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Monetization in Warframe: Monetizing Different Emotions to Achieve Balance.

Warframe, one of the most popular MMO games that has been around for 7 years, was just ranked as one of the top sellers of 2019 on Steam. While the game itself is free-to-play, several items or services in the game can be purchased through premiere currency or directly with real money. I started playing Warframe about 40 days ago and have spent 123 hours in it (I know, it's a lot, thanks to the quarantine). While I've heard some people "accuse" the game for being pay-to-win, that is not what my experience told me. In fact, the purchasable items and services are designed in such an interesting way that sometimes incentivize players to pay and at the same time won't make them feel they have to keep tossing in money to be powerful. They achieved such balance by monetizing on a mixture of different player emotions.

Platinum Discount: Urgency, Delight of A Cheaper Price, and Freedom of Choice

In Warframe, "platinum" is a primary currency that players mostly need to pay real money for, starting at 4.99 USD for 75 platinum. You can spend platinum to obtain weapons or warframes instantly, as well as on other services. As part of the daily login bonus, players can occasionally get a discount (from 25% off to 75% off) on their next platinum purchase within 48 hours.

Similar to deals on any other items in video games, a timed discount makes players think they would gain more value through purchase simply because they are now paying less for the same thing. And the limited time period would sometimes make them regret if they miss the deal and therefore lead them to purchase. For this platinum discount in Warframe specifically, it also gives players a sense of freedom because they can spend the platinum on whatever they want, as opposed to in some other games where the discount is on specific in-game items. In this sense, the timed discount has a more neutral value since how much players can make out of this deal depends on themselves, as opposed to in some games where players have to carefully evaluate the items before purchasing.

Speaking from my personal experience with those platinum discount, they are more of a chance for me to stack up platinum, which I know would be valuable for a lot of situations, as opposed to instances where I might be "lured" to purchase things I later realize I don't need.

Weapon / Warframe Slots: Satisfaction of Seeing Progress, and Freedom to Have Options

In Warframe, although there's no limit on the inventory, players can only have a limited number of weapons and warframes in their arsenal. If they want to expand their weapon and warframe slots, they'd have to pay with platinum (technically players can also obtain free slots through some events or leveling up, but they are very rare).

Charging for more capacities of weapons is not rare in video game. Some games will even only allow you to carry certain powerful weapons after you pay. In Warframe, however, the slots are not tied into how powerful you can get. A player can totally play and experience all weapons by selling weapons they don't need anymore. Selling weapons at max levels would neither have any punishment. And the same goes for the warframes too.

If that's the case, why would players want to spend premiere currency on weapon and warframe slots then? One reason is the satisfaction of seeing tangible progress. A collection of weapons and warframes represents how much a player has progressed in the game. Being able to visually see that progress is satisfactory and would even drive players to achieve more. Another reason is the option to choose different weapons. Different weapons and different warframes can lead to very different play styles. If players have a wider range of weapons and warframes to choose from, they'll have more freedom in tailoring their own gameplay experience.

Paying for Colors: Personalized Experience

In Warframe, you can customize your weapons and warframes with colors and decorations. While the game gave you a very small amount of those for free at the beginning, players will have to pay for most color palettes and decorations with the premiere currency--platinum.

Weapons and warframes in the game are highly customizable as players can choose different colors for different parts on them. Players have very strong temptation to put on their own color combination because everyone wants to be unique, and they want to have a personalized experience with an avatar that represents themselves. This motivation will drive them to pay for the color options, which is purely for look and won't affect stats at all.

Among all monetization in Warframe, I found this one somewhat most frustrating. The price of one color palette (which contains about 90 colors) is much higher than a lot of other resources that would actually affect gameplay. And you would only have access to 18 colors (which don't even cover the basic color schemes) if you choose not to purchase at all.

