This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Neon Beats aims for simplicity as it tasks players with platforming through levels to the beat of the music, pressing them harder as the music's intensity rises.
Rémi Jallageas and the team at OKYO GAMES, developers of the Best Student Game-nominated title, spoke with Gamasutra about tying gameplay to the beat without restraining what the player can do, aiming for clarity when the game's demands were complex, and how music can help 'emphasize' a moment in the player's mind.
We are a team of 5 students. Paul Hebbinckuys is the sound designer and music composer, Alexandre Kadri is the programmer, I am the level designer, Brice Pinquet is the game designer, and Theo Tcheng is the VFX artist.
We don’t have a lot of background in the video game industry. Our courses allowed us to make several projects, and Neon Beats was developed during our studies of game design.
Creating a 'Feel Good' atmosphere
We created Neon Beats as part of an 8-week project supervised by the school. We were given constraints which were: non violent, playable one-handed, and colorblind friendly. We also had a theme: feel good. From there, we created the basic concept in a brainstorming.
To express the “Feel Good” atmosphere, we chose to link gameplay and music with a simple and minimalist artistic style.
On the tools used to create Neon Beats
We used the Unity engine. Firstly, we developed a tool in order to create the global structure of a level quickly and easily. We also created a tool that analyzes the audio spectrum of the music in order to link the gameplay to the songs.
Avoiding constraining the player with the beat
What we wanted to create, and that we felt interested in, is the fact that the rhythm of the music never constrains the player’s actions. Only the levels are affected, which allow the player to enjoy and focus on mechanics more linked to platformers.
We truly think that a good link between music and gameplay creates a “feel good” experience.
Respecting music while providing player freedom
The first thing to know is that we design a level depending on its music. With this idea, the structure of a level must fit the musical intensity. During tense moments, the player will experience fast-paced situations, while less intense situations will be linked to a calm and slow music.
The main challenge is to have an experience that respects the musical rhythm as much as possible while allowing the player total freedom of movement. The music of the game therefore evolves according to the player's progression in the level.
One of the other challenges was the creation of a logical and interesting micro interest curve (internal to the level itself), but also at the macro level (from the beginning to the end of the game). That is why we tried to introduce mechanics as the player would advance in the game.
Seeking strong rhythms
Feeling a progression in the music was something primordial. We also needed music that was not too repetitive, with a strong rhythm. Music that fits Neon Beats, is in fact, simple music.
On choosing the game's minimalist art style
We wanted a simple and efficient game. This visual simplicity allowed us to emphasize the core experience while creating accessibility and fast understanding of the gameplay.
Emphasizing moments with song
To us, music is personal. Neon Beats is a our representation of what the music made us feel. Furthermore, music has the ability to emphasize every situation and emotion. That is why we tied the gameplay to the music - to create a memorable experience.
Audio is as important as an artistic direction. It’s a huge part of the experience and strongly contributes to the identity of the game.