When Rez launched on PS2 and Sega Dreamcast in 2001, it was ahead of its time. After developing a cult following and securing its place in the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibit, it was clear that the game’s unique blend of mechanics and music resonated with fans and critics alike. Today, we’re excited to share that Rez Infinite is now on PC—and you can get it for Rift on the Oculus Store!
To celebrate, we worked with Enhance Games to bring their fabled Synesthesia Suit into VR. Beginning with September’s Rift software update, you’ll be able to deck out your Oculus Avatar in infinite style.
We sat down with Enhance Games Founder Tetsuya Mizuguchi for a deep dive on all things Rez.
The Rez series has a number of cultural influences, from the paintings of Kandinsky to DJ and club culture, Winamp’s visualization plugin, and early popular depictions of VR. How did all of these threads converge and coalesce?
Tetsuya Mizuguchi: The short answer is: good karma! [laughs] I suppose these influences all lined up, over time, in the way they were meant to, which led to the creation of the original Rez. I was inspired by Kandinsky’s work and interested in the subject of synesthesia even before development began. My curiosity and fascination with VR began in 1990 with the Virtual Interface Environment Workstation (VIEW), a head-mounted stereoscopic display system developed at the NASA Ames Research Center. Meanwhile, a friend introduced me to Xenon 2 Megablast by The Bitmap Brothers, a game-changer in that it made me feel as if I were making music while I played. Years later, I had a chance to attend the Street Parade in Zurich, the largest techno festival in the world where I witnessed the crowd, music, DJ, and laser light show dynamically come together as one. These separate elements and experiences were “inputted” into me at different times through different people and connections I made—it was slowly but surely building up to something.
What inspired you to start Enhance Games and develop Rez Infinite? Why VR?
TM: Throughout my video game career, I worked on arcade, console, and mobile games. Shortly after wrapping up Child of Eden, I felt as if there wasn’t a big enough jump in the technology surrounding game development—at least not for what I wanted to do to push the synesthesic experience further. My creative ideas came to a bit of a halt because I was in need of some sort of breakthrough innovation. VR was it—and had been a theme of mine for a long time—so I knew the timing was right to hit that start button again. That’s when I formed Enhance Games. We believe in the future of VR, AR, and MR and are excited about what we can do next.
When the idea of the original Rez took shape, in my head, it was in a 3D world. So conceptually, you could say that it was already in VR. Even though the game was released over 15 years ago, it has in many ways become moreappreciated over time. It was a natural move to bring Rez to VR, but we wanted to add a new element using the current technology and tools available to us—that resulted in the new level called Area X.
Tell us about some of your early experiments with haptic feedback. How did this lead you down the path toward the Synesthesia Suit?
TM: When we developed the original Rez, I was looking for ways to enhance the 3D feeling as you played the game—an orchestra if you will, of audio, visual, and vibration (touch/feel) sensations. In addition to the controller feedback to your hands, I wanted an additional layer of vibration somewhere on your body. So we developed the Trance Vibrator, which pleasantly surprised a lot of people who had the chance to try it. I even pitched the idea of a vibration chair so that the sensation could run through your entire body.
Fast forward to Rez Infinite. When playing in VR, you’re moving around freely (seated or standing), so expanding on the chair idea and creating something the player could wear was a natural next step. The actuators on the Synesthesia Suit are strategically placed throughout the body, and each can produce a wide range of tactile sensations. From feeling percussive beats pulsing in the hips and legs to a guitar-strum wave running over the entire body, each and every sensation was created to match the in-game action and sounds through an elaborate trial-and-error process.
The synesthesia experience is one that isn’t easy to describe in words but better understood when experienced in person. While developing the suit was a challenge, I knew that I had to overcome this step in order to continue my studies surrounding haptic feedback.
How does VR as a platform add to the game’s synesthetic qualities?
