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Pulse's Cipher Prime On The Future Of Mobile Music Games

Philadelphia-based Cipher Prime (Fractal, Auditorium) discusses its new iPhone game, Pulse, the challenges of being a first-time Unity developer, and how badly it wants a new Frequency from Harmonix.

John Polson, Blogger

May 16, 2011

4 Min Read

Philadelphia-based Cipher Prime has built a solid reputation for itself with Fractal and the multi-award winning Auditorium -- two games that offer unique takes on the music game genre. Earlier this month Cipher Prime released its third title, an iPad rhythm game called Pulse. The game has been a success thus far, with an average review score of 4 1/2 stars and the honor of being spotlighted as Apple's iPad Game of the Week in its debut. In this Q&A, Cipher Prime's William Stallwood and Dain Saint together offer insight on the making of Pulse, the challenges of developing for Unity for the first time, and just how badly they want Harmonix to update Frequency. Could you talk about the future of music gaming on touch devices? We're seeing some great innovative from the guys over at Smule. Music creation is definitely going to be a lot more interesting. The new Garage Band is already making a splash. As for games, it would be great to see more innovation in the form of multi-touch, maybe even break out into multiple rhythms for the rhythm series of games. Come on, Harmonix, what happened to Frequency? Get that baby going on a tablet device with some co-op-etition. What does the move to Unity mean for fans and your ease of development? So far, moving to Unity has been one of the best decisions we have made in our development process. A lot of the lessons we have learned from Flash carry over, and it's allowed us to jump into the deep end without a whole lot of hassle. Working in a 3D environment has caused some concern, but we've remedied almost all of those. For our fans, this means more options and quicker turnaround. Before, if they requested a new platform, it was most likely out of the question. If we did decide to do it, we probably had to do a publishing deal, waste three months negotiating and signing, even more porting, and still end up with an imperfect copy of the original game. Now we control everything and are able to make much better decisions and hopefully, make much better end products. You have a goal of releasing at least three games in 2011. What can you tell us about them? One of them is not a music game. It's a social game. Go figure, huh? One of them is an arcade game. It may be totally free. Music? Oh, yeah. [There’s] another title you've seen before, but we're beefing it up to go multiplatform and take over the world. What lessons from Fractal and Auditorium helped in making Pulse? Probably the biggest thing is what we call the "Editor Lesson": You should have an editor for your game from day one. Futzing around with XML files and re-initializing variables every two minutes stands in the way of figuring out what's fun about your game. You also have to have people playing from as close to day one as possible...There are really only two things to do when you make a game: figure why it's fun and polish it ‘til it shines! As your first iPad game, what development challenges did it present and how did you overcome them? We've used Flash for years, so we're quite comfortable working with 2D vector animations. We're also used to certain things like making gradients, doing masks, and handling fonts coming naturally. [That’s] not quite the case in 3D and especially not on the iPad. Making the transition to 3D brought us a bit of hassle with writing custom shaders and the like to replicate some of the features we'd gotten use to. On the iPad, this also meant figuring out ways to cleverly batch our game objects together to keep our draw calls down and keep gameplay snappy! How are you addressing the concern that your core fans were built on devices other than the iPad? Pulse needs the touch interface; there's really no way around that. The game was designed entirely around the idea of touch. We are looking at Android tablets as well, so we're not iDevice-centric over here. The iPad market is a huge boon for little studios like us. If Pulse does well enough, that enables us to make more, better games. Since we're developing in Unity, we can be on any platform we damn well please.

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