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Inside the IGF Student Competition: Resonance

In a new series, sister site GameCareerGuide talks to student developers who have submitted games to this year’s Independent Games Festival, including the DigiPen s
In a new series, sister site GameCareerGuide talks to student developers who have submitted games to this year’s Independent Games Festival Student Competition, including the DigiPen Institute of Technology students who create Resonance, a hybrid rhythm-action game. 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. A mere four-person team created the game: Keith Gunning, producer; Doug Macdonald, designer; Jason Hamilton, technical director, and Nickolas Raines, product manager. Here’s what they had to say about the game: 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. [Visit GameCareerGuide.com to read the extended version of this article.]

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