The “SoundShapers” is a series of articles and interviews that spotlight a different member of the Sound Shapes community weekly. Check out other posts here.
Thought-provoking, cheeky humor is a beautiful thing, and subtle humor isn’t an easy thing to convey in real life, let alone in a videogame. Jool2306, a French member of the SoundShapers community, has found both a way to be aesthetically beautiful and to inject his own comedic timing into his levels. Here are a couple of thoughts about my favorite Jool levels, and Jool gives us his perspective thereafter.
This week’s SoundShaper is Jool2306:
“8th Wonder” – What I really appreciate about this level is the attention to detail put into each wonder. My favorite was the Great Pyramid and the Coliseum. Jool’s genius idea of traveling to the all these majestic sights through a really cool central hub not only made sense as a platformer but made the player feel like they didn’t know what was coming next. His addition of an 8th wonder was nicely done and was a fun surprise.
“Egg Story” – Is a cute trilogy that chronicles the life of an egg and his travels. Jumping on flecks of salt and pepper to navigate your way around a kitchen stove is just one of the clever ideas implemented by Jool in his level. It’s both playful and makes you think that Jool would be a great storybook writer. As you go from story to story, you are treated to a “previously on” screen which gives a small recap of what happened in prior levels. It’s a really nice touch and shows how well-thought his levels are.
“Life is Too Short” – This is by far my favorite Jool level. It is, in essence, a level that you watch instead of play. It was really interesting to see how he came about making the level, but the story is one that we can all identify with. It is a commentary of sorts on the bits and pieces that make up much of the human experience on the planet. Birth, love, relationships, family and death are all represented by quirky single image tableaus. The way the level plays out it actually pretty beautiful, the timing and music were crafted in such a way to evoke all the right emotions. I really like this level and highly recommend it.
Jool took some time to tell us his thoughts on his levels as well.
“8th wonder” – as in 95 percent of levels shared by players, you begin on a point A, and you have to go to your right to reach point B and finish the level. I wanted to give an original beginning and multiple ways that the player can take in order to get around the level, but still have a central hub. So when I thought about the rectangular screen, there were 8 possible ways: up, down, left, right and the 4 diagonals. So I had to find a good concept with 8 screens around the starting screen. So what could be better than the 7 world wonders plus an 8th (that must be original!). After that, I thought about putting on the center of the main screen a globe with the map of the world, and put a red cross on the exact location of the 7 wonders that I designed. I thought this was a good concept and I wanted players to explore each wonder. I wanted them not to have to rush to the finish item and possibly miss some wonders so I put the 7 doors and 7 switches in each wonder. After that I googled a lot of wonders, chose the best ones, and reproduced them with the aid of photos. But I had a very bad surprise doing this level. At the beginning of my work, there was a corridor between the main screen and each wonder, with the name of the wonder, so it was really better than the current level published. When I reached my 6th wonder, I had the message “too many elements on the screen, your action is deleted.” I saturated the level memory, and I wasn’t able to finish my level !!! It was a nightmare! So I had to make choices, and reduce my hopes for this level
I deleted each corridor, and reworked them a little bit to get back some of the memory and be able to finish it. That’s why some of the wonders aren’t beautiful; for example, the one with rocks is the “Grand Canyon” but I’m still not satisfied with it. I think with more space it could be much better!!!
The last screen with Sound Shapes was essential for me, I was thinking of what they would feel, after visiting the 7th wonder, to discover that the 8th is this game.
“Egg Story” – I played a lot of levels and the start item was always placed in a common way. I wanted to propose something new, something unusual that nobody did. I was watching a cartoon with my son and I saw a hen laying an egg, then something clicked in my mind! I thought immediately that it would be an amazing beginning for my level! So I began to draw the hen, after that I thought about eggs, all the ways to eat an egg, so I created a restaurant, and added the man with the spoon. I then looked at the available colors, white and black immediately gave me idea of salt and pepper, but I wanted some difficulty so I added red spices in the screen with the egg on fire. Then I watched the checkpoint elements and it started really looking like an omelet. I also tried to put a touch of humor in my level. And again, I oversaturated the memory!!!! So as I still had a lot of ideas in mind, I decided to do more than one episode on this subject, and it’s how the saga began. If you’ve played episode 2 and episode 3 you’ll notice that I try to incorporate more elements to the story. In ep2, when the dad speaks, he asks to save the egg species and find a priest on the top of a mountain. It’s like a quest, when you climb the mountain, you will have some references to videogames (Mario that took the wrong pipe, Pacman that wants to be saved too, the Boulderdash boy with a big rock over his head, Gravity rush girl and her cat). When you reach the top, the old priest will ask you to destroy the earth, and you finish the level. I always try to finish the level with something exciting that will give player something to look forward to next episode. In ep3, you have to find a secret base, and for this you have a little challenge with a clue on a painting. But before, you will visit an egg town with some jokes (a cinema with some parodies, Spider Egg for example, and some nods to other creators like TonyTough of “Ninja”, and on the last room of cinema, the film played is the last scene of the “Buttercup” level from TheBeejAbides). I love when possible to put some nods to the SS productions that I loved! And in between Egg episodes, I always do a very quick teaser level called “Egg Episode is coming…” with little jokes inside (the first was on a cinema, the second on a road and the third on a magazine) with the invitation for player to play previous episodes in the meantime. If you haven’t tried them, they are very quick; they have only 1 screen and are finished in no more than five seconds.
