If it’s possible to have too much mindless fun at a film festival, I’ve done it. Not stupid fun, to be clear, just fun that defies rational analysis — in this case, a full-body haptic suit created for the cult musical shooter Rez Infinite. The Synesthesia Suit straps 26 discs around your arms, legs, and torso, where they vibrate in time to an experience. Combine it with a virtual reality headset, and you’ve got a perfect way to escape the crowds of something like Sundance.
The Synesthesia Suit was created by the Keio University Graduate School of Media Design’s Embodied Media Project in Japan, in partnership with experimental art company Rhizomatiks. Its designers worked with Rez director Tetsuya Mizuguchi, but the suit isn’t exclusive to that game, nor to the PlayStation 4 platform Rez Infinite is on — at Sundance, you could also try it on the HTC Vive with Crystal Vibes, a more open-ended psychedelic landscape.
What’s the genre?
What’s it about?
Feeling your entire body pulse in time to a universe of swirling colors, like you’re standing next to the speakers at a stadium concert while taking the movie version of LSD.
Okay, what’s it really about?
How I want to stay there playing Rez Infinite forever and never leave.
But is it good?
One-size-fits-all haptic clothing is tough because you’ll only feel vibrations if the hardware is close to your skin, but the Synesthesia Suit works great, because it’s essentially a series of straps pulled tight around your body. (Dear Angelica’s art director Wesley Allsbrook described it to me as “kind of dominatrix-y,” which is apt.)
Rez Infinite is an absolutely perfect companion to the suit, especially in virtual reality. The original Rez, which Rez Infinite remasters and expands, famously had a peripheral that doubled as a sex toy, but the Synesthesia Suit is less... intimate. It just heightens the game’s meditative, otherworldly style, letting you really feel your character rushing through surreal landscapes fighting squid-like voxel enemies. Crystal Vibes didn’t work as well for me, but only because the experience itself wasn’t as compelling — it was interactive enough that I felt like I should be doing something, but not responsive enough that I felt like my body was really in the space.
Seriously, though, the fact that I am typing these words right now instead of playing Rez Infinite in the Synesthesia Suit makes me deeply sad.
What emotions are involved here?
Why am I not back in Rez already; this is terrible.
How can I actually try it?
The suit’s creators told me they’ve been barraged with questions about where to buy it, and although it’s not for sale right now, they’re considering turning it into a commercial product for institutions like universities. They also showed me pictures of a modular version, so you could buy a smaller group of sensors to fit around, say, your chest and shoulders — just enough to receive a virtual hug.
But if you’re at Sundance, don’t even think about going to check it out. It’s mine.