Boston, BioShock, and the Inspiration Behind Indie Game Perception

Boston, BioShock, and the Inspiration Behind Indie Game Perception

Upcoming indie title Perception isn’t your average horror game, and Bill Gardner, creative director for development studio The Deep End Games, isn’t your average game designer. Bill got his start as a GameStop employee before fate would have BioShock’s creative director, Ken Levine, walk into his store. From there, Bill was launched into a game development career as lead level designer for BioShock and design director for BioShock Infinite. Bill decided to venture out on his own, opening up indie studio The Deep End Games which is currently preparing to launch their first title, Perception. We were able to ask Bill a few questions about the inspiration behind his studio’s first entry during a recent Reddit AMA, and Bill let us know the game has inspiration from his past work as well as his personal life.

Perception follows protagonist Cassie who feels compelled to explore a haunted estate that continues to appear in her dreams. Cassie must solve the mystery of the mansion, along with her connection to it, using only her wits and extraordinary hearing abilities. You see, Cassie is blind, and the game features an echolocation mechanic that uses sound to reveal Cassie’s surroundings.

During the AMA, Bill explained that Cassie’s disability was meant to give players “an appreciation for experiencing things in a different way.” In response to one of our questions regarding why they chose a blind protagonist, Bill answered, “Information is the enemy of horror, so the idea of not having sight in a game seemed like an opportunity to immerse players in a fresh experience.” But, keeping players in the dark, so to speak, is walking a fine line. “We kept tweaking how much was revealed when you ‘tap’ your cane and echolocate,” Bill clarified in answer to a question about the game’s unique feedback system. “We want to restrict information, but not push over into frustration. I am happy,” he added, “with where we ended up . . .”

How Bill and his team came up with the concept might have been based on a desire for gamers to have a new experience, but the game itself is heavily inspired by Bill’s past. When we asked about any direct connection, he told us his work with BioShock in particular played heavily into the game’s development and narrative structure. 

“Working with Ken and the team taught me a ton about how to weave in narrative, pace out events, make players lean in, etc. There are a lot of BioShock-y feeling elements in Perception. Players often comment on Chapter 3 in particular as feeling very BioShock. You’ll see why when you get there.”

Bill also gained inspiration from his past growing up in Boston. In response to a question from Redditor Red-Bard, he attributed the feel of the area to inspiring stories like Perception, and horror narratives in general.

“Growing up on the North Shore of Boston. There is something in the air up here. It’s teeming with not only history, but some kind of, I dunno, force. There’s a reason why so many horror greats come from and were inspired by the region. Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, HP Lovecraft, the list goes on and on. Beyond that, you also need to play Perception as there are very specific reasons why it’s this neck of the woods.”

In response to our question regarding what initially got Bill interested in horror, he replied, “Shooting terrible horror films in my backyard when I was 10 years old.”

Interestingly, Perception hides at least one hidden mystery that has nothing to do with the shadowy force haunting the in-game locale, but Bill and his team have embedded a little part of Bill’s past. In response to a question about creating secret codes from Redditor Ehh_Embb, Bill responded that the game houses a secret area. “Perception has a hidden section that I am quite proud of,” he said. “It’s not THAT well hidden, but it has what I view as a super cool nod to BioShock (and Ken!)”

What that area entails, and what mysteries Cassie will uncover on her journey, will remain a mystery until the game makes it’s way onto Steam, XBOX One and PS4 on May 30 of this year.

Lifetime gamer, professional nerd, and amateur cosplayer. Owns a working copy of Duck Hunt (with the light gun). Has never hunted real ducks. Loves horror games but is also afraid of the dark. Journalist, game reviewer, and marketer by trade.