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The Esoteric Beat: Audio Games, Virtusphere, Mindplay

The Esoteric Beat: Audio Games, Virtusphere, Mindplay

October 4, 2005 | By Jim Rossignol

Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at audio games, hamster-ball interfaces and digital relationships.

- First off this week we take a quick look at acoustic games. These audio-only titles have been around for a while, and make up the eclectic mix of adventure games like those found over on These games rely purely on sound output to deliver information to players, making them ideal for people with sight problems to experience the immediacy of interacting with digital entertainment. For something free and action based, why not check out German art-game collective a.Game's Sonic Invaders, which is an attempt to make a shoot 'em up based purely on sound input. If nothing else, these games should provide food for thought for those people interested in the use of sound in mainstream Western games. There's a lot that can be done with the senses other than sight, but are we doing it?

- It's still not quite The Lawnmower Man, but virtual reality has taken a new technological cue from the concept of the hamster ball, as the 'Virtusphere' is unveiled. The company behind the device, which allows users to 'move' in virtual reality simply by walking, tell us how it works: "The device consists of a large hollow sphere, which is placed on a special platform that allows the sphere to rotate in any direction as the user walks within the sphere." Virtusphere still depends on the motion-tracking headsets familiar to old-school VR systems, but has already been applied as a military training simulator, using the ability to move around in the sphere to add another level of realism to videogame style training systems. It's hard to see if this human hamster ball could have any entertainment value - perhaps someone could tie it in to a modified version of Counter-Strike, for the full war-time experience? We'd like to see 16 of these lined up in a LAN centre, but I think I'd want to wear a crash helmet too...

- Next up: more next-generation 3D-display interface news, (auto-translated from the Japanese) but this time from Pioneer, who are showing off their new motion-tracking LCD screen. This variation on the 3D touchscreen theme allows users to see 3D images with the naked eye, unaided by goggles or anything else, but also to interact with the 3D image itself, via motion trackers built into the front of the screen. The interface should allow people to manipulate 3D objects on the screen with their fingertips. Could this is be good news for 3D modellers? Or just another gizmo to gather dust in the technology museum?

- Meanwhile in the UK, European-based gamers and digital artists might want to keep an eye on Mindplay, a new one-day conference in London, sponsored by London's Metropolitan University. The conference, which is scheduled for 30th January 2006 "will focus on our experience of both mindful and playful human-digital relationships, and explore our interaction and engagement with new digital media environments including those involving mobile and ubiquitous media, new cinema, gameplay, wired spaces, and networked communities." No word on featured speakers yet, but details are forthcoming on the conference website.

Oh, and in a final esoteric side-note, if you didn't see the Wizards Of The Coast's original D20-toting Dungeons & Dragons taking a sly advertising dig at MMOs, then take a look, care of BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow. Most amusing.

[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK - his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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