How to make your own version of the game 'Deep Sea'

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Courtesy Robin Arnott

[Editor's Note: By day, Robin Arnott is a sound designer based in Austin, TX. But he is best known as the creator of Deep Sea, a highly immersive game that our Cassandra Khaw describes as an "experiment in sensory deprivation." It simulates the experience of a diver exploring the pitch-black ocean floor, trying to avoid becoming the next meal for a sea monster.

Although Deep Sea requires a computer, it's more than just a computer game. It uses a repurposed gas mask to physically simulate the claustrophobic feeling of wearing a diving mask, and groping around the ocean floor. Robin was gracious enough to share how he put together Deep Sea with TechHive, and to provide a tutorial so you can make a version of the game for yourself.

As always, hack at your own risk. TechHive is not responsible for any problems you encounter in the off chance that something goes wrong. Also, the mask itself may restrict air circulation, so if you feel faint while playing, stop and remove the mask immediately. It might be a good idea to have a friend nearby as you play, just in case.

Without further ado, here's Robin!]

Make sure you read all the instructions before you start. And if this project interests you, go download the prototype for Robin Arnott’s next game, SoundSelf, from the Kickstarter page.

What you'll need

  • A Mac computer (sorry, it's Mac only).
  • Logitech Attack 3 Joystick (Deep Sea will only work with this joystick).
  • 2 cheap lapel microphones.
  • A great set of headphones with awesome bass response. For extra points, play with a subwoofer.
  • An audio interface with 2 inputs to match your mics. Ideally, your interface should allow you to switch between listening to your computer's output and the microphone's input, which is useful for troubleshooting. The Tascam US-100 is one of the cheapest audio interfaces you'll find, and if you buy two mini-to-RCA adapters, it works just fine.
  • A hot glue gun with several glue sticks.
  • Scissors.
  • Black flexible rubbery “fun foam” (you can find it at craft stores like Michael's).
  • Pipe-cleaners or small zip-ties.
  • Fabric for decoration.
  • A gas mask with the filter removed (you want a hard-plastic one, not a floppy rubber one).
  • The Deep Sea software (download link).

Make your mask

Deep Sea isn't just a computer game; you play it while wearing a repurposed gas mask that simulates the effect of being in a pitch-black underwater environment. Here's how to make one.

Covering the eyes with foam rubber.

Block the Eyes: Cut out the fun foam into circles slightly larger than the size of the eye-openings. Use the hot glue gun to attach them to the most protruded spot around the openings. This is going to block most of the light, but there will still be leaks around the edges. Use thick strips of foam to take care of those. Nothing likes to adhere to plastic, so deform the fun-foam into shape before sticking it on.

This is a good time to try on the mask and make sure you can't see anything.

Remove any filters or grates that cover the breathe-in valve on the mask.

Prepare the valves: Remove any filters or grates to access the breathe-out valve.

Cut out a piece of foam to cover the majority of the breathe-in valve, and glue it on with the hot glue so that air will be directed straight past the microphone. But be careful, and make sure you don't glue down the mask's diaphragm itself. It's important to use hot-glue, which is famous for its won't-get-you-high qualities. Glue selection is not the place for trial and error.

Add a piece of foam to cover a portion of the breathe-out valve. This will direct airflow past the microphone that you'll insert in the next step.

Next, restrict the breathe-out port. You don't want to prevent the whole diaphragm from working; you just want to prevent air from escaping through half of it so that air will only go out the other side of it and pass through the microphones, with the fun-foam to control the flow of air.

Attach the Microphones: Using thin strips of the fun-foam hot-glued to your microphone, secure one of the mics into a position where exhalation from the mask will blow straight into the microphone. You want to make sure the microphone itself does not interfere with the functioning of the diaphragm.