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What Has Designing Games for Zoom Taught Me

As the entire world is on lockdown right now due to the global pandemic and people are "forced" to stay home, tons of daily activities that are usually outdoors or involve people gathering have moved to a virtual form over internet--teaching, working, reality TV shows, etc. Inevitably, there has also been a trend to reinvent games that would usually require social interactions and presence into an online form that can be played during social distancing. Apps such as House Party allow people to hold virtual game nights where players get to play party games such as Trivia and Heads Up together while being thousands of miles away from each other.

Zoom Video Conferencing
Zoom Video Conferencing
House Party
House Party

As a way to keep myself positive during this global pandemic, I thought it'd be fun to take on a challenge to design games for Zoom (or any similar video conferencing tool) during social distancing. And here are a few things I learned from the design process.

Instant Response Becomes Nearly Impossible

One of the biggest challenges to design for a video call software is to take into account of its innate lag between players in the call, since video and audio transmission takes time. What that means is that it won't be nearly as fun to play games about speed (E.g., games about being the fastest person to do certain thing, or games involving instantly responding to another player, etc.) in a video call setting.

During an Improvisational Acting class that I'm taking right now through Zoom, we tried playing a game about free association where one player shouts out a word and the other has to instantly respond with a random word associated with that. In a face-to-face setting, the game is fun and intense since everyone would be rapid-firing words that are unexpected. If someone hesitate they lose. On Zoom however, the game became super slow because of the lag between the player giving out the word and the player responding. The game wasn't nearly as fun because the extended wait kills the tension and the unexpectedness.

So, a lesson learned here is that a game to be played through Zoom shouldn't be about instant reaction. There are indeed ways to still make games about speed work on Zoom. First of all, if a game is merely about who does certain things faster (E.g. spotting the difference between pictures, naming five animals, etc.), it could still work on Zoom because everyone is almost equally delayed (assuming everyone is under similar network condition). A second way to work around it is to alter the gameplay from around speed to something else. For example, the free association game I mentioned above was tailored towards telling the story behind each association later during that class as we play.

What I've discussed here, however, is likely to be only applicable when designing analog/hybrid games for Zoom. And certainly if you make a digital game with a decent server, you are likely not to have to worry about internet lag as much. But that's a different story.

Monitoring Everything Becomes Difficult

Different from a face-to-face board game session or a digital game where players or a computer system can reinforce the rules and make sure no one's cheating, on Zoom monitoring can become really difficult sometimes even with the help of the host privilege (i.e. the control over other participants you have as the host of the meeting).

When making my game Zoom Escape, which is a social game that simulates a room escaping experience, a feature I had was utilizing different sheets in a Google spreadsheet--which is something handy for Zoom games--to show different players different information. But the players are not allowed to peak into other players' sheets or edit them. Certainly, there's no way I can constrain where each player looks. I had to rely on trust and the "culture" of "let's all agree that we won't peak into other sheets". Earlier in the design process I was also trying to limit what and when a player can communicate with others. Luckily, with the help of the host privilege on Zoom I was able to forbid private chats among players and them unmuting themselves. However, that authority kind of felt discouraging on players' sides. And even with that, there's no way I could tell if they were communicating with others through other means or not.

Therefore, for games to be played on Zoom, I find the most effective way to monitor is to establish a culture, an atmosphere, where players would voluntarily abide to the rules even when no one's checking on them. And this could be done by having an engaging story setting or fantasy. In the case of Zoom Escape, the experience is about simulating being kidnapped to a dark basement, which incentivized players to stay discreet and quiet throughout the gameplay.

Inactivity Kills Player Interest Even Faster

Since players are sitting in front of a computer or their phones when participating a game session on Zoom, they can get more easily distracted by other stuff happening on their computer. Therefore, reducing inactivity and keep them engaged is even more important when designing a game for Zoom.

