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Sentris' latest update brings the game near the finish line

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Sentris creator Samantha Kalman has always wanted her game to be about the joy of making music, and with its latest version, the "Honeycomb" update released in late February, she feels it's truly getting there.

"I'm happy at the level of expressivity that the game allows," she told Polygon at PAX East 2015.

Sentris is an abstract musical puzzle game that developer Timbre Interactive launched on Steam Early Access last August, following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013. Timbre describes the new Honeycomb update as a "major overhaul" to Sentris, made in an effort to ease in new players to what could be a confusing, almost overwhelming experience.

In earlier versions of Sentris, different concentric rings represented different instruments, while colors corresponded to pitches. In Honeycomb, instruments are delineated by colors, while a shaded honeycomb symbol indicates the note. Kalman said this design change was intended to improve Sentris' Puzzle mode, which is now one of three. The game also offers Remix and Performance modes.

Puzzle mode requires players to drop sound blocks in the right locations and order to hit instrument or pitch gems on the screen. But the way Sentris is designed leaves room for experimentation and variance in the way players complete the puzzles. Kalman explained, "I've always wanted there to be different-sounding solutions." This is the way Sentris both makes players feel smart (for solving puzzles) and makes them feel like they're creative (for making music). When you're not simply pressing buttons to recreate music someone else composed, it makes for a powerful sense of authorship.

Performance mode is built for that kind of gameplay. Kalman described this as making music with a controller, rather than a keyboard or guitar. At every moment, the player is making decisions about instrument, pitch and rhythm. And Remix mode is halfway between Puzzle and Performance. Timbre also included a new tutorial in Honeycomb, which replaces the old "How to Play" screen.

Now that Honeycomb is out, Kalman feels that Timbre is finally getting close to the game Sentris was meant to be. The studio is aiming for a final release in "early summer," said Kalman. She told Polygon that she has plenty of big ideas for Sentris that she probably won't be able to implement in this game, but that's fine — she's proud of what's there because Timbre "kept the personal feeling up front." The music that players make in Sentris may not sound like a pop song you hear on the radio, but it's undeniably yours, and that's something special.