Electron Dance
15Mar/15Off

Dabbling with… DEEP

The third episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

deep

I was blundering around the Leftfield Collection when I recognised Christos Reid who I knew from pub drink shenanigans with Joe Martin. I said HI and he told me he was just standing in temporarily for Owen Harris who was there exhibiting DEEP, an Oculus Rift title. Great. An Oculus Rift title. Do you know how many Oculus Rift games I've played? If you guessed "one", then you guessed one too many.

Harris returned and I thought, well, it would be rude not to, right?

Except DEEP is dependent on not just the Oculus but also a custom piece of hardware that looks like, uh, a bomb belt without the explosives. Getting the belt attached and set up was a delicate operation - we're talking prototype here - and Harris asked if I'd ever tried any diaphragmatic breathing. I said no and he said, well, let's see how it goes. It's essentially breathing with your diaphragm and your belly expands as you take in a deep breath. The belt's job is to tell the game when you've taken a deep breath, and you only move in DEEP when you do so. The game is therefore best understood as a deep breathing meditation.

At first everything was blurred because I took my glasses off. I just assumed I wasn't supposed to wear them inside the visor. After putting them back on, everything became crystal clear. I'm not sure whether it was the laptop hardware involved or the limitations of the Oculus Rift, but the resolution made it seem like something rendered on the Sega Saturn - and frame rate was noticeably sluggish. Remember, first VR experience. But in-game movement is slow and gentle, which means the chances of getting sick in DEEP are extremely low.

I'm not going to write about my love for VR and how it's going to change everything everything because I didn't get that at all. But in DEEP, I learnt several things:

  • One is that I could still feel a game/reality discontinuity; even though I was inside a virtual reality environment, I was still completely aware of being at Rezzed, although that awareness was more subdued.
  • Second, it is a lovely experience to crane your neck around to see things in a computer-generated environment and I found myself staring upward towards shoals of fish most of the time.
  • Third, DEEP successfully exploits the ability of games to get players to push themselves beyond their normal tolerances in pursuit of fun, as I am sure I was holding my breath for much longer periods of time than would normally be comfortable.
  • Fourth, the game gets quite frustrating when the belt slips and no longer measures your breathing effectively.
  • Fifth, diaphragmatic breathing really makes you feel fat when you're doing it in public, although VR helps suppress such tinges of embarrassment.

When I walked away from DEEP, I was disappointed I couldn't quite articulate to Harris all of these thoughts buzzing around my head. Above all, it was a delightful experience.

The game is still in development and will require special hardware to operate. Here's a video that should give you at least an idea of what it plays like.

For more information, check out Owen Harris' page on DEEP.

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