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In preparation for my review of Rock Band 4, I’ve been playing a whole different type of music game. Panoramical is a sort of interactive audio-visual experience, somewhere between a toy and a video-DJ interface. It makes a lot of sense considering its developers. Fernando Ramallo is a programmer and DJ who is constantly pushing boundaries in his work, and David Kanaga has been at the forefront of procedural music with his work in games like Proteus and Dyad. Together, they’ve crafted this luscious piece of software that lacks the goals of a traditional game and the freedom of a musical instrument but somehow keeps pulling me back to play with it again and again.
Panoramical invites players to dive into the core elements of a song and fiddle with them. Every adjustment to the song alters the environment accordingly and vice-versa. Mountains rise and form peaks as you adjust the bass. Clouds part as you tweak the synth. Lightning crashes with the snare drum. There are no princesses to save or treasures to collect—just a landscape and music. What makes this a game more than an instrument, though, is that it all funnels into a sense of play, of trying different things until you find what’s right for you.
Sometimes, I found focusing on both the music and pictures too much to think about, so I would concentrate only on the beat of the song and admire the world built in its wake. Other times, I would try the opposite, turning down the volume to craft the environment to my liking, then cranking it back up to discover what this world sounded like. Both paths are equally rewarding as they allow you to sculpt a composition you’re happy with, then sit back and observe the other arrangement that had been constructed in tandem—two harmonious designs creating an illusion of life together.
Panoramical also includes a few bonus areas featuring contributions from guest collaborators, including music by Baiyon (PixelJunk Eden) and Doseone (Samurai Gunn, producer and rapper with Clouddead, Themselves, and Subtle) and visuals by Richard Flanagan (FRACT OSC) and Mr. Div (seemingly hundreds of hypnotic GIFs all over Tumblr). These sections bolster the collaborative spirit of the game, using the same mechanics to create wholly different soundscapes than those from Ramallo and Kanaga, and helped to refresh my imagination and expectations about what its environments could be.
Panoramical’s combination of music, graphics, and on-the-fly adjustability begs to be used by DJs, which the developers clearly intended, as they’ve included support for MIDI music controllers and licensing for live performances in a “pro” edition of the game. There’s the possibility of expansions in the future, perhaps with new musical stems and environments to explore, but it would be cool to see an update that allowed users to import their own musical or graphical elements to work with, transforming this from a peaceful and entertaining curio to an all-purpose VJ platform. As much fun as it is playing with Panoramical at home, I can’t help but think about how much better it would be as a large-scale projection at a club in the hands of musicians who know what they’re doing.