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Hello I am Oscar and welcome to my Video Game Music blog on Destructoid!

This blog is an investigation into and discussion about Video Game Music and how music affects video games as a creative medium.

If you wanna talk to me or follow me on Twitter you can (but atm it's pretty boring)
http://twitter.com/Oscarno_

Also you can check out the music I make on my Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/oscarno
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Oscarno
12:50 AM on 07.25.2014


In 2012 Arkane studios released their much anticipated 1st person stealth adventure game, Dishonored. Set in Dunwall, a dystopian port city with strong 19th Century London and steampunk influences, the player is thrust into the role of Corvo Attano, a bodyguard of the empress framed for her murder. The game also utilised a system called "Chaos", if the game was played stealthily and with few casualties, the overall chaos would stay at a low level, but if the player decided to kill everyone in sight and not sneak around at all, the chaos would become high. These outcomes meant that future levels would include a different number of enemies and different endings could be reached. The music of the game was composed by Daniel Licht, the composer for the TV series Dexter and the games Silent Hill: Downpour, and Silent Hill: Book of Memories. Licht's work on Disohonored is inspired by the Dickensian setting, with soft drones and ambiances accompanied by harsh tones of classical instruments played in unconventional ways.  It's integration into the world is also rather interesting, as it doesn't directly reference what's on screen, but rather becomes an ambience that can sometimes deceive the player. When combined with the game's striking visual style and world steeped in lore, Dishonored's score really shines. 



One of the core elements of music is timbre (pronounced: tam-ber, weird I know). This refers to the quality of a musical sound, independent of it's pitch or intensity. Essentially, it's like describing the flavour of a sound. For example, one might describe a heavily distorted guitar as Harsh, coarse, gritty or piercing, or an oboe as woody, reedy or croaky. In Dishonored, Licht does two things to give his pieces a great variety of timbre; firstly, he uses conventional instruments in unconventional ways to great effect, secondly he uses some more unconventional instruments in order to create some effective sounds. 

Throughout the score, there are a few sounds which stand out to me which take full use of timbre. There are many electronic tones which creep into the mix at points, and these always provide that extra colour that couldn't be provided from acoustic instruments, their alien nature and vagueness add a great sense of mystery to the music. One of the key instruments of the score is the Violin. It's used in various different ways throughout the score but one of it's most effective uses is in the Main Theme, as it plays harmonics and sliding the notes up and down, mimicking the cries of the whales the city of Dunwall uses as their energy source. The hammered dulcimer is really in the spotlight of this score though, being used very liberally throughout. It's tinny, ringing quality cuts through the mix and really ties everything together. It's sound is somewhat reminiscent of it's descendant, the harpsichord, and this parallel helps solidify the similarities and differences of the real world London, which saw great growth during the time of the harpsichord and the alternate universe city of Dunwall. Most of the sound adds to this, in fact, as the real world stringed instruments accompanied by modified and electronic instruments gives a sense of distant familiarity which really helps to build the world the player is exploring. 



The way the music is implemented is quite unconventional but yields some surprising effects when playing. Most of the time, all the player will hear are diegetic sounds, sounds which are coming form the environment they are in. This is fantastic for a stealth game, as the player has to constantly be aware of their surroundings and since a TV or monitor don't give full 370° vision, sound is the best way to inform the player of what is going on off camera. But where most games will use this to reinforce what the player is doing within the world, Dishonored does just the opposite.  When the player is exploring a particular section of the world or hiding underneath a dining room table, music may fade in. The effect the music has depends on the player's mental state at the time, if they are freely exploring then it may give them a sense of drive and purpose as they edge closer to their goal, if they are trying to stay hidden in a claustrophobic space, it may give them the sense that something is happening and they might get caught. This unorthodox implementation of the music really shows that Licht and the entire sound team put a lot of thought into how sound and music works with Dishonored and created an auditory experience that immerses the player into the experience the game is providing. 

