Since well before Kotaku Melodic, I've been writing about and keeping an eye on musical video games. Whenever I talk about "music games," people tend to think of the same kinds of things—plastic musical instrument peripherals and dance pads, Rock Band, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.
But actually, most of the music games I've been writing about are nothing like those music-game stalwarts. Game developers, especially indie developers, have become much more creative in how they've started incorporating music into their games. There's something of a movement underway, a new game design philosophy that merges video games and music in ways that are more creative, interesting, and fun than ever before.
Taken separately, it'd be easy to think that these games are just the work of a bunch of game developers who each wanted to do something musical. But taken together, they show something a bit different—the rise of a new type of music game, one that removes peripherals and music "simulation" and connects players directly with the essence of music.
Taken together, these games suggest developers experimenting with games as a new way to experience music.
A lot of this has been about moving away from music performance simulation and towards regular video gaming. Fantastic music games like Beat Sneak Bandit and the upcoming PS Vita game Sound Shapes are less obviously music games than say, Rock Band or Karaoke Revolution. But by removing the musical packaging that accompanies an instrument or microphone, these new games feel somehow more essential and musical as a result.
Bear in mind, I'm the guy who thinks that all games are music, and that some of their most fundamental aspects can be explained musically. So it makes sense that games can just… be games while also being very musical. They don't need to dress it up with a plastic guitar. All they need is to provide players with creative ways to interact with music.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is in every way a music game, but it doesn't even require beat-matching or musical performance; it's more that it's an "album you can hang out in," as per the creator's intent. Games like Circadia and Dyad take non-traditional approaches to music as well, with Circadia breaking the rhythm game down to its essence (like Pulse before it), while Dyad pushes the Rez formula to new, unexpected places. FRACT essentially places players inside of a gigantic synthesizer.
Taken together, these games suggest developers experimenting with games as a new way to experience music. More and more, composers are being brought on as creative collaborators, and their music defines many indie games' experience just as strongly as any other single aspect. I'm seeing more and more iOS games with the "Play this game with headphones!" warning up front. I'm hearing from more and more indie developers who want to talk about their new exciting musical ideas. It seems like I hear a new one every day.
I thought it would be illuminating to round up every musical game we've covered to get a sense of where things are at. Here goes:
Beat Sneak Bandit Delivers Really Funkin' Hard Musical Puzzles to iOS
Music steals time. Think about it: whether you're making it or listening to it, you're devoting ticks of the watch (mental energy away from some other pursuit.) But, what you get back, hopefully, is enjoyment.
Dyad is Part Mind-Bending Racer, Part Soaring Video Game Drug-Trip
At the end of the Game Developers Conference, everyone is usually exhausted. I sure was—it had been five long days of standing and walking, of typing and recording and listening, of engaging in long, heated conversations about video games. More »
This Game Puts You Inside a Gigantic Synthesizer
It took me a long time to understand synthesizers. When I was a kid, I would often think of a synthesizer as being more or less the same thing as an electric piano—wasn't a Rhodes or a Wurlitzer basically just a synthesizer?
No, in fact—a synthesizer, like a Moog or a Yamaha CS-15, is... More »
Pulse: Volume One is a Fantastic Marriage of Music and Motion
While it may look like just another tap rhythm game for the iPad, Pulse: Volume One's concentric circles set the stage for a whimsical musical journey with limitless potential. More »
The (Actual) Best Game Music of 2011: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
And so we come to the end of our "Best Game Music of 2011" series, where tradition dictates we crown a victor. I'm only half-serious, of course; it's all but impossible to say what the best anything is, and that's doubly true of something as ephemeral and subjective as music. More »
Finally, a Music Game That Lets You Look Cool While Playing
It's hard to look cool when you're playing most music video games. You may think you look cool with your dinky plastic guitar or humorously scale-sized drum set, but in reality you look like… well, a person playing a plastic instrument. More »
Circadia's Simple, Ingenious Puzzles Breaks Down Music Games to Their Best Parts
Circadia doesn't look like much when you start it up. Even after the tutorial, all you're getting is a black screen with a white and colored dots on it.
The goals are simple. More »
Sound Shapes is the Vita Game I Want Most
I have grown to really like my PlayStation Vita. That's not to say I didn't like it when I first started using it, but over the last couple of weeks, my respect for the system has grown into a real fondness. More »
And those are games we've covered over the past few months, for the most part. I'm sure there are plenty I've left off, and others that I've not yet heard of. Any way I look at it, one thing seems clear—we are on the eve of a new era of musical video games, and I for one can't wait to see what comes next.