Just over 2 weeks ago, I participated in my first game jam - where artists, programmers, designers and musicians like myself come together to create a brand new game, often in a very limited timeframe. This jam however, was 2 weeks long, which actually gave quite a lot of breathing room for idea generation and allowed a little more ambition than the 24 or 48hour jams that I had heard about.
Music Game Jam 2018 was, as the name suggests, themed around making a game that heavily implements music in its design, whether its deeply integrated into the mechanics, a focal point for the narrative or simply an origin of inspiration for the game. I went into this game jam pretty blind, but ended up learning a lot about workflow, iterations on ideas and composing for ‘player experience’.
After some early roster changes, we had a solid team comprising a talented artist, a competent programmer and myself. The victor of the early brainstorms was an idea I had pitched called Counterpoint, which was based on a fusion of Megaman style Run’n’Gunning mechanics and a Guitar Hero-like rhythm game concept, where a player would run around and shoot enemies to the beat of the music. Although my initial concept was vague, the input from the rest of the team quickly shaped it into an achievable idea, built mainly around the spooky antagonist Johannes Bones, Symphony of Bones.
I was pleasantly surprised at the level of input I had in the inception of game’s design, as I had gone in with the preconceptions that I’d be composing the music based on the idea of the ‘game designer’, rather than it being the collaborative effort that is was. Due to time-restraints the concept was slimmed down, and some corners were cut to meet the deadline, but I’m still pretty pleased with how the idea shaped out.
My main responsibility within the jam was creating the main level track, alongside some SFX (a lot which is yet to be implemented). Composing the main level track required an interesting and new approach to composition for me, as I was essentially outlining the level design with the structure of the music. I had to think of melodies with respect to how the player would ‘play’ them, or how they might sync up with boss attacks or mechanics.
We ended up splitting the level into alternating sections of screen-scrolling platforming and static screen boss fights. Therefore the music was divided this way, with atmospheric, tension building sections for the platforming, and breakdown sections with obvious rhythmic and melodic cells that could sync up to game mechanics. The final section, written for the final boss-fight, was longer and included more phases, leading up to a final climax and victory. As the game was built around the music, various iterations were made between the level design and the music, until the gameplay felt right - a good balance of Run’n’Gun difficulty and player-felt ‘musicality’.
We submitted the game as a WIP for the deadline, as we want to refine the mechanics, implement SFX and generally polish the level in the future with an update. We may also work on some new levels, introducing new genres of music, more interesting mechanics and a new atmosphere.
Here’s a link to the submission: Symphony of Bones, for the Music Game Jam 2018
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