SoundSelf, the latest game from audio engineer and Deep Sea developer Robin Arnott, has successfully raised the $29,060 it sought on Kickstarter — despite the fact that it's not really like any other game to find funding on the platform.
The game, Arnott explained in a recent interview with Polygon, is not a goal-oriented experience. To interact with the software, players simply sustain a note — humming, singing, chanting or any other variation — which SoundSelf uses to produce a harmonizing tone and visual response. It works well as a social experience, capable of responding in kind to audio input from multiple users; but it's just as capable of helping a single user enter a deeper meditative state.
Selling that premise, however, comes with its fair share of challenges; the largest of which, Arnott explained, is explaining the game's interactivity to potential backers who haven't had a chance to go voice-on with SoundSelf.
"This is a non-goal oriented experience, and the closest word I have to describe that experience is 'game,' and that's a really loaded word that some people are going to agree with," Arnott said. "Even then, the interaction, when you're not in it and you're not playing it, it looks like a visualizer. Even the graphics, because we're so early on in our prototype, the graphics look like a visualizer. That's something we need to work with a lot more, and we will."
"My gut was telling me there was something really beautiful we were doing, here, but I couldn't quite describe it."
That pitch has gotten easier for a few reasons during the past month, Arnott explained. The game's gotten some great press, not only among gaming blogs but among more mainstream outlets like NPR's All Things Considered. It's made public appearances at shows like Austin's monthly Juegos Rancheros event and the Ahhhcade exhibit at SFMOMA. Arnott also put a playable prototype up on SoundSelf's Kickstarter page for free, letting anyone with headphones and a mic play an early build of the title.
More importantly, though, Arnott said seeing the game spread throughout the past month has helped SoundSelf's developers — Arnott, software engineer Evan Balster and artistic director Topher Sipes — find the words they needed to tell the world about their game.
"My gut was telling me there was something really beautiful we were doing, here, but I couldn't quite describe it," Arnott said. "A month ago, I just didn't know what it was; it was something I couldn't quite put into words yet. We didn't have the words even to describe it to ourselves. Now, after seeing people play it, after sitting with it for much longer and sharing it in more spaces, and experimenting with it, I have a much better understanding of what it is in a way I can explain to people in a way that they, in turn, can understand."
Now that SoundSelf has passed its original goal, it's moving towards its first and only stretch goal: If the Kickstarter project raises $36,000, Arnott will build an exhibit for the game at Burning Man. It's a way of "giving back" to the radical art festival, Arnott said, as it helped inspire SoundSelf's meditative aural interactions.
"What excites me most about Burning Man is the interactive art," Arnott said. "There are people out there thinking way outside the box, figuring out how to make these beautiful interactions between people and technology. There have been many pieces I've seen there that have been deeply inspiring, that have directly put me on a path towards thinking about player interaction and subjective experience in the ways that make SoundSelf possible."
"I had a really powerful psychotropic experience in there, assisted by LSD."
His exhibit, he explained, will be a large dome lined with projectors shining outward, displaying SoundSelf's hypnotic tunnels of sharp light on the exhibit's thin exterior. The dome will be far outside the center of the festival, a "secret, magical space" that wanderers can feel like they've discovered. It will somewhat resemble an exhibit that Arnott had a strong reaction to at Burning Man 2011 titled reOnion — itself a Kickstarted exhibit — which he discovered under similar circumstances.
"It was an onion-shaped piece of architecture in the desert, and you would climb into it, and there were seven chambers set up like little garlic cloves," Arnott said. "Each chamber played a different channel of this seven-channel music. You would sit in this space and be enveloped by music and projection. I had a really powerful psychotropic experience in there, assisted by LSD. That didn't exactly give me the idea for SoundSelf, but it laid the seed for the kind of experience I wanted to create."
SoundSelf's Kickstarter campaign ends Sunday, April 7 at 11 a.m. ET. At the time of this writing, it sits at a little over $32,000 in donations.