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Friday, August 17, 2012

Symphony (Reprise)

When Empty Clip Studios released Symphony on Steam, the audience was very excited. Here we had a shooter with a great retro feel to it, and it used music from your own library to generate the enemies and gameplay. The game was initially full of bugs that would seemingly cause it to crash if you so much as hummed a tune to yourself while you waited for the game to load.

However - and this is something more developers should take note of when releasing games - the staff over at Empty Clip (specifically MShores) were quick to respond to the problems users were experiencing, and created a beta version to help record the instances of crashing, slowing down, and any other issues. The results came in the form of an update that was brief in details, but very big in making the game playable and very fun.
Those four points made a world of difference.
First off (and this is the biggest one, considering the game required music to play), Symphony can now handle large music libraries, even if they are located on a drive other than the game itself. This is a boon for people (like me) who have a large external hard drive dedicated to storing music tracks, that totals in excess of 100 thousand tracks. The game analyzes and loads the songs very quickly and smoothly. I know a few of you are probably upset that Symphony will not use tracks that are over ten minutes in length, and while I'm sure some of you wanted this game solely to play through Wagner's Ring Cycle or your favorite Godspeed You Black Emperor albums (you know, that one you used to talk about but never listened to in order to impress people with your only-slightly-less-than-mainstream college music knowledge), the game itself was made for tracks that are between three and nine minutes in length.

The other thing Empty Clip changed was the size of enemy bullets, making them larger and easier to track as the move across the screen. so your ship doesn't seem to blow up for no reason. (Back in my day, we had a little game called Time Pilot, where both your bullets and the those from enemy aircraft were not only white and about a pixel in size, but they were set against a light blue background. We played that game and we liked it! Personally, I liked the challenge of the smaller projectiles, but I can see how they might get lost in everything else that's demanding your attention in Symphony.)


Symphony feels like how you remember arcade games from the 1980s (as opposed to what they were really like - no, don't break the fond illusion your mind has spent so many years creating). Glowing line graphics and polygons zip around the screen to the beat and nuances of your favorite music, and you almost want to start lining up quarters along your keyboard to mark your place so no one else tries to take the next turn. (If you want to get all meta about it, you can load up your favorite video game music and play along to that.)

The story has not changed: An entity has corrupted your music, and you have been challenged to reclaim it, track by track, defeating the demons who have been embedded in the tracks, and picking up the power-ups hidden in there, as well. The ship customization screen allows you to to control which weapons go where, and the direction they fire.

You cannot die in Symphony. As you get hit, you may lose pieces of your ship, but if you destroy enemies and gather enough of the musical notes they leave behind, you can rebuild your vessel as you play. Occasionally, your ship will be destroyed completely, and you will be docked a certain number of points, but a new ship will appear on screen in a few seconds. This does not make the game any less challenging. When you play track, there are certain point targets you have to reach in order to advance or get a new upgrade for your ship, and the amount docked each time your ship is completely destroyed is significant enough to make you want to stay alive as long as possible.

Of all the games I've played that attempt using music to create a combination visualizer/video game (Audiosurf, Beat Hazard, The Polynomial, etc.) none come close to what Symphony has achieved. The visuals never become old hat, and you will often forget there's a goal to the game. Instead, you will just load up your favorite songs to see how they unfold on the screen, and what challenges they present.


The music filtering system is easy to navigate, so you can find that song that's been running through your head all day and start playing instead of going through a clunky folder tree. Symphony also supports a wide range of audio file extensions, so you aren't waiting for a separate expansion or DLC in order for the game to have access to your .m4a and iPod tunes (Beat Hazard, this entire paragraph is pointed at you).

For casual gaming that incorporates your music collection, I cannot think of a better game for you to get than Symphony from Empty Clip Studios. You can play for hours on end, or casually advance through the game when you find yourself with a few minutes to spare (or for when you're on hold with your favorite customer support department).

Normally, shooters don't do much for me, and the best I can say about them is that they aren't terrible. Symphony has gone above and beyond in being a fun, exciting, and visually pleasing game, while also having a development team that is very quick in responding to the players and fixing any problems that come along. For all of this, Symphony is my new arcade shooter of choice, and probably will be for as long as I enjoy music and gaming.

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