What, exactly, is immersion? And do we really want it? If you're playing Theme Park, for example, would the smell of cheap frankfurters and the feel of water splashed in your face create a more compelling experience, or does it misunderstand completely what gaming is about?
Philips hasn't quite gone as far as that, but with amBX it could. Essentially, this is a simple XML- like scripting language that can be used to add environmental effects into games. Compatible peripherals - so far only available from Philips, but it's a licensable platform - will then generate those effects around in the player's room.
In the premium kit you get everything currently available, barring a set of rear satellite lamps. So that's a 'wall washer' for painting light behind your monitor, a powerful 2.1 speaker system with LED arrays built into the top of the two small variable speed fans and a wrist rumbler strip for your keyboard.
The idea stems from Philips' involvement with LED lighting. This is the future - it's environmentally friendly and can produce 14 million colours from an RGB array. As a result, the lights are definitely the strongest aspect of this kit. They change colour to reflect on-screen action even in games which aren't programmed to support amBX, and the effect is far from unpleasant - although if you're staring too hard at the screen you may not even notice it.
Where they really come into their own is when they're used counter-intuitively to the principles of naturalistic immersion: when the lightings strobes to signal an alert in Defcon or when they count down from red to green in TOCA 3. It's moments like these that show off what fun devs can have with it.
They can also be programmed to flash when you have a new IM, for example, and if you're using Media Player switch to a discotheque mode. These things are all good uses of amBX which we can see a future for - although not at the current price.
It's impossible though to be enthusiastic about the more inventive peripherals. The tiny fans are so loud as to be distracting even before the blast of air hits your face, and the wrist rumbler doesn't really work since one hand is away with the mouse most of the time.
So don't rush out to buy this first wave of amBX kits, but don't write off the levels of creativity it's possible to achieve with it. Games don't really need anything to reinforce the fourth wall and fake 'real' experiences, but amBX peripherals that do something new and interesting - if used in the right way - could be quite cool. One day.