This past weekend, my team and I participated in a global gamejam, an equivalent of the 48 hour film festival, but for game development.
We came up with a small 2 player game. Read more about our jam, and play Whalebus!
It’s one of the first games to feature dynamic procedural game music.
The gameplay is a basic sidescroller/shooter, who’s modern equivalent would be something like Jetpack Joyride.
You fly forward automatically, avoid monsters and shoot everything.
The game however, has a rhythm, to which everything gets quantized, that way, whenever you shoot, every shot plays a note, and everything fits in with the rhythm. (I explore a similar idea in my look at Plink).
Different weapons manifest different sounds and shooting behavior, that fits in with the sound (volume, longevity of the note feels similar to bullet behavior).
At first, I felt like the gameplay is “broken” just because I felt it was awkward that the character moves along with shooting, because you have to select one of the 8 directions and press shoot button to fire, which also moves the character in that direction. I felt like I should be able to align my shot with static pickups to shoot them, but instead that input mechanic interferes with accuracy of my shots. It was frustrating.
Later on, talking with Phil, I started to open my mind up a bit more that the game was released almost 30 years ago, and that current gameplay expectations don’t apply. Its an 80’s game, games were hard back then, it’s a known fact, and I was struggling to accept it. I had to realign my thinking much like I should’ve realigned the position of the character with move/fire mechanic in mind to get the pickups I wanted.
It’s an interesting way to look at this. I can see this game being an attempt to being a “casual” game, a game designed for a wide demographic, perhaps even a game for “girls as well” given a greater male dominance of the market in the 80’s compared to now. It employs much of the mechanics of the time – side scrolling, shooting, lots more shooting, monsters, pickups, special weapons, capturing the likes of Metal Slug, Megaman and R-Type, and giving it a casual skin, yet the game is hard by today’s standards.
Another way I’m looking at it is musical. What does it mean, that shooting and movement are linked? Shooting is the musical and rhythmical essence of this game, yet it is directly linked to player override over automatic scrolling WAIT A SECOND!
…I just paused typing this to go back and play it again, and I’ll be damned.
The direction of movement/shooting specifies the note that is played, which changes with the instrument that you get, and the tempo of the song increases with your success / progression. Smart, feels good.
I need to readjust the way I look at games and judge them when I try to quantify specific parts I’m investigating. I need not to just look at sound/graphics/gameplay as a separate thing, and then say “good/bad/5 out of 10”, but consider the sum of all parts. Every piece has a reason for being (unless it’s a bad design), and needs to be considered in the greater scope of the whole game, It will explain why it’s there and why it needs being, just like my eureka here with Otocky. This thinking will also in turn, lead to designing better games.
First things first, I’ve experienced Plink when it just came out more than a year ago, coming back to it today, the only thing that has changed, is that there are no people playing it anymore.
Plink is a web based audio play space.
It has 8 instruments to choose from represented by colors, a predetermined tempo with a metronome, and a predetermined scale represented by the vertical axis, separating notes by lines.
The user controls their “character” up and down, and click to activate notes, which are arpeggiated if held down.
I would say that from a musical point of view, it’s a very limited and controlled environment, and one wouldn’t be able to make a full swing song out of it.
However the focus isn’t at all the credibility of Plink as a sound design tool, it is about it’s merits as a play space, and the experience it delivers.
having up to five users connected into the same room, and having a live collaborative sound experience with a stranger is a magical thing.
Everyone is free to choose the instrument they want (even same one as anyone else, creating chords). Given that it’s a multiplayer experience with free choice, the limitations of the play space are instantly justified – you want to create something musical together, not incoherent noise and cacophony, therefore, it is made sure that players are always in tune and always hit the rhythm.
I played the game in 3 ways – with a mouse (as intended), with a tablet, and with a touch screen (pretty much cheating).The three modes of interfacing with it brought great differences into my experience.
Using the mouse was a baseline experience.
It was unwieldy, and hard to hit multiple notes in succession accurately. It was more about rhythms and bass.
Using the stylus, was more about dance.
It was more accurate, faster, but i was “drawing” music onto the canvas, even more so, using Wacom’s distance recognition, being able to play notes in the air without touching the surface, by pressing the click button on the stylus itself.
Using the touch screen was about precision.
I was able to hit desired notes fast, with high accuracy, being able to create melodies and expressions, and repeat those in quick succession.
The greatest thing about Plink however, is that these forms of play, greatly changed not only my experience of it, but of other participants, which reflected in their responses.
When someone stood out in the way they played, everyone else followed, harmonized, and tried to play along.
I’ve even been able to communicate to other players what I wanted them to do, by hovering over their circle and moving to where I wanted their instrument to sound with limited success. (reminds me of language learning process in Journey, talking through silence, pattern, frequency and duration).
Plink is a great example of limitations used well. It creates working dynamic relationships between participants without language, based on their choices, behaviors and patterns.
Patatap is a soundboard webapp which utilizes the keyboard that trigger sounds that carry animations along with them. There are multiple “color pallets” which carry different sound kits and color schemes for the screen.
Engaging with Patatap is a great example of play. It encompasses discovery and creation in one.
There is no tutorial or any key to tell you what sound is bound to what key. You play and you learn, eventually being able to memorize the sound placement across the keyboard, trying to come up with tunes within the given system, which can then be switched over to a new pallet with a press of a spacebar to begin the process again.
This is obviously not a game, there are no rules or goals, timers or reward feedback loops, there’s only direct input and output of color and sound. I think however, a game could be created within that system, within the given limitations. One could play Patatap and in their head, play a game, such as compelling themselves to keep within the rhythm, or trying to create a tune using exclusively vocal samples, or making something random and cohesive by switching pallets every second beat.
Patatap is a play canvas with no other purpose but to offer a play space.
Main feature of the game is the customizable “rausers”, which have 125 combinations according to the developer.
Customization includes a choice of a weapon, body, and engine.
All customization choices are based on advantages and drawbacks, for example you would sacrifice rate of fire for massive damage, slower speed for stronger hull, and maybe handling for super speed.
The range of options is great, and it offers a great variety of gameplay. You might focus on evasion, or spread your damage, or line up your shots.
Something I noticed however, that is quite intuitive and unnoticeable, but has a huge impact on the way the game feels and the state of flow, is the music, which also changes based on your customization options.
Different weapons change the rhythms
Different Bodies change the melody track
Different Engines change the bass track
Which is quite fitting-
Weapons – rapid fire, rhythms
Body – stronghold, embodiment, self, identity
Engine – hum, drone, intensity
To further investigate, I peeked into the game data folder in Program Files (x86)/Steam/SteamApps/common/Luftrausers/data/bgm, and surely enough, there are separate .ogg files for different tracks, that get assembled by the game when you make your custom rauser selection.
The way customizable music affects the game experience is uncanny. It is both intuitive and up front, yet almost unnoticeable and taken for granted, one may even think it’s just background music without giving it a second thought, where in fact, the player is even given a custom background music based on their choice of play style.
A tiny animation I made for my brother’s youtube channel as an intro to his videos. He’s a metal detecting specialist, discovering lost treasures and cleaning the environment from hazardous metal scraps. Check out his site and blog:
Made in Photoshop, sound design done using iPad apps BFXR & PixiTracker 1bit. Soundtrack assembled in Live, frames assembled using VirtualDub.