The Score of a Video Game

Mario Music BlockMusic is the heart of a good video game. Ponder back to any game you really loved and I bet you can still hum or whistle at least a song or two from its soundtrack. I think back on my all time favorite games over the years, just to list a few: Super Mario World, Tetris, Final Fantasy (specifically VII and X), Pokemon, Baldur’s Gate, FTL, and now on iOS I think of Tiny Wings, Jetpack Joyride, Devil’s Attorney, Super Hexagon, Bastion, and of course Ridiculous Fishing.

They all had great gameplay, a great visual style/direction, but they also had iconic soundtracks–music that truly brought those games to life. Video games are an immersive audio-visual experience–and music is an essential part of that experience. Music can give the game a deeper impact on the player. Good music can drive the action or slow things down. It can prompt the player to stop and really take the game’s story in for a moment. It can make a boss fight feel more epic. It can make you sad at the death of an NPC or it can set a playful upbeat tone. It can turn pixels and lines of computer code into a vibrant and colorful world–one that feels real and pulls the player into it. A game’s soundtrack can worm its way into your brain and stick there. Back in the good old days I’d swear I could hear Pokemon music when my GBA was actually turned off. And even after decades have gone a few notes of any of the Super Mario songs will still bring a flood of memories back.

While some games use more music than others, typically games without a proper score is missing a vital piece of the puzzle. The game will be hollow and stale. Music augments the style, the tone, and the general overall experience of a game. Music can compliment the existing look and feel of a game in a way that ties everything together. It makes a simple game a memorable, immersive, and impactful experience. Plenty of iOS games have great soundtracks but lots ignore music as a crucial component of a good game.

The Greatest Video Game Music

The App Store typically attracts two extremes: very small indie studios (perhaps 1-4 people) and big name studios (hundreds or even thousands of people). Indies are typically underfunded and are trying to make a game with as little money as possible. And big studios tend put out as many games as possible as a way to increase theirs odds of having at least one that does really well–like dumping quarters into a slot machine in the hopes that one will lead to a jackpot. For both indies and big studios quality music can be easy to skip over. Music is not as obvious as graphics or gameplay and so often gets left by the wayside. For indies it might look like an unnecessarily and unaffordable expense. And for many big companies investing time and manpower into a game’s music gets in the way with their “dump out as much stuff as possible” business model.

I think this is a big mistake–for big and little devs alike. Forgetting about a game’s music is a huge neglect in quality. Without good music the game is so much less than it otherwise could be. While its true that the App Store can be a gamble (any market is), it has repeatedly favored quality games over the flood of slapped together commercial garbage that many seem to think is the key to mobile success. Sure there are rare exceptions–great games that bomb financially (like the critically acclaimed Punch Quest). And you also sometimes get the occasional horrible game that finds it way into the top 100 charts (utter crap like 4 Pics 1 Word). But the fact of the matter is the marketplace consistently respects an awesome game when it sees it. Well made games usually do well. Perhaps not always Angry Birds or Temple Run well, but a really solid game is typically fairly successful. The secret to the App Store isn’t all that complicated. Just make a great game that people won’t be able to put down. Sure that’s much easier said than done–but if you can do that then the hard parts over and you’re going to see at least some success. And separate from financial motives I think in the end most developers (even ones working for giant studios) want to make work they can be proud of.

Gameboy ChiptunesSo find a decent musician for your game. If your game deserves to be made then it deserves a good score. If you’re on a budget check around. Odesk or similar sites can be a good place for hired help but make sure you get someone good and who understands the vision and style of your game. I for one recommend Beat Scribe–he’s very talented, reliable, and easy to work with–but there are lots of great artists out there. Composing music is usually something game developers don’t have any familiarity with so finding someone who doesn’t just understand music but understands “video game music” is super important. Whoever you go with make sure you explain what your game is all about. They need to be as passionate about your project as you are. A skilled composer can turn a stale or bland game into a masterpiece. Maybe 20 years from now people will be humming YOUR game’s music and flash back to all the fun they had playing your creation.

Ridiculous Fishing – Go Buy It Right Now!!!

This game is pure awesomeness!!! I saw the official trailer and was immediately sold–so much so that I ended up watching the trailer two more times just to take all the awesomeness in. Before I knew what was going I had subconsciously navigated to Ridiculous Fishing on the app store, purchased, and downloaded the awesome piece of awesomeness and was staring at the loading screen with wide eyes and bated breath.

And despite my high expectations the game delivered. The game is just awesome–plain and simple.

Ridiculous Fishing 1Its a fishing game, but then again it really isn’t. In most fishing games you cast your line by mashing the X button at the right time and then you usually move the line back and forth to try to attract a fish. Then a fish comes along and the game has you hook it and reel it in by somehow simulating the turning motion of the reel. Its the “typical fishing” been done about a thousand times–and every time the formula makes for a pretty boring game–at least IMHO. I mean fishing in real life can be pretty boring too–most of its just standing around waiting for something to happen. I’m been fishing a number of times and I’ve yet to catch a single fish. FUN!!! But I guess I just suck at fishing and I guess at least in real life your outdoors, relaxing, and enjoying nature and such. When your playing a fishing game on the CRT TV in your mom’s basement the pixelated fishing pond doesn’t really provide the same experience. Not sure why people keep making these boring games but they do and they are always really boring–again, IMHO.

