam April 8.

“This game kind of is a story of unexpected versions turning into much larger versions,” Will Hellwarth, founder of GoodbyeWorld Games, tells The Hollywood Reporter. He explains that the initial concept had a positive reception at IndieCade and the Independent Games Festival, which encouraged the team, also comprised of writer and creative director Graham Parkes, and game director and composer Oliver Lewin — the three have been friends since middle school and grew up together on the westside of L.A. — to continue expanding the project.

“We were always trying to tell a really ambitious story that was the scope of a human lifespan — to experience life flashing before your eyes,” continues Hellwarth. In Before Your Eyes, players are guided by a ferryman who shepherds souls to the afterlife.

“For me, it’s mostly about trying to push games forward as a medium and saying, ‘look, game designers, we all have access to faces and eyes and mouths and eyes and expressions, all the time now, let’s start using that as part of our games,’ ” says Hellwarth. “When you talk to someone, body language is maybe more important or as important as spoken language and our computers are just becoming capable of using that.”

As far as using the blinking of an eye to advance the story, Lewin points to a lot of testing. “We had this really strong belief in the joy and the excitement of using blinking and eye detection for interaction in a game, but it was a very new thing,” he says. “We had to build a lot of stuff from the ground up.” Along the way, Lewin explains that a goal of the tests were to see how players would automatically use their eyes and how they felt about it. “On that side of learning how players engage with the game, there’s also the technical feat of creating a detection algorithm that really is adapted in response to all the varieties of environmental issues that come up with a webcam.”

Parkes was studying playwriting at NYU when Hellwarth recruited him for the project, knowing that the story was going to be a critical element of the game. “I think that there was something in that initial pitch, for all of us, of actually simulating life flashing before your eyes,” says Parkes. Conversations amongst the team involved the fact that games are often about empowering the player, who then has to master something using a skill or ability — in this game, there is the reality that a player can try not to blink, but they’re going to have to eventually. “There’s something about that experience that’s kind of so disarming,” he says.

A metaphor with death is brought up; that no matter what, time is going to keep pushing forward no matter how hard one fights. “You can try to keep your eyes open, but you’re inevitably going to have to blink,” Parkes emphasizes. “That metaphor felt so potent to us, and as soon as we built that early version of it and got it in front of people, we were shocked by how much — even though the art and the story were one fraction of what they are now, they really were unsophisticated, but — it still was really making people emotional. People were crying in the booth sitting and playing it.” In that moment, the team knew they had something in the mechanic that was working.

On the subject of literal death, Parkes says that the team would discuss their early experiences of loss, such as an animal or pet being taken by a coyote in Southern California. That led to the ferryman in the game taking the form of a canine, and a death spirit, in a way. The story sees him fishing souls out of the water, which then must be taken to a gatekeeper figure and a city of the dead. The player has to make their case about why they’re worthy of that journey, which involves telling him who you were in life — that’s where the idea of “life flashing before your eyes” comes in.

“The essential tension that we came in on that was really interesting to us was like, what is greatness in our world, versus what is greatness in his world?” says Parkes. “In our world we’re so focused on achievement and greatness in terms of proving yourself with a great career or becoming a great artist or an inventor or businessperson and becoming really rich; in the afterlife, in an allegorical sense, none of that stuff really matters. What he’s looking for isn’t what your character has done or achieved, he’s looking for the quality of your character and how much you were able to be in the present and be good to people and enjoy life.”

In terms of influences, Lewin brings up Brendan Chung’s development company Blendo Games, and in particular the title Thirty Flights of Loving — which, as Lewin explains, deals with time in a similar way. On a personal level, he says that parts of Before Your Eyes are modeled after his own parents house that he grew up in and that the three all hung out in as kids. “We took a lot of inspiration from our context and youth settings,” he says. Of course, they all played a lot of games during childhood. “I think Graham and I met over The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” recalls Hellwarth.

Over the next few minutes of the interview, a slew of games in all sorts of genres, but all impactful to the group, were summoned: Virginia, Gone Home, Kentucky Route Zero, Deep Rock Galactic, Valheim, Hades, What Remains of Edith Finch, Florence. “They kept raising the bar,” says Parkes. “But it was also just really exciting to see this medium of this kind of emotional shorter game evolve, and we’re really excited to be part of that conversation and hopefully pushing it forward.”

PlayStation Indie Title Gets Release Date

During PlayStation Indie Day, Armature Studio and publisher Perp Games revealed that its surrealist narrative game Where the Heart Leads will release on consoles July 13.