“For Life is Too Short” – My idea for this level was born with the will to do a level with a totally different style from the existing ones. A level that tells a story, but a story that the player can only follow, and not act on it. That’s why the level is done vertically, and which story could be better than the story of life? I had this idea to propose something very quick (38s) but that could have a big emotional impact. I wanted that when the popup with the number of notes on the screen of the player appears at the end, he says “Wow, that was great and unusual.” At the beginning I wanted to only do a descent that you can’t stop, to stress the idea of the shortness of the life. But as I put two drawings for each life period, it was really too quick and there wasn’t time to watch these pictures so I added these little dots to slow the player’s fall and it was also a way for the player to stop and see all the details in the drawings. I tried to select the 2 best images of each life period with sometimes a humorous (the “censured” bed), a nod to TonyTough (in teenage period, the level played on the Vita is “A Nightmare On Church St” by TT), and a solid story: the man and the girl that meet in the disco, then the wedding, their house, the work, the conception of their baby. The future father that touches the belly of the future mother, the family. Strangely enough on this level, I hadn’t been blocked by the memory issue, even though the drawings took a lot of elements! To finish off the design, I wanted to create a beautiful presentation page, to attract players so I did this baby near this old man, and it was ready to be played! In fact “Life is Too Short” is my best creation I think, or at least, the one I’m most proud of!
After hearing Jool explain how he made his awesome levels, we had to talk with him. Below is our interview.
TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
JOOL: I’m a 31-year-old French guy, totally fond of videogames. I’ve been playing more than 20 years on all platforms. I’m always looking for games that propose original concepts. I have a love of music so when I saw the review of Sound Shapes, I thought that this game was perfect for me. I was an absolute fan of a wonderful game called “Rez” on Dreamcast (a conceptual shoot’em-up that asked you to create the music by shooting enemies). Before Sound Shapes, I never tried a game that proposed for you to create your own level, and I was pretty sure to be bad at that, but I tried the experience!
TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
JOOL: Usually I plan music first and then I adapt the level design to my music, in order to avoid just adding notes to fill blanks and give the level a messy sound. But sometimes, according the concept of my level, I’m compelled to create the art first and then add the music (example: “Life is Too Short”). In “Seasons”, for example, the starting point was the idea of using the classical song “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi, so I reproduced first the melody, and then I created each season.
TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
JOOL: I play and create usually on Vita, I think that this platform is perfect for this kind of game. In this way I can stay with my family, my son can watch TV and I can stay near them. With my Vita to play/create some levels (or as my wife says “doing my bips-bips”). But recently I discovered something very useful on PS3 (that I will talk about later) so I use both, finally.
TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
JOOL: “Without you”- I did the darkest level of the community according to me. The theme is extremely upsetting: I thought about the most horrible thing that could happen in my life, and this level is the result. I never played a level that gave me a sad feeling, so I wanted a deeper level of feeling with very explicit scenes. This level isn’t about happiness or fun, it’s just drama that can happen in the real life. And I adapted the melody to this dark atmosphere.
“The Way to Tribute” – When I began to create levels, I was happy about them, and I played some Beej, Daftbomb or TonyTough creations and I just cried seeing the difference of quality between mine and theirs! The idea of this level is born with the will to thank them for doing their great job and the passion that they put inside their levels. I mixed up some of their levels to create a funny story about searching for a way to tribute. I will give only one example, at the end of TT’s “A Nightmare on Church St.”, it’s a Freddy Kruger hand that shows the way to exit. In TT’s “Red”, this is the story of little red riding hood revisited, in Beej’s “I Had That Bus Dream Again”, we can see buses in clouds. My first screen begins like this: Red, who is in front of a guy sleeping on an hammock dreaming of buses, says “Wake up Fred, you must show me the way.”
“Life is Too Short” – In this level, I propose something different than my usual levels. In only 38 seconds you will “live” a life from the birth to the death. Maybe my best production, but for sure, the one I’m most proud of!
“Pizzzza – 1SL” – after playing a lot of Daftbomb’s 1SL (1 Screen Level), I wanted to create an original one. Being half Italian, I love this country. This level is a nod to Italy, and especially to its wonderful food! It all takes place on a pizza, mushrooms and olives will be your friends but be careful about deadly tomato sauce!