The music is especially designed for this as well. Sure there's music for when combat breaks out and that is percussion heavy and it builds the sense of tension and adrenaline within the game, but the other than that the music is ambient, sparse and mysterious, which compliments the setting, characters and overall atmosphere than prevails over much of the game. 

Overall, Dishonored's music and sound show that the team put great thought into how it would affect the players experience. The unpredictability of the music and it's mystique allow it to continue surprising the player and keeping them on edge and always aware of what is happening in the game. Also, the designers knew when to keep music out of the picture, which makes it so much more effective when it creeps up on the player. The use of unusual timbres gives the score plenty of character and makes the world so much more believable. 

What do you think? Should music have played a more prominent role in the game? Did the unpredictability keep you on edge, or make you feel unimportant? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

If you want to hear more on Dishonored's music, check out this episode of Top Score!
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So I wasn't able to write a Case Study last week, and I really didn't want to go 2 weeks without posting anything, so here is a quick little thing I thought up 20 seconds ago, Oscarno's most anticipated noises from games (as of July 18th 2014)! So I'm going to pick some soon to be released games and talk about why I'm so excited to get those sweet sound waves right up into my temporal lobe! So let's get stuck into it!


Super Smash Bros. for WiiU / 3DS




I'm not going to lie, I'm going to be getting both versions of this game and I'm a little ashamed of it. But I can't help myself! There's so much great music that is crammed into the Smash Bros games that I have to experience as soon as possible! Also, with the different versions having exclusive stages, there are going to be some tracks that just aren't going to be in both games. The remixes and re-imaginings of so many nintendo tunes is always something to look forward to. I'm a little anxious though, as in most of the gameplay we've seen so far, there hasn't been a whole lot of original music, just recycled tracks from Brawl...I really hope the soundtrack isn't all recycled because that would just be really disappointing, I mean, just listen to that new theme it's magnificent! But hey, I'm optimistic Sakurai is up to his mischievous ways so we can all be blown away by all the new music we're going to be hearing come the end of this year. 

Hyrule Warriors




Is this the final name? Because it was a working title when they announced the game, but now they have full title graphics and everything? Either way I don't mind I think the name is pretty neat, BUT WE'RE NOT HERE TO TALK ABOUT NAMES, WE'RE HERE TO TALK ABOUT RAD MUSIC!!! It was only when I watched the above trailer that it finally clicked in my head that we are going to get some gnarly renditions of Zelda themes, and not just a few picked here and there. If this game is going through as much Zelda chronology as I'm hoping we are going to get a whole lot of music inspired by a whole lot of Zelda games. Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past, Wind Waker...Minish Cap??? Eh probably not the last one, but a guy can dream. I'm really excited to hear some of the most recognised music in gaming played on some distorted guitars and backed by an orchestra. It's going to be righteous. 

The Grim Fandango



I never got to play Grim Fandango, and I've never really looked into the soundtrack, but when I heard this game was being remastered I nearly flipped out. I am so excited to get myself all up in this game. As one of the first games to have a full CD soundtrack release (at least in the west) there's no doubt this is going to be one hell of a ride. I'm curious as to whether the soundtrack is going to be remastered along with the game, or if they'll just use the original recordings. Personally I'm hoping they'll re-record everything, because hey, if you're remastering a game, you may as well remaster it's music right?

90s Arcade Racer




This game seems to have flown under most people's radar, but not mine! I'm pretty sure it's federal law that every movie cinema in Australia has at least 2 Daytona USA cabinets. I've grown up with the sound form those machines ringing in my ears and I can't wait to see what this game might have to offer musically. Taking inspiration Daytona USA and various other cabinets, my bet is it's going to be fast, loud and outa sight. Without a doubt I'll be picking up this title and rockin out for hours on end. 

Splatoon



Splatoon was a surprise to pretty much everyone when it was shown at this year's E3 and I have to say I was charmed form the beginning. Arena shooter? cool. On the WiiU? cool! With Squid people? HOT DANG! There seems to be some serious Jet Set Radio influence coming through here and that excites me to no end, the developers even said they imagine the music is part of the game's world and is what the characters would listen to! I am so excited to hear the tubular tunes coming form this game. Oh my gosh it's going to be Squid Punk. Yeah. Squid Punk. 

