This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Just Shapes & Beats is a bullet hell in a music visualizer - and dizzying dance of light, color, and song as players struggle to survive while moving and dodging to the beat.
Gamasutra had a talk with Simon Lachance, designer of the Excellence in Visual Arts-nominated title, to learn about the ideas that went behind creating the game's visual spectacle, building stages out of a music visualizer, and how he chose music that inspired him to create audio battle zones.
Beginning of the beat
I'm Simon "Lachhh" Lachance and I'm the game designer for Just Shapes & Beats.
Unofficially, I started making games as a dare in exchange for burritos back in college. Officially, I've been a game dev for 14 years now? Started off in a local studio as a coder, then left to create Berzerk Studio with my two associates, Etienne and Marc, ten years ago. Been indies full time ever since.
We started by making super small games for a few bucks, and over the years ended up making over 25 Flash and mobile games, with the end goal of someday making games for consoles, and now here we are!
Visions of play through music
Just Shapes & Beats was inspired by the music itself. Six years ago, I went to a concert at GDC, bought a CD from one of the artists playing (Parallel Processing by Danimal Cannon), and forgot about it. Months later I found it and put it in my car, then instantly started seeing gameplay.
A few months later, I went to a local game jam in Quebec City and decided to do that music game I had a fever dream about in the car, but being a coder I couldn't draw for shit, so I made it about shapes.
The tools of making musical mayhem
I used Flash (lol Flash is dead) for most of the prototyping phase, then moved to Unity for shipping.
On creating the visual appeal of Just Shapes & Beats
A lot of flashing colors and a big old seizure warning. All kidding aside, it's basically a gamified Winamp visualizer, and funky visualizers are awesome to watch. Have you wasted hours looking at them back in the '90s? I sure did.
On creating stages from songs
It's mostly trying to create something that looks how it sounds - something that's inspired by what the music makes you feel. The music is not just playing in the background. You are playing the music.
Feeling their way through choosing music for the game
There's no single way to look at it. It's like when you fall in love; it just feels right. We'd just listen to gallons of chiptunes and isolate those that would inspire us with gameplay. No metrics, just feels.
Honestly, the co-op part is mostly a happy accident. The initial game was a super-hard single player mouse-based Flash game. We added the multiplayer because we had an opportunity to go to a game show and felt we needed to have it just so more people could play the game over the weekend. The reception was amazing, so we decided that it's how we had envisioned it all along. Geniuses, we are.
Challenges of designing a game that's both single- and multiplayer
I wouldn't say difficult, but it was stressful wondering if we were just another novelty indie multiplayer game. Adding the story mode helped a ton in relieving some of that anxiety, but only created a new problem where we didn't know if players were going to like the story we had to tell. We're not storytellers here, and putting something out there that's way outside your comfort zone is scary, dude.
Letting everyone jam
We wanted everyone to be able to experience our game. Just Shapes & Beats is about jamming out to music, not about having the APM of a StarCraft player and the reflexes of a cyborg tiger on steroids. Adding a mode that you can just have playing in the background that anyone can just mess around with to liven up a family shindig took nothing out of the global experience.