Doing the same with the microphone for the breathe-in port is a little trickier. Though this was not necessary with the mask I made here, You may have to use an additional piece of foam to cover the space above the breathe-in port, leaving an opening on the other side to direct air-flow into the microphone. The more you constrict the flow of air by blocking off channels that won’t be picked up by the microphone, the more air will flow directly past the microphone.

Next, you want to make sure that a misplaced foot won't undo all your hard work, so wrap the cabling for both microphones around the threading that used to secure the filter, and use the fun-foam and hot-glue to secure the cabling in place.

Finally, use your pipe-cleaners or zip-ties to organize the remaining length of the microphone cables.

Decorate your mask: Get creative and start decorating your mask! Barge cement works great for sticking strips of fabric to the mask. I like the bug-eye look you can get by cutting out extra circles of fun-foam and hot-gluing them on top of the original circles and fabric, but you can do whatever you like. I want to see whatever you make, so go post them on my Facebook page.

The end result.

Setting up the game

Once you're done with the mask, it's time to set up the rest of the game. These directions are for a Tascam US-100 audio interface, though it's basically the same for other interfaces.

  1. Plug the interface into the USB or Firewire port of your Mac.
  2. Set the switch next to the phono inputs to "phono".
  3. Plug the microphones into the Tascam's phono-input ports. If the breathing sound effects behave the opposite of what you expect (breathing out produces hiss, breathing in produces bubbles), then the microphones are plugged into the wrong inputs and you'll have to switch them.
  4. Set the “Balance” dial all the way to the left, and adjust the microphones' level so that the effects for breathing through the gas-mask are loud, but not peaking. Then, rotate the “Balance” dial all the way to the right.
  5. What Deep Sea's dac~ screen should look like.
  6. Open DEEP SEA and double-click "dac~" and make sure the settings match the below image. If "USB Audio Codec" is not available, quit Deep Sea and reset your audio interface (unplug it, then plug it back in). You will need to switch the AUDIO option from off to on, even if it begins in the "on" position, to enable audio. This can also be done via the checkbox above "dac~" (should have an X)
  7. Click the "New Game" button on the joystick (far-right button on base)–you should hear two beeps. 
  8. If you want to artificially constrain the length of the game by creating an invincible monster after a set period of time, use the +/- dial on the front of the joystick. All the way at "+" is for normal play, all the way at - shortens game time by creating an invincible monster after 5 minutes. You can use the dial to limit game time to as much as 20 minutes (closer to +), which is useful for exhibition environments. It should be noted, however, that the player will not die at least until they have passed the tutorial (sonar target, then 2 shots on first monster).
  9. Set the game up in a relatively quiet location. If it's a loud environment (like at a conference or party), you'll need to adjust the "conference min level" w (details below).
  10. If multiple people are playing the game, clean the mask between uses—antibacterial wipes and paper towels to dry work fine.
Courtesy Robin Arnott

Useful things to know before you play:

  • The first thing you'll hear is a sonar target pinging in the distance. Rotate left or right with the joystick to center it in your perspective, then shoot it with the trigger to begin the game.
  • After that, you'll hear monsters moaning and clicking far in the distance. The same rules apply: Rotate left, right, and shoot. But the more noise you make by breathing, rotating, and especially by shooting, the more quickly they will locate and attack you.
  • Control your breathing. The more heavily and frequently you breathe, the harder it will be to hear the monsters.
  • The game ends when you "die."
  • Be careful not to accidentally hit the "New Game" button while playing.
  • If you're getting light-headed, stop playing and remove the mask immediately. Play with a friend nearby in case you faint because of oxygen deprivation.

Troubleshooting tips

Audio sounds crackly and hissy, overall *wrong*?

  • Quit the program and reset the interface (unplug then plug back in).
  • Make sure the DAC~ settings perfectly match the picture above (including sample rate).

Breathe in/out audio not behaving predictably?

  • Use the “balance” dial to check that the mics are working.
  • Try pressing the new game button. If does not work, quit Deep Sea, unplug and replug the joystick, then start Deep Sea again.

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