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The Gameslinger's blog, Games Obscura, is a blog dedicated to covering strange, obscure, underrated and overlooked games. Some games covered are amazing games that were simply overlooked or forgotten. Some are flawed or poorly received, yet have interesting aspects or concepts that make them worth a second look. Others are downright weird; but fun and interesting, too. In any case, all are worth digging up and taking a second look at, and that's what this blog is all about: In-depth second looks at games that are worth rediscovering, for one reason or another.

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Details:

Title: The City of Metronome

Alternate Title(s): Metronome (early development/abbreviated title)

Developer: Tarsier Studios

Publisher: To be announced/none

Platforms: Xbox 360 (possibly cancelled), Playstation 3, PC (?)

Target Release Date: To be announced/none

Status: Development stalled; currently without publisher


Title image for The City of Metronome.

What Is This Game?

The City of Metronome is a 3D adventure game with some platforming elements. The game employs a cartoonish yet dark look not unlike the animated films of Tim Burton, and features a setting and style with a somewhat Victorian-steampunk feel to it. Set in a sprawling, gloomy city named Metronome, the game casts the player as a boy carrying a “sound box” capable of recording sounds throughout the game, and playing them back for use as weapons, communication with citizens, or tools for solving different puzzles and interacting with the environment. With an emphasis on exploration and its large, sprawling city as the game’s star, it tells the tale of a city in the grips of an oppressive corporation, which governs, rules and essentially brainwashes its citizens into becoming diligent, unquestioning workers. As the young hero, the player is tasked with exploring the city and uncovering its secrets, while simultaneously fighting to bring down the Corporation and unveil its dark intentions.


The game's young hero looks out at the massive city of Metronome.

History/Background:

The City of Metronome was first announced near the beginning of the current console generation, in early April of 2005, under the title of “Metronome.” In development by new-found Swedish developer Team Tarsier (now known as Tarsier Studios), the announcement, alongside a handful of images and a teaser trailer, stated that Metronome would be revealed at the upcoming E3 2005.

Tarsier itself was a new and largely unheard of studio. Founded in Malmo, Sweden in 2004 under the name “Team Tarsier,” the studio was small, independently owned, and had no prior releases under its belt at the time. In fact, as Tarsier studio director Peter Lubeck states, the studio was, indeed, founded with the very purpose of it being to create Metronome. Team Tarsier was, at the time, little more than a group of only seven students with a passion for video games, and Metronome was a dream they all shared and a game they hoped to create. Co-founded by Peter Lubeck and his friend Andreas Johnsson, Metronome stemed from a year of brainstorming and a shared love for steampunk settings, and by December of 2004, the team began initial work on the project. Among the project’s inspirations and influences were not just the steampunk genre, but also the anime films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, as well as the 1995 French film, “The City of Lost Children.” By January 2005, they were looking at E3 2005 as their chance to reveal their game and put it under the spotlight for gamers and potential publishers to see.

When E3 rolled around, Team Tarsier did not disappoint, pointing out the game’s full title, “The City of Metronome,” and showing off 11 minutes of gameplay footage which gained a respectable amount of attention from the press and curious gamers, all of whom seemed to find the project unique, creative, and highly intriguing. With an impressive visual style, an intriguing world and original gameplay concepts, The City of Metronome met with decidedly positive reactions from nearly everyone who saw it. With the positive reactions and imaginative idea behind the game, surely publishers would be looking to scoop up this interesting project from the fledgling studio…….however, the unique and charming style, gameplay and personality which grabbed The City of Metronome such positive reactions would also prove to be its Achilles’ Heel; the game's artistic and creative approach, combined with publishers’ phobia of working on such a project with a new, untested studio, put The City of Metronome, and Tarsier, in a sadly unfavorable position. Lubeck compares the project and its situation to “Beyond Good and Evil;” another “game that was very much loved and well received but didn't sell very well.” Adding that “that's something publishers tended to see when they looked at Metronome. It's a game that's cool, interesting and unique. It has a lot of soul and charm, but is it a game that could be turned into a commercial product?" This unfortunate stumbling block would prove to be the team’s greatest obstacle in coming years.


