April 30th, 2012 | By Chris Priestman
“I can’t stand Guitar Hero”, announced the ever-enthusiastic Jon Brodsky from Lucky Frame during his talk about Creative Music Games at Indie Connect. Jon brought a lot of energy and discussion to the festival on and off stage, so it was clear that he has a lot of passion for what he is doing. Before he divulged his stance on the more commercial side of rhythm/music games though, he exposed his roots. These were, not too surprisingly, planted in the punk rock scene – playing in a makeshift band and carrying the anti-establishment values that come as standard.
Of course, it’s not too much of a leap from that to the side of indie games, in which developers create their own games how they see fit and often do not conform to standard practices and teachings. That, when combined with being a kid of the modern age, made John all too eager to create his own games with a music core to drive them. The initial urge came from seeing what a friend and now colleague of his made – the Wii Loop Machine. Quite simply, this was a game in which the Wiimote could be used to chop up and rearrange music in an intuitive fashion. With the seeds sown, John took the plunge into programming so that he may move closer to that lifelong dream of creating his own game.
Thus, Musjik was born. This was a simple effort and mostly served as a seminal piece for what would become Lucky Frame’s later and more popular projects. One thing Jon realised he really wanted to achieve from this point onwards, was a simple and user-friendly interface for creating music. He remembers creating music on his Gameboy all those years ago and he grew very attached to that interface; the A and B buttons as well as the D-Pad. He claims that the majority of players get used to and rely on certain interfaces and refuse to let go of them. Therefore, he didn’t want something that would cause a barrier between the player and the act of creating music.
That is the most important thing for Jon and Lucky Frame, “creating music”, which is why he despises the franchises that allow players to play music – other people’s music, not the player’s own creations. Of course, there is some capacity for players to create their own music in those games but not to the degree that Lucky Frame look to achieve.
With all of this in mind, John showcased a prototype he made for his next game, Space Hero. What was clear from the start with this game is that Jon had made the act of creating music a recognisable game in itself. Imagine Space Invaders with falling shapes which, when shot, would emit a sound produced by a drum machine that loosely slotted in with the rhythm of the soundtrack.
Space Hero wasn’t a bad effort but it was inspiration from the Monome SHM Software that led up to his best creation so far. This electronic instrument is operated by a person pushing down on its grid interface which would cause several lights to come on in random places and emit corresponding sounds, even more variation can be had if more than one square in the grid is pushed down. From this came a game jam creation in which the player could control the environment in a tower defense style game – the catch being that the player was trying to create music but the enemies would destroy it.
It’s not easy to adequately surmise what Jon was showing the audience but it clearly impressed the room for both its simplicity and originality. The latest work from Jon and Lucky Frame is, of course, Pugs Luv Beats – a take on the tower defense title from the jam with more polish and a whole lot more character. Still present was the grid-based interface though, which had different terrains spread across it as the titular pugs skipped across to different chimes collecting beetroot.
Now, the whole point of Jon’s talk on Creative Music Games was to inspire the many developers present in the room to start thinking about designing games with music in mind, as it clearly leads to some very interesting game designs. Not entirely self-indulgent, John pointed out a few examples of games that allowed the player to create their own music and to an impressive result. These were Tambour, FRACT OSC and Proteus, which we’ll now quickly outline.
Tambour is showcased as a drumming game primarily in a versus mode style attack-defend scenario. However, it can be played with just about anything as long as rhythms can be played. Mostly, it’s a strategy game with timing being the crucial factor as you would imagine. Players can deploy shields and fire cannons and hope for high scoring combos – the game’s 1.0 version is due to be released on May 8th.
FRACT OSC is no stranger to this publication. A puzzle game mostly, FRACT OSC has the player wondering around figuring out the music-based environment as they go. They’ll come across ancient machines that are in-game synthesizers that can be used to create custom music and with such an incredible range too.
Proteus is markedly different to the previous two examples in that the player doesn’t create the music so actively, but it is created around them, reacting to their movements. The game is best surmised by the idea that the developers a re conducting an electronic orchestra around the player as they explore. Animals, the elements and plant life are the instruments in this magical land.
Jon is clearly very experimental and ambitious with what he does and he’s been part of some brilliant game designs. Hopefully, upon sharing his creations and techniques we’ll start to see more of these creative music games emerge, not only because music is important to all of us and computer games, but also because it brings fresh approach to game design and leads to some exciting discoveries.