Perception, where you play a blind person who taps a cane to see around them, was revealed last week. Soon, an email went around indie studio Tiny Bull. “Panic started to spread among the team,” said CEO Matteo Lana. Why? Tiny Bull had been making Blind, a game with the same premise, for more than a year.
It all started when a Tiny Bull programmer was surfing new Kickstarter projects and came across the one for Perception.
“He sent me a message saying ‘Hey, this game looks a bit like our game.’” said Lana. “And I went ‘No, that is our game.’ It was a bit hard. It was quite a blow at the time.”
The link was quickly shared on an internal message board for the company, prompting a meltdown from the rest of the staff. Lana doesn’t even remember the first few hours anymore.
“When I saw the news,” he said, “I just read about the game, and I didn’t look at the team. Then, after a while, I checked out the team, and I was like ‘Okay, we’re really screwed. These guys made BioShock and Dead Space. How can they not do something great with this one?’”
The immediate reaction from Lana and everyone else at Tiny Bull was shock. The pedigree behind Perception guaranteed people would be paying attention to it immediately. In the first few hours, several Tiny Bull employees proclaimed their game was now dead on arrival.
“Everyone was going ‘well, I guess we can go home now, it’s been a nice year and a half’” said Lana. “‘We had fun. We learned a lot of things.”
Now, more than a week later, Lana can laugh about it—a little bit, anyway. It wasn’t funny at the time, though, as everyone slipped into “panic and depression.”
The game’s publisher, Surprise Attack Games, tried to calm the studio down and focus on the path forward. If the game didn’t already have backing, Lana said “it would have been worse,” and it’s possible the game would have been outright cancelled.
Once everyone had some space to breathe, Lana went to the team and tried to salvage their morale. There were two points he wanted to make.
One, while Blind and Perception generally had the same premise, their execution was going to be different, and they should focus on that. Two, if the developers behind BioShock and Dead Space had decided this was a game worth making, they were on the right path, too.
It’s at this point Tiny Bull decided to go public with Blind, even though the proper reveal was supposed to happen at Gamescom in August.
“We feared that going out at the time we originally planned would have made us look like like copycats,” said Lana.
Lana also wanted to make sure the developers of Perception weren’t offended, so he reached out, to make sure there was no bad blood.
Perception creative director Bill Gardner confirmed the two had chatted.
“[Lana] did send me an email shortly after the story went up,” said Gardner. “He more or less said that he wanted to make sure I didn’t take the article the wrong way. I told him that I understood the article completely and that synchronicity happens all the time. So, yes, we had a brief exchange and I appreciate that he gave me a heads up.”
Gardner was in the same position as Lana a while ago, too. He pointed me towards Division 9, an abandoned Irrational Games project that would be very easy to mistake for Left 4 Dead.
“I think anyone working in a creative field is likely to have at least one story like [this],” he said.
There are a few key differences between the two games, too. Perception is a horror game, where players are constantly looking over shoulder and trying to avoid what’s hiding in the dark. Blind will be a creepy game, explained Lana, but not explicitly horror. Blind is more about exploring a space and solving puzzles. Furthermore, Blind is specifically designed around virtual reality, whereas Perception will only have VR support if they reach a stretch goal.
For Lana, the question is whether or not the team follows Perception’s development at all. It would be tempting to see how Perception solves certain design problems.
“We will try not to let their game influence us in any way,” he said. “We are a bit torn between checking their game out and seeing what to avoid or what we can do [or] completely ignore it and go forward with our idea and get the game done the way we were doing it at the beginning.”
In either case, the situation hasn’t stopped Lana from wanting to support Perception. He’s already backed their Kickstarter and is hoping they reach the finish line.
“I love all the previous games these guys have done,” he said, “so I guess I could help them make another good one.”