Between September 2015 and June 2016, I was working on my final year project for the Musikdesign studies at Trossingen. It is essentially a single player audio game where the player’s movements are tracked inside a room.
The title of the game is “Morpheus’ stairs”. Morpheus as a reference to the ancient Greek God of sleep and dreams, stairs meaning that the player has to descend several layers (this is similar to the concept of early dungeon crawler games like Rogue and Nethack).
It is easiest to describe the whole game from the player’s perspective:
“I open the door labeled Morpheus Stairs and enter a room with blind windows, no lights except for the glow of a laptop in the corner. The game developer gives me a special kind of headphones with a small printed circuit board attached. To play the game, I have to wear a sleeping mask and stand the middle of the room. After a short calibration (presumably of the head and positional tracker), the game starts.
A whispering voice explains that I have to find a specific spot in the room and that I have to listen closely and walk carefully.
After the introduction, another voice says that I have to look for the prime, probably referring to the musical interval.
A piano starts to play two notes. After a while, I notice that the interval between the notes changes when I turn around. Once I have fixed a prime, I start walking towards it.
I am afraid to hit the walls (since I am not able to see anything). However, the tracking system detects the proximity of the walls very accurately and plays a clear acoustical warning.
Inside each level, I use different systems of acoustical navigation to zero in on the entrance to the next level. The whispering voice tells me how to navigate. In the seventh level, the voice is silent. I get confused and start to walk around, looking for the exit. The sound of a beating heart starts to get long louder and louder, hammering into my ears. Walking around, I seem to be close to a wall more and more often. Are the walls closing in on me? Are these acoustical warnings reliable anymore? Is the tracking system broken?
Bravely, I walk a few steps, disregarding the yelling sound telling me that there is a wall. Suddenly, the heart beat stops. Everything I have heard before is played backwards with a very high pitch. Then… silence except for the calm waves of the sea. Game over.
To experience the game yourself, you can download a standalone version for Mac OS X. In the standalone, the tracking system is replaced by playable third person character. You can see the room, but the exits are hidden.
There is also a video of a complete walkthrough:
The tracking system transfer the positioning data wireless to an Arduino device which is connected via USB to a Macbook. The USB data is read via an emulated serial port, translated to OSC packets and forwarded to the Unity application which you can see in the video on screen. Thus the real movements in the room are directly projected into the virtual room of the game.
This final year project would not have been possible without the support from many people, who tested early versions, provided hardware and provided advice on the content and game mechanics. Thank you!