When making Zoom Escape, I made the choice of asking every player to private-message me their actions on their turn without letting others know what's happening in one of my earlier iterations. I thought this mechanic would be a perfect simulation of what it feels like when players are in a dark basement and not knowing what's going on with others, and therefore increase the engagement. However, the gameplay was boring and this design was doing the exact opposite. Players get easily distracted and started checking their phones when it's not their turn. There were even a couple of moments where I texted a player about their turns and they didn't realize it because they weren't paying attention. The cause of this was that the wait for each player between their turns was way too long and unpredictable. Plus, there wasn't anything for them to do while waiting for other players to complete their turns.

A big lesson learned here is that, though it is already dangerous to an emerging game experience, inactivity is even more dangerous for games where players are not physically together. To save a game from that, you should consider giving players purposes at all time and, most importantly, never ask them to turn off their camera or microphone.

Conclusion

Designing games for Zoom was definitely challenging, experimental, and fun. As this global pandemic goes on, this trend of moving social games and other activities online is only going to grow. And software such as Zoom or Skype might even introduce new features for more different circumstances and might even solve some of the problems I stated above. The lesson I learned here could also be potentially transferred to making games for regular medium, since the situation on Zoom is essentially a version of our real life with a few problems being magnified.

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Camera Movements for 2D Platformers: How Do I Know Which One to Choose

As a huge fan of 2D side-scrolling platformers, looking at how smartly a 2D world is constructed with art assets and motion designs has always been an enjoyable process. Among various details that constitute a coherent platformer experience, I often time find the camera movement being something that could instantly change the feel of the game. Cameras are the eyes with which we players perceive the game world, and given the lack of one dimension, it is of more significance to have a properly designed camera movement for 2D games since what players can see is already less than in a 3D experience.

While the camera movements in Super Mario being the one that players and designers often look at, there are other renown 2D platformers that in fact have very different designs that are worth looking at as well. Why do those game choose the specific design? What can we as designers learn from them?

Super Mario Bros (1985)

In the classic Super Mario Bros, given that the level mainly expands horizontally, the camera only moves horizontally. The camera movement is affected by a camera window--the camera will only follow the player when the player reaches the edge of the window, in this case is roughly the center of the screen. When moving, the camera directly snaps to where the player is, meaning that there's no smooth movement or any slight delay. But players still perceive a smoothing effects because the movement of Mario himself has a fade-in and fade-out process. Interestingly, when players try to walk backwards in Super Mario Bros, the camera won't follow them to go back and therefore restricts how much players can go back.

mario_gif

Super Mario Bros is a very hardcore platformer where players are expected to pay attention to how platforms are laid out and what the enemy patterns are. There are a lot of situations where players need to do micro-adjustment while standing at the edge of a platform. Therefore it would make sense for the camera only to move after exceeding a certain window as opposed to always snapping to the player, which could be visually annoying. It makes sense for them to set the edge of the window at the center so that players can have enough view of what's to come and have enough time to react. The game doesn't allow the camera to scroll back because it wants players to dash forward instead of wondering around and explore. 

Mega Man

Technically, it'll be inaccurate to talk about Mega Man series as a whole since different games under the franchise have slightly different camera movement design. In the original Mega Man series, the levels are divided into chunks. A lot of chunks are just the same size as the camera view, and the camera would be still most of the time when players move inside a chunk. There are, however, some chunks of the level that are longer or taller than the camera view. In those chunks, the camera will directly follow the player in a linear fashion, placing the player almost at the center, until the camera reaches the edge of a chunk. When players go from one chunk to another chunk, the camera will entirely shift from one chunk to another before players can start moving.

In Mega Man Zero series, although the camera design is very similar to the original Mega Man, the levels are divided into bigger and less chunks. Therefore players experience a lot more camera movements than in the original Mega Man.

megaman11_gif
mega man_gif

Comparing to Super Mario Bros, Mega Man requires even more strategy and dexterity from players when they traverse through their super difficult levels. Having the camera view being the same size of a level chunk and therefore having mostly static camera view helps focus player's attention to the structure of the level chunk as a whole (including where the platforms are and where the character is in relation to the level), which is the key to Mega Man's gameplay. 

