One Big Game is a charity assembled by game developers to raise money for children’s organizations. Musical games look to figure prominently in the series. Design legend Masaya Matsuura (PaRappa the Rapper, Vib-Ribbon), father of rhythm games and without whom there likely would be no Rock Band or Guitar Hero, has signed. And the first title out, from Zoรซ Mode, is musical in nature, too, in a game called “Chime.”

Chime is an elegantly-designed game and a lovely way to unwind, particularly with Philip Glass’ gorgeous “Brazil” in the track list. (“Brazil” has Glass’ usual musical furniture, but the cut, taken from the Aguas da Amazonia album, is executed by the extraordinary Uakti ensemble and takes on a new set of timbres.) One relevance to Create Digital Music – it’s not a bad way to take a break after a production and/or programming stint. The game is 500 Microsoft Points for Xbox Live, the lion’s share of which goes to children’s charities.

Fun as it is, Chime also reveals some of the limitations of musical gameplay; whether or not that’s a fault is really up to the user/gamer. The gameplay is almost a direct homage to Lumines, Tetsuya Mizuguchi‘s puzzle game. As with Lumines, you place interlocking blocks into patterns, with the basic mechanics derived from Tetris. Chime is actually slightly simpler; there’s no color matching involved, only the creation of matching “quads” – areas of the grid 3×3. The more of the space you manage to fill up, the higher your score, which is oddly satisfying. (Sure, other animals have survival instincts and stuff like that imprinted in our brain; humans seem to be basically obsessive-compulsive as a species. Great.)

How is this a “music game” and not just a variant of Tetris? Well, again borrowing (liberally) from Lumines, Chime has a playback “wiper” that scrolls across the screen from left to right. In fact, it’s not so much that Chimes or Lumines are music games as it is that digital musical interfaces in general tend to use left-to-right, linear, step-sequencing grids. The tracks are all pre-composed, whether Glass or Moby, so the blocks themselves just add little musical “flairs,” kept in time to the music.

And that brings us to the limitation: it’s funny to me that these games tend to do so little musically. Lumines, at least, provides satisfying rhythmic cues that align with gameplay. Chime is so subtle, you’re barely aware that the blocks impact the music at all. Aesthetically, that works well: the addition of music feels seamless, focusing the user on gameplay – and this is a game.

But perhaps it’s not really game design that’s at fault. Music lacks a strong generative tradition, and musical interfaces are only now taking baby steps into anything that looks different from conventional interfaces. Indeed, it seems what’s urgently needed is for people who work on interaction design and people who work on music to start to work across disciplines. In fact, I’m seeing far more innovation with game interfaces than musical interfaces.

Of course, that’ll require a lot of programming time. And that means you’ll need a break. And for a break, I still recommend Chime. Sure, the musical selections are a bit oddly matched, with Lemon Jelly’s Fred Deakin, Moby, Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll, Markus Schulz, and … Philip Glass. But it’s still quite fun. And you can say you’re doing it for the kids.

  • With more and more music-based games coming out, it might become more important for independent musicians to have a way to submit their tracks to independent game developers… is there a good site to get your music to potential developers?

  • Chris – interesting idea.

    Although, given some of the comments above, I wonder if it isn't just as important for game designers and musicians to build meaningful relationships. (Hmmm… that sounded odd. Now I see game designers and composers taking long walks along the beach… But I think you know what I mean)

    That was what struck me about Osmos. I'll get that podcast up this week, finally, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Armando

    Chris great idea man! This is a great venture for musicians and developers.

  • Polite Society

    That music selection sounds fantastic to me. The gameplay looks a little uninspired however. I had to laugh at the video on the site being cut with shots of a dj set.

  • Bodhi

    Peter, I have to agree with you about the gameplay of music games. I got into a heated argument with a friend when I described games like this that can be played even with the sound turned off as not really music games so much as games-with-music. Still fun to play though ๐Ÿ™‚

  • J. Phoenix

    Neither new releases or for charity, but Aksys Games have had some of the most fun releases I've played on WiiWare with the Bit.trip series.

    The music is a big part of their game play, with better accuracy resulting in more and more layers and depth to the soundtrack, blurring the lines between a soundtrack, sound effects, and gameplay.

    They're very Atari styled, simple graphics, but I've found myself late at night trying to get my skills up to really hear what the levels have to offer.

    Oh, and that last video. I think I would have liked it better if he was playing the videogame on a huge screen for an equally enthusiastic crowd. There's something surreal and slightly nutty about watching some guy dancing behind a cd player with a laser and an audience interspliced with someone playing a version of Tetris. They just don't quite fit.

  • Robotkid

    Chime is great…I love it. More games with Phillip Glass and the Orbital boys please!

  • David

    "I described games like this that can be played even with the sound turned off as not really music games." See: Rock Band ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Rock Band… hmmm, isn't that the game created by, uh… people elsewhere in this comment thread? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But wait a minute here. Things you can practice with the "sound off" include electric guitar. (ever seen someone strumming without an amp? It's possible to practice frets and keep warm)

  • I thought that was what the comment was intended to say; that RockBand (and Bemani, etc) isn't a real music-game.

    Not sure I'd go that far but there is a real difference between games like that and things like Space Channel 5, which I think would be playable without using a screen, once you get beyond the menus.

  • I can't agree at all in regards to Rock Band. If Rock Band isn't a "real" music game, then what is, exactly? The presence of visual feedback doesn't make an activity non-musical. The interface in Rock Band is clearly a stand-in for music notation. In fact, it *is* western music notation, with a few adjustments (like rotating is 90 degrees on the Z axis, then rotating it back into z depth, which I will say doesn't necessarily make it any easier to read, though it looks cool).

    That's not to say that doing a game with an auditory interface or one that can be played without visual feedback isn't interesting – it is.

    The Kokoromi folks made the theme of their first Gamma challenge using sound in gameplay. I think that's a never-ending challenge.

  • David

    I'd definitely consider Rock Band a music game. Even playing the game with the sound off, I think the fact that it invites rhythmic play (even if the outcome of that play is inaudible) is enough for it to qualify as such.

    That said, I do think there's a good case to made for games that can only be played with the sound on as being the most "pure" examples of music games…

    I suppose this all depends on our understanding of what music is: organized sound? organized time? both? And the "game" aspect–what does it mean to be a "real" music game (ignoring, for the time being, what it might mean to be a "pure" one)? Does the player need to play with the musical material itself, aesthetically engaged in the sound-making process? Or is it enough, like in Chime, for the music to react to the player who is engaged instead in the goal-oriented game process? In this sense, could we consider Wind Waker a music game?

    Is the player aesthetically engaged in the sound-making processes in Rock Band, or is the sound reacting to his/her engagement in goal-oriented play? Can both be the case?

  • lemmy

    If you tried to play Rock Band with the sound off, you would fail unless you had the song completely memorized, or you were playing something really easy. There is not enough visual information to represent complex rhythms without the audio component.

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