It's been said so many times that it's straying into the realm of cliché, but 2016 has had a lot of milestones when it comes to virtual reality software. One of the big draws is the extra immersion, but South Park: The Fractured But Whole's Nosulus Rift headset proves that there are some aspects of immersion that should be left well alone.
For those of you who don't know already, the Nosulus is essentially the 21st-century version of the scratch and sniff. Both South Park games feature a lot of farting (especially in combat), and the Nosulus is designed to help you experience that as you play the second instalment.
After having used one while playing through the game's demo, I am glad that this thing is only being used as a marketing stunt. It was pretty comfortable to wear, but it did manage to produce the most disgusting smell I have ever experienced. I think my reaction speaks for itself:
It's probably not the worst smell on the planet, and right now I feel slightly grateful I haven't experienced anything worse.
The premise was simple. The headset was plugged into the game, and anytime some sort of fart-based action happened on screen it would squirt some foul-smelling perfume at you. Perfume designed to smell like a mix of cabbage, chorizo, and onions. I managed to get some on my hands as well. 12 hours and two shower later and it was still hanging around. Needless to say, I feel incredibly sorry for the poor bastard (s) who had to test this stuff and make sure it had the right odour.
Immersion is one of those things that can improve a gameplay experience, especially it if does a good job at convincing you that you're inside the game - rather than watching it on a screen. Adding smells into existing virtual reality rigs would add something to the whole experience, but the Nosulus shows this isn't always a good thing.
It might be nice to breathe in the scent of an alien atmosphere from time to time, but would you want it to come with the smell of the dead marines and alien soldiers? Probably not. Would you want to watch the gluttony and sloth scenes from Se7en while being able to smell what's going on? I certainly wouldn't.
It seems kind of fitting that South Park would be the one to come along and poke holes in the idea of truly immersive gameplay experiences, even if creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker weren't behind the Nosulus (from what I understand it was made in collaboration between Ubisoft and French creative agency Buzzman).
Thankfully the Nosulus is only a marketing stunt, and not a real product. While I'm sure there could have been a market for such a device, especially as a gag gift or for creating reaction videos, it's probably for the best that only a handful are made.
Though to be honest, it wouldn't surprise me if some company took this idea and adapted it for something slightly less unsavoury. Who knows, maybe a future expansion pack for The Division will utilise this tech to let people smell their way through post-apocalyptic New York. I shudder just thinking about it.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be released on 6th December for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.