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Your Music Is the Game Designing PHASE, the Other Game at Harmonix by Chris Foster, Senior Designer.

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Presentation on theme: "Your Music Is the Game Designing PHASE, the Other Game at Harmonix by Chris Foster, Senior Designer."— Presentation transcript:


2 Your Music Is the Game Designing PHASE, the Other Game at Harmonix by Chris Foster, Senior Designer

3 About Me  Formerly of Turbine (LOTRO), Impressions  Involved in various non-Rock Band initiatives  Designed final version of Phase, programmed bits of it

4 What Is Phase?  Inspired by Frequency/Amplitude  Play using your own music, on your iPod  Tap and glide  Single songs and marathons  6-15 people, ~1 year (after external R&D, demo)  For more info, see

5 Overview  First Prototype  Reacting to Apple  Visual Style  Audio Analysis  Core Gameplay  Metagame

6 The Beginning

7 The Inspiration for Phase  After Frequency/Amplitude, how do we make music games successful?  If how much you enjoy playing music depends on how much you enjoy the music itself… … then playing your own music is a good idea!  One inspiration: Vib Ribbon

8 “Play your own Music”  Can tech make notes as well as people?  External R&D: Tech can do it well enough, some of the time.  Let’s Prototype it!

9 Phase (prototype)

10 The PSP Demo  One track  Two lanes (shoulder buttons)  Unfiltered R&D results  notes  Urban journey  Instead of switching tracks, building a world

11 The Early Demo

12 What Was Learned  Analysis worked for some songs  Data needed to be filtered somehow  “Building a world” wasn’t central  Drum prototype was heating up – Enter Rock Band!  Project stopped – team dispersed

13 The Opportunity

14 Phase on the iPod?  Great:  The music is there  Unique controller  It does games!  Challenging:  Constrained tech  Unique controller  Fundamentally different audience

15 The iPod Audience, and What the Game Isn’t  Not necessarily gamers  Won’t “invest in fun”  Listeners first, Players second Complexity is not welcome We entertain them Game sessions aren’t super-long We have some thinking to do… and a brand new team!

16 Visual Style Looking for a Look

17 How to Look Accessible  Frequency/Amplitude: hip, abstract, confusing  No person, no instrument, no performance… now what?  A Journey.  Performance games: personable, understandable

18 The Road to the Journey Eventually, a single inspiration…

19 A Journey into Music Numerous approaches to this idea were considered, including… Michel Gondry’s video for “Star Guitar” -- traveling through a world shaped by music

20 Alternate Journey

21 New Team, New Idea: The Visualizer  iPod couldn’t handle world-building  Gameplay wasn’t adding up anyway  Personify your music  Album Art, genre iconography  Your own photos? (Eww…)  “Listen first, play second”  Listen in Phase, Play from the OS

22 Visuals and Accessibility  Image access broke the visualizer  Re-assess: We’d ignored accessibility!  We considered people, too  Monster Rancher = your music comes to life  Wait! Our game is traveling down a road!  No, not actually in a car, Chris  What’s the style of our journeys?  Must be compelling, but technically simple (Note: Hand-drawn Chris Foster originals have been known to increase in value among speculators aged 8 and younger.)

23 Aaron Stewart  “Understandable & personable” became “fun”  Set a tone for entire team… including design  An external “rally point” that energized us

24 Audio Analysis Defining “good enough”

25 Raw Data  Transients: Gameplay Notes  Low/Mid/High – Left/Center/Right  Loudness  Beats: visual effects (for starters)  Estimated tempo track  A “confidence” measure that wasn’t.  As raw data, this stuff worked well enough… for “normal” songs.

