Someone Make This: The Action Music Video
Rhythm-based games have seen an interesting evolution in the past ten years. From hitting buttons in rhythm to make PaRappa the Rapper rap, to jumping on plastic floorpads with Dance Dance Revolution, to mashing buttons on plastic guitars, and now to actually dancing in front of the Kinect camera, licensed music in video games have seen some interesting interpretations.
But no one has got it right, not like Revolution X in the arcades. Granted, these other games do a good job of bringing the player into the music, but no one has made me more aware of music like the on-rails shooter that had the special weapon of compact discs.
However, even with Aerosmith’s music and Nineties’ fashion, there’s only so much an on-rails shooter can do. Since Revolution X, the closest game to what I’m about to express has been the cult favorite, Wet from this generation of consoles. And while that game had licensed music, it, too, failed to connect gameplay to music. Music was the background to gameplay. Now, it’s time to look at what games have done with licensed music in the past, and what they need to do in the future to create the perfect music-based game.
In 1994, a post-apocalyptic on-rails shooter hit arcades across America. With up to three gun positions (although I’ve only played the 2-player version), the game tasked the player with saving LA from oppressive militant overlords. Using power-ups, projectile CDs, and super weapons, the game was nothing special. It was slightly easier than the Terminator game with the same concept, so I felt like it was a better investment of my quarter.
But better than that, each stage featured Aerosmith music. Timing the stages to the song, players would get to a boss when a song was ending. However, the game did not leave much of an impression in gamers’ minds, and it never received a sequel, although ports took the game (with Aerosmith’s epic soundtrack) home on the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, PlayStation, and PC.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with this game is what made the game great for the mid-Nineties: It was an on-rails shooter. Would you play Call of Duty if you had no control of the character’s legs? Would you enjoy Mario Galaxy if Mario ran around and you were only allowed to collect the stars for him?
Fortunately, another great licensed music game did allow the players to explore the linear gameplay.
In 2009, third-person shooter Wet hit the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, featuring power heroine Rubi Malone. The game featured a cross between shooting, hacking-‘n-slashing, and parkouring (yeah, I made up a verbal form of a noun without a verb). It wasn’t the highest rated game of 2009, and much of the gameplay felt repetitive, but the music was amazing.
Written by Brian LeBarton, the score was recorded in four days. It featured original heavy music and licensed music from rockabilly bands. The songs were fast and intense, but if the player took too long to finish the stage, the song would loop back to the beginning, sucking a player out of the moment.
However, the game rewarded style, and the music was a driving part of the style in gameplay. If stages had been timed better, players would platform across interesting stages and gun down waves of enemies in time with the songs played.
Call of Duty‘s Theater Mode
The final element to observe to understand what I’m going for is Call of Duty: Black Ops‘ My Theater, an element that allowed player to record and share multiplayer matches for strangers to watch and and rate.
If you had your best game ever, load it to the Internet and watch your ego deflate as people give it lower and lower ratings. Or, get some gameplay tips by watching the top-rated videos.
Other games use theater modes, and many of them allow players to upload the videos to their YouTube account, allowing the game a free source of advertising by allowing strangers outside of the game to watch.
In my action music-video game, players are tasked with melding skill and style in each level. Stages are organized by song, much like the interface of Guitar Hero or Rock Band. From there players can pick their difficulty level and the multiplayer options.
In the single-player mode, a small list of songs is available at first with new songs opening up through completion. Starting with a song like “Mind Your Manners” by Chiddy Bang, players open up the nearly-3 minute song with a mission. For example, the game could task players with vaulting across small platforms. Once the task is accomplished, the game rewards points based on time and style. Next, the game announces that the player has to perform a seven-hit combo against an enemy. Next, the game tasks the player to hop in a car and chase down another car.
From saving the princess to clearing out a room, the game randomly assigns tasks from a variety of genres, awarding points based on the selected difficulty, the timing, and the fluidity of actions. The available tasks include multiple genres and an overabundance of mission options. However, while the missions are randomly generated during gameplay, the list of options available must make sense to the song. For example, a first-person shooter may not be the best fit for Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope.”
The Social Factor
Each time you play, the game records the song and the stage. Then, after you are finished and presented your score, you can opt to upload your music video to a server for others to vote on your gameplay and how well it matched the song.
The publisher can send the videos to the record company as a cross-promotional presentation. The best videos for each song can become the unofficial music video for that song. How cool would it be to see a video-game re-cut of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”? If done well, it could easily replace the steaming turd that is the official music video. I was actually embarrassed about linking that video.
Returning to the game, this vote-and-share method could tie into the game’s achievement system, encouraging players to work harder at getting a smoother play that matches the song they are playing. And as high-quality plays surface on the net, the song and game get more notice from audiences that may not have paid attention to either before.
In rhythm-based games, DLC is tied to songs. However, in this game, introducing a song is not enough. New mission options need to be downloaded with the song and implemented into other songs. This way, each piece of DLC offers more than just something different to listen to. Each new purchase adds new life to the old songs, creating more replay value in the game proper.
Who Should Make It
Not Harmonix – While Harmonix makes great rhythm and music games, they’ve never made an actual game. This product requires a company with an understanding of several core experiences to do it justice. Unfortunately for this game, it needs the support of a major publisher that can draw the experience of multiple teams to do every submission justice.
Activision – Alex won’t be happy, but the big boy in gaming has the most flexibility with its development studios and would be a huge choice for putting this project together. From casual minigames to hardcore experiences, small teams within many developers can add to this patchwork of gameplay. And since the Guitar Hero franchise is dead, this would be a chance for features of the over-produced series to invade a new type of game. I wouldn’t even mind it baring the Guitar Hero name, as long as I didn’t have to buy a cheap plastic guitar for $100 (a Benjamin is not equal to cheap). However, Blizzard may not be involved with this project at all, as the game would take 5 more years to develop and every other team would have to redo their pieces to fit newer consoles and graphical expectations.
EA – Another giant in gaming that may be able to do this game better than Activision is Electronic Arts. Again, its diverse list of developers and experience allow for a patchwork of gameplay to be organized and programmed into a single project. Within BioWare alone, at least three teams are actively working on as many games. This multi-team project allows a producer to give something close to a tech demo of all their teams on one disc. Rather than hoping people will buy all the games the publisher released this year, EA can show off the quality of its work by giving a little taste of every team in one package, convincing gamers to be loyal to the publisher over a developer within the umbrella of the publisher.
Sure, it’s an ambitious project, but it is not impossible. Like the Starcraft mod DotA, the ideas from this game could create a whole sub-genre within rhythm-based games. Eventually, this music-video creator could become a new type of tech demo, showing the many styles of video games a publisher can supply on the best engine it owns.
Eventually, someone will pay me for these brilliant ideas!