Sunday, December 19, 2010

The iSmell - Smellovision for Video Games

I was perusing an old issue of the Official Dreamcast Magazine (July/August 2000) and I happened across this article about the iSmell - a product by a company called DigiScents that was going to revolutionize gaming by not only hitting your eyes and ears with sensory input but your nose as well. I thought it was interesting so I checked into it a little more.

The iSmell was developed in 2001 and used a cartridge (like an inkjet printer) that contained a number of different chemicals that could be mixed in various combinations and amounts to produce a wide variety of scents. The company had reportedly indexed the required recipes for thousands of common odors. The formula for the mixture would be embedded within a game (or other application) and sent to the iSmell via a USB connection. The chemicals would then be mixed in a chamber and dispersed into the immediate area with a small fan.

Here is what the device looked like - a shark fin on a disk. I couldn't find any reference of the product ever actually hitting production so I assume this was a prototype.

There were a number of promising demonstrations, but apparently the product never got of the ground and now the only references to it I found on the internet were mocking it as a horrible product. But I don't know, I think it would have been kinda cool. They say that scents trigger memories and emotional responses more than any other sensory input - so wouldn't it help thrust the player even deeper into the virtual world of the game? Wouldn't it be more immersive if you could smell the smoke of the burning building that Nathan Drake is trying to escape from in the upcoming Uncharted 3? The smell of the flowers that you were crawling around in during the fight with Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3? The faint whiff of an unseen monster in Resident Evil or Dead Space that got stronger as he approached? The dank underground smell of a cavern in Zork?

In 1986, the Leather Goddesses of Phobos came with a scratch and sniff card and at several parts of the game it would tell you to scratch and sniff scent #1, #2, etc.  I rather enjoyed that little novelty, and if modern tech could expand it and make it a passive inclusion rather than an active one that required you to stop playing to experience it that would make it even better.

So, assuming the product functioned properly and software developers supported it in their games, I think may have actually bought this product that never actually saw the light of day.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


Fallguy40 said...

Sense of smell in gaming is probably on the way. This gen we've incorporated motion control and Sony is now pushing hard for 3-D. Smell can't be far behind.

MadPlanet said...

I was thinking the same thing. Maybe on the PS4 and Xbox 720.

gnome said...

A fascinating read dear Madplanet, though I really wouldn't want to smell, say, a rotting zombie. Surely the good lady of the lair would have the thing thrown away anyway.

MadPlanet said...

Aye, there's the rub. Maybe if they just toned down the objectionable odors it would work OK. Could you deal with just a faint whiff of zombie? I don't know - for the immersion factor to work I think you would have to take the good with the bad. That's another point too - maybe it would work better with PC games that are generally confined to the smaller corner of the lair rather than console games stinking up the living room. Guess they could always make it an option in the main menu to turn foul odors on/off.

gnome said...

A fair technical solution, but I still prefer the scratch and sniff thingies :P

MadPlanet said...

...and once again Infocom wins the day!

Fallguy40 said...

Infocom was ahead of its time.

gnome said...

And keeps winning days.