Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

Immersense Developer Envisions Gaming Without Visuals (August 27, 2022)

Boston, MA – It was standing-room-only during ZeniMax Media’s keynote presentation at this weekend’s PAX East gaming conference at the Hynes Convention Center. After months of speculation, the Maryland media conglomerate formally announced its new VR gaming system, Immersense. The mix of excitement and apprehension amidst the crowd erupted into a chorus of awe and guffaws when lead developer Matt Hoffman confirmed rumours that Immersense would be the first multi-sensory VR system to deliberately exclude visual elements.

Hoffman began by recalling Edgar Allen Poe’s classic horror short story, “The Pit and the Pendulum”. When the tale’s protagonist first awakes, Hoffman recounted, “all he sees is darkness. He’s deprived of his primary means of experiencing the world – sight. Instead, he has to rely on his other senses: touch, sound, and smell. And through those, he makes sense of his environment.” The Immersense system, Hoffman explained, is designed to privilege senses often neglected or excluded entirely from the VR experience.

Demonstrated by Hoffman and an assistant, the Immersense system is an ensemble of wearable tech consisting of a closed helmet, vest, and gloves. Embedded in the helmet is a microventilation system to simulate the direction and temperature of air currents. The helmet also features omnidirectional THXcess headphone speakers, originally developed by LucasArts for the mobile edition of Star Wars: Episode XV. The vest is equipped with a hydrodynamic weight system (to mimic the pull of gravity in topographically uneven environments) and the Goodman Woofer subsonic array. The Goodman Woofer not only enhances acoustic tactility, Hoffman said, but “enables users to experience seismic events, which feature in specific gameplay scenarios.” Meanwhile, the gloves are constructed of nanobead smart fabric, which mimics a variety of textures – from rocky grit to leathery smoothness – in microscopic detail. The gloves even provide resistance to the user’s hand when they “grip” an object during gameplay.

A final feature, integrated throughout the entire ensemble, is a microaqueduct system that simulates the wetness or dryness of specific objects and the game’s overall climate. “Whether you’re striding across sand dunes or scrambling up a sodden rainforest hillside,” Hoffman elaborated, “you’ll feel it.” Hoffman was less informative about how smell would feature in Immersense gameplay, saying only that ZeniMax had partnered with NYU’s Rinberg Lab to help them “curate unparalleled olfactory simulations.”

The Immersense system is designed to sync with a smartphone app that records a user’s progress through touch-mapped 3D cartography and audio snapshots. Hoffman hinted that a user could expand their saved maps beyond territory they’d discovered firsthand by finding in-game “Easter eggs” or by sharing intel with other players.

Owing to his initial inspiration by Poe, Hoffman declared that the first three Immersense titles would be horror-survival games but promised that titles in other genres – including stealth, open-world, and novel games – would be available as early as next year.

Despite the antecedent skepticism about a “non-visual” gaming system, the subsequent Q&A session was distinctly amicable. A disabilities activist lauded Immersense for broadening the visually-impaired community’s access to gaming. A reporter from American Survival Guide magazine said the VR system would be an invaluable training tool for “preppers”. Following that comment, however, a reporter from The Intercept asked Hoffman if it was true that Immersense originated as a DARPA-funded training simulator for Navy SEALs to prepare them for solo survival or failed equipment scenarios. Hoffman chuckled, “Well, everyone on the Immersense team has signed a non-disclosure agreement, so make of that what you will.”

Fri, September 22 2017 » emerging technologies, games, humour, interactivity, narrative, screen assignment, screen technologies, student work