Screen Shot 1

So back to Ridiculous Fishing. It’s a fishing game only in that the game is about fishing for fish, but in every way possible it departs from the typical boring fishing game formula. You cast your line into the sea and as your lure descends your job is to dodge fish as long as possible–so your line can get as deep as possible. This is accomplished by tilting your device from side to side–something I’m not always a huge fan of, but the tilt controls are pretty solid so I don’t mind. Then, when you finally make contact with a fish or when you run out of line your lure gets reeled back up. Now your objective is reversed–you try to hit as many fish as possible, with each you hit getting hooked.

By the end you have like 50 fish all on your single hook–which is pretty awesome. Then your line reaches the surface and all the fish you hooked are launched into the air. This is where the game gets REALLY awesome–your fisher dude takes a gun out and blasts away at all the fish. To “catch” a fish you have to shoot it before it hits the ground.

You get paid money for each fish–with some fish earning more than others. You can then use the money to buy longer lines, new lures, better guns, and other gear. You can even buy a chainsaw lure that lets you plow through fish on the way down–letting you get deeper and thus catch more fish. See what I mean about the awesomeness???

screenshot 2The game is super solid, with a really strong sense of progression. The loot/gear system is done really well and keeps you constantly coming back for more. There’s also a drive to keep getting a little deeper than before–its pretty satisfying when you get past your “record depth” marker and set a new record. You also have a fish pokedex type thing that keeps track of the various different fish species you’ve caught. Catching more species will open new areas

screenshot 3The art style works really well and feels great. This game is really fleshed out with lots of attention to the little details of the game. There is seemingly endless content–its the kind of game that someone could play for years and years and never really get sick of. The devs seem like really cool and funny guys (watch this TA Plays to see what I mean) and their sense of humor really carries over into every facet of the game. Clearly this was a work of love–not like lots of the garbage out on the App Store these days.for fishing–each with interesting new fish.

Its a premium priced game–$2.99–but I like that. No IAP to speak of to ruin the game–which is rare these days. For 3 bucks you get a game worth ten times its price. I highly recommend picking up Ridiculous Fishing–we need more games like this on the App Store.

App Review: Polara

Got Polara–by Hope This Works Games Inc.–a few days ago and haven’t been able to put it down. It just came out and for a short time it will be on sale for $0.99-word is it will go to $2.99 when the promotion ends. First impressions are very good!

Polara is set in a dystopian future. You play as an agent girl running from evil lasers. You have a super force field suit that can change its magic force field to blue or red, protecting you from lasers of corresponding color. There are only two controls -tap the left half of the screen to toggle between red and blue and tap the right to jump. That is it–you can’t slow down or speed up, your agent girl just continuously runs forward at a constant speed. This simplicity lends itself well to the touchscreen of a mobile device.

But while the controls are simple the game itself can be quite challenging. It starts out easy enough but the difficulty has ramps up significantly. Things get really hard. This is ok–the solid controls make this a hard but enjoyable game. When you die its because you still suck, not because of clunky or inaccurate controls.

Also, the game has an awesome checkpoint system. First the game gives you tons of checkpoints from which you’ll respawn upon dying. Each level is sliced into very short sections and at the end of each is a checkpoint. Essentially every 5 seconds of game progress you’ll reach a new checkpoint. This helps tremendously when attempting to maintain your sanity while playing this difficult game. Without the abundance of checkpoints my iPhone would have been chucked at a wall in frustration after about 5 minutes.

Another way the game eases the pain of near constant dying is by automatically respawning you instantly to your last checkpoint. No need to click restart–no need to do anything at all! Actually if you set the game down for a second your agent girl will keep running head first into a laser or off a cliff and then respawning over and over again. This “auto-respawn” feature is what I like best about this game…no more wasted precious finger strength on pressing retry buttons over and over again. In most games death is a bit of a jarring and frustrating event, but in Polara its just a fluid, natural part of the game.

All this constant dying might seem a bit repetitive but the game does a great job of mixing things up. The game has 50 levels and each introduces a new mechanic of some kind or another. A lot of the puzzles are very well designed and will take quite a few deaths and some real intelligence to figure out…and then many more deaths to actually successfully get through them.

While I quite like it, Polara isn’t without its flaws. The story leaves much to be desired, although at least it has one–many similar games have no plot to speak of. So good effort on the part of the Polara team I suppose, but the story content is meager at best and that which is there doesn’t really do anything for me. Also graphics are fine but nothing to be wowed over. I do get a little sick of watching the same 2 different jumping animations.

But overall its a great game, very addictive, and I absolutely recommend it. I’ve had a lot of fun with it thus far. Some might be turned off by the level of difficulty but I like challenging games–beating a level in Polara really gives you a sense of accomplishment.

Check out Polora on the appstore.

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