So those are 5 games which I am super excited about, and looking back it seems most of them are either Re-imaginings or Nintendo games...huh. Obviously there are so many more games that I'm excited about: Hyper Light Drifter, Rainworld, Monster Hunter 4G, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (omg i'm kidding settle down) and like a billion others, but what I'm most excited about are the surprises. Those games I go into not expecting anything and being absolutely blown out of the water, into space and onto a distant planet made out of Cheetos. Also, Im excited to hear YOUR most anticipated game noises!!! So tell me, tell all of us!!
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The Animal Crossing  series is a charming, beloved franchise which began with the Japan only N64 release of the original game in 2001. It was then released internationally on the Gamecube the following year. In 2013, following the releases of Wild World (DS, 2005) and City Folk (Wii, 2008),  Animal Crossing: New Leaf was released internationally on the Nintendo 3DS.  Widely regarded as the best release in the franchise, it was a great success and an enjoyable game for long time Animal Crossing devotees and newcomers alike. Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with Animal Crossing will tell you that it is cute, charming, funny, and strangely addictive. This is thanks to the lovely stylised visuals, the thoughtful and witty writing and of course, the music. Kazumi Totaka was a composer for the first two games in the series, and sound director for the subsequent games. The music plays an integral part in the games' overall construction, as there is music playing almost 100% of the time. It's the way the music is treated to work in this very delicate circumstance that makes it truly unique. 

As you may or may not know, the Animal Crossing games run in real time. If a real world hour passes, an in game hour passes. If the sun is setting outside, it's probably setting in the game, whether you have it turned on or not. Now, a real time clock is nifty and all, but it's how the music works in conjunction with this clock that really makes it something special. At the top of every hour, after the town hall bell chimes, a tune will start to play. This tune is different for each hour of the day and plays continuously until the next hour arrives. On paper, this might sound like it'd get horribly tedious and repetitive, but these pieces are created with short phrases, which bounce around various different instruments which keeps the pieces from becoming stale too fast. In this way they are much more akin to a small ditty rolling around the back you your head instead of listening to a song on loop for an hour. 



But the hourly soundtrack also creates some interesting and unexpected things when playing the game. Given the game's nature, they player may return every day, or every few days to check on their town. Generally, people will check at similar times every few days or as their schedule allows. When players do this, they will be playing with the same piece accompanying them. This subconsciously establishes a routine in the player's mind and provides a sense of familiarity whenever they enter their town. This also means that if the player enters their town at a different time, the music will be different, and this will create the feeling that something different may be occurring in the town, or that the town has a different feel to the player's regular visit time. 

Another interesting side effect of the hourly rotating soundtrack is the sense of time and progression the player gets through the music. If the player plays through the turn of the hour, or for over an hour, the music will change which gives the player a subtle and instinctive indication of time passing. No clock faces have to pop up on screen, no alarms have to go off, a simple change in the music gives the player a sense of time passing. This works especially well when the player completes their final task for the day on the hour, and the music changes to bid them farewell. This is all part of the charm that makes Animal Crossing such a dear game to so many people. 



Of course, the hourly music doesn't play in all locations. All of the key buildings in a village, such a shops, the museum and the town hall all have their own music. Once again, as these locations all have their own dedicated tunes, they all feel more and more familiar the more you visit them. In addition to this, places like Nook's store and the flower shop have pieces which change as they do. As these shops grow and acquire more merchandise, their music grows and changes to reflect their new atmosphere and attitude. 

The Animal Crossing games also have a small amount of music customisation, as the player can set the town tune in the town hall. This small passage will act as the town clocks bell, as the entrance bells to most buildings and will also play when the player talks to one of their villagers. Each villager, however, will have their own spin on the town tune and it will play in a unique way for each villager. Some will be lilting and lyrical, where others might be abrasive and dissonant. This small detail adds a whole layer of character onto each of the villagers and instantly let's you know what they're all about and what kind of character they are. But there's one character in particular which has some very interesting ties with music. 



