Exploring GDC last week, I discovered a small booth with a single screen covered in darkness. Small flashes brought vibrant colors, almost like a flashlight teasing the brilliance of a Jackson Pollock painting. I kept inching closer trying to figure out the mystery behind the display. But what struck me most was how darkness would transform into something beautiful...a special magic potentially foreshadowing something deeper. Questions abounding, I finally approached the demo station. The answers I got were just as intriguing as the initial glimpse.

Pulse places you in a familiar, first-person perspective with just one catch: you’re blind. But don’t expect to hobble around cloaked in darkness; your character creates a mental image of what’s going on that’s displayed on the screen. It feels a bit like echolocation, as the sounds you make, like footsteps or jumping, reveal parts of the world to you as your character’s emotions and assumptions color objects in different ways.

Pulse is a world that one never really gets used to. Everything is dark. The sound of my own steps light the way, but that doesn’t mean my field of “vision” is perfect. Because only small portions of the environment appear, I still end up bumping into things, going in the wrong direction, and finding myself in dead ends. Blindness is a hindrance that’s always at the forefront, but the handicap makes the discovery of new areas all the more worthwhile.

You’re not completely lost in a dark abyss; adorable creatures called Mokos also help you light the world and find your way though it. You can toss these furry friends ahead of you to light a path to your next destination. But while Mokos are friendly, evil apparitions also roam the world, immediately turning the screen red to warn you they’re on the prowl. You’re forced to play the balancing act, because the very sound that gives you a beacon in the world also draws enemies straight to you.

Most of the time we fear the dark and unknown, but what I enjoyed most about Pulse is the yearning to conquer it – to step in deeper and find out more. The world feeds your senses with vivid imagery, making exploration all the more rewarding. Pulse is unlike anything the mainstream gaming industry has produced, and that in itself is a brilliant achievement. 

Pulse was originally created as a prototype for a student project at the Vancouver Film School of Game Design, but now the five creators want to turn it into a full-fledged game. They’re using Kickstarter for funding, so check out their page for more details.