Ori and the Blind Forest (OBF) & Hollow Knight

OBF and Hollow Knight, though their camera design is not exactly the same, do share a lot of common approaches when creating more organic than mechanical camera movements. In both games, the camera movement is smoothed, meaning that the camera smoothly travels from one point to another with some slight fade in and fade out effects, as opposed to linear movement in Mega Man. Both games also have inconsistent camera offsets, meaning that the relative position of the camera to the player can change depending on the area the player is in. This dynamic design allows designers to control what players can see at certain point of a level with more flexibility.

Comparing to Hollow Knight, one thing that OBF did and the former did not do is the resizable camera view. This benefits the storytelling aspects when the designer intend to convey certain feelings (for example, when they want the player to see an entire big enemy and to realize how small and powerless they are).

ori_gif
hollow knight_gif

Very different from Super Mario Bros and Mega Man, these two games have a huge portion of storytelling and exploration elements. Having smoothed camera movements conveys a feeling that slows the player down and let them pay attention to the game world. The structure of levels and the locations of the platforms in OBF and Hollow Knight are also more irregular whereas you can pretty much see the first two games have their levels designed within square chunks. Therefore OBF and Hollow Knight need to constantly shift their camera offsets to always make sure players can see enough of the levels to strategize no matter where they stand.

So when you make your own 2D side-scrolling platformers, well, you could certainly invent your own camera movements, but how do you know where to start? Which one should you choose?

The immediate answer would be to choose the one that "feels" right given the type of experience you are building. This might not be applicable to all situations, but given what we can see from the four games above, it might be a good start to think about the pace of the game. If you're building an intense experience, maybe having a very rigid and mechanical camera movement will work well. Or if you are trying to make an exploratory experience, maybe you want to start with smoothing out your camera movements.

The size of your camera view also matters. It's often determined by how much visual information you want players to see at every single instance of the game. Do you want players to see the platforms above them? Do you want them to feel confined in space? Do you want them to see the entire map and strategize?

Making camera movements is for sure a tricky process and definitely requires a lot of tweaking. Some times even if you made the right choices you might encounter other problems such as making players feel dizzy (trust me, this can happen with 2D games as well). This is really a craft process that's worth digging deeper into.

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Level Design of Beat Saber: How Does the Game Take You To the Subconscious State

When it comes to playing rhythm games, there's a lot of similarities between that and playing actual instruments. Apart from pressing right keys at the right moments, both "activities" require sinking yourself into the subconscious state to play well. Taking piano for an example, certainly at the beginning you would need to pay attention to how you move your fingers when you are learning the music, but when you are performing fluidly, your mind would barely be conscious of which keys your fingers are pressing. Instead, you are "overtaken" by the music flow--your subconscious and muscle memories do most of the job. Similarly in conventional rhythm games where you are trying to hit some boxes or press some buttons according to rhythm, your mind would barely be conscious of every single block that's falling and tell your fingers what's the next button to press. You are taken into this subconscious state where you rely on reflex and instinct to master the game.

Beat Saber being one of the most innovative and successful games in the rhythm game genre has added some "spice" into the conventional rhythm-based gameplay. Apart from taking the gameplay into Virtual Reality, Beat Saber added more layers onto timing your actions with different colors of blocks that require different hands to cut as well as arrows on the blocks that require players cutting blocks from particular angles. While these layers seem to have added more difficulties and therefore require more attention to what's coming, the game utilized certain approaches in its level design to still take players to their subconscious state.

Since Beat Saber has a built-in level editor that allows players to make their own levels however they want, here I'll only be discussing the pre-made levels from the developers.

