December 14, 2013 2:15 AM | John Polson
Brendan Wood's "generative music game" SounDrift for iPad released for $3 this week, bringing with it much audiovisual flare that I've rarely seen on a mobile device.
The basic gameplay involves touching on squares for pushing or on circles for pulling your ball of energy through 15 different stages and 1 super tough boss battle.
While this all feels a bit familiar with iPhysics games, each interaction generates a musical and colorful reaction, making it much more of a treat for the senses which are more often neglected with mobile games. Collecting music notes triggers new melodies or textures (different sounds), but gameplay wise this action is optional (no 3-star gimmicks here).
Brendan told me SounDrift is meant to be about musical exploration and creating music; the more notes you get the more varied varied the music is. The game also had the ability to make me think and feel, beyond the obvious sensory splash caused in this trailer:
The first level in the main quest mode begins with this quote from English musician Brian Eno:
But now there are three alternatives: live music, recorded music and generative music. Generative music enjoys some of the benefits of both its ancestors. Like live music it is always different. Like recorded music it is free of time-and-place limitations - you can hear it when and where you want.
I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say, "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?"
Part of me is glad I am not this hypothetical grandchild, and another part of me never wants to run into him or her, either. These future kids should definitely learn to appreciate a carefully constructed song to which so many memories and feelings could be tied, I think to myself. While I feel a song can definitely move me if I only hear it once, I am not sure what kind of reaction I'll have to hearing a song that isn't quite the same the second time I sit down to listen.
In fact, I still don't feel tied to the music as it plays in SounDrift idly, nor do I fondly remember whatever music I have made previously. However, the act of creating the sights and sounds in SounDrift has this immediate allure (kind of how social media gratifies me instantaneously) that makes me touch the screen again and again.
SounDrift seems more compelling as a meditative toy than how it is billed as a game for now, because the mechanics aren't as compelling as the aesthetics. Other than the push and pull mechanic and collecting note mechanic, I only noticed one other twist when the background colors would switch to mask or reveal parts of the stage.
Its other modes deserve mention, with two out of three also feeling more like a peaceful toy than game to me. The drift mode feels like a musical zen garden, with four different tracks to play in and create as long as you want as you drag your energy ball wherever you want it to go. The evolve mode is a more minimal, musical toy where I believe you set volumes for different sounds. The most game-y part is the two- or three-player mode, which is basically a multi-human controlled boss battle (whoever collects X-number of notes first wins).
In the end, I find this toy dazzles me with rippling colors, shapes, and sounds, all on a screen that somehow transformed into liquid from glass. For me, SounDrift offered a pretty, pensive experience that, unlike a single generated song, I won't soon forget.
[The game had a little bit of performance issues with my iPad 2, which Brendan said may happen. It is meant now for newer iPads and optimized for iPad Air. An iPhone version is set to release in January.]