“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
It was British poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy who originated this turn of phrase in 1873’s Ode, though the expression was popularized by Gene Wilder’s lead performance in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The poem theorized that it was the creative types who would influence change in the world by creating. The inspiration to create something out of nothing, the vision for a better tomorrow, and a catchy rhyming couplet that would remind future generations of what had come before—these were a few of the contributions creatives would have in shaping history. It’s no coincidence that the influential tastemakers of our day are often referred to as “movers and shakers,” another term coined in the same Ode stanza.
FRACT OSC drops players into a wide expanse of alien environment that has long been abandoned and lifeless, a land fallen victim to the fate O’Shaughnessy warned against when writing that kingdoms would be directionless and forgotten without imaginative people to tell their stories. There are traces of a once-flourishing society—beacons and citadels, elaborate machines and imaginative architecture—but they are silent, having lain dormant for longer than we know. In the awakening of these monuments, the player becomes a music maker.
The solutions to these environmental puzzles are sequenced electronic music, composed on the fly by the player. The right sequence of notes can open a door or build a bridge. A well-tuned harmony can activate a lift or reveal a path. FRACT OSC reimagines the circuit boards and wires inside an electronic synthesizer as an enormous and foreboding terrain. The connections between all the parts have been severed and need to be reactivated. Every machine, every puzzle, and every secret informative graphic projected into space is designed to teach the player how to interact with the instrument, piece-by-piece.
The three neon-lit paths set out before the player represent each of the three voices they can use in their life-giving songs. The winding blue caverns are where the deep heavy bass is born. The spectacular pink towers are home to the bright and shimmering lead synth. And the echoing green dams produce the atmospheric polyphonic pads. Slowly, through puzzles that open pathways and power the tech in this world, you learn to control each parameter of a larger system—one that encompasses this entire world.
Terrain that starts out bleak and desolate is steadily invigorated as players reintroduce harmony and light. Watching the massive machines jump to life, brimming with verve, is enthralling, and that sensation is heightened by the familiar tones of the same melodies you crafted earlier in the game, layered atop one another. The disparate pieces have come together, and the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. The whole is the essence of life.
And this is where the bigger picture of FRACT OSC takes shape, because it’s not just about exploring a lost civilization but also about giving back in some way to ensure that ours is not left to the same fate. Every feature of the grand machine that is repaired inside the cavernous game world is also unlocked in “the Studio,” a hub you can access to make and record your own original music. Players can design their own melodies and reshape the sound of every note. Then you can record a live performance of their song and publish it on YouTube, all from within the game.
The lost civilization can’t ever be fully recovered. You don’t have its stories. All you have are its tools, which someone saw fit to leave instructions for. The best you can do now is honor this forgotten people by using what they’ve left you to tell your own stories. A distant past becomes a shared future through music.
Great hail! we cry to the corners from the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your suns and your summers; and renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song’s new numbers, and things that we dreamed not before:
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers, and a singer who sings no more.
Developer: Phosfiend Systems
Platform: Mac, PC
Reviewed on: Mac