Arrow Patterns that Allow Continuous Hand Movements (Believer)

By continuous hand movements I'm referring to the consecutive cutting movements that don't require players to deliberately re-position their hands between cuttings. For example, when a bunch of consecutive blocks approach and the arrow patterns on them are "Up, Down, Up, Down, Up, Down". While cutting through this kind of block groups, players can just intuitively move their hands up and down without giving a second thought. Such setup allows players to focus more on following the rhythm without paying attention on arrow patterns (maybe except for the first one), which makes it easier for players to rely on their subconsciousness.

With that being said however, there will occasionally be cases where several blocks that are close together approach but you do find patterns like, for example, "Up, Up" which requires an awkward instant re-positioning of hands. Although this instance seem to be breaking that subconscious state, it is an effective way to introduce more challenges into the gameplay.

Arrow Patterns that Allow You to "Draw Circles" (Beat Saber DH Expert, Escape SH Expert)

This arrow pattern is like an advanced version of the "Up, Down, Up, Down" pattern I was talking about in the last section. As opposed to the last pattern where all blocks are aligned and are coming one after another, in this pattern the "Ups" and "Downs" could be in two or even more different lines. Although beginners might think they have to pay attention to each arrow and their positions, the trick is that you could just draw circles with your hands--you start with the an "Up", cut through the following "Down", and go back to the next "Up" to complete a circle, and vise versa. This pattern is designed in a way that allows players to, again, focus on the rhythm itself by reducing the amount of attention players need on the arrow patterns.

Among all the modes in Beat Saber, this "circle pattern" is most common in the single-hand mode. And similar to the previous pattern, occasionally you would encounter sudden changes of arrow directions within a group of blocks that you thought you could cut through by drawing circles. These variations are used as a difficulty diversifier.

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How Do Meditation Games Raise Emotions

I was first introduced to the idea of meditation games when I played Journey two years ago. As one of the most successful games made by Thatgamecompany, Journey provided a very calm and meditative game experience where I could take my time appreciating the beauty and the aesthetic of the game. I remember sitting on the couch for 20 minutes after beating the game, letting my feelings and emotion sink in. Impressed by how games could provide such emotional experience as opposed to pure excitement, I went on playing a few other meditation games with this question in mind: how did these games raising emotions in players?

Among the meditation games I have played since Journey, other two of my favorite meditation games are Flower, a game Thatgamecompany was known for before Journey, and Gemini, a mobile game developed by Echostone Games and was mentored by Jenova Chen--The CEO and Creative Director at Thatgamecompany--while it was being incubated at NYU. The three games shared certain similarities in design that I think are what crafted the emotional experience: simple player agency, an ordeal in their level, and procedural music generated by player actions.

Journey (2012)
Journey (2012)
Flower (2009)
Flower (2009)
Gemini (2016)
Gemini (2016)

Simple Player Agency

In all three games, the player agency is much simpler than games that are highly intense and provide pure excitement. In Journey, though you control a character, your only action is jumping (which can be extended into gliding) and resonating (which is how you interact with the environment and other players). For most part of the gameplay you will just be wandering around, leaving space for appreciating the virtual environment. In Flower, you control a flow of wind that carries flower petals to move around, and in Gemini, you control falling stars to move around while rising up to the sky. In those two games, the player agency is even simpler and as a result the "puzzles" in games are also designed simple enough not to distract players from the meditative experience.

The simple player agency in Journey, Flower, and Gemini ensured a very linear and focused game experience that makes emotions easier to arise, just like how movies can affect their audiences because the audiences don't have to make much effort other than simply perceiving.

An Ordeal

The concept of the Ordeal was originally from the Hero's Journey, a commonly used storytelling structure for a lot of Hollywood movies nowadays. The word refers to the biggest challenge a hero usually faces before reaching his end goal. The integration of this concept into levels is what I would argue the most important element that made those three games emotion-provoking. In Journey, while the first two stages are relaxing and easy, the third stage suddenly put the character in a snow storm where he has to struggle a lot to move forward. In Flower, after recovering a lot natural landscape to life, you suddenly arrive in this area full of dark and sharp city ruins. And in Gemini, after rising through the first two level, you arrive this part of the space full of asteroids that eventually "killed" the other tiny star who's been accompanying you throughout the game.

