Polyrhythm Pals Postmortem

Prompt: How can we gamify the concept of polyrhythms?

Prototype Goals

  • Can we make a rhythm game that explores the concept of polyrhythms?
  • Can we make a cooperative rhythm game?


Platform: PC

Players: 2

Controllers: Keyboard


In Polyrhythm Pals, two players work together to create a polyrhythm (a rhythm containing multiple time signatures at the same time).

Iteration Thoughts


  • The original prompt for this prototype was to explore the idea of Polyrhythm and how it can be incorporated into a moving pattern / ‘shape’ such as ¾ notes for a ‘triangle’ and 4/4 notes for a ‘square’. 
  • By simultaneously playing two rhythmic layers that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another, players need to recognize the unique underlying beat pattern and give continuous input in that pattern. After x amount of input successfully on beat, a new melody will be added to the main polyrhythmic track. 
  • The fun of this is to have two players concurrently contribute to the same gameplay in a music-making way. However, one player’s action can be a distraction for the other due to the nature of polyrhythm which adds difficulty to the cooperation.
  • From early play tests, we discovered that for people who are not professional musicians, the 
  • It is the most ‘improvisational’ prototype we made, it also remains more like a toy with core mechanics than a complete game.  


  • Polyrhythms are hard, even for the rhythmically inclined.
    • We decided on incorporating a 3/4 and a 4/4 polyrhythm as two unique melodies that, together, create a soundtrack. To keep the two rhythms understandable and identifiable within the sound scape, they would need to have unique sound signatures,
      • The more frequently heard 4/4 rhythm was decided to contain most of the lower frequency information of the music, and the 3/4 rhythm would be the more melodic (upper frequency) portion.
      • Individually, these two rhythms needed to sound as a complete musical idea when played in their full forms. Separating them into low and high frequency information allowed them to be able to be combined into an overarching musical idea.
        • The unique combinations of the different layers gave the players a sense of progression for their own lines.
    • One of the difficulties in creating a traditional “layered” approach to progression is keeping the rhythm clear and the additional layers simple
      • When working with melodies that are shorter loops, There is a limit to the amount of uniquely defined layers that can be created before the individual musical idea begins to be too cluttered. This is compounded when two cluttered ideas are combines into the full soundtrack. Thus, there is a limit to the kind of progression that can happen with this approach.
  • The difficulty of rhythm is not just in the audible soundtrack.
    • All throughout playtesting, it became apparent that not only was the polyrhythmic  soundtrack a source of difficulty for players, their ability to hear the inputs of their partner threw them off even more.
      • Our testing was on a mechanical keyboard that had a distinct clack for each key hit. We found out that players were accidentally listening to their partners inputting their rhythms. Since the inputs were not always correct, this caused a feedback look where both players were listening to each other’s incorrect inputs and were acting accordingly.
        • Additional focus on creating visual and audio feedback for correct/incorrect inputs should be explored, especially with a focus on maintaining clarity in a sonically busy world.
        • Giving each player a set of isolating headphones would partially alleviate the issue, but there would be less incentive to actually cooperate and talk with the other player as a result.

Lessons Learned

  • It is important to take into account not just audio/visual feedback, but also the players own actions/input during gameplay. Certain control schemes and scenarios can cause unintentional audio/visual feedback that will throw off accuracy and flow.