K.K. Slider is a musical dog which gives performances in each of the Animal Crossing games. In earlier games he played on Saturday nights in the cafe below the museum, but in New Leaf he is the headline DJ at Club LOL. K.K. plays many different songs which are eventually available as records for the player and other villagers to own and play in their own homes. K.K. has some interesting real world connections though, as it is said that K.K. Slider is an analogue for the series' Sound Director, Kazumi Totaka. The special conditions for seeing a K.K. concert in earlier games made his presence almost mythical, and when you finally caught one it really did feel like a special occasion. K.K. reinforces the parallel between the Animal Crossing world and our own, giving the game more character and charm and bringing the music of the game to the player's attention. 

There's no doubt that the Animal Crossing series has done some special and interesting things with music along with game design. It's hourly rotation of music creates an atmosphere I've never experienced in any other video game and it manages to give the player so much information through sound alone. 

What do you think? Do you have a favourite Animal Crossing tune? How do you think K.K.'s presence affects the game? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Also, there's so much music in the Animal Crossing games, I just wasn't able to get it all, so if there's a musical aspect of AC you want to talk about, feel free to chat about it in the comments.
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Oscarno
11:46 PM on 06.26.2014

[Caution! What you are about to read contains story spoilers about Transistor, so if you want to keep it fresh, go finish the game and come back later. Seriously, you'll be kicking yourself if you read this before you play the game.]



The first OST Case Study I ever wrote was on Supergiant's 2011 release, Bastion. Here we are nearly 4 months later with Supergiant's latest work, Transistor. Once again, Darren Korb has managed to work his magic on this game as his signature sound rings throughout. The city of Cloudbank is paired with memorable and unique sounds and music which match the cyberpunk tone of the game very well.  Not only that, but it also aids in presenting the Noir-esque story to the player, setting solemn moods and developing to greatly reflect the story. Once again, Korb and Supergiant have created a game in which the music is deeply entwined with the setting and story and allows the game to be taken to new heights. 



When I first hear about Transistor, I was intrigued as to how Darren Korb's music would fit with the overall setting and style of the game. Bastion was set in a country like setting post calamity, and the guitars and heavy percussion used in the game seemed to reflect those two aspects of the setting very well.   I wasn't sure how the music would adapt to this new, more sci-fi setting. But the truth is, the music still remains similar to Bastion, but still fits extremely well. The electronic percussion instead of representing the destruction of the world, now symbolises  the city of Cloudbank, and the strong emphasis of guitar is attached to the human element of Red and the other characters who still remain in the city. Strangely enough, the complete 180° turn in setting has allowed the music to remain very much in the style of Korb (two games might not be much to base a "style" off but hey let's just go with it). This makes me very curious about what we might see next from Supergiant and Korb. Will it be a complete departure from what we're used to? or will we see a further evolution on their signature style.  But given Transistor was only released a month ago, it might be a little early for thoughts such as these. 

The story of Transistor revolves around the main protagonist, Red. A former singer who had her voice stolen from her who is determined to stop the robotic "Process" form taking over Cloudbank.  Red's former occupation as a popular performer in Cloudbank has some interesting implications on the game's music. For one, the player can press a button at any point in the game to make Red stand still and hum along to the music, providing both the character and the player some respite form the hostile environment they are traversing through. In addition to this, there are various Backdoors in Cloudbank which lead to the Sandbox, a small island with doors which lead to various challenge rooms. This island provides a larger rest point for the player as it's challenge rooms are purely player driven challenge. One of the more interesting aspects of the Sandbox are the Hammock and the Duke box. Upon completing a challenge, the Duke box will have a piece of music added to it's library, and the Hammock provides a place for players to sit and listen to the music or the characters reflections on the current situation in Cloudbank. It's certainly nice to have a quiet place to listen to the game's music, but it's the game's songs which really add that extra layer of depth onto the game's music. 