Initial screenshots showed off a highly stylized world, while the teaser and debut trailers and gameplay footage (links below) shown off at E3 reinforced the game's emphasis on style and unique sound-based adventure gameplay.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_od_2oZ_UWc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-4KmBjE3oY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whsIZnqJ5sI

Likewise troublesome for the team was how to implement the sound-based gameplay in a manner both thorough and original, while being careful not to let it become a mere gimmick. Lubeck points out that many questions and variables in the sound mechanics' relation to the gameplay have arisen throughout development. Straddling the line between keeping the sound mechanics open-ended, yet not letting them become too confusing (i.e. letting the player record everything vs. only select things, or the uses of a particular sound), proved a topic of debate amongst the team and a tough obstacle to tackle. Implementing it into puzzles and combat was also a challenging concept, as the team worked to ensure that it was both functional and, yet, never a gimmick or simply a “skin” put on top of normal gameplay mechanics.

Amidst the development, potential publishers for The City of Metronome were still hard to find. After E3 2005, the game disappeared for a while, and while more concept art and a few more screenshots surfaced in early 2006, the game gradually sank into obscurity, as its lack of a publisher slowed development and media attention. The game was occasionally brought up in the next few years, but only in the form of occasional “what ever happened to that game?” articles and mentions on various video game websites. There was still interest, but with no new information or material, there was only so much to be said.


Concept art revealed some interesting designs and characters.

Just when the title was thought cancelled, and Team Tarsier all but forgotten, they suddenly came back into the limelight in 2010, after signing a publishing deal with Sony, and renaming themselves “Tarsier Studios.” Having worked on a long list of DLC for Little Big Planet and its sequel, Sony signed them on for a “new, unannounced project.” Many speculated that this project was, indeed, a Sony-exclusive release of The City of Metronome. While Tarsier had been approached a couple of times by developers interested in the game over the past few years, including Microsoft (who was interested in adapting it to Kinect) and a French publisher looking to convert the title into a point-and-click adventure, they had turned down the projects, not interested in compromising the original vision of the game; perhaps Sony were, at last, the publisher they had been waiting for. The game had been claimed and speculated to be in development for Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3 in the past, but with no concrete information on an official platform for it, the game becoming a Sony exclusive wasn’t hard to believe.

With no official word on what that project was, however, many have since assumed it was, in fact, the new Little Big Planet title for the PS Vita; which Tarsier Studios has been handed developmental control of by Sony and original Little Big Planet developer, Media Molecule. Regardless, their recent involvement with Sony has put the studio back in the limelight, and finally scored it a number of projects and releases, in addition to some awards. In addition to over 300 DLC costumes for the Little Big Planet games and the development of Little Big Planet Vita, Tarsier also released “Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic” in 2009 as a PSN downloadable title, and worked on a tech demo for the PhysX engine called “Desert Diner” (essentially a one-level first person shooter demonstrating the engine’s capabilities). Likewise, Tarsier Studios won “Studio of the Year” from the Swedish Games Industry, and won the Dagens Industri’s Gazelle Award for its rapid growth over the past few years. With its number of employees having since increased from its original seven up to forty, the studio is definitely on the rise, and has the eye of the industry upon it.

So where is The City of Metronome in all this? There is still no official word on the title, but with the studio’s growth and recent success with Sony, it has raised hope for this title, which was once thought lost. Tarsier Studios has certainly not lost its passion for the title, nor has it given up on the idea of it seeing a release. On their official website, Tarsier Studios still has The City of Metronome listed right alongside its other projects, with its profile page reading that although “Lady Publisher is a fickle mistress,” “One day though, the time will come when The City finally meets the rest of the world.” Peter Lubeck remains positive about the title as well, especially in light of their strong, growing relationship with industry giant, Sony, and Tarsier’s recently more fleshed-out resume. In a recent interview with Kotaku, Labeck said that "If we were to do Metronome as that big triple-A adventure I see no better publisher to do that than Sony. It's very good that we have that relationship with them, and going forwards that's the best partner from a publisher's perspective on that kind of ambitious, quirky, unique game. They have an open mind when it comes to investing and betting on something that sticks out, that's special." He went on to add that “we are looking at all these different new approaches like Steam, that has grown enormously on PC, XBLA and PSN, which have really shown the power of small games and with funding options like Kickstarter and Double Fine's success… that's also something that we're looking into."

While The City of Metronome remains in limbo for now, let’s hope Labeck and Trasier Studio’s passion for the title perseveres and that the game does eventually get a publisher and see a release. Because Tarsier has a very interesting game on their hands…….


Tarsier disappeared for a few years after Metronome failed to find a publisher, but resurfaced and has met with success since signing a contract with Sony. Tarsier has since worked on DLC for the Little Big Planet games on PS3, and is currently developing Little Big Planet Vita.

