You don’t need a controller to play Lila’s Tale; you just need to look. It’s a VR platformer that you interact with by directing your gaze at where you want its heroine to move. Only a demo is available at the moment, but the full game is slated for a third-quarter release later this year for the Samsung Gear VR.
After Lila’s brother disappears into a mysterious dungeon-slash-cave, the player (which a glowing blue light represents) helps her search for him. With your help, she explores the dungeon and solves connect-the-dot puzzles that look like constellations. It has no combat — instead, each time the player solves a puzzle, it damages the enemies.
“Lila is there and performs some actions by herself,” said Skullfish Studios cofounder Gabriela Thobias in an interview with GamesBeat. “But the player is what guides her and protects her. If an enemy goes after her, the player has to move faster through the puzzle so she can stay ahead and make it safely to the end.”
Lila’s Tale isn’t the only VR game that uses gaze-based controls. For example, Land’s End from developer Ustwo (Monument Valley) also lets the player interact with the environment by looking at it. In an interview with GamesBeat, Ustwo artist Jonathon Topf said that the design decision came from trying to figure out a VR-native scheme of user interaction.
Skullfish first tried designing Lila’s Tale for a traditional controller but, like Ustwo, decided that it didn’t feel very intuitive. So it stripped down the controls to just your eyes.
“It’s not exactly eye tracking,” Thobias explained. “It’s where you aim the Gear VR. She’ll always follow toward that point, or try her best to follow it.”
The reason for the connect-the-dots-type puzzles, Thobias said, is because the studio found it to be the most natural way to interact with the environment using gaze-only controls. That’s because the dots are all within the player’s field of view, so it’s easy to keep track of where all the different elements are. Now the challenge is to make sure the environmental feedback, such as sound design and visual cues, are robust enough to tell the player what’s going on around them while they’re in the midst of puzzle-solving.
Lila’s Tale is the young studio’s first game. However, both Thobias and her cofounder, Rafael Ferrari, have experience with developing VR games. They both previously worked at Black River Studios, a fellow Brazilian indie games studio, where Thobias was a user interface and user experience designer and Ferrari was a lead engineer. Black River has released games like Rococo (a murder mystery game) and Rock & Rails (a music-themed action shooter) for VR. After leaving Black River and starting Skullfish, Thobias and Ferrari received funding from GameFounders, a global game accelerator earlier this year.
Though the game focuses more on puzzles and gameplay over story, Thobias said that they still want players to feel a connection to Lila.
“We were definitely inspired by [The Legend of Zelda],” Thobias said. “And other games like Rime and Child of Light. Games that make you feel like you care about the characters. You want to protect them.”