The Independent Games Festival celebrates independent and student video games. In this exclusive series, GameCareerGuide is talking to people who have submitted games to the IGF student competition, like the DigiPen students who created Resonance.
GameCareerGuide spoke with the four team members who made this hybrid rhythm-action game: Keith Gunning, producer; Doug Macdonald, designer; Jason Hamilton, technical director; and Nickolas Raines, product manager.
Game title: Resonance
School: DigiPen Institute of Technology
Description: Resonance is a hybrid rhythm-action game with side-scrolling mechanics. Like a standard 2D brawler game, the player progresses across each of the stages from left to right, defeating enemies in his or her wake. However, the player cannot merely tap buttons furiously in order to succeed. The player's four basic attacks act as four separate notes used to play a whole myriad of short tunes. Whenever a tune is played with the correct timing and notes (within an allowed margin of error), the player performs special moves that damage enemies.
GameCareerGuide: Tell us how Resonance came to be.
Jason Hamilton: The main ideas behind Resonance came about when I was shooting down Doug's idea for a rhythm-based platformer...
Doug Macdonald: I started putting a team together in April 2007 with the intention of making some sort of rhythm game. My initial plan was a rhythm platformer, but Jason managed to convince me that that would probably end up pretty terrible, so we settled on making it a brawler.
We spent a few months in front of whiteboards, drawing out the game design and having heated arguments about the tiniest details, until we had written a complete game design document. After that, there was just the matter of actually finding time to code the game.
GCG: What was your goal in developing the game?
Nickolas Raines: Making something fun, innovative, and technically challenging. Resonance was that. Also, having fun during development and enjoying the game that we were working on was very important to me as well.
Doug Macdonald: My main goal was just to make something that's never been done before. I figured that I'd never have a better opportunity to try pulling off a game like this, since the stakes are just a little higher when you're dealing with a commercial game and a commercial budget, so I may as well try to do something nobody's ever attempted and see what comes of it.
Jason Hamilton: I guess we really just wanted to see if the idea we came up with was really possible to pull off in a professional-looking way, without having a team of 30 artists and two full-time composers.
GCG: Why did you decide to make a rhythm game? In the last year or two, the indie and student game development scene has had a glut of these kinds of games.
Doug Macdonald: The glut of rhythm games surprised us as much as anyone else, since it seemed to start right when we were a few months into development. I've been just a little bit obsessed with rhythm games ever since I first made a fool of myself on a Dance Dance Revolution machine, so I knew from the start that I wanted to make a music game of some sort.
Jason Hamilton: In the case of Resonance, we wanted to do something where the action flowed smoothly, and rhythm-based mechanics were a natural fit. For me, though, it's probably a deep-rooted love of SEGA's Space Channel 5 that really had me excited to try working rhythm into a genre where it doesn't make immediate sense. As for the scene as a whole though, I think it's pretty obvious that the mainstream popularity of Guitar Hero and Rock Band in the past few years have definitely pushed rhythm games into the spotlight-lots of people want to put their own spin on the rhythm-game concept, and we were no exception.
Keith Gunning: We really felt that Resonance's combination of rhythm and side-scrolling action elements was unique and exciting.
GCG: What do you think is the game's greatest asset? What sets it apart from other games in the IGF?
Nick Raines: The gameplay style is very different from a traditional music rhythm based game. Musically, instead of a more classical performance, the player is charged with a more improvised approach.
Jason Hamilton: I believe that one of Resonance's best assets is its style. We wanted the game to be fun, so we tried to convey that in everything from the gameplay down to the character sprites and dialog. We did the best that we could with our very limited artistic abilities, but I feel like the final result is fun to experience.
Doug Macdonald: I think that directly tying the character's special attacks to the player's skill with the music really adds a lot to the game. It's always neat when music games show you're doing well by flashing the screen or pulsing the controller. We just take things a step farther and make your guy throw fireballs.
Keith Gunning: We are also thoroughly convinced that Resonance has the most suave and debonair final boss of any game in IGF.
GCG: What games (or non-game things) influenced Resonance?
Doug Macdonald: We studied as many existing music games as possible to try to figure out exactly what makes a rhythm game fun. My biggest influence was Space Channel 5, but we were definitely affected by Dance Dance Revolution and just about every Harmonix game. The actual brawler mechanics were heavily inspired by some of the greatest games of the genre: Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.
Nick Raines: The improvisation of jazz was a large influence on the gameplay style. And we tried to make the battle system as smoothly flowing as the battle system of Baten Kaitos Origins.
Jason Hamilton: On the beat-'em-up side of things, inspiration came from classic games like Streets of Rage and Brawl Brothers. I loved playing those games as a kid, and I still do. Even though you only had a very limited set of moves, taking out each wave of enemies was extremely satisfying. We wanted that same kind of feeling in Resonance.
GCG: Can you share with us one thing that got cut from the game?
Doug Macdonald: All the levels were originally about twice as long, but we ended up trimming them to make the game flow better. We also originally planned to have more special attacks and minibosses in every level, but there just wasn't enough time to implement those.
Keith Gunning: We were going to allow both the first and second players to play simultaneously, but due to the rhythm-action nature of the gameplay, it was not feasible.
GCG: Tell us one interesting thing that you learned in developing the game, technical or otherwise.
Nick Raines: Composing music that has a very strict set of requirements really limits creativity. Since the player's "voice" has to blend perfectly at all times, the game was stuck in major chords or different modes of major chords. And to keep the game easy enough, the music was always restricted to 120 beats per minute.
Doug Macdonald: You have to be willing to accept that every single aspect of a design is up for debate. I fought the rest of my team tooth and nail to try to keep certain things that I felt just had to be in the game, but now I'm glad that they had the sense enough to put their feet down on certain issues.
Jason Hamilton: One of the bigger things I learned while working on Resonance was how important focus testing is when exploring new ideas. Without testing, all sorts of assumptions are made about how the player will react and what the player will do: some right, some horribly, horribly wrong. There were tons of things in Resonance that had to be changed, dropped, or drastically reworked because our assumptions had been off-target. Having people play the game gave us a ton of insight we simply wouldn't have otherwise.
GCG: Since making this game, have your opinions or assumptions about game development changed in any way? If so, how and what were they before?
Doug Macdonald: I now understand just how important it is to focus test continually throughout a game's production. I used to feel that with enough planning, you could design a game from start to finish, code it, and be done with it. It was a real shock the first time we showed the game to a new player and saw that he had absolutely no idea how to play it.
Nick Raines: It's a lot of work. And if you love it, it's a lot of fun.
Keith Gunning, producer
Doug Macdonald, designer
Jason Hamilton, technical director
Nickolas Raines, product manager