The Game:

What’s It All About?

The City of Metronome is a 3D adventure title featuring a large, interconnected world for the player to explore and interact with. With its Tim Burton-esque, Victorian-area steampunk-style, and the uniquely dark-yet-cartoonish look to its characters and setting, The City of Metronome is instantly striking and fascinating from a stylistic standpoint. Add to that the fascinatingly unique implementation of sound into the gameplay, and you’ve got an extremely unique idea, which would be a true shame to have never come to fruition.


The City of Metronome's visual design is extremely stylish and atmospheric.

In fact, the team has said the game’s style and mood, and its setting, the city of Metronome itself, are the most important thing about the game and its concept; perhaps even more so than its sound-centric gameplay, which they admit has seen much debate amongst the team and changes throughout the years since the project’s start. And indeed, it was the game’s incredibly striking mood and style which gained my personal interest back when I first learned of the title. After acquiring an Xbox 360 and officially entering the “next generation” of consoles myself in mid-2006, I was enthralled by the potential this new generation was showing; and while I was as wrapped up in Gears of War and Mass Effect as the next person, I also was scouring the far corners of the internet for information on all the other, lesser-known titles that would be hitting my shiny new console, as well. I came across Metronome while digging through Gametrailers and was immediately grabbed by the fascinating style displayed in its trailers; and was sold by the 11-minute E3 gameplay video. This was going to be something very special; you could practically feel the passion of its developers bursting through in every minute of video. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Metronome became one of the most purely intriguing titles to me early on in the generation. I simply couldn’t wait to explore this amazingly stylish, dark and unique world which the videos and screenshots were presenting.


The city is the game's real star, and exploring it may be the game's most intriguing aspect.

With great mood, atmosphere and style, alongside the team’s focus on creating an immersive and lively setting out of the city, it’s easy to see how Metronome’s world could be absolutely fascinating to discover and explore. Likewise, the story wrapped around the setting seems like not only an interesting tool to drive the exploration of the city and convey the style and mood, but also like a story that could easily make for an interesting allegorical tale about society, government, and the working class. As mentioned earlier, the story of The City of Metronome casts the player as a young hero living in the vast, gloomy city of Metronome. Metronome is ruled by the all-powerful “Corporation;” a governing organization as sinister and mysterious and it is powerful. The seemingly all-seeing Corporation has a certain hold over the citizens of Metronome; the course of their lives are, by and large, are determined by the Corporation, and all of Metronome’s citizens are continuously compelled to work, without so much as a thought of questioning why. With the general populous controlled and almost brainwashed, the young hero, who possesses a sound box which can record and play back sounds to be used for different actions and effects, sets out to solve the mysteries or the city and uncover the dark secrets of the Corporation.


The citizens of Metronome are an interesting bunch. There are definitely some creative character designs.

It doesn’t take much to see how the story could serve as a metaphorical tale, which could be equated to a government’s relationship to its society, and the working class people within it, going about their work-a-day lives, unquestioning and almost oblivious to the greater workings and mechanisms which silently affect them and determine their destinies. While not many details on the story have been revealed, it is an intriguing concept, and one with great potential to tell a smart and potentially thought-provoking tale. As a gamer who values story, setting and characters in video games, and sees them as driving forces behind my personal desire to play and complete a game, a story with such potentially interesting ideas behind it is very intriguing, especially when coupled with such a strong style and atmosphere, and such an interesting setting to explore.

Much can and has been said of The City of Metronome’s style and atmosphere, and the exploration of its city and uncovering of its many secrets is so intriguing because of that focus on style and atmosphere to create an engaging and unique world. What has been shown of environments, in-door and out, and the city itself, looks like a place you’d want to explore. In-door environments are filled with eerie lighting, dingy hallways, and shadowy figures hidden behind doors begging to be opened and rooms waiting to be explored. Outdoor environments look gloomy and stylish, with exaggerated architecture that has a particularly 19th-century feel to it, and environments that look to be expansive both horizontally and vertically; the concept of navigating its many walkways, streets, alleys and rooftops is absolutely fascinating. Meanwhile, the strange citizens and enemies roaming the city have a decidedly bizarre yet cartoonish look, and interacting with them looks to be both intriguing and just a little bit eerie. Add to this the many interactions with characters, enemies and the world itself that have been shown and described, and you’ve got a world that looks incredibly unique and fascinating to explore, driven by a story and style which are original and fascinating.


