Other than the obvious Karaoke titles and the later Mario Party games, audio is an untapped resource in gameplay input. Kicking off the Experimental Gameplay Session at this year's Game Developers Conference, a dozen or so quick-and-dirty games set out to change that.
Here are some of the highlights from those initial games.
- The selected music will create falling enemies from the top of the screen (Though it was written with pop in mind, classical music was used to a rather disappointing effect). As a ball tethered to both sides of the screen, you move it with the mouse to capture the enemies. Capture radius too small? Talk (or yell) into the microphone and the radius increases accordingly). We rank this one impressive.
- Designer Sean Barret created a Tempest style game, where the player has two shooters representing the bass and treble. As enemies come down the field, your shoots created the notes according to the row you were at (the bass blaster had five or so lines reserved, while treble had eight or nine). In this scenario, the game was forcing you to play the song. To prove this point, we witness the horrible sounds made when shots are fired randomly or targets missed.
- In another game, blips appeared on the screen and you had to avoid them with your mouse cursor. Each near-hit would register a sound, starting with a simple bass beat. As the game progressed, more obstacles and lighting effects would appear. Eventually, we lost track of what the point of the game was, though the flashing lights, reminiscent of a rave, enjoyed us enough not to care. The audience agreed, cheering wildly at the demo's conclusion.
- Casey Miratori's entry certainly wins style points. Starting with a disclaimer, "this game has been editid to comply with ESRB ratings guidelines," Ears of War had to parts: censorship training and the standard mission. We aren't sure if censorship training was interactive; from our perspective, it just played a profanity-laden phrase and counted, rated and censored each of potty mouth words. Mission mode was a first person shooter that looked like a hackneyed version of Gears of War. You hum the theme song of the game (we're not sure what it is) to move forward along a track, continuing to stay hidden behind barriers. Making a machine gun sound caused the player to fire at the enemies.
Montreal game developer Kokoromi held an open challenge design contest. Within a 2-month development time, the game must use a console controller and not PC controls to make it more accessible. Game sessions must last no more than five minutes long, it must have a low learning curve (hence the gamepad), and an audio signal must generate gameplay and not just visual. Using the live audio from DJ or a band. The game must be self-contained and short.
From this challenge, seven games were selected and presented at a party in conjunction with GAMMA Game Art Fesitval, with live music that was used as input in the games:
I have big balls. The name of the game, quite predictably, drew giggles from the audience. The title is a 2-player sumo match where you can have -- and we quote -- "blowing and sucking forces" as you try to push the other character off the screen. The floor of the level rippled in conjunction with the audio input, which adding a physical challenge.
- Goatscape from Garage Games. The gameplay was inspired by Smash TV, where enemies came out of four entrances positioned at the top, bottom, left and right of screen. The enemy propagation rate and speed was affected by the bass beat. Each enemy leaves a colorful, paintball-esque stain once vanquished. Shown off was a favorite mode where you had to save the VIP, a quivering kitten with big eyes.
- Cosmo Crash. This game was rather simple and the audio control was minimal. You dodge asteroids, whose source rotate around the screen that gave it a somewhat more interesting environment (as opposed to the stoic, right-to-left nature of R-Type, for example). The audio "actually triggers the apparition of asteroids," according to the developer. Multiplayer is where this title shines.
- Cylvans (pictured). Somewhat akin to a real-time variant of Go, with a few twists. The game board responds to the frequencies of a song. As you place pieces on the board against your opponent, every time the corresponding frequency is triggered your piece overlaying that square will grow. Pieces can be destroy by having your chips surround the opponent's piece. That's the kind of game we'd love to spend time developing strategies and playing with friends.
- Glee, which Kokomori made themselves. Your mission was to attempt to catch as many pulsers (vectorized skeletons of emoticons). Low, medium and high frequencies produce different colored pulsers. Bonus points for capture pulsers in their corresponding colored nest. To defeat enemies, you have to push pulsers into them simlar to Pikmin. (Again, Kokoromi talks about the "sucking and blowing" forces, and again there are laughs.)
- Mr. Hands, a puzzle game using XNA development tools. Take your goofy arms and move them to grab orbs and avoid bombs. Music incorporation is minimal, control the aesthetic wiggle of arms and the timer speed.
- Rainbow Surfer was our second favorite next to Cylvans. You play a leprechaun riding a trout on a rainbow. The rainbows hills and valleys controlled via the music frequencies. The gameplay had a very Excite Bike-esque feel to it.
Also shown during the first half Kloonigames, a blog where the developer Klooniporo spends seven days or less producing a title to play and then releases it for free download. The results are very fun and we suggest you check them out.
Though unlikely to see mainstream successes, the designs presented during the session were welcoming in the sense that there is concerted effort (and relative success) in trying to add life and zest to the games industry. That, or at least form a bizarro clique in gaming culture. That'd be fun to watch, too.
[Update 1: Corrected gameplay mechanic error for Cosmic Crash.]