Thursday, September 6, 2012

Recap: Soundplay Game Jam

Last night at the New Museum, Pitchfork and Kill Screen teamed up to offer an evening of free drinks, video games, and music.  The main impetus for the get together was an extension of the Soundplay project that commissions indie game talent to craft interactive experiences based on songs from indie musicians.  Yes, the whole thing was pretty "indie," but that's not a bad thing.  This particular event was structured around a game jam that happened over the two days prior.  Four teams had 48 hours to produce games based off of music from the band Passion Pit's new album Gossamer.  The night of the party was a chance for attendees to play all of the Soundplay titles, including the ones made during the jam, while also taking in a live performance by Chromatics and a DJ set by Oneohtrix Point Never.  Since you're the sort of person who would read a blog entry like this, that billing should all sound pretty great.

Neon sign at the entrance was a nice touch.
 I sat down to play all of the game jam titles, and though all four mostly matched the upbeat, candy-colored vibe of the band, each took markedly different gameplay approaches to the source material.  In the first one I played, you control some Katamari-looking dudes and press the spacebar to juggle approaching objects.  Higher scores are awarded for the more objects you keep off the ground until certain checkpoints in the song.  The next game had a flowery, psychedelic setting with a figure on a tightrope that walks towards you as you toggle the "left" and "right" keys for balance.  If you fall off, the song stops and you must start over.  Beside that game was one that told the story of a sad bunny that you cover with candy to make happy again.  Shelves of sweets are on both sides of the stationary rabbit, and you drag and drop them into place.  The candy blocks have physics programmed into them, so making a perfect stack that doesn't tip over was quite the challenge.  Music played in the background, but at climax points of the song, a quake strikes and probably undoes all your hard work.  Lastly, the fourth game was a forced-scrolling don't-hit-the-walls navigation exercise that seemed like it was supposed to be incorporating video from the computer's webcam in the background, but it wasn't working when I played it.

Attendees getting their hands on the Jam games, plus previous Soundplay entries.
While tonally these games kept in line with the vibe of Passion Pit music, they seemed more inclined to simply take inspiration from the music than to really incorporate it as a part of the mechanics.  The notion of games as promotional material for music in the vein of music videos is a concept in its early stages.  Should these games be "music games" as we understand them?  They could take inspiration from the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band and challenge players to replicate the songs they hear.  They could draw from Dance Dance Revolution and Dance Central and co-opt body movements that correspond to beats.  Recently, Soundshapes has further evolved concepts born out of games like Rez where playing a more traditional genre game, such as a platformer or shooter, generates music just by going about as usual.  But we're talking about game jam games here, and design docs that can be written and delivered quickly and completely are paramount.  I did really like it when the music triggered screen-shake in the rabbit game though.

Chromatics performing live
Nothing against the games, but I got the feeling from the crowd that the Chromatics performance was probably the main draw for most.  I can't really ague with that sentiment either since Johnny Jewel et al put on a moody, energetic show.  Readers of this blog can look forward to me gushing about Kill For Love come year-end list time as it's definitely one of the best albums of 2012.  I didn't stay for too much of Oneohtrix Point Never's set up on the gorgeous 7th floor sky view terrace, but stuck around long enough to hear "Ghost City" mixed into some hardcore Goa trance, which was pretty amazing.  The only thing that would have made the event better would have been the New Museum opening access to its Ghosts in the Machine exhibition, which would have been a nice pairing with all the games and electronic music happenings.

I'm told the game jam games will be available to play online hopefully by the end of the month along with a short documentary about their development process.  I'll be writing an in-depth piece on the existing Soundplay games in the near future.

:images 1 & 2 taken by me; Chromatics pic by Eriz Avissar for Pitchfork:

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