Music and gaming go back a long way. If you’re going to play you might as well make a nice sound while doing it, and if tapping out tunes to the gameplay imparts a better musical appreciation that’s all the better. Games tend to be goal-oriented, however, so there’s generally a way to do it right and a way not to. Alpha Muse is more musical toy, though, where you fly through a semi-abstract space picking up notes, finding the music left behind by those who have gone before you, and in general just seeing what kind of sounds you can make as you explore the gorgeous universe.
It’s actually more of a small solar system at the moment, honestly. You fly a collection of colored lights, each representing a different kind of musical sound, through an assortment of asteroids covered in strange plant life, through geometric jellyfish and past sparkly sharks, collecting more notes and slowly building and changing your musical theme as you go. Different structures do different things, such as increase/decrease beats per minute depending on which direction you fly through the gate, or randomize the notes of your song while leaving the base structure unchanged. For more direct control you can cycle through each component of your lights in turn and adjust the volume of their part of your track, bringing its section of the music to the foreground or leaving it to give support in the song’s background. Flying through a song bubble will even completely change the music into a tune published by another player, and you’re free to experiment with it in any way you see fit.
At the moment, however, experimentation is pretty random. The musical notes flying through the world are all explained in the included instructions, color-coded to specific sounds, but remembering which of the nine note styles is which is down to rote memorization. The only realistic course of action is to fly through a cloud of notes and find out what changes it makes to your track by listening, and maybe learn after a couple dozen play-throughs which colors go with what kind of tone. Honestly, though, it’s going to sound pretty decent no matter what you pick up, but in its current form you don’t so much create as discover your musical theme. The worst thing that happens is you hit a button to start over and have to have another relaxing trip around the fantastically pretty scenery, collecting new notes and rebuilding your song.
It can’t be stressed enough how early Alpha Muse is, though. The current build is only the third release, and plans for expansion are massive. The PAX East build only just added the ability for players to gather energy and publish their songs for other people to play with, which is a major component of the planned focus in creating a shared universe of musical collaboration. The universe itself is fairly small, and while there are plenty of outlying structures if you fly away from the system center they’re rough and unpopulated. In the center where things are polished, though, it’s very pretty, and watching as plants slowly wave their tendrils while pulsing to the beat as you fly through the ecosystem of a hollowed-out asteroid while the musical track you’ve arranged provides the soundtrack is an absolutely lovely experience. With as much work as Alpha Muse needs to meet its ambitions, the parts that are there are already fulfilling its promise of being a wonderfully relaxing and creative way to unwind in an otherworldly musical journey.