Environments look great, and the game promises plenty to explore.

How Will It Play?

This all leads us to what the experience of playing The City of Metronome will be like; and it looks like one that would almost certainly be absorbing, very fresh, and very different.

With the aforementioned emphasis on the use the main character’s sound box backpack for interacting with the world, characters, enemies and puzzles of the game, and the developer’s dedication to making this use of sound more than just a gimmick, it seems this idea offers much to the gameplay in many facets. While the team is still ironing out the details on the sound-based gameplay mechanics, it’s safe to say it will play a large part in the game and offer plenty of gameplay variety, judging by both the 11-minute gameplay video and the ideas emphasized by its creators. The gameplay footage displays a number of uses for sound; including the use of music to defeat enemies in a non-violent form of combat, and to lull a sleeping guard at a gateway into opening the gate for you. The creators also emphasized other ways to use sounds you’ve captured; including adjusting the pitch and tone of the sound for different effects; recording the barking of a dog, for example, and then lowering its pitch to a deeper growl to scare enemies or citizens. Another example given was recording the sound of a door opening, then using it to force locked doors open. These examples give a good idea of the variety of uses and options presented by the main character’s sound box, and the many creative ways it would naturally implement itself into the gameplay; as everything from a non-violent solution to combat, to a tool for navigating the expanses of the city.


Using sound as a non-violent method of combating enemies is just one of the intriguing uses of sound throughout the game.

With this in mind, exploration is the other hugely intriguing aspect of gameplay in The City of Metronome, and, especially with the creative use of sound, exploring the city would undoubtedly be a vastly engaging experience, requiring thought and attention from the player. The use of different sounds to create different effects and open or explore different areas has a vast range of intriguing and thought-provoking possibilities to it. Not only do the aforementioned environments appear to be expansive, stylish and thoroughly intriguing to explore to begin with, the use of your sound box as a tool to explore them offers a range of possibilities to make exploring them and uncovering their mysteries all the more intriguing. The few examples we’ve seen and been told of serve as a small but intriguing tease of all the possibilities it could offer. And with the vast size of the environments vertically and horizontally, and a cast of citizens and objects to interact with, on top of indoor areas, the exploration possibilities Metronome offers seem incredibly intriguing. For an adventure game like this, exploration is always one of the most important aspects; an intriguing world with plenty to discover and plenty of interesting places to go is crucial, and keeping a steady but exciting pace is likewise important, and Metronome looks like it is set to provide that in spades.


Indoor environments look to offer just as much intrigue and mystery as outdoor ones.

The team seems to still be adding on ideas and experimenting with different possibilities for the game as well. One idea that stands out is the idea for episodic DLC that would put the focus on different characters in the city; and as such creating different gameplay aspects for the different characters, focusing on their own personalities. With unique gameplay mechanics centered around an incredibly stylish and potentially expansive world, Metronome has a lot of fun to offer fans of adventure games.


Looking Forward…..

The City of Metronome was strikingly stylish and creative in its atmospheric visual design and gameplay concepts when it was first revealed. Even now, years later ,and nearing the end of the console generation, with only minimal information and material available on it, the game still stands out as what could have potentially been one of the most creative and original titles of the generation. Sadly, for now, though, the game remains caught in limbo, its fate in question. However, there is still hope for The City of Metronome; perhaps more so in the past couple of years than ever. With Tarsier Studios finally taking off, and developing a healthy relationship with Sony, the title may have a greater chance now than ever of finally getting an official publisher and, at last, being completed and released. The game certainly has all the potential to be a fan-favorite; with its innovative gameplay, fascinating world ripe for exploring, and highly distinct and artistic style, the game has all the makings of, at the very least, a cult classic. While The City of Metronome’s fate ultimately remains to be seen, hopefully its potential, and its developers raw passion for it, will win over the hearts of a publisher willing to invest in its creator’s vision; it could result in one of the most stylish, refreshingly unique and interesting titles of recent years.


The City of Metronome has seen some trouble finding a publisher, but its developers remain confident that this unique and stylish game will see a release eventually.

Who Should Keep An Eye On It?

Fans of 3D adventure games and those who love exploring large, interesting worlds. Those with a love for the stylish and artistic side of gaming; or fans of steampunk or Victorian era styles, and dark (but not necessarily frightening) settings. People just looking for something a bit different.
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