I'm walking through a dark forest. Senses heightened, wary of what's around the next bend, it's safe to say I'm a little on edge. The display is staticky as I semi-bravely make my way through the creepy landscape. Everything's fine until I look up and see a dirty baby doll hanging from a tree. "Uh oh. This does not bode well," I say under my breath. Against my better judgement I press on until I'm in a forest of mangled dolls. Suddenly a few fall from their perches and the screen distorts with static, preventing me from playing.
This is my first taste of NeverMind, an upcoming indie game from video game studio Flying Mollusk. Described as a biofeedback game, NeverMind works in conjunction with Intel's RealSense camera to scan your fear as you explore the game and use it against you. In NeverMind, you're playing as a Neuroprober, a doctor that helps patients work through their trauma by entering their minds and searching for the cause of their trauma. It's similar to Inception, with a heavy dose of terror.
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As you make your way through the patient's subconscious, your fear starts to intermingle with the patient's, making it increasingly difficult to progress through the game. It starts off as a bit of pesky static. However as you become more rattled, the static increases until you can't see anything. The only way to combat the effect is to calm down.
Using RealSense's powerful camera to read your heart rate and facial expressions, the game can measure how stressed you are and adjust the game accordingly. That's why my game became an unplayable mess when I thought an army of possessed dolls was coming to drag me off to some dark corner in a forest and dismember me. Fighting against my instinct to run screaming into the night, I took a few deep breaths and mentally counted to 10. Sensing that I had regained a measure of composure, the static cleared to an acceptable level, allowing me to continue my exploration.
When it's not scaring the bejesus out of you, NeverMind is a mystery game at heart, tasking players to find 10 pictures scattered throughout the level. Each photo has a sentence describing the patient's traumatic experience. As a victim of a harrowing experience, the patient's mind is littered with false memories. Once you've gathered all 10 photos, you have to piece together the real memory using half of the images. During my demo, I ended up piecing together the story of Hansel and Gretel, alleviating Hansel's (and my) anxieties.
Graphically, the game is fun and varied. You start out in a clinic, full of hardwood paneling and futuristic monitors, and from there, you enter a patient's mind. Hansel's subconscious is filled with a forest that starts out bright and cheery, but devolves into a dark twisted mass of evil looking trees with malicious-looking dolls for fruits. The witch's gingerbread house is bright and inviting, including huge lollipops. Upon closer examination, I discovered one of the larger treats was covered with ants. If the lighting had been better in the test space, the ants would have formed the outline of my face using the RealSense camera... shudder.
All in all, I'm looking forward to playing NeverMind when it launches later this year. It's a fun jaunt into the terror town that has the ulterior motive of helping you better deal with stress and uncomfortable situations. I'm also a fan of the innovative use of the RealSense camera, helping build the case that the technology can have fun, practical applications.