The modern abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky was
born in Moscow in 1866. His life was filled with music from the start;
his parents were pianists, and he himself learned to play the piano,
cello, and zither at a very young age. He trained as a lawyer at the
University of Moscow and practiced law until the age of thirty, when he
began to study painting.
Kandinsky's Composition IV
Kandinsky claimed that when he saw color, he heard
sounds. The conflation of senses, such as hearing sight or feeling
sounds, is a condition known as "synaesthesia." He tried to capture
this "visible sound" in his paintings: the color's tone was the sound's
timbre; the hue was derived from the pitch, and the saturation came
from the volume of the sound. Ultimately, Kandinsky's paintings
consisted of nothing more carefully arranged geometric shapes.
Kandinsky is widely credited as one of the earliest and most
influential abstract artists. The impact of his work can be seen
everyday in the ideograms that mark audio equipment: the solid square
"Stop," the interrupted square "Pause," the forward-pointing "Play" and
double-pointed "Fast Forward" - these symbols take their meaning from
images found in Kandinsky's experimental paintings.
Blue, blue, electric blue
Kandinsky said of art,
``Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the
piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching
one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.''
So what does this have to do with Rez, the latest
project from developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Sega spinoff United Game
Artists? Rez's motto is "Go to synaesthesia"; its working title was
"K-Project." The "K" stands for Kandinsky.
The "Project" stands for "incredibly ambitious
project." Rez is entirely unlike any other game available today; though
those words are often tossed about by marketing like so much confetti,
in this case, it's true. More than anything else, Rez is an interactive
piece of digital art that is true to the synaesthetic spirit of
Kandinsky: an interactive experience that melds sight, sound, and even
touch into an engrossing whole. It's a great game, too, but it's clear
that Rez was designed from the start around its audiovisualtactile
Ground Control to Major Tom
The story, though ultimately unimportant, bears
repeating. In the near future, world wide computer networks crisscross
the globe, and mankind is dependent on advanced artificial
intelligences to keep things running. When a virus attacks the global
data network, known as Eden, the system suddenly develops
self-awareness and then shuts down. The player takes on the role of a
hacker, who must break through Eden's firewall to reawaken the A.I.
More than anything else, this setup explains the game's trippy
wireframe graphics and pulsing techno soundtrack.
At its core, Rez is a rail-shooter in the vein of
Panzer Dragoon. The player is propelled along a set path with limited
freedom of movement within that path. Your avatar in Rez can "lock on"
from one to eight shots before firing; once a volley is released, all
shots are fired simultaneously. Getting hit by an enemy or projectile
causes the player to "devolve" a level; the player can (re)evolve to a
higher level by picking up neon-blue polyhedrons. Though there are six
stages of evolution available during the main game, the benefits are
mostly cosmetic - though its appearance may change drastically, your
avatar's weapon never develops beyond the starting eight-shot blast.
Higher levels of evolution are still worthwhile, however, as they allow
the player to take hits and devolve without ending the game in
progress. By picking up red Overdrive canisters, the player can store
and unleash a temporary Overdrive attack, blazing through a section
with temporary invincibility and automatic targeting of foes.
Ashes to ashes
It may sound like an ordinary shooter - and as far
as the core gameplay is concerned, it is. What sets Rez apart is the
strength and creativity of its design. The main game of Rez contains
five levels; each of the first four levels corresponds to a great
civilization throughout human history: Mayan, Egyptian, and so forth.
The fifth level is a spiritual tour de force that traces the evolution
of life from a formless primordial soup to ocean life, land animals,
mass extinctions, regrowth, and even transcendence. The stage
culminates in a hauntingly emotional final encounter that places the
previous five stages in a new light. Though this may sound overbearing,
these themes are far from preachy or distracting. Mostly, they are
merely suggested by the level's dynamic architecture, color schemes,
and musical motifs.
Each of the levels begins in a silent, empty void.
As the player progresses throughout the level, prismatic cubes will
occasionally appear. Unlocking these cubes sends the player to the
stage's next "layer." Each added layer is a hyperspace shift into a
more complex space: the music gains new instruments, nuance, and
complexity; the graphics explode with extra dimensions; the enemies
dissolve into particles, only to regroup and reattack with increased
fervor. Every level has a unified visual theme from start to finish,
but each layer features small unique architectural elements, movement
paths, and instrumentation changes to set them apart. At the end of the
stage - ten layers, if the player manages to capture and unlock all of
the optional cubes - is an epic boss battle. These encounters all
feature stunning design and multiple forms, and might take as long or
longer to complete than the preceding stage.
Screaming "Let me out"
What elevates the title beyond mere eye and ear
candy is its interactive nature. The stages' music and visuals are
strongly bound together; changes and mutations in one are mirrored or
countered in the other. More importantly, everything the player does
creates sound and vision - not mere sound effects, but music. Every
time the player presses the lock-on button, a snare drum snaps. Each
enemy lock-on brings forth a hi-hat click. Firing plays out a musical
phrase, different according to the number and type of targets, stage,
layer, and avatar. Explosions are hard-hit power chords; layer changes
are swelling crescendos. All of this is matched by a frenetic display
of cycling colors, rotating perspectives, oscillating boundaries, and
non-Euclidean geometries. The Dual Shock's vibrations are also
carefully balanced between accenting the music and reinforcing the
player's actions. Though not released in the U.S., the optional Trance
Vibrator peripheral adds another level of tactile force feedback,
utilizing a different vibration signal than the Dual Shock controller.
Though its five main stages may seem short, Rez is
packed with replay value. Completing stages unlocks that stage in Score
Attack and Traveling mode; completing the game unlocks a secret-packed
Beyond mode. Performing well in the Score Attack and Beyond modes
unlocks new stages and songs, a boss-bashing gauntlet, a five-stage
continuous "direct assault," visual remixes that apply to the entire
game, a new evolved form, and the ability to set a number of gameplay
flags and options. The difficulty of unlocking new features increases
with the player's skill and accomplishments, assuring a steady stream
of challenges. The amount of replay value and items to unlock is, for a
shooter, staggering. The Traveling mode lets the player experience
Rez's stages free from the danger of damage; the stage select screen
suggests that it is perfect for "practice or just chilling out." You
can probably think of some creative uses for this mode if you stretch
your mind a bit.
There's a starman
What is Rez? Rez is not an elaborate WinAmp plugin
- an interactive visualizer that changes music into shapes. Neither is
it a traditional music game such as Konami's Bemani series or
Frequency; though the player's attention weaves around the soundscape,
rarely is the music created consciously and directly. Rez is a shooter,
but this is as much for emotional reasons - few genres are more
visceral or appeal more directly to the emotions - as for gameplay ones.
Rez is synaesthesia: the melding of music,
graphics, and gameplay into a unified whole that leaves distinctions
difficult, if not entirely meaningless. Mizuguchi and United Game
Artists set forth to channel the same creative forces that inspired
Kandinsky over a hundred years ago. In doing so, they have done more
than make a fun, engaging, and inspiring game. They have established
themselves as defining pioneers in the major artistic revolution of the
Review by Andrew Vestal, GIA.
Kandinsky biographical information, painting, and quotation from WebMuseum: Kandinsky, Wassily.
||United Game Artists|
||GD-ROM / DVD-ROM|
||Dreamcast / PlayStation 2|
|Rez Absolute Set limited to 500 copies
|Full game and credits screenshots
|Japanese box art
||Jun Kobayashi (MEM)|
|Art Director & Lead Artist
|Full game credits