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Tokyo Thrift: The Rez Trance Vibrator is gaming's most intense peripheral

If you read our coverage of Tokyo Game Show earlier this month, you’ll know that Rez is my favorite game of all time, and that the new version for PlayStation VR is its most spectacular iteration yet. Rez Infinite is the rare example of a pre-existing game that feels like it was designed for virtual reality, despite first coming out fifteen years ago.

But fifteen years ago, designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi was no less concerned with how to amplify the Rez experience, even on modest hardware like the PlayStation 2. Okay, so you couldn’t immerse yourself in Rez‘s wireframe world by enveloping your field of vision with a stereoscopic OLED display. But you could use the Trance Vibrator.

Tokyo Thrift is a column on The Verge where Sam Byford, news editor for Asia, trawls the second-hand market to explore the history, design, and culture of Japanese gadgets. It runs on the last Sunday of each month.

The Rez Trance Vibrator, manufactured by ASCII and released only in Japan, is a relic of a time when Japanese video games would often ship with wild single-function peripherals. (Remind me to write about my beloved JogCon, a PlayStation 1 controller for Ridge Racer Type 4 with a built in force-feedback steering wheel, someday.) It came out alongside Rez on November 22nd, 2001; I managed to find a sealed unit for about $30 this month. It is not much more than what it sounds like: a vibrator. You plug it into one of the PlayStation 2’s USB ports, and it vibrates.

To understand why anyone would want such a thing, you have to understand Rez. Rez is not so much a game about music as a game constructed from the fabric of music. You’re not playing an instrument — you’re shooting weird enemies inside a computer network. But with each shot you make, you add to the soundtrack so that by the end of the stage you’re both listening to and helping to create a frantic techno maelstrom.

rez infinite

The inspired use of rumble functionality is a big part of this — the game wouldn’t work nearly as well without it. I’ll never forget the first time I finished a Rez stage and how my hands felt an actual sense of loss as the tiny motors in the PlayStation 2 pad spun down to a halt. But it’s a tall ask for a game controller to transliterate Rez‘s frenetic lights and music into physical movement.

“[It] was kind of a joke, but a very serious joke.”

That’s where the Trance Vibrator comes in. Designed to be placed in a pocket, by your feet, under a cushion, or really anywhere that might come to mind, it shares the vibration load with the PS2 controller. Usually, this means that the Trance Vibrator provides a regular pulse along with the bass of the music, boosting the game’s clubby feel while freeing up the controller to focus on recreating melodic flourishes. “[It] was kind of a joke, but a very serious joke. No sexual meaning,” Mizuguchi later recalled. “We always listen to music by ear, and you can watch the visuals moving, the dynamics in Rez, so it’s kind of a cross-sensation feeling.”

Does this enhance the experience as much as a VR headset? Of course not. But it does bring another dimension to Rez‘s multisensory fusion of play and music, and while I’m not holding my breath, I’d love it if Rez Infinite found a way to incorporate the peripheral. The Trance Vibrator is a pretty much unnecessary yet gloriously gratuitous testament to the sorts of things Japanese game developers could get away with in the heady days of the PlayStation 2. Rez was never going to be a huge hit, yet Sega and ASCII were able to produce one of the most obscure and narrowly focused USB peripherals ever for it.


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