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Schadenfreudian Slips Postmortem: A Tight Squeeze: The Making Of Accordion Hero

Noted German developer Schadenfreude Interactive returns with an exclusive postmortem for this month's 'Schadenfreudian Slips' column, as they break new ground in controller design for Accordion Hero.

March 14, 2006

10 Min Read

Author: by Schadenfreude Interactive

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Continuing their "Schadenfreudian Slips" columns for Gamasutra, notable German developer Schadenfreude Interactive has submitted this exclusive postmortem on their recent smash hit rhythm action game Accordion Hero, in which you must "Polka your way up from Der Rathskeller to Oktoberfest in Munich!". We are, as ever, not liable for any carousing caused by perusing this postmortem.]

Accordion Playing Ain't Noise Pollution

Our beautiful Black Forest region is known for fine cuckoo clocks, delicious cake, and accordion music (most of you will probably only be familiar with the cake). Like wearing socks with our sandals, accordion music is part of being German. Most of us here at Schadenfreude Interactive studied accordion as children, playing in the school band, at the local beergarten, and on streetcorners at night in return for spare pfennigs (at least this is what Lothar did, as his parents were very neglectful). Our sound engineer, Alex Voll mit Aalen, is a professional accordion player who has toured with The Titisee-Neustadt Children's Orchestra, Ratte-Salat, and Bavarian-Turner Overdrive. Plus, everyone knows that accordion players get all the girls (I assume this would hold for the ladies as well, as accordion playing calls attention to the bosom in a delightful manner). We wanted to bring this experience to gamers everywhere.

Although most of us had played the accordion, we had never designed a game controller before! I quickly threw together a prototype made of dryer ducting, two cheese graters, tape, buttons, and a few Werther's Originals. It took a great deal of imaginary accordion playing to determine where the buttons should ultimately go, and the cheese graters scratched Crispin's hands up pretty horribly. But we told him that one must suffer to become a game tester, and one must be a game tester before one can be anything in this industry (of course we did not tell him that the rest of us were never game testers. Ah, it is to laugh).

Otto (our lead programmer) could not really participate in the Accordion Hero prototyping process -- he had badly broken his right clavicle in a recent car accident, and thus had only the use of one hand. But although he could not type, he was still able to program by using a voice command system on his computer. One day he left voice command enabled when he went out for lunch, and when he returned, he discovered that our ambient office chatter had accidentally written a very useful 3DS Max plug-in.

Perhaps Otto is not as irreplaceable as he thinks.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

When Bruno set up our initial negotiations with the Chinese game-controller manufacturer, he was under the mistaken impression that Lothar (our art director) could speak a little Chinese. He figured Lothar could translate all the necessary details. Unfortunately it turned out that he can speak a little Japanese – just enough to do Sailor Moon fansubbing (do not tell him, but I have a photo of Lothar in a Sailor Saturn cosplay outfit that I found on the Internet, it is useful for blackmail purposes). We sent Lothar off to China anyway. He managed fairly well, although they all made fun of him for his kanji tattoo – he thought it said “Pain is only weakness leaving the body” but it turns out to actually say “It burns to urinate”.

After two intensive weeks in Guangdong, Lothar returned . As soon as he walked in the door, the first thing he said was “I just flew back from China, and, ach, are my arms tired”. The poor man... he had been testing the accordion controllers at the factory 12 hours a day and his biceps were very sore. I took pity on him and did not make him mop the bathroom, even though it was his scheduled turn.

Despite Lothar's best coordination efforts, the first batch of controllers came back to us with only one side. Of course these, like a screen door on a submarine or a Nokia N-Gage, were completely useless. Even “Ein-Armed Otto” could do nothing with them. One day we will learn not to go with the lowest bidder! Thankfully the factory fixed the problem immediately, and the correct controllers were soon on their way.

What Went Right

• The game design came quite easily to us: as the music plays, hit the corresponding notes and squeeze the bellows on time to get more points. The more accurately you play, the more the audience will raise their beer steins and wave them in sync with the music. Nothing could be more natural.

• Our playtesters loved the game, so much so that they stayed in the office playing Accordion Hero until the wee hours of the morning. One of these nights, they somehow managed to set our entire supply of accordion controllers on fire (I suspect there is a slim possibility that they may have been drinking). Since the staff cubicles are former pig stalls and made of concrete, the fire did not spread, but the office did reek of melted plastic for quite some time. It was not so bad... the scent pleasantly reminded me of the time my little sister Astrid and I re-enacted Dante's Inferno with our Playmobil.

• Naming your band is an important part of the game (your band's name will appear in newspapers, on banners above the stage, and, at the highest levels, engraved upon beer steins), and any proper band will have at least two umlauts in their name. Making sure all these special characters are correct can be difficult. Luckily, Otto has written an umlaut-checking script called Diacritical Path, which smööths the process considerably.

• Our local oompah band, Güdfürnuthin, and local speed metal band, Moribund Impetus, worked together to perform wonderful covers of all of the songs for the game. They had a few strange requests, like “toilet paper in the restrooms” and “a bowl full of M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out”, but other than this they worked long hours for beer rather than pay. Crispin took care of the M&M sorting, as it is the kind of thing that game company interns live for.

What Went Wrong

• Ulrike, our VP of Marketing, was tasked with all the music licensing. There were many songs we wanted but could not get permission for. Van Halen did not even respond to our phone calls. However, David Lee Roth did -- Ulrike had several long conversations with him and says he is a very lovely man despite the unfortunate hair (she also says that she is a married woman and you are not to make anything more of it). We did not bother to contact David Hasselhoff due to a bad experience with him previously (you will hear about this in another article, it is too upsetting to retell here).

• All of our developers got to include their favorite song on the game's playlist, except Otto. His favorite song is Pink Floyd's “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict”. Unfortunately we were not able to obtain the rights, so he had to settle for “Hopfenspritzer Galopp”. He flew off into one of his legendary rages and threatened to break some accordions, but the broken clavicle rendered him fairly ‘armless. I do not think the Pink Floyd song would have sounded very good performed on an accordion, anyway.

• There was some concern about the beer references and “implied drinking” content for the US market, but in the end we figured that it was an integral part of the game and, unlike your American beer, we could not suffer it to be watered down.

• We should have used motion capture for the in-game characters, but we simply did not room for it in our budget. Thus the characters dance very badly, but that is all right -- we Germans are traditionally known for our stubborn and fastidious natures and our fondness for zeppelins, not any innate ability to shake our groove things.

For Those About To Polka, We Salute You

We had a great time making Accordion Hero, although in the future we will probably stick to creating games for standard game controllers, like the PC dance pad, Wacom tablet, and dual-reel fishing controller.

PS: For some reason the editor has asked me “Who would rock harder: Ronnie James Dio, or Yngwie Malmsteen?” The answer to this question (as it is to many, many other questions in life) is Ronnie James Dio.

-- Karsden “Cougar” Morderhaschen

[Note: The rumor that Accordion Hero contains a unlockable pornographic level (allegedly called “O'zapft Is”) set to Marvin Gaye's “Let's Get it On” is not true. Yes, that is a fine song and is in fact primarily responsible for both of Bruno and Paulina Schwartzritter's lovely daughters. But it is not in the game. Das ist fehl am Platz.]


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