Hi, I’m Kristian Tchetchko, a sound artist and recording engineer based in Pittsburgh, PA. The past several months I’ve been a part of Jam Session, a team at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. Jam Session explored and prototyped innovative and engaging rhythm games, and after 8 different experiences, we had a lot to write about.
This article is for music and sound creators interested in crafting assets specifically for Rhythm Games, and will explore certain considerations to take into account when doing so. This is by no means a definitive guide, but I hope it is a strong enough stepping stone to use as a guide for more successful overall experiences.
- Soundtrack Content and Complexity
- The importance of beat clarity
- Considering Tempo and Time Signatures
- Rhythm is Hard (poly)
- Melody vs Beat
- Matching Music/Cues to gameplay
- Loops vs Song
- Using Repetition
- Frequency of Cues
- Flexible timing and tempo
- The role of improvisation
Soundtrack Content and Complexity
One of the first findings we encountered was that standard soundtracks do not translate well into rhythm games. The central point of rhythm games is reacting to a cue of some sort, and players listening to a tune for the first time need to be able to find those cues with ease.
In terms of content, the soundtrack for a rhythm game needs to be as structured as possible. Avoiding random elements or phrases can help keep guests engaged and limit confusion. Humans like to make connections to the actions that they are doing. If all of the sudden they experience a random melody or stab, they will wonder if they caused it, or if they did something wrong. Granted, if the intent is to confuse players, then by all means go ahead. However, traditional rhythm game music structure should focus on creating clear, understandable music that doesn’t provide unintentional feedback. In our playtests, very short repetitive loops provided listening fatigue and decreased player enjoyment, so keep that in mind as well.
Games with little/no Note Highway elements require special considerations when dealing with music and cues. When creating the soundtrack for Gang Beats, the first iteration of the soundtrack was crafted in the traditional sense – a great grooving music track. However, we then began to layer on the Cue sound effects, and it all was just too busy. Our playtesters had a lot of difficulty figuring out when to act. An item that compounded this was the Cue, a snare hit with a clap, blended too closely with the music. To alleviate this, the music has to be crafted to emphasize the cues.
Cues are divided into two sections. The Cue and the Cue Announce, or leadup to Cue. The Cue and the Cue announce need to be prominent, with the soundtracks providing adequate leadup and space to each Cue. This doesn’t mean that the Cue needs to be played in isolation, just that the music is substantially less dense at that point in time. The amount of density change also depends on the sonic content of the Cue. If the Cue and music share many elements, then the density needs to be dropped off more for clarity. If the Cue and music are sonically distinctly different, then more of the soundtrack can be played.
In addition, it is very good practice to keep the Cue and any Cue Announce sounds consistent and similar throughout the experience. If the Cue core keeps changing despite performing a similar action each time, this provides the player with conflicting feedback, and will most likely cause confusion and break flow. Keeping the Cue/cue announce noticable and identical with each trigger repetition is important for building player understanding and prediction of future actions
Of course, all of this will depend on the type of gameplay you are offering the player. A more traditional song-based game like guitar hero utilizes the visual feedback of note highway to help the players know when their action needs to be taking place. The less visuals you’re giving the player, the stronger the contrast between soundtrack and cue there needs to be.
The Importance of Beat Clarity
Making it obvious Jelly Tracks
When taking it away
Considering Tempo and Time Signatures
Playtesting for flow jump rope
People are not superhuman chopin
Changing meter, be careful when changing
Making it seamless, kinectic
Rhythm is Hard
Melody vs Beat
Matching Music/Cues to gameplay
Loops vs Song
Frequency of Cues
Flexible timing and tempo
The role of improvisation