Red, being until recently a very popular musical performer in Cloudbank has a special connection with the city. Throughout the game, the player can see posters of Red plastered on walls, and Red even visits the stage she used to perform on. This reinforces Red's musical background to the player as they play the game.  However, it is clear to the player that Red is incapable of signing as they play so the yearning to hear her voice, and it's not long until they hear a performance from Red. But as it is abundantly clear that Red cannot sing in her current state, these must be flashbacks to her previous performances. These song flashbacks play during some boss battles and other key moments throughout the course of the game. These songs reinforce the current situation Red is in as the lyrics often reflect Red's feelings towards the situation at hand. Along with strengthening the mood and tone of a given scene, these songs also provide a strong addition to the game's lore, letting the player in on what Cloudbank was like before the Process outbreak. All of this world and character building ultimately leads up to the game's ending, when Red impales herself with the Transistor in order to regain her voice and be united with her deceased lover. The ending sequence is overflowing with emotion and it is all amplified by the song that plays during this final sequence. The great realisation dawns on the player that they are not hearing a memory of a performance but Red's first performance within the timeline of the game. Accompanied by a series of vignettes depicting Red and her partner living on happily within the Transistor. 

Transistor and it's score are a polishing and a refinement on what was presented in Bastion. Korb's musical signatures are still very much present in the soundtrack, despite it's distinct shift in setting.  It's strong association with the game's world and story make it a crucial part of the game, and allow it to tell the player a lot of information through music. Once again, Korb and Supergiant have created a great example of integration of music into video games and have definitely pushed the boundaries of how deeply entrenched music can be in a video game.
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Yoshi's story had it's initial Japan release in 1997 and was released internationally the following year. As a successor to the acclaimed Yoshi's Island it suffered critically as it didn't quite measure up in scope and complexity. The game, however brought some interesting mechanics to the table, such as level completion by collecting fruit, and a structure which works quite interestingly. It also utilised some sonic techniques which makes the sound for this game somewhat intriguing. The game's composer and voice actor for the Yoshis was none other than Kazumi Totaka. Totaka's works up to this point include such games as Mario Paint, Waverace 64, the Animal Crossing series and even the Wii Main Menu. Totaka's work on Yoshi's Story encapsulates the game's atmosphere and compliments the feel in an interesting way. The music of the game provides a surprising amount of variety rather counterintuitively by staying fundamentally the same through all levels. The range of musical styles touched on throughout the game is astonishing and meshes really well with the overall approach the game takes. 




The most interesting thing about the music of Yoshi's Story is that almost all of the level music is based off a single theme. Of course this isn't unheard of, Super Mario Bros. for example had only three pieces for the entire game, but what makes the music of Yoshi's Story special are the twists and turns the music takes. This singular melody which you've probably heard is recycled countless times throughout the game to very interesting results. On a beach level you might hear it played in a calypso style,  in a volcano you might hear it played with sitar and tablas, in snowy levels you'll hear a rendition on accordion with whistles to accompany. The sheer breadth of styles Totaka covers in this game is really special. From cave man like chants to acid jazz to reggae, this game has all of it and it never stops changing. Although the games locations don't have real world counterparts, and the musical styles don't always match their geographic placements, the collection of all of these musical styles speaks to both the game's universal appeal and it's eclectic presentation which has Yoshi traversing cardboard plains and paper mache castles.

