Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A Symphony Of Bugs

After last month's Steam Summer Sale, I found myself with an overwhelming backlog of games, including Beat Hazard. I'd been looking for a game that would incorporate my music library, yet have a bit of a retro arcade feel to it. That's not being too specific, is it? Anyway, I chose Beat Hazard over Audiosurf, and I was really enjoying the game, despite a lack of visual variety.

Almost immediately following the sale, I saw that Empty Clip Studios was slated to release their games, Symphony, through my preferred game management application of choice. I'd been following the development of Symphony for a while now, and it had those cool vector-esque graphics that made it look like the arcade games of yore, combined with upgrades and customization for the player's ship. On top of that, it recognized almost every audio file type that I had stored on my computer and external hard drive(s), so really, the low price point was a no-brainer. (Oh, and it had Steam Achievements, which I have become a sucker for over the past year or so – you know, because those are the types of awards employers really look for on a resume.)

Last night, I installed the game, had it scan specific directories for music (which it did effortlessly – unlike many other games or even audio playback applications), grabbed a refreshing adult beverage, and sat down to play.

As the plot goes, an entity is trying to enter this world, and needs souls in order to make its plan come to fruition. There is soul in music (apparently this being didn't take a good hard look at my John Zorn or Slayer folders), therefore by corrupting the music files it will be able to capture souls and transition in our reality. (Noooooooooo!) The premise of the game is simple and contrived enough that you don't really have to think about how and why this is happening. You simply accept it as a convention to get you to play through your music collection and watch the tracks come alive and try to kill you. Luckily, you have infinite lives, so all you have to worry about is a point setback if you are taken out by an enemy.

First up, was a Tiger Lillies song. Simple, fun, and with just enough tempo changes to make my first run interesting. Symphony actually analyzes the songs before you play, so it doesn't seem like there's a lot of random action with the occasional movement that may synchronize with your music here or there. In this respect, it is by far the best game in the genre of “games that let you play your own music and generate enemies and situations based on those songs while giving you the visual impression that you are stuck in 1983” - which, for the record, is one of my favorite genres.

Dodging bullets, blasting other ships, and weaving through enemy lines to get my power-ups with aplomb, I made it to the end of the track without suffering a single loss.

And then the game crashed.

Fine. This was not a big deal. Maybe it was just getting used to pulling tracks off the external hard drive. With that theory, I loaded a local track – the Desert Theme from Diablo II (there's something very meta about that, but whatever).

And the game crashed before it even started.

Okay, well, let me try a very short track. So I loaded something by Marc Bolan & T-Rex. That level actually worked, and I earned a few achievements, got an upgrade to my ship, and unlocked a few in-game weapons. Maybe that was the trick – to use songs that were under four minutes in length.

Up next, I decided to really make it easy for the game. I chose a piece of music from the game's own soundtrack, located in the game folder. It was time to face one of the “boss demons,” and the level was extremely interesting. I won! I was really getting into this!

And then the game crashed before I could see the results of my victory.

I loaded it again.


I went for a 36-second A.C. song.

It crashed (in all fairness, I have friends who have a similar reaction).

So here is my final evaluation:

Symphony is a really good game and a great way to kill a few minutes here and there, if you can get it to work. If you don't care about “beating the game” and just want to see how your music looks and feels as a game, then you will probably enjoy Symphony. If you get annoyed by buggy applications that crash if you look at them the wrong way, then you might want to hold off until the developers fix a few things (or rant about it to no one in particular). However, visually and conceptually, Symphony is fantastic game. Hell, even those two times I got it work properly for about half an hour the game play was great!

If I were to tweak a few thing or offer suggestions to Empty Clip Studios on how to improve the Symphony experience, it would be the following:
  • Make it so that the game can handle larger song libraries, or at the very least so it doesn't crash when accessing songs from locations other than the local hard drive.
  • Implement a randomization feature so players have the option of not having to select each individual song (admittedly, this goes hand in hand with those of us who have large music libraries).
  • Pay attention to the feedback users are leaving on the Steam forums. Ignore the negative comments that don't go into depth, but the people who are having problems (some with setups more advanced than what I'm using to play the game) have some very valid points.
In closing, Symphony is a great game (when it works) and is really fun for listening to music and engaging in casual gaming. The retro feel combined with being able to watch your music in action is better than other game of its kind. Is it worth the price? Yes. Is it worth the frustration and constant crashes? Ask me in a few weeks when/if the developers fix any of the problems with this initial release.

Update: Matt from Empty Clip Studios has stated the developers are aware of some of the bugs, and are keeping a direct line of communication open with people who have purchased the game. (It's always good to see the actual developers jumping into the forums and taking a hands-on approach.

8/14/2012 Update: The team at Empty Clip Publishing have been putting in long hours since Symphony's release and have released an update that fixes a majority of the issues.

When not writing, Jonathan can usually be found cooking, reading, going on breathtaking adventures, or playing games until the sun rises.

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