“The 8th World Wonder” – In this level, I ask you to discover what is the 8th World Wonder by exploring the 7 first. You will travel from Mexico to Nepal, passing by Italy or Egypt, and you will have a nice surprise at the end…
“An Egg Story” – Episode 1, 2 and 3 for the moment, and a special Halloween episode, in this saga, you will follow the amazing journey of an egg. Just laid, he will discover himself in a restaurant. What is the fate of egg?…and will you have the will to destroy the earth? How will this story finish? Will he find a path to solve the conflict with eggeaters? Will he really destroy the earth? Keep tuned, episode 4 is coming! (And at least one more episode after 4.)
TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?
JOOL: “Cheer Up Buttercup !” – by TheBeejAbides, it has been the first level that I played that proposed something different. A great level with lovely music, a touching story and a high level design. I loved it so much that I recreated the last scene of this level in 2 different levels that I made, to make tribute to his great creator work.
“A Nightmare on Church St.” – by TonyTough, for me, this level has been a revelation, and since I played it, the way I create levels has totally changed. This level provides all the things that a player can dream of: a wonderful melody, an amazing level design, and an enigma to find the exit. When I played it, I wasn’t anymore in Sound Shapes, but really in the TT nightmare! AMAZING!
“1980” – by Daftbomb, all his levels breathe of a job well done, a lot of details, a level design with a very special and mastered feel. He has this strength to propose something aesthetically very strong and lovely to play, and this one is just great!
“Another Problem – ESC” – by Gezouten, he created a new kind of level, with some reflection and good sense of observation. And both the design and melody of his levels are always very good, he is very good with his use of geometry!
I love a lot of other productions but I would need 10 more pages to speak about them…so here are just some of the must-be-played levels: “CowBoy Bebop” by DUSTINISGOOD, “One Way” by Yodalex, “JAM (ESC)” by Gasssst, “Lively Days” by Reinokid, “Fatal Progress” by ANOY337
TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
JOOL: Doing my levels I found some interesting things, at the beginning, I was trying to align elements manually and I wasted hours to do it. I noticed that the metallic grid is really useful to do it, a balance mix between this option ON and OFF can save a lot of time! In the same menu, you can change the range, and doing this, you can have some flats and sharps. For musicians, it’s great to produce melodies.
Recently, after that I played “Ninja” with the amazing new TT’s technique to create animation, I tried, too. Doing this you must reproduce the same screen for more that 10 screens if you want to have something correct. And on Vita when you want to copy/paste a groups of elements, it’s just a nightmare! You point on an element with your finger, doing this you select another one, you unselect etc…I wasted hours on it. And I thought that on PS3 there isn’t touchscreen so I was curious to try it. And it’s 100 time easier because you can select with a box a group of elements and all elements inside this box will be copied in the same time. Marvelous!
After publishing levels, I always ask the feedback of very skilled creators, and it helps to see if something is not good in my level. TT and Beej give me golden advice, for example, and some of their advice has led me to modify my levels to make them better (thanks guys!).
Also I think that it’s very important to play a lot the community levels to see how other players create their levels, it can give you great new ideas. When I play a level, my expectation is to have a feeling, so when I create a level, I try to put inside an original concept and try to give a different feeling to the player. A smile when they reach the cellar in egg town and they see, attached on the wall a calendar with an egg playmate, on a beach, on her knees. Anger when for the 87th time they are killed by tomato sauce, etc… and community levels are wonderful for this, I advise players to test a lot of different creator’s levels to see their way to work.
TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?
JOOL: Definitely an upgrade about the limit of the number of elements that you can put on a screen, and on an entire level! There’s nothing worse than reaching the full memory on a level that you create when it’s not finished.
Also more than 3 colors for lines/triangles/circles, a panel of colors would be better when you want to create more beautiful things.
The possibility to modify the BPM by screen and not for the entire level (when you want to stress a point on a specific screen, or hurry the player for example), and add some new sounds, new loops would be great for melodies!
I really want to thank Jool2306 for taking the time to be a part of the project and shed some light on how he operates. You can tell how much he loves this game and community. His levels are top notch and some of the best that the Sound Shapes community has to offer. I can’t wait to see what is next from him and everyone should take time to play all of this levels and see his growth as a storyteller and an artist.
Thank you all for voting for us in the BlackWebBlog Awards and although we didn’t win it, we got damn close. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without you all. Again thank you for the support.
Check us out on Twitter @spawnpointblog and check out our stories under the hashtag #SoundShapers every week.
Lastly, we are looking to help our friends in NY, especially my borough of Brooklyn after the devastating Hurricane Sandy.
Our Chip-In donation page to the Red Hook Initiative is here if you would like to help: http://spawnpoint.chipin.com/sandy-relief