26 Outlier Songs  Songs with long silences  Ambient music  Super-irregular rhythms  Feedback and noise  Björk

27 Quest for Musicality  Patterns should get the same gems  Verses/Choruses should repeat the same gems  When the detected beat breaks or shifts, we should spackle in repairs  Emphasize Instruments over Drums over Vocals?  Low/Mid/High does this a bit

28 The Dangers of Smartness  Which songs have which problems?  Fix one song, make others worse  More rules, more bugs  Already porting from Matlab to C++  200 formal test songs vs. “millions”  Still flushing out catastrophic failures

29 Keeping It Simple  “More Musical” = Beats x volume  Easier difficulties get only most musical notes  Still limited: Easy got more notes  Breaking up “sameness” of a song  Loud/soft sections = denser/sparser notes  A little intent went a long way  Squeezing out more notes  More sensitivity, more errant notes  But worth it

30 … and this is simple. Transients Time Energy (volume) Lanes Beats Time Confidence Transient Proximity to Beat Consistent Beats Volume RMS per Time-slice RMS Volume per Beat Loud and Soft Sections “Spackled” Visual Beats Notes Expert Hard Medium Easy

31 Taking a Break  We still have gaps without notes!  Stupid musicians!  We can’t just make more notes  We need a gameplay solution…

32 Core Gameplay No guitars, no plate- spinning… no problem!

33 Re-inventing (for) the Wheel  “Gliding” feels good and natural!  Can “slaloming” feel musical?  Let’s fill in gaps… with sweeps!

34 A Sweeping Success (sorry)  Better than expected!  So: short sweeps  Musical placement  From “rails” to “coins”  A sweeping-only game?

35 A New Input Device  First: Tapping  Back to Natural Mapping  PSP team had creative controls, now largely impossible  Without iPods, how do we test controls?

36 How To Make an iPod

37 Are We Fun Yet?  Songs were getting boring  Old techniques were gone  No plate-spinning  No plastic guitar  PSP team cast a wide net for alternate gameplay  Too complex for iPod (and our schedule)

38 Adding Tension  Not enough push back  Accuracy too narrow  “Stars” include streaks, provides broader range of success/failure  Mid-song goals  Who needs old-style Checkpoints?  We do!  We show star progress during a song  Rock Band stole it!

39 A Lesson in Simplicity Vs.Vs. Strikes (last known photo) HeartsStars The Problem: Gain one good thing: Stars Gain one bad thing: Strikes Result: Confusion The Solution: Gain one thing: Stars Gain one thing: Stars Lose another thing: Hearts

40 Speaking of Simplicity…  Suggestion: “Choosing difficulty levels is too ‘hardcore’ ”  Proposal: Hit a phrase/bubble to survive, hit all gems in bubble to thrive  Deciphering “gem bubbles” would have been even harder

41 The Metagame The Gameplay that Happens Between Songs

42 Grand Schemes  “Reward players for exploring their music”  Play every song from artists, artists, albums, playlists  Collectibles, pegboards, auto-generated “maps of your music”  Easter eggs in random songs, artists etc.  Maps in iTunes too? Sure!

43 Schedule-induced Elegance  We have a contract!  We have a ship date!  It’s cut our schedule in half!  (BTW, Campaigns aren’t fun yet)

44 Back to Basics  Classic Arcade Design  Building a multi- song arc  Forcing the difficulty issue  Searching for the round peg

45 Discarding Grand Ideas  Much of the old ideas could have worked  There wasn’t time to find out  The open-ended game didn’t push back  It would have… eventually  Lessons:  Fun wasn’t central to the design  Humble ideas can be better than complex ones

46 Final Thoughts

47  Embrace your platform’s limitations and audience  If gameplay is abstract, find a way to personalize it  For analysis-driven procedural content, simple approaches reduce risk  Be wary of complex solutions, even when schedule allows them  Make sure everyone can understand the design  “Design is making bad decisions in pursuit of good ones.” You have to be willing to be wrong to find what’s right!

48 Q&A Thanks for your time! Special Thanks: Dan Teasdale, Rob Kay, Kasson Crooker, Josh Randall, and the Phase Team

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