Revolutionary: Synaesthetic

This week I wanted to take on scripting for an indie game, and one that came in high regard was Synaesthete. I didn't know much about it when I first tried it out, except that it was a cross-breed of rhythm games and action shooters, and I was hopeful that it would lend itself to the Wii experience as well as the last rhythm hybrid I tried out. One level was all it took to start the script-writing cogs turning in my head, and after much experimentation, I wound up with a script that dynamically changes what makes this brilliant game so fun to play.

At first, nothing about Synaesthete makes it scream out that it was born for Wii, but ultimately, the addition of Wii controls has made this game my new addiction. I truly believe that a Wii port of this title would be hailed as the "next big thing."

Synaesthete is the brainchild of a team of DigiPen students, and it won them the IGF award for Best Student Game.

What's the prize-winning formula at the heart of this game? Trippy Tron-like visuals perfectly blend with thumping synth beats for a total package that would rock any rave. Play-wise, it combines the tap-in-time gameplay that's been the basis of rhythm games from Dance Dance Revolution to Rock Band, and 360-degree shooting, which has been around since Asteroids and has witnessed a resurgence in popularity with Geometry Wars. You're attacked from all sides by waves of digital beasties, and you have to steer clear of them while punching keys in time with the scrolling columns of beat bars. From that first play session, my plan was to somehow incorporate waggle for shaking out your attacks, so you could really get into the groove.

Hmm, "Geometry Hero" doesn't sound like a bad idea ...

Since you aren't tasked with aiming your shots while you move, the Wiimote and Nunchuk would seem sufficient for playing the game. My first draft of the script had movement mapped to the Nunchuk's analog stick, and shaking the Wiimote while holding directions on the D-pad would control shooting. It was similar to how I wrote my script for Frets on Fire. In Synaesthete, that was okay for the first level, but it couldn't work for other parts of the game when all three columns would have to be simultaneously triggered. There's just no way to press three directions on the D-pad simultaneously, and assigning the columns to buttons instead would make the game overly complicated.

So I changed it so that shaking the Nunchuk and Remote would trigger the left and right columns simultaneously, and I added in the Balance Board for hitting beats in the middle column.

WASD = Nunchuk.Joy

With version .30 of GlovePIE, digital joystick to keyboard mapping is condensed down from four lines of code to one.

wait 20ms //"Warm-up" time for the Balance Board
//Get initial BB values for offsetting

If !var.init
var.BBinit = Wiimote2.BalanceBoard.Weight
var.init = True
var.BB = (Wiimote2.BalanceBoard.Weight - var.BBinit) //"Zeroed balance"
J = (Nunchuk.RawAccY > abs(20)) //Shake Nunchuk for left beats
K = (var.BB > abs(1Kg)) //Apply 1Kg or more of weight/pressure to the Balance Board for middle beats
L = (Wiimote.RawAccY > abs(20)) //Shake the Wiimote for right beats
I = (Nunchuk.ZButton and Wiimote.B) //Press Z and B to cast spells

As Rez HD shows, vibration does a lot to enhance a synaesthetic experience. We could make several Wiimotes rumble in unison or pattern in response to our input, but for this script I've only set it up to vibrate on the primary one. Shaking the Wiimote or Nunchuk, or tapping the Balance Board will give a little jolt to the Wiimote, as well as displaying a little "burst" on the LEDs.

If (Nunchuk.RawAccY > abs(20)) or (var.BB > abs(1Kg)) or (Wiimote.RawAccY > abs(20))
Wiimote.Rumble = True
wait 25ms
Wiimote.LEDs = 6
wait 25ms
Wiimote.LEDs = 15
Wiimote.Rumble = False
Wiimote.Rumble = False
Wiimote.LEDs = 0

To round out the functionality of the script, we add in some basic mouse controls. This requires an IR sensor bar to move your cursor to navigate menus and start gameplay .

If Wiimote.PointerVisible
(Mouse.X /2) = Wiimote.PointerX
(Mouse.Y /2) = Wiimote.PointerY

Mouse.LeftButton = Wiimote.Left //Left mouse button
Mouse.RightButton = Wiimote.Right //Right mouse button
Enter = Wiimote.Plus //Menu enter
Esc = Wiimote.Minus //Menu back
Shift + P + I + E = Wiimote.Home //Stops script running

//Balance Board, Wiimote, and Nunchuk stats
Debug = "BB: " + var.BBinit + ", Wiimote: " + Wiimote2.RawAccY + ", Nunchuk: " + Nunchuk.RawAccY

I normally get a lot of time to practice before I start shooting a video, but because this script was so simple, I felt comfortable enough to start the camera rolling on my third time playing it. As you'll see, I'm not yet an expert, but Guitar Hero addicts or DDR maniacs could easily dominate in this game, provided they can get past the curve ball thrown in the form of its shooter mechanics. Here's where being capable of rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time would prove useful.

If ported to the Wii, the Balance Board, as I've used it here, should be replaced with a custom pedal set. I'd hope and expect to see two pedals for higher difficulty modes with another corresponding on-screen column of beats for paradiddle stomping out an offensive like a superstar double-bass drummer. I just fear for my closets, already stuffed with gaming peripherals.

To flesh out the package more, a multiplayer co-op mode could have one player controlling movement with a Nunchuk joystick or Wiimote D-pad, A versus mode could work like a typical shooter deathmatch, but with power-ups dropped in like Guitar Hero 3's battles. As with any rhythm game, we'd hope for a song creator or importing feature, but we've learned not to hold our breath for it.

Are you in agreement that Synaesthete for Wii could be a hit, or would it be playing to a deaf audience (who also can't seem to appreciate the explosive excellence of Boom Blox)? What changes or additions do you think it would need to usurp games like Rock Band and Geometry Wars in the hearts and minds of their respective fans? Leave a comment for discussion.

Every Tuesday, Mike Sylvester brings you REVOLUTIONARY, a look at the wide world of Wii possibilities. The rhythm genre, like much of the Wii's wares, is often thought of as a gateway into gaming, but some people still show apprehension in the face of Dragonforce. If you're still feeling like rhythm gaming is not for you, take a look at Revolutionary: Guitar Heroes are made, not born, where Mike converts a rhythmically-challenged friend into a Guitar Hero junkie.