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Q&A: Jo Cook On amBX's 'Full Sensory' Gaming Experience

In a new interview, Gamasutra talks with Jo Cook, Chief Marketing Officer for Philips amBX about the company's new 'full sensory' peripheral system, what it adds to the gaming experience, and its anticipated adoption rate from consumers.
Philips’ amBX system proposes to provide a full sensory experience for PC gaming through the use of fans, ambient lighting, speakers and “wrist-rumblers”, amongst other peripherals. The system has been in development since 2000, with the first amBX enabled game, Broken Sword: The Angel of Death released September of this year. The first range of amBX products are slated for a January 2007 release in both Europe and the US, with prices starting at US$199 for a basic kit, which contains “directional wall washer light, controller unit and satellite lights” - the full line-up was recently detailed and pictured on Gamasutra sister site GameSetWatch. Gamasutra spoke to Jo Cook, Chief Marketing Officer for Philips amBX about the system, what it adds to the gaming experience, and its anticipated adoption rate from consumers. What's the background of the amBX project? amBX, short for "ambient experiences" was developed by Philips research and forms part of Philips' vision to create ambient technologies which extend home entertainment and day to day living environments in a smart yet simple way. amBX is a license technology which is set to be the "de facto" standard for a new generation of immersive entertainment providing full "sensory surround" What kinds of peripherals are used in the amBX system? To date, Philips has announced a full line-up of amBX peripherals for the PC platform. The peripherals line-up includes LED lights, fans and a wrist-rumbler, which will all work in concert to replicate in the real-world events that are happening within the game. Other hardware companies under an amBX license will follow-up with their own ranges of amBX peripherals. What does the amBX system add to the gaming experience? The Philips amBX peripherals will redefine the experience of playing video games. Once you've experience a game using the amBX peripherals, you’ll never want to go back to just playing the game as it is today, confined to your monitor or TV screen. The amBX peripherals replicate events within the game by extending the game world from the screen into your game room. So, for example, if you're driving a car in a game on a sunny day, the peripherals will replicate that environment with the LED lights glowing a yellowish hue and the fans blowing air at you. As you go into a tunnel in the game, the lights will go dark, and then come back on as your car emerges out of the tunnel. Which peripheral would you say adds the most immediately noticeable change to the gaming experience? The LED satellite lights that sit next to your monitor and the Wall Washer lights that flood the wall behind the monitor with light are probably the most noticeable at first glance. But, which effect will be the most popular really does come down to individual tastes. In our testing, we've found that there is a large group of people, who prefer the fans to some of the other effects, for example. They say that once the fans hit you in a driving game or a flight simulator, it really is the most immediate effect and truly helps bring the game world out into the player’s room. How many games are currently supporting the technology? Philips amBX has announced partnerships with a variety of publishers and developers. We have announced THQ as an amBX partner, and we're looking into enabling some of their most recognizable games. We have also announced partnerships with developers such as Revolution Software, developer of Broken Sword IV, Sumo Digital and Kuju Entertainment, developers of Rail Simulator. Other announcements are forthcoming, so please keep your eye out for that, including additional partnerships with more high-profile publishers. But at the end of the day, the result of this partnership will be some key games that will be fully amBX enabled, that will be available day and date with the launch of the peripherals. In fact, as we've announced, the various amBX peripheral retail kits, from the starter kit to the pro gamer kit will come packaged with a varying number of games - from one game for the starter kit, to three packaged, fully amBX enabled games for the pro gamer kit. How many developers have expressed an interest in supporting the technology, and when do you expect to see product from them? Products from a variety of developers will be available on launch day in January 2007. However, in addition to the fully enabled amBX games that support the LED lights, fans and rumblers, we have also developing an application called the FX Generator, that will come packaged with the peripherals. It will add limited ambient effects, using the LED lights, to a large library of existing PC titles. What advantages does the system have for developers who decide to support the technology? Developers, when they first see the amBX peripherals in action, are awed by how the system is able to make their games even more immersive and how, through the use of the peripherals, they are able to further enhance the player experience for their titles. But developers, the creative bunch that they are, have already started to play around with other functions for the amBX peripherals, other than replicating events in the game within the real world. For example, they're using the LED lights as cues that tells the player where things are located within a particular environment. So, if your character in the game should pick up an item on the right side of the room, the developers code their game so that the right satellite lights in your amBX setup will light up to indicate that to the player. Similarly, developers can indicate open doors to the player as they pass by them by having the game tell the fan peripherals to blow air. So, even if your character in the game doesn't see the open door, you'll be able to tell it’s there just by feeling the draft of air through the fan peripherals. There are so many different applications of the peripherals, other than replicating the game environment. So, in this way, it really does give the developer a lot of creative freedom in scripting a game for the amBX system. What kind of adoption rate do you expect to see from consumers? The Philips amBX peripherals will launch first for the PC platform and is primarily aimed at the PC gamer. However, the amBX system is versatile enough so that it can not only be used for playing games, but also for listening to music, to create ambient mood lighting and also when watching movies on your PC. So, we expect it to appeal to all consumers who are interested in this type of immersive experience, whether it’s a revolutionary enhancement for gaming or one of the other forms of entertainment. However, the potential for amBX on console is huge and we look forward to working with the next-gen platforms as they too open up a world of possibilities. Do you think the price is low enough to attract entry level users, and do you believe the system will become significantly cheaper over time? The availability of kits ranging from a start kit to a premium kit provides the consumer with a choice which can suit their pocketbook. They can also expand their kit by adding extensions and combining kits. How important a consideration do you believe immersion of this nature will be for next-gen gaming? With every new console incarnation, the graphics get that much better. But its all marginal at some point right? Because you're only going to be able to throw so much technology behind a console and improve the graphics only so much. So, how do you extend the player experience further and make the games even more realistic in a truly tangible way? You create environments in the real world that extends the game beyond the screen. And you involve all of the player's senses, not just through sound and in-game visuals, but with the amBX peripherals through lights, fans, air and other "effects" that help convey the feeling of being inside the game world. The amBX peripherals are attempting to cross the traditional thresholds of player immersion and will introduce a new way of playing games. It will create a gaming environment which, if you're removed from it, you'll miss it. In that sense, the experience of playing amBX-enabled games using the Philips amBX peripherals is similar to experiencing surround sound for the first time. Once you've got a good surround sound setup in your home, you can't imagine watching movies or playing games without it. We expect that with amBX we'll see the same type of user reaction. Striving for increased realism can now be extended to providing an emotional or sensory experience as well as better graphic and sound - this is where amBX provides a truly immersive experience. How expandable is the system for future peripherals? amBX enables hardware manufacturers to think outside of the box with products, creating products that can deliver an experience rather than just a function so there will be many different types of peripherals introduced into the market in the future. amBX is flexible so it can accommodate any number of peripheral devices meaning the consumer can create an amBX world in their home. What will we see from the system in the future? In the long-term, amBX will be in all our homes in some form or another, providing a network for ambient experiences, whether you are playing a game or watching a movie, surfing the net or simply enjoying music with the lighting in the room enhancing the mood.

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