The algorithms of sensual touch
Published 2 years ago
The making of an abstract but sensual game
La Petite Mort is an experimental digital erotic experience designed for touch. Its simplistic style and musical design, moves you through highly pixelated but weirdly sensual landscapes, ending in a cacophony of musical climaxes.
In La Petite Mort (hereafter LPM) many considerations have gone into designing a system to enable the player to feel erotic and sensual sensations playing the game. In this article, I will break down the technical aspects, as well as the design thoughts behind, that allow this kind of sensuous experiences.
LPM is a female stimulation simulation game. Games that try to tackle this subject, are quite often made from a male-centric viewpoint and where competition is a necessity in the game design. What we most definitely wanted to avoid, was the cliche of “how quickly can you make the woman cum”.
I do not share notes on “performance time” with my friends and definitely not with my partner. It is much more about the experience itself. So our thoughts went much more into how to make the actual pleasuring, pleasurable. This is why we have made a couple of design decisions to enable the player to take it slow and savor the moment. When a player does this, something magical happens: The “game” is no longer perceived as a game and the finger movement on the screen, slow and sensual, while the music is building in intensity and reacting to your touch, is suddenly perceived as an erotic experience, with the bonus of a climax in the end; Literally and musically.
At its core, LPM is a musical experience. There are 4 playable “levels”, each composed by a different composer that had the task of envisioning what building up an erotic experience in music would be like. Each musical piece is then composed of different layers that are turned on as the overall sensation is increasing.
There are 2 ways the player can interact and touch the screen, slowly and teasingly (around non-sensitive areas; more about this later) or a bit faster and on sensitive areas. These 2 modes of interaction are then fed into the music system that controls the “sensation” and “desire” layers of the “direct interaction” part of the composition (as seen in the image below). This way the player feels like the game is more responsive - and in effect the pleasuring experience more real.
As mentioned, it was very important to us that this game feels real and is not a typical game about stimulation. That is why we also felt that the images, even though they only are 20x30 pixels blown up to a big size were of real women. 

If we were to use pornography: 1. we might have copyright infringement, but more importantly, 2. the vulvas and women of pornography are mostly of the same type. 
Vulvas come in all shapes and sizes as seen in Cunt Touch This, an experiment that was made last year about coloring cunts. This is why we also wanted our, albeit pixelated, vulvas to be of real life women. So we went out and recorded some women (a couple of friends and some from a conference) who were willing to donate a recording of their vulva movements to our game. These were then recorded in “normal” (slight movement) and “ouch” (where the woman pulled back as if they did not like the touch) mode, color graded to the final four colored monochromatic look and exported to a series of 20x30 PNGs to be embedded in the game. The video is then played back by having a plane where the texture is exchanged to the next image in the sequence every xx ms. This is possible to do because the nature of the texture files being so small, and the image sequence loop not being too long. Having an HD video of multiple minutes rendered to an image sequence of PNGs would not be viable, for example. But the low pixel count is not just a convenience for image sequences, they also serve an aesthetical purpose and an algorithmic purpose. 
Aesthetically it is not so overwhelming. Like having a vulva right in your face! Which makes it more about touching, again, and not so much about looking. In a way, you can almost not even see what it is. This, of course, makes it easier to release on platforms that have strict non-explicit terms (although this was already too much for Apple), but also serves the purpose of titillation. We find it much more erotic to imagine what (or who) is behind these pixels than to have an explicit version.
Behind the pixels lies an algorithm called Cellular Automata as known in Convey’s game of life. These algorithms are usually used in a step-wise fashion to simulate emergent behavior but are in our case used to in real-time to spread a certain “touch energy” to neighboring pixel cells. The touch energy then flows to more sensitive areas based on the sensitivity map as seen below. The algorithm uses a von Neumann neighborhood to see what the sensitivity of the underlying pixels are and flows accordingly. This gives a kind of emergent flow feeling.
The sensitivity map and a 20x30 vulva.
Furthermore, each cell’s sensitivity together with the overall “sensation” and “desire” feelings dictate how quickly each cell wants to be touched. If a cell is being touched too quickly, then it is “unpleasant” for the system and the “sensation” and “desire” drops. But as you slowly build up the overall sensation and desire each cell also becomes more acceptive of faster touch; to a certain degree of course. It is up to you to find the sweet spot and to enjoy the moment.
This all comes together in the sensual touch as seen in the video below. Individual cells and a music system that each respond to your touch. Music by composers putting in many thoughts into making non-cliche, yet erotic compositions. Aesthetics that only hint at something explicit and a slow moving interaction from the player comes together to a kind of erotic experience, that, at least, I have never seen designed for touch devices!
Patrick Jarnfelt