We cannot speak, which in this line of work is something of a problem. We’ve just played Rez Infinite while wearing a PlayStation VR headset, a pair of 7.1 headphones and the Synaesthesia Suit – not the spangly Daft Punk outfit Tetsuya Mizuguchi wore on stage at PlayStation Experience, but a prototype, a morass of straps, sensors and Velcro dreamed up by Rez’s creator and designed with the help of his students at Keio University. It features 26 different points of vibration, making our arms, legs and torso ripple in time to the action. Were we wearing the suit while playing the Dreamcast original on a creaky old CRT, it would be merely scintillating. Consumed via PlayStation VR, at 120fps, it’s simply spellbinding. And so after we’ve de-suited, sat down next to Mizuguchi and been asked how we feel, we simply don’t know what to say.
Happily, he doesn’t seem offended. “When you first look at an amazing piece of art, you tend to have that same reaction,” he says. “You don’t know what words describe it. That’s quite normal.” During a VR-focused discussion the night before, he had drawn comparison to a baby’s first word: you know it’s coming, but have no idea what it might be. Or, in our case, when it will even come.
A man whose back catalogue includes a game about a news anchor fighting aliens with dance moves was never going to have too much of an interest in real life when contemplating his first VR game. “If we only pursue realism in VR, we’re going to hit a wall,” Mizuguchi says. “Let’s say in five years we move onto 8K, and you try to do something realistic in VR… I don’t know how much further we’re going to be able to go.”
Mizuguchi has been quite open about the inspiration for Rez being the times he spent in fields full of people on various mind-altering substances. More than any other game, Rez has long been the choice of the drug bores: oh, you simply must play it stoned. Well, no longer. The game in VR, and the suit into which we’re so tautly strapped, are intoxicating enough. And our vestments’ vibrations have clearly been engineered by a man who has danced through his fair share of sunrises. Tingles flow down the arms. Drumrolls dance across the chest like gunfire. One transition between an area’s layers sees the vibration home in on the pit of the stomach, which just might be a facsimile of a specific narcotic sensation designed by someone who has felt it many times.
The suit is a marvel, but it’s more installation piece than peripheral, too cost-prohibitive for the store shelf and surely destined instead to a life on the event circuit. Few people will get to experience this kind of environment at its optimal extreme, but Mizuguchi is thinking about how the PlayStation 2’s Trance Vibrator could be redesigned for 2016, should Infinite sell well enough. No matter: even without the suit, Rez Infinite is an absolute delight. Full 360-degree head tracking means lining up targets is a simple matter of holding X on the DualShock 4 in your hand, looking at them one by one, then letting the button go. It feels like it was made for VR all along. Indeed, if Mizuguchi’s to be believed, it was always meant to be.
The Synaesthesia Suit in all its glory.
“When the original concept came together, the image I had in my head was Rez in virtual reality. We all know the limitations we had at that time in terms of output – 4:3 tube TVs with poor resolution and sound. I had this vision, but I had to trim it and squeeze it into the parameters of the specs available.
“To me it was a work in progress, a step towards the vision in my head. Fast forward 15 years and I’m able to relieve myself of the stress that was caused by having to put it into such a small screen. That weight is lifted from my shoulders, because I’m able to create the Rez I always wanted.”
It’s a convincing argument, if only because it feels like it would never be created as a VR game from the ground up today, since it flies in the face of too much accepted wisdom. It creates fantasy, when most strive to replicate reality. It’s viewed, contrary to the emerging industry standard, in third-person. It offers 360-degree movement with no solid ground to give you your bearings. And the camera abruptly shifts its gaze by 90 or 180 degrees whenever it feels like it. It shouldn’t work, yet the result is one of the most convincing use cases the modern VR scene has produced. Sudden lurches in perspective to the side or behind you yield no ill effects – a consequence of the third-person view – though our demo is not without its nauseous moments. Just don’t look down.
Mizuguchi’s PlayStation Experience stage demo ended with a flash of a new area – is that a bonus level, or the start of something new? “All I can say is that in my head it would be the latter,” the designer replies. “It would represent a new Rez, not just a new area. Today’s technology is going to allow me to properly express the Rez I always dreamed of.” Lord only knows how long it will take our brains to process that.
This feature originally appeared in Edge, the world’s most respected games magazine, which has been running for over 20 years. Issue 290 is out now.