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Cello Fortress is half video game, half live musical performance

Jordan Mallory

On its surface, Cello Fortress looks like a fairly straight forward (if rudimentary) twin-stick shooter for up to five players. Dig just a tiny bit deeper, however, and you'll discover that this game has a somewhat unique set of rules. For starters, one of the players must always be a man named Joost van Dongen, and his controller absolutely has to be a cello. For realsies.

Basically, van Dongen controls the half of the game that would normally be the purview of the computer in a standard twin-stick shooter, spawning cannons and mines and such to thwart the other four players and their respective tanks. To do so, van Dongen must play his cello in varying ways, improvising melodies that will lead to both effective in-game strategies and a listenable performance.

Don't expect Cello Fortress to show up on Steam Greenlight anytime soon, though. The game is as much of a piece of performance art as it is a collection of code, and as such can only be experienced during live events scheduled by van Dongen. That schedule can be found on the game's official website, and here's hoping for some tour dates outside of The Netherlands.

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Cello Fortress trailer revealed!
15 January 2013

Today the very first trailer for Cello Fortress is revealed! Cello Fortress is a unique combination of a live cello concert and a game, and is intended to be played at events (festivals and such). Cello Fortress is the new game by Joost van Dongen, creator of 2011 hit abstract indie racer Proun. Cello Fortress is controlled by a real cello and this trailer should clear up what it is all about!

In essence, Cello Fortress is a twin stick shooter. Four players cooperate using Xbox controllers to destroy as many cannons as possible. However, the cannons are not controlled by the computer, but by a live cellist! Joost improvises live music on his cello, and tries to do that in such a way that the game not only does what he wants, but also that the music actually sounds good. In a sense, this is the ultimate in adaptive music!

The current version of Cello Fortress is still in beta and far from finished. The graphics are just some quick prototyping models thrown together, and all kinds of things still need tweaking and improving. Nevertheless, Cello Fortress is already touring and has so far played at several events!

Cello Fortress may be a music game, but it is nothing like existing music games like Guitar Hero. In Cello Fortress the instrument is a real cello, and real music is played. The cellist is also not scored for playing the 'right' or 'wrong' notes. Instead, he controls a shooting game by improvising.

Cello Fortress is a complex project in several ways: playing cello so that it sounds good and controls the game is a big challenge and requires an experienced cellist and a lot of practice. Analysing what the cello plays is also technically very complex and has probably never been done before in a computer game.

Joost explains where the concept came from: "Cello Fortress is a really weird and unique game, but for me it makes a lot of sense: playing cello has been a hobby of mine for ages, and I am a professional game developer. I like to make weird, unique things. How could these ingredients not combine into a game? Coming up with the actual concept for Cello Fortress was more difficult though: cello and computer can be combined in many different ways and it took me years to come up with something that is fun for the audience to play and watch, controllable by a cellist, and still allows for beautiful music. I think Cello Fortress hits the spot!"

For more info on Cello Fortress, check the blogpost at

About Joost van Dongen
Joost van Dongen is a Dutch indie game creator, who is making Cello Fortress in his spare time. Before working on Cello Fortress, he made the abstract racing game Proun, with its striking minimalistic art style. Proun was not only a hit among gamers and reviewers, but was also exhibited in several prestigious modern art museums. Joost has been a hobby cellist for 20 years, and plays in the baroque orchestra Kunstorkest. In his daily life, Joost is lead programmer and co-founder of Ronimo Games, the game development studio behind the successful 2D MOBA Awesomenauts (Steam/Xbox360/PS3) and the award winning side-scrolling strategy game Swords & Soldiers (PS3/Wii/Steam/iOS/Android). When they were still students, Ronimo also made the original version of the colourful painting extravaganza De Blob. Cello Fortress, however, is a solo project that was developed by Joost in the weekends and evenings. Want to know more about Joost's adventures as a game developer? Read his blog for weekly bits of dev insight!

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