The Bravura team presenting at halves.

The Past 2 Weeks
Last week was Spring Break for all of CMU but that didn’t stop Bravura from working: we had a playtest with young boys in our demographic and the results were promising. This week, Bravura prepared for and gave our half-semester presentation / demo where we received even more useful feedback.

Spring Break Playtest
On Tuesday, March 12, Bravura had the chance to playtest our app with 18 boys from Markham Elementary School. Some of them had experience playing instruments, but fewer had tried to create music.
Overall, the kids had little trouble interacting with the experience, and most of their feedback was about wanting more features. They wanted to play more and longer levels and especially wanted the ability to share their creations. Some even asked when the app would come out so that they could buy it! The team is really encouraged because not only was this our first playtest with kids in our demographic, but it also confirmed many of the design choices and changes we’ve made to our prototype so far.

Halves Presentation
Halves presentations were on Friday this week, having been pushed back from Wednesday because of conflicts with EA. However, that just meant that the team had more time to prepare and we were well-rehearsed and confident by Friday. The presentation went smoothly, and the team got thoughtful questions about our work so far and our plans. One guest who had been at Quarters asked, “how are [music] guidelines currently implemented? ” and the team had an opportunity to talk about how we have utilized buildings and positive reinforcement to create a visual style to reflect musical structure without being overbearing.
Even more valuable, though, was the project demo that Bravura gave after the presentation. Guests had a chance to play with our prototype first-hand. The hands-on interaction allowed guests to give us more specific and targeted feedback. Their sentiments confirmed features we knew we needed such as feedback during playback, but they also had some interesting suggestions. In particular, both Roger and Govind mentioned that it might also be nice for there to be a level that starts with a familiar pre-existing song.

Looking Forwards
The whole team will be attending GDC next week and so the project will be on hiatus then. However, we intend to get right back to work starting the week afterwards. The team has already met post-halves and looked at the work that still needs to be done. We’ve prioritized the remaining features, and now that we’re wrapping up the line-drawing, sequencer, and voice systems that were pre-halves priorities, we plan to begin work in earnest on systems like level-creation, accompaniment-generation, and sheet music conversion.

Idan from IncidentTech trying out our app.
Idan from IncidentTech trying out our app.

Playtests and gTars
Team Bravura had a very exciting week; we got to conduct our first playtest on Monday and on Wednesday we met with Incident Technologies for information about what they’re doing and feedback on our application. We’ve been busy integrating all of this feedback into our current application build.

Internal Playtest
We had a blast showing our progress so far to our fellow ETC-SV students. The test consisted of a preliminary build of the application on an iPad and a “paper-prototype” where Nate simulated a more full experience. Above all, people really enjoyed the application! With no prior musical experience, they DID feel like they were composing music.

The playtest provided useful feedback about features we are considering integrating into the application. We learned that people were in fact interested in looking at how their melody can become music notation, that they wanted to continue to explore a level even after creating a melody, and even if they were not fond of their melody at first, when they added accompaniment, they were unanimously impressed. They enjoyed trying different accompaniments, with the added educational bonus of learning about the differences in musical style that we didn’t even anticipate. In sum, the playtest was extremely successful and rewarding; it was encouraging to find we’ve been moving in the right direction towards our goal of allowing everyone to create music.

A visit from the creators of the gTar, Idan Beck and Josh Stansfield of IncidentTech, to ETC-SV proved to be just as encouraging. Their product is a digital guitar designed so that anyone can pick it up and start playing. After docking an iPhone into the gTar, you can pick your song and difficulty level, and the notes you need to play light up on the frets of the instrument. The goal of the gTar is very similar to ours; to show people that anyone can create music.

After their demonstration, we showed them our current version of our application. As they have experience designing a music product for non-musicians, they had a lot of valuable feedback. They really liked our application, notably the overall design and art style. Idan pointed out that our way of visualizing music is perhaps even more effective than traditional sheet music! He also gave us interesting feedback on voice as input and the art specifics.

