One of the greatest things about E3 is the Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA) partnerships with groups such as IndieCade, or International Festival of Independent Games. With IndiCade, you get to experience games otherwise unavailable through traditional channels. Case in point: Deep Sea. Just two laptops sitting in busy corner of the IndiCade area, the game attracted those curious about the unusual peripherals one needs to play.
The brainchild of sound designer, Robin Arnott, it is definitely an experiment in sound gaming and fear. Having gained quick notoriety for making one player faint at South By Southwest (SXSW), of course we wanted to try it out.
To explain the above picture: Kyle is donning a mask tightly secured to his head. In that mask, he sees nothing. Instead, he’s guided only by the sounds he hears in the accompanying headphones. His goal is to listen for the groans and clicks of monsters, rotate his deep sea submersible using the joystick and fire a missile off into the monsters’ gullets before they eat him.
Deep Sea was designed to achieve greater immersion, and I have to say it meets its goal if not more. When I played the game, I found myself automatically putting my head down as Kyle does in this picture, shifting my attention to the sounds coming to me through the headphones and tuning out the blaring West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center (not an easy feat for the sensory overload that is E3). The game definitely gets the job done of pushing the player to rely solely on his or her ears, while letting the imagination do the rest.
As far as the audio is concerned, there is just enough to fill the mind’s pallet — scratchy, intermittent radio communication with the fictional team observing your progress, distant ululations of beasts you only see in your dreams and elegant water FX that correspond with your movements and breathing.
Breathing definitely plays an important factor, as the harder you breathe the louder the bubbling sounds. I imagined myself in a high tech water suite that expels my CO2 while gathering necessary oxygen from the water around me. The thing is, the louder the bubbles get the harder it is for you to hear the monsters. Again, just enough. Just enough to modify my breathing patterns as I imagined the beasts getting closer with every passing second.
Therein lies the challenge with Deep Sea. The longer you spend trying to hear the the monsters, the closer they come. You miss a shot, you waste more time. The more time you waste, the higher your anxiety level and the harder it is to control your breathing. It’s a vicious cycle. Couple that with a stifling mask, this wholly new gaming experience can be terrifying for some; as it may have been for that poor soul at SXSW.
A shame that Deep Sea won’t be available en mass, one console including headphones, mask and laptop costs several thousand dollars. However, you can expect more from Mr. Arnott as he’s currently working on new IP that is also focused on the senses. This time it will be something more positive, incorporating synesthesia, or the blending of senses rather than the deprivation of them, and the Kinect.