Fract OSC: The incredible music machine

The crew at Phosfiend Systems told us about their first-person exploration puzzle game.

Fract OSC

Three years ago, Phosfiend Systems dug themselves a massive hole from which they’ve only now just emerged.

But the local indie team, bloodied but unbowed, has risen from those depths with Fract OSC, a complex, interconnected world made up of large, colourful polygons, broken down synthesizers and fractured terrain. Once players decipher the game’s many opaque puzzles, they will be able to harness these newfound tools for music-making purposes in a separate studio section. Fract OSC, which started as a U de M school project in 2010, is a first-person exploration puzzle game that tests minds, and then lets them run wild.

“It’s a world that explores a bunch of different aspects of synthesizers,” says designer Richard E. Flanagan from his home studio in NDG. “That world is divided into bass synthesizers, lead synthesizers and pad synths. As you explore this world and these areas, you uncover these tools and these machines. As you interact with them, you shape sounds. Then you move on to shaping small melodies, and then small passages of music, which you can write on your own with varying flexibility.”

fractThe original idea was to celebrate all manners of electronic music culture, including samples and drum machines. But they decided to tackle synthesizers first, and discovered it was a bottomless well in terms of potential. Flanagan suspects that over the past three years, they’ve paved over their universe three or four times, throwing out an unimaginable amount of painstakingly created content in the process.

During the multi-year development cycle, Flanagan and his wife, Fract OSC producer Quynh Nguyen, also had a child.

“I’m trying to decide which one had the more arduous birthing process,” jokes Nguyen. “Probably Fract, because it’s taken so much longer.”

As daunting as the world of Fract is, exploring and understanding the alien surroundings is an essential part of the experience.

“There are some pretty traditional game progressions, but part of the fun is figuring out what you’re supposed to do,” says Nguyen. “One of the inspirations was Myst — the idea of decoding a world.”

To facilitate things slightly, Phosfiend has added hologram vision, which they compare to Google Glass, but within the game. By entering this mode, items that can be interacted with are revealed. They don’t want players to be in the dark forever because once the game is released, they’re hoping player-generated musical compositions—from experts familiar with the synthesizers they’ve abstractly recreated to novices—will appear on YouTube.

“The feedback we get from people who play who are musicians and people who aren’t is very different,” says programmer Henk Boom. “For us, we needed to put emphasis on people who haven’t used these tools before.” ■

Fract OSC comes out tomorrow, Tuesday, April 22, for PC