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The Shifting Saga Of Sound Shapes
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The Shifting Saga Of Sound Shapes

September 21, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[It took four years for Everyday Shooter developer Jon Mak to get his next game, Sound Shapes up and running -- but it's shaping up to be one of the PlayStation Vita's most anticipated titles, and he discusses it inside.]

Everyday Shooter was an early star of the PlayStation Network lineup -- a game that promised that Sony was as serious as Microsoft at making sure its service was home to some of the most appealing and creative indie games available.

But developer Jon Mak went silent after that. It took four years, and teaming up with musician Shaw-Han Liem to create Sound Shapes, which is making its way to the PlayStation Vita and has, in fact, become one of the fledgling handheld system's most anticipated titles.

In this interview, Mak and Liem talk specifically about the challenges that lead to the project's slow development, and discuss the technology that allows for interactive music to form the key of the game's platforming experience.

Let's talk about why it took so long to get to your next project to the point where you are comfortable with releasing it.

Jon Mak: Well, after Everyday Shooter, I met Shaw-Han and he still had a job. So I had to convince him to quit the job, and then go on this four-year-plus hell ride with me, making a video game.

We actually started off working on just, like, music visualizers for shows in Processing, and it sort of grew from that to be like, "Let's make a really small video game, sort of in the vein of Everyday Shooter." Except it wasn't shooting; it was like a beat 'em up or whatever, and then we just kept one-upping it.

It was just thinking about how the player could participate in making music while playing a game, and about two years ago, we came up with a prototype where it was like, it's a platformer, and you make levels, and that became Sound Shapes.

The hard part is, we don't want to make any concessions on the gameplay side or the music side. So it's really hard. When everything you put in the game has to have a gameplay function and a musical function, it's really hard to do that, because you can make something that sounds really cool, but then the gameplay might get fucked up. Or you might make something that plays really well, but how are you going to make that musical?

We had this thing with moving platforms. And then we had a game designer come in and play it, and they're like, "You know what? We just need to make this moving platform stop for a few seconds every time it hits something."

And it's like, yeah, great, that's great, but that's going to mess up the music really badly. Because then it'll get all out of sync and stuff, so it's just balancing that. Balancing that, and figuring out how to wrap our heads around that problem, has taken a while.

Sound Shapes

Do you try to match a shape to a sound that you think would match the shape?

JM: Is that a joke?

It's not a joke.

JM: Well, in Everyday Shooter I do that -- like, "What would this look like as a shape?" kind of thing. But here, our design process for entities is a little different. It's actually kind of still evolving. Do you want to talk about that? I don't even know what our process is.

Shaw-Han Liem: Yeah, you don't know. I don't think there's a literal one-to-one shape to sound, but we try to match, I think, behaviors to sounds, and the sort of overall visual element with what's happening sound-wise.

So when we're designing entities, me and Jon basically had to sit there and argue for a whole day about like, "I need this entity to do this," so that in the music editor you're going to be able to do cool music with it, and Jon's thing is, "I need the entity to do this other thing," because in the game it's going to make it really cool gameplay-wise if it has this behavior.

And so we have to spend a lot of time trying to find that overlap. What's the coolest part about both of those things -- where the music thing will be cool and the gameplay thing will be cool. And so when we find that overlap, that's how we know we've got something.

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