Tiny Bull Studios has spent almost a year and a half working on Blind, its first big project for the PC and consoles, toiling away on the passion project in between work-for-hire gigs to keep the lights on. The game, a first-person horror adventure game about a blind girl exploring a haunted mansion using echolocation, is unlike anything the team had seen attempted before. At least, it was until Tuesday, when The Deep End Games announced its Kickstarter campaign for Perception, also a first-person horror adventure game about a blind girl exploring a haunted mansion using echolocation.
As Tiny Bull Studios CEO Matteo Lana (pictured) told GamesIndustry.biz earlier this week, morale took a hit with the discovery that the unique game they'd been working toward for so long wasn't so unique after all.
"We woke up to the news that former Irrational Games team members have announced a game which was more or less the same as ours," Lana said. "So it's been kind of an emotional blow. Our first thought was, 'It's been fun. We can now go and deliver pizzas for the rest of our lives.' But after a while, we realized it was probably a good thing that somebody of their caliber had the same idea, so we're not totally dumb."
"Our first thought was, 'It's been fun. We can now go and deliver pizzas for the rest of our lives.'"
As difficult as the revelation was for Tiny Bull, Lana has some empathy for the Deep End team as well. He doesn't believe they had any previous awareness of Blind, so they're also just finding out now that the seemingly unique game they've been working on has a doppelganger of sorts. It also threw Tiny Bull's publishing partner, Surprise Attack, for a loop.
The Australian indie games label had signed on to handle Blind at last year's Game Connection America, also believing at the time that the game's echolocation hook would be a unique selling point. Surprise Attack head Chris Wright was similarly agitated by the Perception Kickstarter, telling GI.biz his initial thought "was a slightly more NSFW version of, 'Oh shit.'"
The plan had been to announce Blind with a playable demo because it's being built exclusively for virtual reality platforms, and the experience is hard to convey with traditional trailers. Timing-wise, they were hoping to have things ready for such a reveal at Gamescom in Cologne and PAX Prime in Seattle this August.
"However, if we stuck to that plan, then we'd be close to three months after Perception and would face a lot of accusations of copying the concept," Wright said. "Also, the concept and the uniqueness of the core mechanic were such a big part of our newsworthiness and now suddenly that was gone. On the other side, we just don't have the assets to do the announce right now that we would like. The team at Tiny Bull haven't been working on a cool vertical slice like the one you see for Perception because we didn't need one yet and their time was better spent on regular development. So there is a lot of the game done but very little to show that is media- or public-ready."
While Wright hasn't encountered a situation exactly like this before in his career, it's not entirely uncharted territory for him, either.
"I worked on Saints Row when I was at THQ for example so that had obvious challenges around GTA, especially when the first Saints Row game launched," Wright said. "What I learnt from working on that franchise was that it is possible for games with very similar core concepts to ultimately have their own voices so that definitely helped keep the panic in check."
"Right now we're split between trying to avoid knowing anything about their game so as not to be influenced and actually following the development of their game to make sure we're not making the same things as them.'"
That differentiation is something Tiny Bull and Surprise Attack are clearly keen on making clear. One of the big differences at the moment is that Blind is set for VR headsets and Perception is not.
"We didn't want to just have another Amnesia, Penumbra, or Gone Home kind of game," Lana said. "We wanted to really focus on the VR possibilities that are opening up now with this amazing hardware."
If one won't work with traditional monitors and the other won't work with VR headsets, the two games would seem to be targeting different audiences. However, the Kickstarter campaign for Perception includes VR support as a stretch goal if it makes it to $350,000. As of this writing, it has raised $55,000 of a $150,000 target, and still has 27 days remaining to raise the rest. Just how closely Tiny Bull and Surprise Attack will pay attention to that campaign and the future development of Perception remains to be seen.
"We just have to keep to the vision we have of the game and try really hard not to let their game influence us in any way," Lana said. "Right now we're split between trying to avoid knowing anything about their game so as not to be influenced and actually following the development of their game to make sure we're not making the same things as them."
As the publisher, Surprise Attack is likely to keep closer tabs, but Wright said he wishes The Deep End Games nothing but success.
"It's obviously a difficult situation for us to have such a similar game coming out and especially from such an amazing team of developers but Perception looks awesome and The Deep End Games have clearly worked really hard on it," Wright said. "We genuinely want them to succeed and, whilst on one level our lives would be easier without such a similar game existing, we have to embrace the fact that Perception exists, wish The Deep End Games well and whatever the outcome of their Kickstarter, Tiny Bull need to focus on making Blind the best game they can and we have to focus on helping Tiny Bull reach the best success they can with it."
[Correction]: This article originally stated that the publishing agreement was struck at Games Connection Europe. We regret the error.