‘Beyond Eyes’ Interview: Emotional Topics, Starting Game Development

Beyond Eyes was featured during the Microsoft press conference at E3 earlier this year, with Beyond Eyes developer Sherida Halatoe introducing the emotionally evocative title. Beyond Eyes follows the story of a 10 year old girl named Rae, who has unfortunately lost her eye sight. The player must control Rae and utilise her other senses as she visualises the world around her.

The idea of controlling a heroine with such disabilities is something completely new to the video game industry. The player will control a character who is without such an important asset, that many of us take for granted each day.

Analog Addiction recently has the great pleasure of speaking to Sherida Halatoe regarding the upcoming release of Beyond Eyes. In this extensive interview we speak about the hardship Halatoe faced when creating her own studio, the topic of sensitive issues in gaming and more information on the upcoming release of Beyond Eyes.


AA: How difficult was it to start your own studio, as you did with Tiger & Squid? Would you recommend the experience for others who have a similar passion for the industry?

Sherida Halatoe: While I would definitely recommend people to make games for themselves, I wouldn’t advise them to do it my way. I basically just winged it and dived in, head first.

AA: What information would you give to young game developers out there who want to form their own studio? Do you have any advice you have learned from your own experiences?

Sherida Halatoe: Be smart. Don’t confuse working insane hours with working hard. There are a lot of great people working in the industry that you will befriend but don’t forget to live a life outside of your work as well. Try to work in a game studio a while before starting your own to know what it is like to be part of a company. These are all things that I didn’t do when I started working on Beyond Eyes and would’ve made my life a lot easier if I had.

Also, be original and be authentic, try to make games that only you can make. It’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out in the huge selection of games coming out every day.

AA: How has your experience been working with Team 17 to bring Beyond Eyes to Xbox One and PC platforms?

Sherida Halatoe: Incredibly positive! When I first signed with them, the plan was for me to develop the game for PC by myself and let them do their porting, PR, marketing and QA magic but it changed into so much more. I got to work in the studio with their amazing programmers, artists, designers and testers and learned how to run a project with a team. Plus I got to present my game at E3.

AA: Speaking of E3, standing in front of so many people at the Microsoft press conference must have been a nerve racking experience. How did you feel being able to share your vision with so many people?

Sherida Halatoe: It was great! I really enjoyed it and the response was so incredibly positive. It was a strange feeling, going from complete obscurity to seeing your game in so many ‘Top of E3’ lists the next days between all the major AAA titles.

AA: Beyond Eyes follows the story of Rae, a blind, 10 year old girl who searches for a cat named Nani. What was your inspiration to explore such a unique concept?

Sherida Halatoe: It didn’t come up in one brainstorm session, I can tell you 🙂. When I started with Beyond Eyes in 2011 and graduated with a prototype of the game, Rae wasn’t called Rae, she was about 20 years old and she was not looking for her cat but on her way to a hospital to receive reconstructive eye surgery. The first part of the game was her enjoying her stroll through the village, very much like Beyond Eyes is. The second part was after the surgery where she would see the world as it really was, less exciting and colourful. In the end, she makes eye contact with a stranger and falls a little bit in love and the world starts to fill in with colour again.

AA: Rae isn’t just blind, she also suffers from anxiety. Recently Ninja Theory revealed its upcoming game Hellblade would also be tackling the themes of anxiety. Gaming is finally taking that next step into tackling real world issues, is this something you’d love to see the industry do more often?

Sherida Halatoe: Definitely, I think it’s important to explore different kinds of heroism in this medium. We now know plenty of examples about people saving the world but it would be great to have our protagonist being able to save themselves.

I think there is an important shift happening in game stories from stories that are solely plot driven versus stories that are more character driven. This means that instead going from action scene to action scene we get to see the internal struggles and motivation of the characters more and more. Personally I would love to see more glimpses in games like Gears of War or Uncharted of what the constant violence is doing to the main character’s’ psyche. Could they struggle with seeing themselves as the good guys with a body count as high as theirs? What happens when they go back to their friends and family?

AA: Rae will use her other senses, such as hearing, touch and smell to traverse the world. How will using these senses work? Will they automatically interrupt the world around Rae, or will they be mapped to buttons that the player must control?

Sherida Halatoe: Rae uses her senses automatically but sometimes you have to come close to find out if she is correct about it. In earlier versions the senses were mapped to buttons but it turned out that it influenced the way people played the game in a negative way, by making the game less approachable for inexperienced gamers and taking the focus from many gamers away from the games experience, instead focusing on the systems behind it.

AA: Beyond Eyes has a beautiful art style, as well as an emotionally driven soundtrack; from the brief trailer that was shown. What inspired the water paint-esque art style? And how important is it to produce a fitting soundtrack for such an emotional experience?

Sherida Halatoe: Originally Beyond Eyes started as a collaboration in college with my friend Rian who happens to paint lovely water colour illustrations all the time. We wanted to bring those graphics directly in the game as we both loved a more hand painted approach versus cartoony or hyper realistic. The soundtrack is created by my best friend, Marco Alkema, who shares my taste in classical music. Before he came on board, during development, I listened a lot to composers like Debussy & Ravel , who were unofficially considered as being part of Impressionism. Like painters such a Monet, they focused on creating a story, a certain feeling with contrasting colours ( or melodies in this case) and were very playful and spontaneous. It just fits great with the visuals of Beyond Eyes so we chose to use a small selection of instruments, mostly woodwind instruments, a few strings and the occasional piano to create the soundtrack.

AA: How long do you expect Beyond Eyes will take the average player to complete? And will there be reasons to replay the experience? Such as collectables, different areas etc.

Sherida Halatoe: I would say that depending on the player’s curiosity to explore it takes between 3 and 4,5 hours to complete Beyond Eyes. It’s easy to miss things so I think people will enjoy the game a second time as well.

AA: During Microsoft’s E3 press conference, you made sure to point out that Beyond Eyes is a story about hope. You delivered the message beautifully, which made me wonder if any of your own personal journeys have helped shape Beyond Eyes’ story?

Sherida Halatoe: Thank you! When I started to remake the game after graduating I thought about what I really wanted to tell with the game. An important take away from the game had always been something that I live by which is that sometimes life throws really crappy things at you and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The only thing you can do in those situations is choose the way you handle them. Do you think of yourself as a victim? Hide, give up, blame the world, be angry? Or do you take charge, accept it and fight back and grow as a person?

It’s all about perception. I learned this lesson in a difficult way. I lost my father ( whose name was Ray) when I was Rae’s age and my world and that of my family members fell apart. It changed a lot, especially at that age. Before that I always felt like the world made sense, that there was a clear right or wrong. That if you ate your spinach, brushed your teeth twice a day and prayed to God, everything would work out fair and square. In the end, I decided to embrace life, like my dad used to do, to live with more presence and enjoy the little pleasures of life, to look for beauty everywhere I can.

Beyond Eyes became my tribute to him and how he influenced me, before and after he died.

AA: Where is the best location for readers to follow all the latest Beyond Eyes information as it is released?

Sherida Halatoe: Twitter is definitely the place to be, you can follow @BeyondEyes_ for everything about the game and @SheridaEH is my personal twitter.

AA: When can players expect to get their hands on Beyond Eyes?

Sherida Halatoe: Soon, very soon 🙂