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Oscarno avatar 10:09 PM on 05.01.2014  (server time)
OST Case Study: Fract OSC

Released on April 23, 2014, Fract OSC is a first person puzzle game built around the exploration and manipulation of a giant synthesiser. Players must solve sound based puzzles and explore the abstract landscape in order to unlock the mysteries of the great machine they are slowly bringing back to life. Needless to say, Fract OSC is the perfect candidate for an OST case study, and while it's not quite the revolution I hoped it would be, it does play around with some interesting ideas. 

Fract's world is built round the idea of a synthesiser. There are 3 main areas: Lead, Pad and Bass. Each of these areas have their own types of puzzles which get more challenging as the player progresses through them. The interesting thing about these puzzles is that the solutions all lead to larger puzzles later on in the game. This works really well in a design sense. Players recognise that their earlier solutions are coming into play in later puzzles and this reinforces the idea that the world is interconnected and that everything is going to come together at one point. Sonically though, it doesn't quite resonate as well. The areas have their own distinct sound, which works well, but on an individual puzzle basis, the sounds are forgettable. Most of the solutions start to sound the same and meld together, which makes the puzzles feel a bit contrived musically.  

Once the player has completed all the puzzles in a given area, they are tasked with the overall puzzle for the area. In this, the player must tune a synth to particular parameters in order to solve the puzzle. The way the player discovers these solutions, however, is by investigating various landmarks throughout the area. This, to me seemed to not really fit with the idea of the game. The player solves these puzzles visually, not sonically. They music simply recite back information they have found within the world. For me this meant that when I solved the puzzle I didn't feel like I had figured anything out, just turned the correct knobs and raised the correct sliders. I feel that if the puzzles were more sound based, and the player had to match a particular timbre or tone, then the puzzles would feel more satisfying. The player isn't really taught about the mechanics used in these puzzles at all earlier in the game, which makes them feel somewhat deviated from the entire ethos of the game. 

Although Fract's puzzle design might be a little dissatisfying, the overall aesthetic of the game both visually and sonically works really well. Each area has a distinct sound and colour which makes them easily distinguishable and makes the environments of the game pretty memorable. The bright neon lighting and electronic sounds work so well together that they create a very tactile space for the player to inhabit. Whenever you pass an area you've already solved, and you hear the music pumping, it's really satisfying and indeed does make you feel like you're awakening a great machine. 

Fract Osc allows players to be creative and have unique impacts within it's world. Although it's puzzles aren't top of the line, they certainly do give players insight into how synthesisers function. The things players learn within the game can most definitely be applied to real life music making, as evidenced with the inclusion of a full sequencer for players to make music on within the game. If you're just starting out with synthesis, definitely check out Fract. If you're played around with synthesis for a while, you should also check out Fract. If you don't like synth music, you of all people should play Fract because it will show you how that stuff works and hey, you might just grow to like it.  Despite it's shortcomings, Fract Osc is a great musical experience and I'm sure it will lead to some freaking great games from Phosfeind Systems. 

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