Static washes out your vision, slowly fading away to reveal large and impossible geometric objects reaching up and out as far as you can see. Dead machinery jutting out from pastel colored ground and rock. You don’t know how exactly you got here nor how any of these strange constructs were built. Your legs carry you across the land, poking your head into enclosed buildings that might as well be giant tombs. At last, you come across an object that emits a strange hum. You touch it and the hum changes pitch slightly in reaction. You move it around and it changes tempo and pitch respective to where it was before. You don’t know what is going on but you sure as hell are nodding your head.
FRACT OSC is like a Fantasia for the dance-minded music fans. IDisneylandM, if we were to give it a genre tag in our music player. Much like the Aggro-crag, every area on the map is color coded according to the theme of the sounds you’ll expect to hear. Pink acts as your bubbling leads, blue as your bass and green as the airy pads. Each instrument has its own dedicated area in the mountain area FRACT takes place in. The leads come from such towering heights, the pads sit in the middle and the bass rumbles on from down below. There are other, smaller details which show themselves to musician and non-musician alike which key you in to each place’s role in the overall scheme of what is going on.
Exploration is only one part of what makes FRACT tick. The tock of the metronome comes from the game’s puzzles. Each instrument has a specific puzzle type which increases in difficulty as you progress through them. The block movement and pad rotation puzzles were fine, but the last laser puzzle in the bass area had me tearing at my hair a while. Overall though I didn’t find any of them prohibitively difficult (though the ease of a majority of them may disappoint hardcore puzzle game fans) and FRACT always allowed me the freedom to leave any given puzzle to explore at my leisure. I would have to come back to it eventually if I wished to see the end, but the lack of pressure really goes a long way towards making even the hardest puzzles easier to forgive. I’m glad to see games like FRACT and Ether One taking this stance.
The way the sound design is so keenly and closely tied together with the puzzles was enough to make me smile as every solution came together. Starting off in an area, the puzzles were very basic and the sounds those areas produced once fully activated reflected that. By the time you’ve hit the end of the series of puzzles for a given color/instrument, the puzzles have added new mechanics over time and the resulting sounds that blast forth have additional layers of complexity. It really builds up a feeling of progression. Instead of a simple pat on the back for completion and shoving the player towards the next goal, you’re allowed to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
As you complete puzzles which slowly teach you vital elements of constructing tunes you unlock various tools to use in the in-game Studio room. The further into the game you get, the more you’re allowed to add and tweak into the track as you work. It starts off small with only a single loop sequencer and bare minimum controls over the tone of the digital instrument. By the time you’ve completed the entire game, you’re handed an impressively beefy DAW that looks as awesome as the sounds you’re able to make with it. While it is still limited and won’t replace your Reason, ACID or even your old copy of Fruityloops burned to a CD from a decade ago, it serves as an excellent introduction into the world of digital audio production. FRACT OSC is really a musical instruction tool masquerading as a videogame. To make things even better, the game has a built in export function and the dev is totally cool with users making commercial tracks so long as the loop work done with FRACT’s samples were all done in-game. A tutorial to mod in your own beats has been promised as well.
By the time I reached the end of my musical journey my ears were ringing and I felt similar to those nights after a gig. I’d emerged from the 8 hour rave session that I conducted for myself and myself alone, nary another ear to hear what reverberated through the cavernous area but my own. With every box aligned, switch flipped and cogs rotated I had brought life to these dead hills. As though Holy Mountain had been redone as a living Demoscene file, I had seen the secrets of this strange land from the very tip of its highest cliff to the very bottom of its deepest trench. I overlooked all that I had conquered and felt that it wasn’t quite enough. I retreated back to my lair, dark and still, slaving away for hours on what was to be my next song. I’d earned the right to control this giant machine and make it bend to my will. If only because I demonstrated that I understood what it wanted.
It wanted to make you move.