The inside of my nose smells like South Park, and I'm worried it will never go away.
If you weren't following the Olympics—which saturated all media—too closely, by now you probably know about Nosulus Rift, a bizarre odor-VR product created for Ubisoft's latest South Park game by Paris agency Buzzman and its product arm, Productman, which launched in June.
Some background: The game, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, will be released in December, so it's deep in promotions period. Demos are already circulating at conferences like Paris Games Week and Gamescom in Cologne, Germany.
In the story, all your favorite South Park characters have formed a superhero squad, and you're the new kid, trying to fit in. You are also blessed with a unique superpower—magical farts, which enable you to fight enemies, piss off Cartman … and also travel in time.
Enter the Nosulus Rift, Productman's first-ever product.
Don't expect much: This product punts one scent, and one scent only. Today we visited the Buzzman and Productman offices to get a whiff for ourselves.
It's a tribute to Buzzman that so much energy and thought has gone into a one-off product: It involved multiple teams, including developers, hardware designers and an actual fragrance creation group, Cinquième Sens (The Fifth Sense). When I arrived, I was ushered into a room of at least 20 people, most of whom had a hand in creating the unit.
The Nosulus Rift, I was told, likely won't be used for future games or other scents, even though its sides are outfitted with capsules you can remove and theoretically swap out. The product works only for the duration of a short demo, and won't be commercialized. But you can catch it at an aggressively huge gaming con near you in the months to come. More than 20 Nosulus Rifts exist so far, and Ubisoft in San Francisco was also involved in its conception.
To kick us off, senior strategic planner Clément Scherrer of Buzzman explained the genesis of Nosulus Rift. "We had 19 seasons of pure creativity and corrosive humour to play with," he mused.
But anyone who watches South Park knows the show is so much more than fart jokes. Scherrer pointed to the Comedy Central series' delightful native advertising arc from late last year, and observed, "South Park users need more sophisticated ads for more sophisticated tastes."
The team also tore a few innovative pages out of superhero movie marketing, which Scherrer observed "is the perfect communications lab for advertising."
Thus, a product was born—one that captures fans' attention but is also sophisticated enough to respond to their more nuanced sensibilities. Benjamin Sabourin, Productman industrial designer and former Ova Design co-director, said: "We wanted it to feel like a joke, because it's South Park, but also wanted to give it a product seriousness, like Oculus."
A dream team—compiled over two months, according to Productman operations head François Phan—worked under Sabourin to perfect the unit's design, initially experimenting with vents, which they realized sent the odor wafting through the room. The olfactory leak, equivalent to when sound leaks out of your headphones, couldn't be tolerated.
"We wanted a capsule with a minimum of odor that is very precise. The air goes straight to the nose," said Sabourin. As he said this, I could smell something permeating the room—sweet and a little rancid, like when you leave a bunch of fruit pits in the trash can. (Phan would later tell me it's the smell that comes out when you liberate the products from their airtight suitcases.) The smell gave me confidence and courage; if that was the fart smell, it was tolerable.
Here's a sketch of how the Nosulus Rift evolved:
And how it looks, sitting in front of me:
The unit sits right on your cheekbones so it doesn't weigh down your face. "We don't want to condition players to the mask; we just want it to breathe," Sabourin explained.
Before retiring to the testing room, we also heard from Sarah Burri, a junior perfumer at Cinquième Sens. "We had to find the right odor," she explained. "It isn't easy when you're used to working with fine fragrances!"
They tested all the usual suspects, like eggs and onions. But what Burri ultimately realized was that the uniquely offensive aroma that emits from our asses—and incidentally, she added, out of cattle—is actually methane.
So, they worked from a base of onions and decided to mask it with something that would give it that extra oomph, settling on a jasmine essence, which has a faint fecal note. It took more than 20 attempts before the team landed on a fragrance labeled Fart No. 3, which, Burri stressed, was reworked multiple times before achieving peak performance.
