Sound is a powerful and often underappreciated aspect of the computer and video games experience. But what would happen if it was brought to the forefront, to the exclusion of visuals?
That's the question that new studio EarGames seeks to answer. Headed up by Brian Schmidt, the man behind the original Xbox's distinctive startup sound, EarGames aims to create games and interactive applications driven primarily by sound rather than visuals.
EarGames will use a 3D audio technology from QSound Labs -- who have a marvellously '90s-looking website, incidentally. QSound are responsible for, among other things, the relatively well-known Virtual Haircut positional audio demo that a lot of people have found to be a rather relaxing experience to listen to. Schmidt, meanwhile, has plenty of his own experience in the 3D audio field: he deisnged the 3D audio chip for Capcom's arcade game system, and was responsible for bringing Dolby Digital Live to the original Xbox, helping to make true digital 5.1 surround sound an important part of modern gaming.
EarGames' first projects will be targeted at iOS users. Due to the portable, personal nature of these devices and the fact that they're often used in conjunction with headphones, they're a good fit for the intimate nature of sound-based video games. While EarGames' work is not specifically designed for blind gamers, Schmidt acknowledges that audio games are a good fit for those who suffer various degrees of visual impairment.
EarGames' first title, known as Ear Monsters and described as an "Audio Fruit Ninja," is out now on the App Store, but it's not the first of its type. Other noteworthy audio games already available for iOS include the frankly terrifying Papa Sangre, and the rather unnerving The Nightjar, featuring the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. If you don't have an iOS device but do have a PSP or Vita, you may also wish to check out the horror visual novel Corpse Party; it may not be a dedicated "audio game" in the same way as the other titles linked here, but it makes some of the most impressive use of 3D sound I've ever heard. Wear headphones, and bring a change of underwear.
Audio games are something genuinely new in a medium normally dominated by visuals. If you've never experienced one and have a compatible device, turn out the lights, close your eyes and check out one of the games linked above -- you might be surprised how immersive good 3D audio can be.