Sound Shapes Gamescom 2011 Preview -- A Fresh Tune for Your Eyes and EarsBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 19, 2011
Four years ago people described the PS3 musical twin stick shooter Everyday Shooter as being like a form of sound synaesthesia, the sensation of hearing sounds when seeing color or things moving. This was because of the way shooting objects in the game overlaid musical notes over a background song. I remember hearing those people say that and thinking how pretentious they sounded, and then I played the game and quickly became one of those pretentious-sounding people.
You’d think I’d have learned something from that. Yet when I hear Everyday Shooter's Jonathan Mak at GamesCom describe the new game he’s co-designing as part of Queasy Games as being “just like sheet music,” I mentally snort; how can a game be like sheet music and who’d even want to play that, I snarl. Around half an hour of Sound Shapes later and again I’m left to feel like a dum-dum. Mak’s new game is just like sheet music. I’m sorry if that makes me sound pretentious, but it’s true.
Although honestly, it’s actually not obvious how when looking at a typical level. Take away the music and Sound Shapes looks like any other minimalist indie platformer with its basic shapes and calm mix of unobtrusive colors. Even when playing the game, what’s actually going on isn’t immediately clear.
I play as a little yellow ball, and the aim is right out of Platforming 101: get from the left side of the screen to the right side. To do this, I can attach to other surfaces limpet-like and roll around on them. So I jump and cling my way across to the right edge to open up a new level to explore.
It’s opening up the new level that provides the first clue of Sound Shapes’ musical play: the change in the musical score. In one level, it could be a quiet, understated guitar strumming a few notes. In the next, it could be a rock score with a heavy drum booming through. It all depends on what is in the level, and even more importantly where those things are in the level.
Different objects can be assigned different notes, be it a drum note, guitar note, piano, trumpet, whatever. As for location, the height at which objects are in the level determines their pitch; the higher an object is, the higher the note it plays. The score itself plays from left to right, so objects on the left of the screen will play ahead of those in the right. This is how Sound Shapes follows the same basic rules as sheet music. Also, as I traverse the level, I can collect little orbs that activate new notes within the score. I’m changing the music as I play through the level, and that’s awesome.
The relationship between the music and the level design becomes clearer as the levels themselves start to become busier. In one level I see a couple of doodle-faced creatures walking aimlessly into one another on a floating island in the top-left. It seems really curious at first, and then I pay attention to the music and work out the little strum of notes coming from them. They’re not just there for decoration, at least not just for visual decoration, and even though that doesn’t change how irrelevant they are to my progress through the level, I still find their inclusion charmingly quirky.
I ask Mak what prompted his return to gaming with Sound Shapes after such a long time out from the scene. He tells me that it was simply because no-one else was making a game like it. Be that as it may, his timing could not be better. The 3G-functionality of Vita along with the touch screen controls means Sound Shapes will include a level designer which will allow players to upload and download each other’s levels, much like LittleBigPlanet. As we saw at E3, level designing is so simple with the touch and back-touch controls, and it’s clear a large amount of Sound Shapes’ appeal will be in seeing the campaign’s levels and wanting to make something both visually and musically grander.
As for the campaign, there will be five worlds - or albums as Mak calls them - and each one will have its own audiovisual theme. Reflecting on that, it’s clear that I’ve still seen only a glimpse of all the things possible with Sound Shapes, at least conceptually. It remains to be seen just how far Sound Shapes can take its concept and combine it with a wide berth of creativity while also balancing that with satisfyingly challenging platforming levels. Just for that sheer concept, though the game has me (pretentiously) intrigued ahead of an expected release around the Vita launch window.