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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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