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Panoramical: An hour in a prog rock wonderland

I'm stuck on the iceberg level.

I did not expect to get stuck on Panoramical. Panoramical isn't the kind of game anybody gets stuck on, right? It's a sort of prog rock album cover generator: you dial your way through strobing, warping, flickering environments looking for something you like the look of, and then you linger, soundtrack (by David Kanaga, the composer of Proteus) colliding with landscape. You can advance between templates - although templates is completely the wrong word; I should have said vistas - at the touch of a button, and you can zip back and forth using a level select screen - level is also the wrong word - that has a neat radial twist to it. There's no objective, so how could you possibly get stuck?

You get stuck because the true objective is to linger. What I love about Panoramical, from the little of it I've played, is that the places it takes you to feel so fleeting, so unrecoverable. This is not entirely true: you can probably keep track of where you've placed the handful of sliders that are at your control to build each landscape, and I think you can even share specific environments through Twitter. No matter: there's still a wonderful impermanence to it all, a sense that, everywhere you go inside Panoramical, you're witnessing a freak wonderland built from an unlikely alignment of many different elements.

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And that's why I'm stuck on the icebergs, an early find and one that I'm unwilling to move on from. When I first arrived here, I think the whole screen was white, and the icebergs - if that's what they are - only became visible when I started to fiddle with a slider that controlled the sky. Once the horizon began to turn grey, I could suddenly see them: dozens of chunky blocks of sheer white, bobbing around in an oily sea. Another slider dialled in a flurry of snow, and another brought wavering tree trunks rising out of the water. For a horrible few seconds I stained everything brown - brown and electric blue: not a good look - but I somehow managed to bring it all back to the way I like it, and for the moment, I'm not sure I'll like anything else quite as much. (All of this, of course, was set against the soundtrack, a hollow clonking together of windchimes, a restless music of the spheres.)

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Brrr.

What's struck me more than anything about all this is the sheer conceit. When I mention sliders, when I talk about dialling in, what I'm really trying to get at is the control system for Panoramical. Although it works with a mouse or even a MIDI controller, it seems wonderfully suited to the pad. The idea is that you manipulate the world by rolling the thumbstick around, while the face buttons and a lone bumper shift you between different layers of control. Hold down one button and the stick allows you to bring clouds down from the sky, say, while another encourages the ground to curl up and become a ball.

There is a sense of fresh potential to all this: of a game that ditches characters and objectives and instead allows you to control the entire world. As such, I love Panoramical - and I definitely love those icebergs - but what I'm really excited to see is where it might lead.

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