Monday, November 14, 2011

Inception: The App

So, I need to geek out about something.  So, everyone reading this with an iPhone or iTouch, get it now.  You'll thank me later.  This app is genius.

I'm a huge appreciator of Christopher Nolan's work, and the idea of Inception intrigued me: a sci-fi action heist film based on the concept of dreams-within-dreams and planting original ideas into someone else's subconscious.

In a world where 'shared dreaming' technology exists, Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an expert 'corporate extractor'; a man who can enter into your subconscious through your dreams and steal your secrets - for a price.  Wrongly accused of his wife's murder and separated from his children, his most recent target, a wealthy Japanese businessman, gives Cobb an opportunity to be reunited with them - for a price of his own: perform the act of 'inception' to convince the son of an ailing wealthy tycoon to break up his vast energy conglomerate at his inheritance.

It's not as easy as you think.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Arthur, Cobb's right-hand man, explaining the difficult concept to Ken Watanabe playing Mr. Saito, the Japanese business man proposing 'inception'.  He's got a great moment that clarifies the difficulty:

Betcha you'll be thinking about elephants for a while.

The movie was scored by Hans Zimmer, a forward-thinking composer who's not afraid to take some risks with orchestration.  With a subject matter as musically opulent as the representation of the subconscious mind, he's completed some masterful work musically embodying some of the more significant aspects of the psyche; heightened panic, regretful longing, floating chaos.  The chase-sequence music - a piece called 'Mombasa' - is epic.

And what a way for technology to tie everything together to provide us with a gift like this.

Inception: The App uses the technology of augmented sound to "transform the world around you into a dreamworld" by incorporating the score into your everyday activities.  Walking, running, being still in a loud place, travelling faster than 30mph, even sunshine and a full moon will unlock new dreams and new music/sound augmentation that change to suit your environment and actions.  Every time you unlock a dream, the app takes a satellite picture of your location when the dream was unlocked and stores it on the dream menu, or what I'd like to think of as a two-dimensional representation of the Penrose stairs.  The centre of the maze is the button you press to take you into your 'dreamworld' - much like the device used by the characters in the movie.  Motion and GPS sensors are activated on your device to change the 'soundtrack' to suit your activity, action or weather, augmenting the music and sound around you to create a unique experience.  Here's some fun stuff about the dreams in the app itself:
  • There are thirteen dreams in total, each dream 'induced' plays a soundtrack piece from the movie, changed and augmented with layers of sounds from your environment and triggered by weather, time of day and your physical actions - or lack thereof.  Here are a few examples of the basic dreams:
    • The Reverie Dream is the first you unlock when you induce your dreamworld.
    • The Quiet Dream is unlocked when you are still in a quiet room.
    • The Still Dream is unlocked when you are still in a noisy environment.
    • The Sleep Dream is unlocked when the dreamworld is induced in a quiet environment after 11 pm.
    • The Action Dream is unlocked when you are physically active - amazing for jogging.
    • The Sunshine Dream is unlocked when you are outside and standing still on a sunny day.
    • The Full Moon Dream is unlocked during a calendar full moon.
    • The Travelling Dream is unlocked when the vehicle you are travelling in is moving at speeds faster than 30mph.
  • Your dreamworld will change dreams depending largely on your physical actions and environment.  For example, if you're running to the bus stop, the Action Dream will be induced.  When you reach it, stop running and stand to wait amidst traffic whipping by, the Still Dream will be induced.  When the bus picks up speed, the Travelling Dream will be induced.  Induce too many dreams in a row, and you will unlock Limbo, where you'll be stuck for about 4 minutes before other dreams are induced.  At this point, you may have also unlocked the Reward Dream, induced after about an hour of continuous 'induced dreaming'.
  • The Shared Dream is something amazing - this is unlocked when you have induced your dreamworld in the vicinity of another person using the app.  So, let's say you're on the subway and you've turned on this app - if you've induced a Shared Dream, there's someone else in your subway car using the app at the same time.  The more people you get into the Shared Dream, the more intense the dream becomes.
  • The Airport Dream is unlocked at the tritones played when flight announcements are made at airports.  I'm going to try to unlock this at the TTC subway.
  • Lots of folks have quams with one dream that's impossible to unlock for most - the Africa Dream.  This requires you to literally be in Africa to unlock this dream.  There are tutorials to fool your device into thinking it exists in Kenya, which will unlock this dream, but they're way too complicated for me to even try.
  • If you find yourself in a great dream you want to stay in without inducing others - say, you're jogging and you want to keep the Action Dream going, tap the infinity icon above the dream title, then the Still Dream won't sneak up on you when you're at the traffic lights or stopping to stretch.
There's a cool little Easter egg in the app itself.  Every so often, you'll hear the trumpet blares of the dreamer's 'music cue', Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien".  For a few seconds after these play, a 'subgravity sensor' is activated in your device.  So, if your device is in midair for some reason - you've jumped or you've thrown it in the air - you'll trigger the 'kick'.  The app will kick you out of your dreamworld and point a camera at you to 'capture your reality'.  I had discovered it by accident walking home from work and had no idea how it had happened!  Here's a few of the photos from taking the 'kick', depending on where I was at the time.

You really need to get this app.  It's absolutely awesome.  Enjoy this video of Hans Zimmer performing the score of Inception with a live orchestra at the film's premiere night.  Imagine this music put to your life - it's in the app!

After you download it, come back and tell me how you like it.

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