a different music video game concept

if you look at the evolution of music video gaming, some of the execution styles may be different (stomping arrows with your feet, playing fake drums or guitar) and some of the judgement granularities are different (guitar freaks gives you perfects/greats/goods/poors where guitar hero is you-get-it-or-you-don’t), but all of them follow a similar model: the performer or performers are executing based on what they see on the screen and they’re being judged based on how accurate they are to what’s happening on the screen.

I never got much into the co-op mode of guitar freaks/drummania/keyboardmania, but i’ve played Rock Band for a couple of sessions now and while i like it a lot, the nature of that particular game brings out a fundamental flaw in all of them – you’re not actually playing with other people, you just happen to be playing next to them.

As in, when you’re playing the game with someone else, what you do has no impact on how they get judged because everyone is keying off of what the game tells them, so everyone is executing in silos with the blinders on. If i’m the drummer and i start to fall behind the beat, it doesn’t matter to anyone else – they just do their own thing.

But a real band doesn’t operate like that, and marching bands/drum corps in particular can’t operate like that. Musicians have to be able to adjust to each other and listen to each other to be able to execute their best. At the extreme level, high level marching drum lines have to learn to be able to adjust and react to what’s happening around them to the millisecond sort of degree or else they sound dirty.

So i want a music video game to have the option to emulate that – to make it so that the judgement that is received is based on how the players are playing in relation to each other.

With something like Rock Band, simple enough. The drummer or the bass guitar or the rhythm guitar acts as the tempo lead, and the video game adjusts its “judgement window tempo” based on what that lead is doing. So if the drummer is the tempo lead and slows down or speeds up, the tracks slow down and speed up with him and everyone else playing has to slow down and speed up with him. Promote the idea of the ensemble truly being an ensemble.

With something like DDR, i had this idea where two players playing the same chart get judged on how closely they hit the arrows in relation to each other, so as opposed to getting a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of the arrow hitting the casings exactly, you get a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of your partner. Then turn on “autosync” (and furthermore autosync the music as opposed to just the visual arrows) so that if the couple slows down or speeds up, the arrows and music adjust with the couple.

If i had to build a piece of electornic music programming from scratch that could do something like that i bet i could pull at least a basic form of it off with some complex Max/MSP work. In an actual music video game that would be more challenging. If i knew the ins and outs of stepmania programming i could probably change the code to measure the judgements based on each other, but i wouldn’t be able to get the “adjust the BPM of the song based on the player’s performance” part since it’s not fundamentally built into the code (and no, speeding up the song in the extended options screen doesn’t count).

fun to think about.


  1. 1. say there’s a game where the music follows you, like the left arrow is the beat, and every step tells the virtual band to match that. other arrows don’t set the tempo.

    2. in doubles mode, you take turns setting the beat, like every 8 bars it switches.

    3. say you’re allowed to add steps that aren’t in the chart, and 8 bars later your steps appear in the other player’s chart. and vice versa.

  2. ooooh i didn’t think about number 3. that’s a neat dueling violins sort of idea.

  3. 3 is a space for collaborative/competitive tension. perhaps the base game starts with just beat arrows, and everything else is added during play.

  4. While interesting and relevant I’m not certain how I feel about the implementation. I don’t necessarily think that, for instance, the beat for everyone else should slow. You should, instead, be making them go off-beat and screwing up the song. Once you change that the challenge is one of “play in tempo with each other” rather than “play correctly within the correct tempo of the song”.

    Perhaps a better solution is to give different levels of correctness. Especially for drums and bass. If I hit the note slightly off then it still sounds, but over time I’ll be subtly throwing everyone else off because their note charts aren’t adjusting. If I’m too far off though, the usual happens, the note is flubbed, and it doesn’t play.

    This should work. I mean, who plays Rock Band/Guitar Hero based on sight reading alone? When you play bass you listen to the drums to get the rhythm and match that to your own internal rhythm to keep the groove going and lock-in together. When you’re playing guitar you need to listen to your rhythm section, feel the on and off beats with the bass drum, get the eighths from the hi-hat. Feel the momentum and drive of the bass to define the rhythmic feel of the song. If you allow a certain level of incorrectness to be shown by the players as opposed to just keeping their part playing as long as they make it close enough I think it’ll help to replicate this as closely as you can until it starts to move too far away from the core concept. Still… if you want to offer something else allowing it, say, some sort of jam mode (change out different instruments for different sounds… no real way to simulate, say, fretting A on the E string for a fatter sound instead of playing it open) or something… that could be interesting.

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