The snow storm in Journey.
The snow storm in Journey.
City ruins in Flower.
City ruins in Flower.
The area full of asteroids in Gemini.
The area full of asteroids in Gemini.

The Ordeal in those level design rose the difficulty of gameplay and contrast against the feeling the game experience has built up. Contradictory as this might sound, this contrast is what makes the feeling coming after more memorable and effective--the feeling of relief and hope towards the ending where players break through the toughness and return to "light".

Procedural Music

As tiny as this detail might be, it's interesting to have noticed how all three games had their players generate very subtle music apart from the pre-composed background music. In all three games, this takes form of random music notes triggered my player actions such as interacting with environment or collecting flower petals. This procedural music added an aesthetic layer to the player agency, enhancing the calmness and meditation the game provides.

Although Journey, Flower, and Gemini have shared those similarities that help them raise emotions in player, they cannot speak for all meditation games. But to recognize those design choices will be helpful to creating feelings in games, and even to incorporating meditative experience in a game that also produces excitement.

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Unconventional Music-based Gameplay

Music games have been popular for some time. One of the most common ways that those games utilize music as game mechanics is to design the gameplay based on existing music composition, which in many cases is synchronizing player actions with music rhythm. Games such as Guitar Hero or the Taiko series took this approach. In those games, players often see a bunch of bars or icons moving along the screen based on music beats, and the gameplay is limited to pressing right buttons when corresponding bars reach the end of their lane. Such design indeed takes advantage of music rhythm but at the same time constrains the player agency. Nowadays as music and audio are playing more important and diverse roles in media content, what are some new ways to design game mechanics based on music?

Guitar Hero (2005-2015)
Guitar Hero (2005-2015)
Taiko No Tatsuji (2001-2019)
Taiko No Tatsuji (2001-2019)
Common Types of Audio-based Gameplay

Before focusing our lens on music, let’s take a look at audio in general as gameplay. Aaron Oldenburg, a professor at University of Baltimore, wrote a journal article discussing intersections of music, sound arts, and video game designs. Through looking at the history and development of those three fields, Oldenburg suggests that common types of audio-based gameplay are either built around pre-composed music pieces or built to allow players to generate “dynamic music” with their actions, leaving other forms of sound under-explored in the field of games. As he then proceeds into analyzing a few recent experimental audio games, Oldenburg suggests new possibilities in utilizing sounds as means to unfold game space to visually impaired audiences, in creating chance-based composition with gameplay, and in simulating sounds in games without reproducing them, etc.

Oldenburg mentioned a wide variety of audio-based games and projects that range from PaRappa the Rapper, which follows the conventional rhythm game design of pressing buttons, to more recent experimental games such as Optic Echo, which uses audio as the input and visualizes echolocation. When looking at music-based gameplay, however, some approaches--such as using existing compositions and generate "dynamic music"--could be more applicable than others. Certainly, one can build experimental experiences around visualization or using sound as the input, but this approach doesn’t take advantage of what’s unique to music as opposed to general audio—it’s structure (rhythm, harmony) and flow (melody, progression).

PaRappa The Rapper (1996)
PaRappa The Rapper (1996)
Optic Echo (2011)
Optic Echo (2011)
Unconventional Music Games

While most music games would utilize rhythm as mechanics, they are a number of them who did it in a way that doesn’t constrain player agency to merely “pressing the right button at the right time”.

| 140

140 is a minimalistic platform game that creates synesthesia with electronic music as players proceed through levels. In each of its level, the platforms, obstacles, and traps change their colors, positions, and even shapes along with the rhythm of the background music. The player will have to synchronize their actions with the rhythm pattern to be able to proceed in a level.

