London Games Festival: Palimpseste builds a lo-fi virtual reality world with coloured glass
There are VR evangelists on every street corner, ready to shake you by the collar and shout with spittle-thick breaths that Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again. The looming rollout of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR has riled up the games industry – sometimes with good reason – but it has also led to a subversive backlash; a lo-fi kicking against the pricks of virtual-reality hardware.
Sitting on a table at Now Play This in Somerset House, Palimpseste looks like a makeshift VR device. Put it on your head and you’ll discover it’s actually a rotunda of three coloured sheets – red, green and blue. In front of the headset is a controller and a monitor. Without the headset on, the LCD screen – its polarising layer removed – is pure white, but strap the headset to your face and a winding RGB labyrinth is revealed.
The idea is to manually choose the headset filters to uncover secret pathways. Seeing red and can’t find a way forward? Switch to green and look again. Designed by Simon Chauvin, Romain Enselme and Gaël Bourhis of French collective Le Chant du cygne, it’s a clever mix of different control types, with the controller pad dictating movement and the headset ordering vision.
While Le Chant du cygne’s game is decidedly lo-fi, it shares at least one overlap with virtual reality. The necessity of the headset to revealing the map creates a disparity between what the player sees and what others see. To an onlooker, the player is staring at a white screen; to the player, they are stuck in a maze. Play with a friend using a seperate headset and there’s a sense of intimacy to the collaboration, as if you’re writing letters in invisible ink.
If you’re in London, you can have a go on Palimpseste at the Now Play Festival, happening from 1-3 April in Somerset House. Other highlights include Miyu Hayashi and Pär Carlsson’s Shiki-on, which lets you make music by drawing images on a piece of paper, and Robert Yang’s Cobra Club, described by its creator as a “dick pic simulator”. You can actually play Yang’s game online, if you’d rather do so in the privacy of your own home. It’s NSFW, obviously.