Psychedelia, by Jeff Minter of Llamasoft, is not a game but a “light synthesizer” – a program that turns input (either from a person via a joystick or keyboard, or from a sound input) into graphical on-screen patterns. Psychedelia was first released in 1984 and was one of the first “light synthesizers” ever made; certainly ever to be made available commercially; and it was the seed that led to the Winamp visualisation plugin craze of the late 90s/early 2000s, and to the evolution of light synthesizers or “sound-to-light” technology in general.
Upon loading Psychedelia you’re greeted with a black screen, and a small, square cursor. By pressing fire and moving the joystick around you can create kaleidoscopic patterns on-screen. By pressing the “Variations” keys you can cycle through some pre-set shapes, timings, and colour patterns, to change the visual style ‘on the fly’. This allows you to make colours, patterns, and trails that move to your input. And if you’re determined enough you can also define eight of your own shapes, and set up advanced commands using variables.
The idea with Psychedelia (or at least what Jeff Minter used to do with it) was to sit there with Pink Floyd blaring out (or whatever ‘trippy’ music you were into), and to mesmerise yourself with the light show that you were creating on your TV. And it was a pretty effective tool for early ‘sound-to-light’, although the Commodore 64 was not really able to accept an audio input and Minter didn’t make it bounce to SID music within the program itself (which I always thought was a big oversight).
You can save your presets, sequences, burst generators, and all your user-defined shapes as parameter or motion saves to a cassette, but if you’re messing with it today in an emulator a more elegant backup solution may suit you.
You can also record your own performances to memory by pressing Shift + R. The manual says that the game can record about thirty minute’s worth of data before it will begin dropping out. Pressing ‘R’ again will play back any recording. It’s basic stuff, but it works.
Psychedelia didn’t change the world, but it did try to make something entertaining that wasn’t a game, and mostly succeeded; and also paved the way for similar tech. Which is something significant. With under-powered 8-bit visuals and slow clock speeds this was about as good as you were going to get outside of an Amiga or higher, but back in 1984 Psychedelia on the C64 was still revolutionary.
An updated/cut-down version of Psychedelia is included within Batalyx, a later C64 game from Jeff that used it as a pause mode.
The light synthesizer concept would be further explored by Minter in Colourspace (for Atari 8-bit and BBC Micro), Trip-A-Tron (for the Atari ST and Amiga), Virtual Light Machine (VLM), and various other light synthesizers that he has worked on over the years.
Psychedelia C64 keys:
A = Auto demo
Top 16 keys = “Variations” (change between 16 preset effects)
S = Change Symmetry
T = Tracking on/off
Space = Alter pattern element
L = Line mode on/off
Left or right cursor = Pause
Shift + preset key = Store preset
Shift + R = Record
Function keys = Burst Generators
Shift + Function key = program Burst Generator
Q = Sequencer on/off (255 steps)