Japan is at the forefront of developments in virtual reality (VR) devices, and Vaqso, a firm headquartered in San Francisco but with operations based in Tokyo, is pioneering a device that will let gamers enjoy a sensation long neglected by media developers: smell.
Vaqso VR is a device about the size of a candy bar that attaches to the bottom of VR goggles with magnets. It will react to different games and provide smells depending on the in-game situation. In a demonstrative game, the player could sniff gunpowder during target shooting and the aroma of peach when one was shot. A girl appeared at the end of the game, along with the smell of shampoo. But developers are interested in a much wider array of scents — fried chicken, curry, cypress, even nasty smells like rotting flesh and sewage for games like Resident Evil. The smells will also strengthen or weaken depending on the player's distance from their source.
The VR device will operate by cartridges, each of them containing a different smell; the prototype has space for three, but the developers hope to fit more than five in the final product. Shutters open at the front of the device at a signal from the game, and fans blow the smell toward the player. The device is battery-operated, and each cartridge lasts about a month, or dozens of hours of playtime.
Vaqso's CEO, Kentarō Kawaguchi, is also the CEO of ZaaZ, a company that has been developing smell-generating devices to use in sales promotion — to create the right atmosphere for a bookstore, say, or to make a vending machine or poster exude the right scent. His special advisor is Fumio Kurokawa, an opinion writer active in the video game and entertainment industries (for instance, he was once vice president of Bushiroad, the producer of Cardfight!! Vanguard). The current Vaqso VR is only a prototype, and the final product is scheduled for release at the end of the year.
Those intrigued by the girlish scent Vaqso has developed might be interested in ZaaZ's line of unusually specific fragrances, one of which is "The Smell of a Girl Wrapped in a Bath Towel After Shower." Composer Takashi Niigaki has also expressed strong scents in musical form.