Panoramical (by Alex)
This is a guest post by my excellent good friend Alex of What's Still Good?
So, Fiach came to me and said “Alex, I really need you to give me some incredibly uninformed opinions about music, in the form of a blog.” This is a very specific request, but I am happy to oblige.
My forte is video games, and so I looked for a soundtrack I particularly wanted to discuss. Everyone knows Transistor has an amazing soundtrack, and I have lovely things to say about Thumper, Firewatch, and Sonic Augmentation (a remix of the original Deus Ex soundtrack). However, you can just listen to those soundtracks and decide for yourself if you like them or not.
So, let's talk about a soundtrack you can’t listen to. Let's talk about Panoramical.
That’s the recommended controller for Panoramical. If you don’t have the ability to build and wire this 18-knob marvel, you can use a keyboard and mouse. Oddly, the controller actually doesn’t matter that much, but it’s worth seeing how the developers intended it to be played.
Three paragraphs in, and I’ve still not explained what the game is yet, and I don’t intend to do so just yet. Instead I’m gonna discuss the critically acclaimed Gone Home. Play the soundtrack for any fan and they can probably place where in the house the track plays, and what they were feeling at the time. What makes this more amazing is that the soundtrack is only one song. It’s played fast, slow, backwards, pitch-shifted and on different instruments, but the same song inspires hope, loss, fear, and triumph.
One of the great tragedies of the game is that in spite of its incredible soundtrack, people complained that it wasn’t a “real game” because there was no clearly defined failure state.
Panoramical takes this one step further by having not just a lack of a “game over”, but also no way to win, and it has nearly no gameplay at all. However it is still definitely a game, and a difficult one at that.
When you start Panoramical, it presents you with a mostly blank screen, and 9 dials, each with 2 axis. By holding one of the QWEASDZXC keys and gently moving the mouse, you change the sounds playing and the accompanying visuals. That’s it. That’s the game. 18 sliders, grouped into logical pairs, and you move ‘em about until you’re happy with the sound and/or visuals you’ve produced. MSPaint has more options than this! There’s no way to win, either. You just fiddle until you’re done, and that’s that.
This game is incredible. Even if (like me) you have no idea how to write a song or draw a picture, you still know what you like. Panoramical lets you slowly guide yourself towards creating something you like. Even assuming you only set each slide to zero or maximum, that’s still 262,144 different combinations you can make for each scene. Sitting down for an hour and trying to find the perfect place in each scene is immensely rewarding. Learning what each dial does to both the sound and the visuals, and how the different layers combine and build off each other feels satisfying, and ultimately cathartic.
Not all scenes work for me. Some I’m not able to find anything in I can really be proud of creating, and some are so beautifully done that nearly any combination of sliders gives something rich and rewarding. However over the 12 scenes, there are a few I keep coming back to. You can put the game on in front of a non-gamer, and watch them play and experiment and create something beautiful.
I guess it’s just lego for music, but lego is fun and this is fun. It’s about $10 on steam, and it’s worth it. Go make yourself a perfect song, that no one has ever heard before.
If you need some more positivity in your life you can check out more things that are still good here.