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A Sense of Fun: Anybody Could Be Your Player 1
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A Sense of Fun: Anybody Could Be Your Player 1

October 7, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[In an impassioned opinion piece, recently published in Game Developer magazine, seminal Parappa co-creator and 'father of music games' Masaya Matsuura talks about his hopes for the future of games as 'tangible experiences' with positive feelings attached.]

At the heart of my involvement with video games, I have always been strongly linked to the "music game" genre. While this is often said of me, in reality at the end of the day I am first and foremost a musician looking for ways to expand my creative process, but I guess the end result is the same.

When PaRappa the Rapper was in development at the beginning of the 90s, there were hardly any individuals attempting similar things. After the game's release in '96, similar titles started to become successful sales-wise, which led to greater variation to the extent that these days, "music games" are recognized as being in a genre of their own. But I want to say that we are very far from realizing our potential in this industry.

The past 10 years have seen a number of transitions that have taken the sector to its present condition. I'm delighted to see that lately music games have seen a great surge of interest in the West, thanks to titles like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and SingStar.

I couldn't verify this, but I was told that the Guitar Hero franchise accounted for 20 percent of all game sales in North America last year. Even if that figure isn't accurate, the sales are still astronomical. I can only say that this is an amazing thing.

Ten years ago, when PaRappa was big news, developers from Harmonix visited Japan and showed me some interactive music software that they were working on. I strongly advised them that rather than interactive music software, it had to be a game.

Copycat Curse

The recent success of music games in the West has been based mostly on licensed music. It is necessary to move beyond this. The challenge is to discover the next paradigm in which music and games have a positive and complimentary relationship. I cannot overstate the importance of this. We are currently wasting our use of music.

Most games these days seem to use gorgeous orchestral soundtracks. While these large-scale soundtracks may generally be lovely to listen to, if we really think about it, isn't it all a bit lacking in imagination? Thinking about it from a simplistic visual perspective, while films are basically just watched, games are interactive.

The duties involved and objectives set are also different, so film and games cannot really be the same. And yet, music is basically the same in both. Despite this wonderful opportunity to advance music with this new medium, it seems that new and bold ideas are not encouraged in the current climate.

It's reasonable to think that unimaginative forms of expression will slowly die out as a new form of entertainment matures.

Just looking at the past 10 years we can see that there have been drastic changes in the way we use music, as the media becomes digital, mobile, and more accessible. If we do not make great efforts to ensure progressive use of music in representative mediums, such as games, we could be faced with a steep decline.

The history of music games is still very young. So what is required to ensure the growth of this category? Maybe collaborating with cool musicians would be a good start, and I mean really collaborating, not just licensing music from famous artists.

To all the cool musicians, please take note! I would like you all to dig deep into your own musical expression, and collaborate with other forms in order to extend yourselves.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Simon Ask Ulsnes
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Very interesting piece! I agree with you on the problematic state of almost exclusively violence-based games.

The piece also made me think of something: I'm from Denmark, and in Scandinavian languages, we use two words where English-speakers use one. Instead of "game", there is "spil" and "leg" (pronounciation completely different from spelling, unfortunately), with different meaning. The two words are not interchangeable.

"Spil" generally means a game where there is a winner, a competitive game.

"Leg" means a "pretend"-game, for instance when children run around in the garden playing pirates on a pirate ship consisting of a tree log and a few branches.

I'm sure there are other languages out there with the same distinction.

The distinction is important for me when proposing game designs, because I believe the future of interactive entertainment is in both directions, but the non-competitive type is completely understimulated currently.

- Simon

Brice Morrison
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That is a great distinction. It seems to me that many games are still suffering from the residue of the 70s and 80s - games as a challenge, a way of the player proving his dominance over the computer.

"Leg" games seem much more compelling and a better framework for positive experiences.

But of course the question do you do that? Hopefully we'll find out soon!

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@ Simon: isn't "Play" a good one for "Leg", with "Game" being "Spil"?

Here in the Netherlands we have it even worse. We only have "Spel" for both Game & Play.

Also, Roger Caillois' matrix would be interesting to look at, with its Paidia and Ludus (and Mimicry being the pretend part)

Jaco van der Westhuizen
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I remember something from a few years back, where some games being released were called 'software toys' instead of games.

I think maybe a multiplayer software toy could evolve into the "leg" kind of game, if there is sufficient communication between the players. A game where every player is playing an instrument and they make music together is a possibility. (I think they tried something like this in LotR Online and it was enjoyed by some.)

Wylie Garvin
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In case anyone is curious, the screenshot on page 4 is from a very excellent Playstation 1 game called "Vib Ribbon".

If I could find that game in English for any of the current platforms (as a PSN game or Xbox Live Arcade, for example) I would buy it in a heartbeat. It was great fun, and even let you put your own music CDs in and it would generate level data on-the-fly from your own music. A cult classic and a wonderful game.