'The Vale,' a Video Game for the Visually Impaired, Coming to PC in August (Exclusive)

Canadian independent game studio Falling Squirrel will launch its first game, The Vale, for Windows PC on Steam this August. The game is described as an "audio-based experience" that is specifically designed and developed with visually impaired players in mind. 

"The original idea was simply to make an audio-based game that featured a blind main character," David Evans, creative director at Falling Squirrel, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I felt a blind prince or princess, lost in the medieval barrens, was a compelling starting point for an adventure — a mix of familiar tropes set against an unconventional perspective."

An action adventure RPG, the game centers on an exiled noble, blind from birth, who was second in line to the throne. Now, in a harsh hostile land, The Vale's hero must master skills and magic, befriend companions and embark on a long, perilous journey home which begins to reveal startling truths about the kingdom and its royal family.

The Vale won Ubisoft's Indie Series, an annual competition presented by National Bank that awards independent game studios with cash prizes. The first title released by Falling Squirrel, the game forgoes traditional visual gameplay by utilizing "binaural audio technology" and "haptic controller feedback" (vibrations and motions in the controller that simulate the feel of touch with in-game objects) to create a medieval world for users with visual impairments, as well as for sighted gamers.

Partnering with the CNIB (a volunteer agency and charity organization in Canada dedicated to assisting visually impaired individuals), Falling Squirrel tested the game with blind and visually impaired players and consulted with the disabled community while developing the game. The studio also received funding from the Canadian government through an "Ontario Creates" grant.

"We are hoping to make a game that will satisfy members of the blind community who have been playing games all their lives, as well as those coming to games for the first time," says Evans. "We have to carefully consider game mechanics, controls and difficulty settings that will straddle this enormous gulf in game familiarity."

Among the game's key features are a guiding concept of "accessible gaming for all," which utilizes binaural audio and voice acting to guide players through battle, quests and cut scenes. By creating a full "soundscape" of 3D audio, Falling Squirrel aims to create a realistic, immersive world for the player to explore. The game will also feature multiple combat styles, player creation (with male and female options for the game's protagonist), magic, hunting and more. In addition to the game's main quest and storyline, there will be more than 20 side quests for players to embark upon.

"Some strides have been made to improve gaming experiences for color-blind and low-vision gamers, but virtually nothing for fully blind individuals," Evans says. "We are hoping to pioneer mechanics that could form the basis for audio-only modes (or ports) for popular action-adventure games and RPGs."

Evans sees The Vale as a game that will resonate with an audience that has been overlooked by game developers for a long time. "It’s satisfying to think that we are likely to make a game that many in this community might consider to be their favorite, or for others, their very first game experience," he says. "This is primarily what drives our team."