We Tested This South Park Fart-Smelling VR Device, and Now We Can Never Unsmell It

Buzzman subjects us to the Nosulus Rift

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: