PAX AUS 2016: Symphony of the Machine

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One of the truly great things about PAX AUS was all of the Australian made indie titles on display. Despite lack of funding from the Federal Government it hasn’t stopped the production of some truly amazing titles made right here at home.

One of those titles is Symphony of the Machine by the Western Australian team Stirfire Studios, a virtual reality puzzle game.  I met with Lisa Rye who is the Creative Director at Stirfire who was kind enough to run me through the premise of the game and who, despite a lengthy queue of players keen to try the game, snuck me in for a quick playtest.

The premise of the game is that you, the player, have awoken in a lifeless, sun-scorched desert with a strange tower looming in the distance. Ascending the tower, one can quickly deduce that it is in fact a machine capable of controlling the weather, a terraforming device perhaps?

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The story is intentionally a little ambiguous but no doubt it will be revealed as you play through the game. The priority for the player though is solving the puzzles, which gently increase in difficulty. There is no time limit or impending doom so you’re able to take your time and enjoy the serene environment as you work your way through the puzzles. My time with the game was spent using mirrors to reflect light beams to various control panels in the tower. The weather around me changed depending on which panels the beam touched. More complex puzzles required multiple panels to be activated, and as the game progressed force fields and other blockades made it progressively more difficult.

Audio was great and the whole game oozes a comfortable atmosphere. It’s definitely the sort of game you could lose yourself in. The slower pace of the game was a nice change from many of the run and gun VR games currently on the market.

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Playing a game in Virtual Reality is markedly different to playing on a screen as it allows players to approach problems from completely new angles. I asked Lisa if the game allowed for lateral or unexpected solutions to the puzzles in the game. She informed me that not only did the game support them, but even over the PAX weekend they had seen players bouncing lasers over, under and around the force fields in ways they hadn’t intended. What’s even more awesome though is that it didn’t break the game or allow the player to circumvent puzzles – the game simply allows players to find their own solutions.

Controls were tight and intuitive and I never found myself fighting for control. It will take you a little time to adjust to VR if you haven’t played much before. I’m one of those still learning my way and found myself standing in an awkward position a few times, however a quick push of the button on the hand controller easily fixed that.

While a new video card and a HTC Vive isn’t quite in my price range just yet, I’m hoping to pickup both in the new year. Symphony of the Machine will be a definite pickup for me when I do.

Symphony of the Machine is due to be released for both HTC Vive and Playstation VR early in 2017, and for this demonstration I was using the Vive.

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