TM: The biggest and maybe most obvious is that we’re able to explore the content in 3D and no longer restricted by a frame/borders. It may sound pretty simple, but it’s definitely an innovative breakthrough. I can only imagine it will get better in terms of resolution to the point where what’s in front of you in VR is as good as the real thing. This lets creators realize our imaginations, creating illusions and magical moments for the player to experience in VR. Thus, as a platform, the role VR plays in an experience’s synesthetic qualities is substantial.
Given the reciprocal relationship between player actions and the game’s soundtrack, do you think of the player as co-creating the game itself through the act of play?
TM: There’s definitely an element of that in this game, and perhaps that’s a differentiator between Rez and most other rhythm/music games. Rez doesn’t require music skills—you don’t have to have rhythm. Rather than hitting/tapping on notes that come flying at you, as you blast through a wave of enemies and eventually the boss, your actions produce sound effects, which naturally create music as it reacts with the visuals. It’s more of an audio visual spectacle in that sense and not just a music game.
Will people who purchase the game for Rift be able to play it outside of VR on their PCs?
TM: Yes! You can select to play in Desktop Mode or fully immersive VR. Bringing Rez to PC for the first time was equally important, as we wanted it to have a longer shelf-life and not be tied down to a given console or device as it was in the past. Our team worked hard to tailor it to what PC gamers care about—graphic options, resolution, texture quality, control options—not to mention a few new options for VR as well. In both Desktop Mode and VR, we’ve added View Mode, where you can pause at any point while playing the game and look around the area, taking in the environment or getting lost in the world at your own pace.
What’s the craziest reaction you’ve seen from someone demoing the game? Do you see the same sorts of responses from those who experience it in VR as opposed to outside of VR?
TM: The common reaction, especially with the Area X, is seeing folks both surprised and speechless. It takes a few seconds for them to describe their feelings in words. That’s multiplied exponentially when experienced in VR—they’re emotionally moved and their eyes fill with tears when they take off the headset. Some people have told us that they just want to stay in that space and not come back to reality.
When demoed in VR with the Synesthesia Suit, people move their body and tap their feet a lot more to the music, some dancing and even gesturing as if they were flying through a tunnel during the layer transition moments in Area X. We’ve heard all sorts of vocal reactions—some screams and shouts. I suppose it’s somewhat to be expected since most people have never experienced anything like it before, but watching people play and hearing their reactions have validated the existence of the Synesthesia Suit in a way, as it all really started out as an experiment and research project. It was definitely worth the effort.
Even outside of VR, the texture quality on PC is up to double that of the PlayStation 4 version. It’s crisp, clean, sharp with no jagged lines in the classic Rez areas, and you’re able to see details in the Area X particles that even we never noticed before! We’d like to think that there are beautiful qualities for each experience, whether in or out of VR.
Where do you think VR will take us next?
TM: We know it’s only a matter of time until VR takes us closer to reality, where the resolution for one eye will be at 4K, then shortly after at 8K—which will be like seeing the world with your naked eye. I believe the immersion and emotional connection will be that much greater when we’re at human-eye resolution. I can’t wait for my ideas and creations to come alive in that environment.
As a life-work theme, my goal is always to take the synesthesia experience further with every project. I have several ideas in other genres, so I’m very excited about where the technology will take us. We view Area X as a prologue for what’s to come and look forward to the day we can share that experience.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
TM: We believe this is the best version of Rez and Rez Infinite yet, so whether you’ve played Rez before or this is your first time experiencing the game, we hope you enjoy it. We’re sometimes surprised by how well the classic Rez areas have held up, but also be sure to jump into Area X, which is unlocked and available from the beginning—a new feature in this version. We’re pretty sure you’ll see something special that you’ve never experienced before. We very much look forward to your impressions and feedback, so please be sure to share them with us!
Thanks for all the insights, Mizuguchi-san. We can’t wait to dive in.
Are you a newcomer to Rez or a diehard fan of the franchise? Let us know what you think in the comments!
— The Oculus Team