Soundself is a game that you can play on a standard PC, but that comes alive on the Oculus Rift.
You put on the headset, hum or chant into a microphone, and are placed into a sort of rhythmic tunnel of light and sound. Your own voice is fed back through the headphones and becomes a sort of endless, limitless loop as the game rewards changes in your pitch and rhythm with images. It’s impossible to describe, but it feels like falling into a sort of comfortable pit of pure consciousness.
Soundself creator Robin Arnott seemed frustrated when it took me a while to learn how to change my pitch in order to get the tunnel speaking to me. When everything is working it feels like the game is communicating to you, like something out of that famous scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. My humming a single tone didn't earn much of a response from the game until he tells me to change my pitch up and down a few times. Arnott is not happy that the game didn’t nudge me along.
"I want it to be awake regardless. To feel like you’re getting into that trance-space," he explained. "I really want, when you’re in that trance space, to be listening to more subtle cues. It should still feel like it’s intimately responding to you. It’s just not there yet."
This particular configuration may need a bit more tweaking, but Soundself as a whole is already a vast improvement from its early Kickstarter days. My chanting seems to have attracted some curious onlookers who want to try the game, and my conversation with Arnott takes place over the happy humming and rhyhmic exhalations of another member of the press, or possibly a developer.
Still, the game needs more work, and Arnott is feeling the pressure. "I have a time limit," he told Polygon. "I want to release when the Oculus releases. I can work on this for years and years and years and it can become like Fez, but I don’t want to do that." The original plan was a dozen or more audio/visual sequences, but now he’s aiming for five highly polished experiences. "That’s more than enough, I think."
Being there for the launch of the Rift is important, and not just for the initial wave of publicity. Selling a non-linear, non-goal based tool for transcendental meditation is tough, and the developer is hoping that early adopters of virtual realty are going to be hungry for new experiences.
"People are going to be looking for new experiences," he said. "I think launching on the Rift is going to be really valuable for this project. If I launch a month later, maybe I’ll still have access to that. But if I launch three months later? I think I have this window of opportunity that I need to hit with everything I’ve got. Because that might be it."
"If I hit that window of opportunity with something really special, maybe those people will be converts and they’ll want to see more weird stuff," he continued. "Not just for Soundself, but for other bizarre experiences."