Will Wright recently said he believes 'personal gaming' is a major new frontier for games, defined as games where an individual user's actual life and surroundings tailor the experience.
RJDJ's Michael Breidenbruecker, who was also a founder at last.fm, has the same idea. His company's work began with creating experimental sound platforms for musicians, but quickly moved into using sound for augmented reality mobile apps. RJDJ partnered with screenwriter Christopher Nolan on Inception: The App, which reached 4 million downloads.
Following that success, the team's begun beta testing its original mobile game project Dimensions, which uses augmented sound to turn the world around a player into an adventure game intended to enhance reality, not pull focus from it onto closed experiences as games traditionally do.
"When people talk about augmented reality, they usually think it's about visuals that are put on top of the camera image," Breidenbruecker explains to Gamasutra. "It's always a visual thing. But not many people think that the same can be done with sound."
Though Dimensions is played with headphones, the technology enhances and manipulates nearby sound, instead of covering it over. "It's almost like you have a hearing aid: You hear everything around you, but it's enhanced. If there are certain noises coming in, we are analyzing them and transforming them into a nice-sounding musical soundscape."
Players can enter and exit different "dimensions" within the game through their activities. Because Dimensions makes use of the phone's hardware to detect player movement and location, different kinds of soundscape realms become available if the player is active versus sitting still, or being loud versus quiet. The player's behavior unlocks new dimensions -- for example, there's a "Ghost" dimension that can only be accessed in the hour between midnight and 1 AM.
As a "dimensionaut," players receive missions from a soothing mission-controller named Emily, involving collecting artifacts and fighting Nephilim, villains that occasionally appear within one's dimension. The player uses their actual map location to find nearby artifacts and enemies.
The overall experience is serene and unintrusive, and the use of "augmented sound" is much more interesting to experience than it is easy to describe. Dimensions sounds complex in description, but in practice is simple and easy to play and understand.
"We actually feel it's too innovative, in many ways," Breidenbruecker tells us. With so few games that use sound and motion mechanics in this way, the concern is that players won't understand how to approach Dimensions, or may avoid it.
Breidenbruecker says RJDJ was founded on the principle that mobile phones are "the Walkmans of the 21st century -- but they can do so much more," he explains. "It's really a realtime experience, it's much more a gaming experience than it is a passive listening experience."
The Inception app (based on the film about traveling among dream layers, naturally) was the team's first effort at applying a gaming mechanic to sonic unlockables. Famed soundtracker Hans Zimmer was so enthusiastic that he'll be contributing music to one of Dimensions' levels.
The Inception app helped millions look at gaming in a new way, says Breidenbruecker. "We all know Kinect and EyeToy and all that stuff, but with the phone, now you can take it way out there; you can have all sorts of interface ideas for a game. And that's what we did, and that's how we designed this game."
"This should totally be a companion to your real life," he adds. "Most games are designed so that they need your full attention -- you either interact or you don't, but when you interact, you're in that world. What we tried to do is make it work in parallel to whatever you do, to your life, really. You just put it in your pocket, and everything is around you is enhanced."
Dimensions is currently slated to release early in December.