Looking Forwards
Next Tuesday, Nate, Cheng, and our advisor, Jiyoung, are going to conduct another playtest with students visiting Electronic Arts from Markham Elementary school. We will also be spending the next week and a half preparing for our halves presentation and demonstration. As we make small refinements to the application from our testing results, Mike will compile these changes into a build to show at halves.

Along with creating a working prototype of the application, we’ve been developing both our artistic and musical “style.”  Through our play testing, we found that people really enjoyed learning about and adding different accompaniments to their melodies.  We wanted to share some examples of level layouts, where users will draw the tram line between the people to create a melody, along with samples of what the music could sound like.  The idea of pre-built levels may have risked users creating similar melodies to each other, but we found that not to be the case.  People liked how choosing different accompaniments vastly affected the final song output, as you will notice by comparing two different audio files created from the same level design.

Level Prototype 1 Audio Files:         Salsa         Piano Pop

These are two different melodies created in the level, with two vastly different styles. The building structures (trees, balloons, mountains) represent the chords in the accompaniment   Though the styles of the accompaniment are different, the chords progression of each are the same.

Level Prototype 1


Level Prototype 2 Audio Files:     Classical Virtuoso      Piano Pop

This example features a longer level and a different chord progression.  The Piano Pop style was also featured in prototype 1, but now it’s contrasted with a Classical Virtuoso style.  You can see how much accompaniment style changes the feel of the song as both examples actually have the same melody!

Level Prototype 2, part 1
Level Prototype 2, part 2



A glimpse of our first prototype.

Putting Things Together
Our steady progress is paying off in visible and exciting ways: we have art assets to iterate on, different parts of the programming framework are working, and our basic interaction is running on the iPad. Most of all, though, is that we have begun integrating all of these to build the complete experience.

Last Friday, Nate, Cheng, and Romain met with Jiyoung to discuss the preferred musical style for our app; they settled on a classically-influenced and approachable pop style. With this decision, we have been able to make amount more forwards progress: Now, the programmers have a sense of what instruments our sequencer needs – for our style, those would be piano, patch strings, bass, drums. More so, Nate now knows what types of design to give our “levels”, and he has already started creating some level prototypes that Meng has begun to lay out.

We have iterated on art, and have designs that we like aesthetically. A picture of a potential level layout in our art style can be seen above. We hope to create a visually simple universe, while allowing each chord structure to still keep its own unique aesthetic. Moreover, we are still iterating to make sure that the right parts draw the player’s attention (i.e. the little people that need to be picked up).

From a technical angle, we’ve also begun addressing questions about how to make sure the art intimately connects to the music and programmatic framework in the background. We are investigating how to allow levels be procedurally generated based on music data while still keeping artistic flair and variety amongst similar chords. At the moment, we like the idea of using a system of layers and building tiles that can be procedurally stacked and rearranged.

The tech prototype is a sight to see, and almost a sight that’s ready for our playtesters to see.

Cheng has built our own file system for storing data now, and moreover, the sequencer that Mike and Pei-Lin having been working on is playing those sounds at the correct tempo. Romain’s framework for drawing lines on screen now has “hit areas” for playable notes. And Cheng is integrating voice input/processing into the project, though that is something we will not be testing just yet.

While the team is excited to see our work in one piece, we are also aware of what is still incomplete at the moment: Our engine is not yet able to handle and construct with our visual elements so we will be testing our prototype over a large pre-made image of a musical level. Moreover, we are still only testing our mechanic and aesthetic, and have yet to begin designing the user interface. However, these are all things that the team is confident in being able to achieve once we know that the foundation of the experience is solid.

Looking Forwards
We will have an internal playtest next week on Monday with our fellow Silicon Valley ETCers to hear their professional feedback about our design. Nate has also been speaking with a local school, and we hope to test with young kids as well in the near future. In response to this feedback, we will continue refining our design next week in preparation for Half-Semester presentations.