Circuits: A Game Review

As a teenager, I tried my best to describe how amazing I found trance and house music to my brother who thought it all sounded the same. Most people do because, well, untz untz untz tish untz untz untz tish. I remember one night when we were sitting in the car and I tried to point out where the bass drum shifted, the bass melody came in, where the hi-hats changed and other nuances to show him that the songs were built on slowly shifting layers under the melody. He either didn’t care or couldn’t hear the slight differences (probably both), and I would sigh and turn away to pretend to observe the passing town. Inside, I was angry that he couldn’t see it and share this passion with me. Fifteen years later, he is sending me Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, and other electronic music and I just shake my head. It was this memory of sitting in the car that I thought of when I first started playing Circuits.

Circuits is a game where you try to recreate a song by putting the elements of the song in the correct place on a “circuit”. It is fitting that the game chooses to represent music as a circuit board as the game uses electronic music. Here was where I could put my ears to the test. And god damn was it hard.

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Distinguishing from beep boops that differ by half an octave is a lot harder than pinpointing where the DJ starts mixingin the next song in a set. In addition, the elements of the songs you put together are not single notes or drum beats, but parts of a melody. Frustration ensued as I realized my ears were not as good as I had once thought. It also doesn’t help that Circuits drops you right into the mix, so to speak. The gradual layering you would hear on a trance or house track doesn’t exist, as the music used in the game fits more in a movie soundtrack than a dance floor. They are usually sweeping, sometimes emotional, sometimes raw, pieces.

My interest in electronic music wasn’t limited to trying to teach my brother the finer points of progressive trance, but it also led me to dabble in mixing and producing. I never made anything I was even remotely proud of in Fruityloops, but there were some mixes I made that I really liked. Never would I be able to do it on actual turntables, but in my bootlegged mixing program I felt awesome as I seamlessly (mostly) strung together meticulously chosen tracks to create a great mix. I never really shared them with anyone, except once when a girl at a party wanted to know what I listened to. As the beat came in (untz untz untz) I looked at her embarrassingly for her approval. She said she liked it, and then slowly found someone else to talk to.

 

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Having moved to a country town in the USA, most people didn’t even know that electronic music really existed (unless it was Alice Deejay or Darude.) When I tried to share my love for electronic music, people would scoff and tell me things such as “Music should be played with real instruments” or “I love techno, but I can only listen to it on drugs.” Thing is, most electronic music is more primitive than any other modern (ie. classical and up) form of music. And I never needed drugs to enjoy it. Under the torrent of my peers (who always seem exceptionally quick to judge music tastes) i buckled. I started listening to grunge, ska, gangster rap, modern hard rock, indie, and whatever else was “in” at the time. Some of it was good, some even great. But I never went back to it as often as I went back to trance. It was my secret, not understood by anyone around me. And as I branched out into the multitude of genres, I became even more reclusive with my musical taste. When people would ask me “what do you listen to?”, I was one of those assholes who said “I live everything!” because I did, and also because I knew they wouldn’t understand.

Sometimes I would think to myself, “if only I lived in the UK! Then I could find someone who shared my passion for this music!” but I knew that wouldn’t work. I loved the music, I didn’t like the culture around it. But there was the internet, and I found people online to talk to, and share, the music I loved.

Music is one of those things that, especially at early ages, people us to define who they are as a person. It has always been an important part of expression, of both the individual and of sub-cultures, most of which has their own sound to represent them. For me, my first music love was trance. Music’s portrayal and use as a core mechanic in videogames has not really been explored. ┬áHere we have a game that actually makes something challenging from something so integral for most of us. Often, music is used in games similar to how they are used in movies, or as a small side quest or game to take up some time and add variety. From the few games that make music their core, Circuits is one of the best.

And even though I suck at it, it brought me back to my youth, listening to and playing with music I loved, lost in my own world that I knew few around me would understand.

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