However, the game isn't entirely built around this one melody as others appear throughout the game. The game's world is based around 6 different pages and each of these have their own pieces when viewed. These melodies are exclusively used for the stage select screens of each page and aren't really heard anywhere else in the game. Why these don't appear anywhere else is somewhat puzzling as they are pretty catchy and could have been integrated into the level music along with the main theme. What this means musically, however is that Totaka has based the musical elements of the game around the characters. Whenever a Yoshi is traversing a stage, the main theme is used, whenever the player is selecting a stage they get different music as there are no characters to guide which theme is used. There are two more themes used in the game which confirm this, Baby Koopa, and the Yoshi group theme. Whenever the a Yoshi enters one of Baby Koopa's castles, a theme plays which takes some pretty strong inspiration from late Romantic composers Erik Satie and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This theme is used in all of the castles and in the boss fights with Baby Koopa himself. The final theme is that of the Yoshi group. This one is interesting as it appears in only a few incarnations. It plays however whenever the player finishes a level and in some other areas of the game. This theme invokes a feeling of reflection and relaxation which works well as it changes the game's mood to give the player some time to reflect when there's no action on screen. 



Although the soundtrack to Yoshi's Story only draws on a few themes, it does some interesting things in-game to reflect the players actions. If the player's smile meter loses all it's petals, the music drops in tempo and pitch reflecting the fatigue and pressure the Yoshi feels. Not to mention this is a subtle motivation for the player to restore their smile meter.  The other way the music in manipulated in game is if the player eats a heart fruit power up. When the player does this, the music instantly shifts to a hard rock version of the theme the player has been hearing the entire game. This rendition, with double kick drums and heavy electric guitar gives the player a sense of power and recklessness which amplifies the acquisition of the heart fruit. 

Overall, Totaka's effort on Yoshi's story is well thought out, and thus has created some of the most recognisable pieces of music related to Yoshi. I would even say that even though it was critically panned, and not remembered as fondly as Yoshi's Island, it still remains that the music from Yoshi's Story is the definitive music for Yoshi. Totaka's use of theme's and variations has ingrained the music into people's heads, and made the world of Yoshi's story come to life. It also allowed the game to feel more coherent aesthetically and explore a wide variety of musical genres. 

What do you think? Does the music of Yoshi's Island stand stronger to you? Did the eclectic mix of genres have a different affect on you? What do you think we could expect from the next Yoshi Game, "Yoshi's Wooly World"? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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I just recently (quite literally 2 hours ago) got my hands on the DS and Wii releases of the Rhythm Heaven games and upon playing them I found myself laughing harder than I think I ever have with a video game. The game just kept bringing me back and not just for the charm or cute art style. I felt rewarded for doing well at the game and wanted to push myself to do the best I could. I went back to challenges I enjoyed but also to ones I didn't, trying to master them.  I don't believe I've ever felt so engaged and fulfilled whilst playing a rhythm game. Through out this 2 part series we're going to compare and contrast some musically based games and investigate why some of them are fun forever, while others tend to become stale pretty quickly. 



So let's start with Rhythm Heaven. The games are comprised of several challenges which are focussed on a single set rhythmic of ideas. The DS edition has you tapping and flicking the stylus to perform certain actions and the Wii version does the same with presses of the A & B buttons. Each challenge is themed both visually and sonically and they only ever use 2 or 3 different cues for each challenge. This encourages the player to react to what is happening on screen and in the music to perform the actions with the correct timing. It's focus on accuracy of timing and low number of input types means that the player is forced into an int he moment, reactionary based environment. The challenges might give the player a rhythm to copy back, or give small cues to tell the player which type of action to perform next. This all leads up to the remix challenges which mix and match the elements form previous challenges into a larger, more varied experience. All in all it means the player is constantly reacting to information being given to them shortly before they have to perform their inputs. Of course, this is the basis of all rhythm games, but it's starting to sound like something else...

It's like a timed action, and you have to perform it quickly. Except sometimes the actions make something happen on screen...an event of some sort. So i guess you could call these types of interactions...quick...time...eve-OH MY GOOOOOSH!!!!



Quick time events have been in games for a very long time. In most games they are utilised to make the character perform context sensitive actions by displaying particular button prompts on screen. If the player manages to press the required button in time the character on screen will perform the desired action, and if the player fails, the sequence will usually end and give the player a penalty for not completing the event. There are many action games which have capitalised on how cinematic and versatile QTEs can be. These titles include the God of War franchise, The Resident Evil series, Heavy Rain and the recently released Ryse: Son of Rome pictured above. These are generally considered to be quite lame in terms of player experience. The player presses a single or combination of buttons and watches as the frantic action plays out in front of them. The disconnect between the player and the game is pretty severe during these moments, and they can certainly destroy what immersion the game might have. 