The game follows a man who falls into a sinkhole to save a family dog, and stumbles into a journey through time.

“The lives we lead are tangled — countless unseen threads chronicle our story,” said Todd Keller, director of Armature Studio, in a statement. “Where the Heart Leads tugs on these knots, inviting players to reflect on where they’ve been, where they’re going, and what’s most important, even when life is frightening and the road uncertain.”

What the Dub?! Multiplayer Party Game Heading to PC and Consoles in April

In Wide Right Interactive’s fast-paced multiplayer party game What the Dub?!, up to 12 players overdub missing dialogue from a slate of B-movies, outdated PSAs and industrial films. After several rounds, players and audience members vote for their favorite dub.

The game releases on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC for Steam on April 8.

Fire Tonight Drops Gameplay Footage at Game Dev Direct

Toronto-based studio Reptoid Games released footage from its narrative puzzler Fire Tonight at THE MIX’S Game Dev Direct.

The game follows a couple’s journey to reconnect in a burning city and is inspired by the song “Fire Tonight” by synth-pop band Information Society’s 1990 album Hack.

Published by Texas boutique Way Down Deep, Fire Tonight releases on Nintendo Switch and Steam in the second quarter of the year.

3D Exploration Game From Sole Developer Nocras Heading to Steam in Spring

During Game Dev Direct, artist and game developer nocras (a freelance 2D artist on Breath of the Wild) and publisher Playism revealed that 3D exploration game Tasomachi: Behind the Twilight will release on Steam in the second quarter of the year.

The game is set in a far Eastern-themed world and follows a young heroine whose airship breaks mid-flight and crashes in an almost abandoned town. The player must assist the remaining inhabitants in exchange for collectibles and resources.

“I’ve contributed to so many great games, but I always found something compelling about the Nintendo 64 era of platformers,” said nocras, in a statement. “I wanted to make something that felt like what those games felt like while artistically exploring Far Eastern themes that always intrigued me.”

Action-Adventure Roguelike Game UnderMine Dropping on Sony Consoles

From Derek Johnson and Clint Tasker’s Vancouver-based studio Thorium Entertainment, UnderMine follows a miner seeking to uncover a secret at the bottom of a tremor-ridden mine.

The game, which is already available on other platforms, launches March 30 for PlayStation 4 and 5.

Firefighting Multiplayer Game Coming This Summer

New York City-based studio Muse Games and publisher Curve Digital have revealed Embr, a frenetic firefighting multiplayer game set to release this summer.

Players are tasked with fighting fires and rescuing residents, working solo or together in online teams.

“It’s safe to say this was never designed to be your typical firefighting simulator,” said Howard Tsao of Muse Games, in a statement. “Embr’s role is to focus a comedic eye on where the gig economy is headed — the ultimate end we’re all hurtling towards, where your everyday person on the street takes a crack at some of the most important, specialized, and crucial jobs for a bit of extra cash.”

Sci-Fi Tactical RPG Going to Steam Early Access

We are the Caretakers from developer Heart Shaped Games will arrive on Steam Early Access for PC on April 22.

“Our goal with We Are The Caretakers is to raise awareness about conservation in a way that would engage people with the issue,” said Scott Brodie, founder of Heart Shaped Games, in a statement.”This is a science fiction story, but the issues the Conductor and The Caretakers face are present in the real world right now, and we hope it causes you to think about how we’re taking care of the world we live in.”

10 percent of the game’s revenue will go to the Wildlife Conservation Network.

Sports Platformer KungFu Kickball Heading to Steam Early Access

Australian publisher Blowfish Studios and Brooklyn-based developer WhaleFood Games are putting out KungFu Kickball on Steam Early Access (for PC and Mac) on April 13.

The game sees players participate in online kickball matches, training courses and multiplayer modes to outmaneuver their opponents.

Knight Squad 2 Launches on Consoles

Quebec-based studio Chainsawesome Games is releasing Knight Squad 2, the follow-up to its party game Knight Squad.

The game, which features 13 competitive multi-player modes, drops on Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, the Epic Games Store, Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X on April 14.

Climbing Game Insurmountable Launches in April

German game development studio ByteRockers Games announced that its adventure roguelike climbing game Insurmountable  will release April 29 on PC via Steam.

Players are tasked with managing limited resources — such as a lack of oxygen — and finding an optimal route up a treacherous mountain while surviving the elements.

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