Inaudible ultrasound technology was later added to each machine, enabling the mask to release its special perfume at the best possible times. Based on a moment in the game—a basic fart in a room, or an exceptional sphincter-spreading fart on a toilet—the intensity will hit you at different lengths and strengths.
It was time for us to test the goods. We filed into a small gaming room, where I watched a guy get suited up, taught the game's movements, and sent out into the South Park wild. When the Nosulus Rift drops its convoy, the unit lights up. I smelled that smell again—the rotten fruit smell—and felt confident, even as the man squinted.
Here's a short video of his experience:
Then it was my turn. I suited up. I was ready, maybe even cocky, and decided to go straight for the biggest-impact fart—the moment when the new kid goes to the bathroom, and you need to hold his two buttcheeks apart by separating and pushing down on your joysticks.
It didn't go well.
The smell was corrosive and deadly. It reached down my throat, making it scratchy, and up into my brain, where I knew it would live, fuel for my dreams. As I dropped the controller and removed the mask, I could feel it latching onto my fingers, like a Prometheus parasite.
It was nothing like the friendly rancid fruit smell I had prepared for. And as I cast my eyes around, looking for some kind of nasal equivalent to milk for hot sauce, they rested on an unmarked spray can, variations of which everyone has been spraying around to mask the actual horribleness of what attacked me inside the Nosulus Rift.
Everyone was apologetic but also very happy.
As François Phan said in a beaming press release, "More than just showing a new way to live the experience, the Nosulus Rift opens the way to a large field of new opportunities in terms of virtual reality and entertainment in sectors like TV, cinema and even retail!"
It's been hours since then, and the smell is still with me. No fart I've ever had the misfortune of walking into smells anything like it. It somehow transcends the stale odors of people's insides. It's sulphurous and sinister, rising like a phoenix out of a whole new, undiscovered level of hell. (Maybe the one where pimples are popped, ad infinitum—into eternity.)
I leave you with a video of creative directors Tristan Daltroff and Louis Adard, as well as Phan, describing—with almost comical seriousness—the merits of their achievement.
As Ubisoft so cheekily asks, "How fart will you play?"
President and Creative Director: Georges Mohammed-Chérif
Vice President: Thomas Granger
Associate Director: Julien Levilain
Creative Directors: Louis Audard – Tristan Daltroff
Artistic Director: Louis Audard
Copywriter: Tristan Daltroff
Assistant Artistic Director: Jennyfer Arduin
Account Manager: Thomas Crouzet
Senior Strategic Planner: Clément Scherrer
Head of Digital & Innovation: François Phan
Digital Producer: Samir Semaoune
Assistant Digital Producer: Soufiane Lahlou
Head of TV Production: Vanessa Barbel
TV Producer: Benoît Crouet
Head of Social Media: Julien Scaglione
Responsable Social Media: Loris Bernardini
Head of Communication & P.R.: Amélie Juillet
Communication & P.R. Manager: Clara Bascoul-Gauthier
President and Creative Director: Georges Mohammed-Chérif
Vice President: Thomas Granger
Head of Operations: François Phan
Development Director: Thomas Ceccaldi
Creators: Louis Audard – Tristan Daltroff
Hardware Engineer: Valentin Squirelo
Software Developer: Constantin Clauzel
Hardware Developer: Charles Passet
Industrial Designer – OVA Design: Benjamin Sabourin
Industrial Designer – OVA Design: Nicolas Marquis
Nose and Chemist – Cinquième Sens: Isabelle Ferrand
Nose and Chemist – Cinquième Sens: Sarah Burri
Digital Studio: Neuvième page
Senior Vice President & Marketing, EMEA: Geoffrey Sardin
VP, Marketing, EMEA: Guillaume Carmona
Associate Director, Marketing, EMEA: François-Xavier Deniele
Brand Manager, EMEA: Louis Trupin
Digital Marketing Manager, EMEA: Valentin Pasquier Desvignes
P.R. Manager, EMEA: Thomas Beaufils
Executive Producer: Yann Girard
Production Director: Aurélie Chevalier
Director: Benoît Pétré