Now obviously there is a distinct difference between a rhythm game and quicktime events, but I think the comparison is justified. There are only three major differences between the two are how they tell the player which button to press, consistency, and timing. In most action games, quicktime events are used so that the character can perform actions which are too contextual or complex to perform in a regular combat situation, so the consistency is pretty weak here. Depending on the situation a single button could make any number of actions occur and this means that the button press reveals what the action is as a reward for succeeding at the QTE. Some games do this better than others, where the button presses match actual combat mechanics in some way, but generally it's a pretty loose correlation. The timing aspect is pretty obvious. Rhythm games rely on the music of the game to determine the timing of the button presses, whereas QTEs generally just use short countdowns per button to determine timing. The third aspect is probably the most interesting, because this is where the obviousness of a QTE can really break down. So let's look at two rhythm games which really straddle the line between QTE and rhythm game. 



First, it's the big daddy of all rhythm games. Popularised by it's controller that was shaped like a real life thing, Guitar Hero! (or Rock Band whatever it honestly makes no difference). In this game, button prompts fly down the page and the player must press the corresponding buttons in time to raise their score and pass the level. The prompts are coloured to match the buttons on the uniquely shaped controller and are meant to simulate the motions of playing a guitar, creating the ultimate immersion experience (but not really). Now, it might be clear by this point that I don't really see Guitar Hero games as much more than glorified QTE games. Sure there's music in the background and you press buttons in time with it, but in all honesty it's just an illusion. There's no real correlation between how the game progresses and how you press the buttons. Sure the guitar pat might cut out for a second or two if you miss a note, but really it's all about getting to the end and not having to start the sequence over again. These games are fun, I'm certainly not denying that, but form a design standpoint there's not interaction between the music and the player, and at some points it can just seem like the music is just meant to play in the background as you learn this overly extravagant street fighter combo. 

The second game shares some similarities with Guitar Hero, but I feel it does a better job at moving away from QTEs. 



The Bit.Trip series of games have done interesting things with rhythm and gameplay for a while and this all culminated in the most recent Bit.Trip release, Runner 2. In this game the player controls a character which is constantly running through a stage. The various obstacles in their way can be overcome by performing various actions such as jumping, ducking, blocking, kicking and more which are all assigned to buttons on the controller. The comparison between this and Guitar Hero is a bit odd, but in essence they have the same core concept, get to the end of the level by inputting the correct buttons at he correct time. But Runner 2 hides this behind a veil of platforming. No longer are the instructions just coloured dots on screen, but they are actual obstacles in a world the character is traversing through. The obstacles and enemies are laid out through the stage in conjunction with the music, as the actions the player takes to pass them are timed with the music and generate a light melody which plays along with the music. Where GH and Runner part ways, however is that Runner 2 stages have multiple pathways, and if you hit a single obstacle you instantly  fly all the way back to the beginning of the stage (of checkpoint). Runner 2 isn't pressing buttons to a song, but pressing buttons with a song and this is a very important distinction. In Runner 2, the player can gather items which change the way the music sounds and completion isn't avoiding every obstacle, but collecting all gold pieces along the way. These subtle changes take the game from being extremely similar to Guitar Hero, to being it's own unique gameplay experience. 

Rhythm games rely heavily on input cues and musical sensibilities to enable the player to feel as if they are engaging with the music. Some do this well, and some don't, but it's important to find out what makes a good rhythm game, because the principles can apply to any type of game, from fighting game, to RTS. 

What are your thoughts? Is there a game which truly emulates the experience of actually playing music? What kind of games and aspects should we investigate in part 2? Which genres should integrate gameplay elements found in rhythm games? I'd love to hear your feedback. 

Part 2 is still a while away, but be sure to look out for it!
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