Created by Jeppe Carlsen who directed gameplay for the well-known Playdead’s Limbo, 140 is a successful example to combine music rhythm with mechanics of a platform game. While players have the freedom to move their character within the game space, the strategy to solve puzzles or to get over traps and obstacles is to some extent defined by the music rhythm. Such mechanic therefore creates a balance between player agency and the significance of music rhythm: the rhythm defines your strategy but not your movement.

140 (2013)
140 (2013)
Klang (2016)
Klang (2016)
| Klang

Klang is an innovative rhythm game that aim to push the genre out of the convention of merely pressing right buttons at the right time. Set in a virtual world of music and beats, players play as a hero who uses two tuning forks as weapons and navigates through space while eliminating enemies according to background music rhythm.

Similar to the design of 140, in Klang there are traps in each stage that change along with music. Players have to time jumping and moving with the beat pattern to be able to proceed. During the combat phase, there will be enemies floating around the character. In that phase, enemies would stay at the same relative positions to the player no matter where the player goes. The enemies shoot projectiles according to the music beat, and players will have to deflect the projectiles back to enemies by pressing corresponding direction buttons when they come close.

Though Klang aims to push rhythm games beyond pressing buttons and it does well-incorporated the action aspect of platform games, the fact that the battle phase is constrained to accurate button press still resembles the old convention. With their combat UI design resembling the look of conventional rhythm games, the mechanics of Klang somehow feel like an arbitrary combination of rhythm and action.

| Patapon

Patapon is a Japanese rhythm action game where players command an army of soldiers by playing different drum patterns. Players can tap four different types of drum beats, and depending on the order and the combination of those beats they would be able to commend their army to do things such as charging, dodging, retreat, and attack, etc. While players have absolute freedom in terms of when to give those commends, the closer they align their drum beats with the background rhythm they better their army will perform the commend.

Although the player actions in Patapon still take the form of accurate button press, the player agency is not constrained by the music rhythm because the gameplay lies heavily on when and what commends to perform in different situations in addition to accurate button-pressing. The strategy and decision-making added depth to the rhythm-based actions.

Patapon (2007)
Patapon (2007)
Direction to Experiment

As a huge fan of action games and a musician, those unconventional music games inspired me to explore and experiment with combining music game mechanics with action game elements. What are some other interesting ways of making rhythm-action mechanics? And, while most music game tend to utilize rhythm, how would one use other qualities such as melody or harmony to build gameplay?

| A Platformer about Harmony and Music Chords 

When I first started making games two years ago, I experimented with combing music chords and harmony with platformer mechanics. I built a prototype called Monic in which players choose the right ability to shoot at enemies based on the music chords they hear. In that world, every type of enemy and the player ability have their own sound--sometimes it's just one note and sometimes it's a chord. Players will only be able to kill an enemy with the ability that has the note which harmonizes with the chords of the enemy.

Different from identifying music rhythm, recognizing chords and harmony has a much higher bar--sometimes it'll take a few years of training for a person to be able to hear the nuances. Therefore, a game built around that wouldn't be so playable. When making Monic, one thing I did was to add color cues that corresponds to each chord, so that players can rely on the colors to make their choices even when they fail to hear the nuances.

In the end, this prototype became a game that can be played purely by matching the colors. And music chords lost their significance in the gameplay. If I were to further iterate on this concept, the use of color cues could be limited to only a few levels where players can rely on them to learn about hearing the nuances. The game could slowly progress into the stage where colors are removed and players have to really rely on hearing.

Summary

To summarize my point, while music rhythm is very over-utilized as a game mechanic, there have been innovative ways to break it out of the convention of accurate button press. Beyond rhythm, there are also many other qualities of music and sound that are under-explored as game mechanics. While they might be inherently more difficult than rhythm to get good at recognizing, the integration could be designed to softly introduce these music concepts without overwhelming the player. And if designed properly, these games could even have the potential for players to learn about those music concepts and to strengthen their music instinct.