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Sfäre – Review

Sfäre is a highly experimental digital toy and one that I’m delighted exists as we’ve not seen something like this for quite some time. Remember when geometric screensavers for Windows 95/98 were huge? Remember when Windows Media Player reacted to your music with music visualisations? Remember Baby Universe on the PS1 (ok that might be a stretch)? Sfäre is the latest visualiser art toy – not a game – and it has customisation for days.

Changing the colours really changes the mood on this trippy visual simulator.

There are three main modes to Sfäre and each one offers a different level of detail and depth for you to get lost in. The first is the main play area which gives you randomised particle light loops to manipulate. You do this with four orbs in the corners of the screen which control different parameters. Whilst designed for touch screen first, mouse click and holds work too and as you roll the orbs around, the art warps, twists, mirrors and shades around to create new hypnotic displays. In addition to the orbs you have a couple of triangle switches to turn on and off mirrors and you can rotate layers of patterns in 90 degree angles to create weird fan art too. There’s no goal to any of this – it is just to play and experiment. Art can be zoomed in or out, shaded using three colour palettes swabs and twisted around with mouse pulls too – it’s just up to you to play and create.

Whilst Sfäre looks great in stills, seeing it in motion is pretty hypnotic. New age lovers will be right at home!

If you want to really dive into the detail, there is a secondary edit mode that allows you to start playing with sliders for literally every single you see on screen. This can be particle shapes, their initial movements, how big or small some of their micro movements are – all of it can massively alter your art with just a tiny change. You can then save your customisations or just let Sfäre play itself as a visualiser with patterns changing at random at a rate you decide. There is a soundtrack playing throughout of chill out electronica but what I really wanted to do was to sync the art to music I was playing. I wanted to start making art performances – a little bit like the stunning Pixeljunk 4AM in a way – but with art visualisations only. Whilst I was happy to save screenshots and trippy looking art, Sfäre is a beauty to see in motion and pairing that with music would be a superb way to showcase the toy.

One surprise I did love was the Streamer mode. It is in early development but the idea opens Sfäre  up for collaborative performance. The game provides viewers with a QR code to bring up a control panel on their phones. This allows others to change something about the art every 60 seconds. Colour, intensity, patterns – whatever you want – its open for change. Seeing this work with a few people together at the same was fun as I had made something I thought was cool and then a viewer swapped something out and created new things I wasn’t expecting.

Viewing from afar or up close – it is always a visually pleasing experience.

By definition, Sfäre is about being curious and playing for creativity sake – not an end game. This will appeal to a select few and whilst it could definitely do with some more guidance on what control exactly changes what inside the game, it’s a quirky niche creative toolbox that has a lot of potential.

Early Access review copy provided by developer.

Final Thoughts
A wildly indepth particle effect visualiser. It will have a niche audience and it needs a bit structure for how its outputs are managed to make it a must have for creatives. Visually impressive though.
Some excellent hypnotic particle effects and geometric art.
Streamer mode brings some PixelJunk 4AM vibes for performance and collaboration in digital art.
Everything is a desktop screensaver in waiting.
Touchscreen first controls sometimes means using mouse controls isn't quite as intuitive.
No ability to save performances or sync them to music for example - so it stays slightly too ephemeral for its own good.
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