Impact Gaming met audio designer and interactive artist Robin Arnott, creator of Deep Sea and the sound designer for Antichamber following the annual GameCity festival in Nottingham. We talk about his new exciting project SoundSelf, opinions about what games are and how he got involved in the games industry.
So first of all what is SoundSelf, what’s it about?
It’s a meditative trance experience. It’s designed to help people chase themselves in meditation state. An experience of self that is somewhat unique. I make a comparison when you have an acid trip or mushroom trip when reality shifts and you feel different. Soundself is trying to shift your experience of reality.
Since then it occurred to me this is an experience I had on psychedelics but it is a product of the brain, surely I can facilitate this sort of experience without the chemical help
What was your inspiration for making Soundself?
Well it started as a psychedelic trip at the burning man festival a few years ago, in an art project called the reOnion , they projected visualisations on the walls and you could step in this structure. I just decided to start chanting, because I feel very grounded when chanting and it just feels good, and as I do this, the voices and the music filled the space and I felt in that moment that these voices where a part of my own voice and the space those voices were filling were part of my body and the structure is part of my body and you have this expensing sense of self. Since then it occurred to me this is an experience I had on psychedelics but it is a product of the brain, surely I can facilitate this sort of experience without the chemical help and that’s why Soundself is a second iteration of that.
Its taking everything I learned making Deep Sea, I consider it to be a direct sequel to Deep Sea although they are very different games. I take what I learned from Deep Sea and my subsequent projects, and just fusing them into this alternative experience of reality.
Is it going to be a standalone project or will it somehow be fused with Oculus Rift virtual reality headset?
It does not require the Rift, although I think what it really adds to it is the isolation and you can also get isolation just by putting on headphones and switching off the lights. 3D is really nice, I really like it but you don’t need it at all to get that experience, so it’s a standalone game, and we would be selling it as any standalone PC game, we would love to get on Steam, we have our Steam Greenlight page you can check out. Going through all the normal routes that way but also kind of trying to access people who don’t really identify themselves as gamers because its appeal certainly extends beyond gamers and for people who are interested in consciousness and technology, I don’t know how to access those crowds as well as gamers yet.
What would be the things you would like to add to Soundself in future development?
Right now all tech is there, but what’s missing right now is content, we have this tunnel of light and an orb in the centre and that’s just one form we have explored. We will be exploring a whole lot of different audio visual stories. You’ll be able to move between these stories. Instead of being a sandbox experience that lasts for however long you wanted, it would be something that lasts for an hour. It will have an ark you that you’re not just there zoning out for a whole day.
We have taken that 19th century technology, put a computer behind it and you have this amazing visualization
The current visual system that my programmer Evan Bolston made is all based on the 19th century piece of parlour technology they called the harmonograph which is just weights attached to a pen. We have taken that 19th century technology, put a computer behind it and you have this amazing visualization. So he’s also created a set of visualizations based on semantics which I’m going to start playing with and there is a lot to explore in terms of audio generation. Creating that art will require tremendous amount of trial and error and well keep trying things and see how it works out.
Do you think gaming is changing? Soundself is more about the sensory experiences. Do you think the industry is slowly moving into a new direction?
Yes, but I wouldn’t say the whole industry. We are seeing a trend in a certain segment, of which I call “video-dream”. I have observed a whole lot of video dreams that people have trying to design instead of exchanging experience that you could describe by its symbols and by intellectual exercise, experiences that are sort of self-contained in describable moments of self.
Gamers have this idea of what video games are supposed to be and that tends to be a goal oriented sort of thing..,
There are a whole lot of these experiences that are designed to facilitate the shift of consciousness in that space, instead of a set of symbols and ideas that you could take away afterwards or an intellectual system like in games such as Proteus and Panoramical which are less well known. Gamers have this idea of what video games are supposed to be and that tends to be a goal oriented sort of thing, but more and more people in the industry are experimenting with experience orientated rather than extrinsically orientated games.
How did you found yourself starting in the games industry? What was your experience?
I think I stumbled in to it. I was making an experiment called Deep Sea few years ago, and Charles Pratt of NYU games centre saw it and wanted to give it the pedestal and show it to people and that was how I started out. People were very attractive to Deep Sea because it was a weird thing and a really new idea and that was sort of my start- chasing something I really liked and then people liked it and that gave me innumerable opportunities, that’s how I met Alexander Bruce and started working on Antichamber and that’s how I started getting involved in the independent games development community.
If it is an art form, it is an expressive media, then you should express yourself. If you are true to yourself and what you are expressing then chances are it is going to be true to other people…
But there are so many ways into games, one of those ways is- find out what industry wants and get the skill set to do it but I don’t think that is a particularly interesting entry in to any art form. If it is an art form, it is an expressive media, then you should express yourself. If you are true to yourself and what you are expressing then chances are it is going to be true to other people and from there you’ll be able to hopefully make a living out of it, or if you don’t make living out of it you are at least doing something you love. What I’m doing with Deep Sea and Soundself are very niche and strange things and I have to work really hard to get it out there and say
“No really you should try it. I know it’s not what you expect or what you think you want but when you try it it’s going to make your brain do interesting things and you’ll like that”
And once people try it, they do like it. It is still a niche thing and convincing people that they will like it is hard, but I find that way more interesting and rewarding than working at a triple A studio or somewhere where you hear horror stories of people being overworked and not feeling creatively fulfilled. I guess for people wanting to go into games – do what feels right, you don’t need to follow a certain path that everyone says you need to. Anyone who says “Here’s how you get into games” or something, you should not listen to them.
Whats next after GameCity, what’s the next stage of your journey?
After GameCity I’m going home for a week and then I’m going to MineCon and our programmer is going to GamerCamp and those are the last places we are showing SoundSelf for at least a few months. We will be diving right in the development. I was talking about how game wants a lot more content and that’s what I’m going to be doing with this- just building up the content. Getting back in that creative space. I will continue writing my weekly blog on the Soundself website which is full of philosophical things and I hope people are interested and would support the project.
Images- Soundself and Ashley Bird via Flickr.