The Sound Shapers-D_Mise
Speed runs have been a part of gaming for as long as I can remember. Playing through a speedrun to challenge yourself to get the best time tests both your motor skills and patience. This week’s Sound Shaper has figured a way to make his levels some of the most played and enjoyed ones in the community by applying a deft touch when creating his soundscapes. Many of his levels have the flow and feel of some of our favorite platformers but with, in my opinion, better music.
This week’s shaper is D_Mise.
“When We Were Stars” – With over 1000+ plays this level is an easy level to complete. I really liked the way the super chill music comes together in the level. Some well-placed catapults, tractor beams, and a diverse art style make up most of this level. I can see why it would be so popular because it lends to speed runs and is pretty straightforward. It’s a great palette cleansing level.
“Prepare to Launch” – D_Mise created a very cool aesthetic, in this level with all of its intricate ornate details. I don’t know why I love the “Space Invader” catapults so much but they are really awesome in this particular level. I would say though the star in this space-themed level is the music. With each note it opens up into this really dope almost R&B track. I loved the music in this one and appreciate the level of detail D_Mise put into it. I can tell that he really cherishes the experiences he wants his players to have in his levels. I appreciate that greatly.
“Hurricane Refugee” – Again, attention to detail is the key in this level, not only in the platforming but the care D takes with the music and art – it’s beautiful to behold. The level sounds like something from the climatic end scenes of a Tron movie. Little flourishes here and there that mash up multiple types of games and a heroic soundtrack make this a delight to play. I like the fact that D_Mise makes pretty short concise levels. The fact that they are so full of character is a testament to him and his creativity.
After playing through some of his levels I asked D_Mise to hangout and speak with us.
TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
D_Mise: I’m a 25 year old college student from New York City, and I grew up in the 8-bit era, full of bloops and bleeps. I create a lot of abstract art in my spare time, usually while listening to music, so Sound Shapes is a natural fit for me. I’ve never tried my hand at making music (unless you count the 3-ish years of trumpet/drum lessons when I was younger), and music has been my main focus in this game.
I bought Sound Shapes with the intent of playing it on a flight over the summer. I tried it the night before, and by the time I hit the airport, I was up to Beat School and Death Mode challenges. The flight took 3 hours, but it seemed like 15 minutes!
TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
D_Mise: Like most have said, music first. When I make a level, I tend to wrap it onto itself, joining two separate music sequences that fit together. I often start a new level and create audio, save it, and forget about it until week later (I have published 6 actual levels, and I have audio for 6 others). When I finally get around to starting, I try to imagine what the music reminds me of, and jump off from there. I sometimes sketch out design possibilities during my classes, since it’s usually on my mind all day.
Because audio is the primary focus of my levels, I tend to make them less challenging, with emphasis on flow of movement. I try to make them speed-run friendly, with lenient checkpoints and ample opportunity to hold the run button!
The art comes last, and I try to make nice looking stuff, especially in the rooms that are more challenging. The way I see it, if you’re gonna die 10 times, you might as well do it to some nice tunes and with some visual encouragement. Sometimes, my stuff turns abstract, and makes sense only to me. I’ll explain one of them later.
TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
D_Mise: Vita, for a lot of reasons. When I made my first level (“It’s Not Godzilla”), I made it on the PS3. Then, I uploaded it and later played it on the Vita, only to find that there were inconsistencies with audio and framerate. It’s almost unplayable toward the end! I never went back to try and fix it for the Vita, but it was a lesson nonetheless. Also, I’m rarely home (full time student, full time job), and I commute a lot, so the Vita is far more convenient, and Sound Shapes is my bread and butter.
TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
D_Mise: “When We Were Stars” – This was my first “real” level. I wanted to tell an abstract story of a fallen star finding its way back. It starts out in the wreckage of collapsed stars, and then goes on to five dudes trying to recreate a star, then to a colder environment, and eventually ends on a collapsing frozen throne, before joining the stars. It ended up with a lot of plays in a short time, and I was flattered that the community liked it so much. So then I got cracking on a new level, and I released “Permission to Launch”. Both managed to break 1000 plays each, which I didn’t expect at all!
“Hurricane Refugee” – Was first called Hurricane Refuge (one letter makes a big difference to me). I had a lot of time on my hands during Hurricane Sandy, so I figured what better way to commemorate the occasion than to release a new level. I decided that the best way to make it through the actual storm was sleep (and Sound Shapes), and so, I mirrored that. You start in the clouds, enter a pipe into the night, and then enter another pipe into a dream. I used the deadmau5 orbit creatures to give it a hurricaney/cycloney feel, and there are 3 instances where you get hurled through the air. I like it because it’s a bit personal to me; it marks a natural disaster that kept me indoors for way too long, during a time where I felt I needed a break from the whole work and school grind. Creating became my outlet.
“Buggin’” – Man, this level was my first attempt to participate in the Theme-A-Week, and I chose #CRES, but I was nowhere near done by the next Theme-A-Week’s reveal. I suck! I decided to release it anyway, two weeks later without a fancy hashtag. While creating the track, I felt it reminded me of skittering sounds, so I chose some insects as a theme. Then, I made a spider, and called the level “Insectinoids.” Then, I realized that spiders aren’t insects, so after a grueling renaming process, I called it “Buggin.” The music ramps up toward the end, since the theme was #CRES. There’s no plot, no real continuity between segments; just some bees and earthworms and fire ants. I thought the music buildup was cool, especially the honeycomb room.
“Save The Princess! #ASYM (Symmetrical)” – I wanted to participate in a Theme-A-Week before the end of the world, and so I finally did with this level! My plan was to make a boss battle of some sort, along with a retro homage on the final screen. Once these ideas fell into place, the level and music created itself. I added a layer of urgency and tension through chat bubbles and sphincter moments. I’m strongly considering making a princess saga.
TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?
D_Mise: The very first level that floored me was the notorious “And I To Fire” by Jordanbuster. There’s a lot of depth to it, and I remember thinking to myself, “How much time did this take to make?” The more levels I create, the more I appreciate it. If there were a Sound Shapes vinyl, this would be track 1.
Also, there’s this way cool Metroidvania stage I remember playing that felt less like Sound Shapes and more like a Super Metroid 2 demo.
There are lots of others that I’ve played (I try to keep up with the Greatest Hits and levels on recent activity board), but I mainly watch my girlfriend play through the community levels. I help here and there, but there’s still a lot of rage quitting!
TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
D_Mise: A basic level making tip: make a blueprint. Lay out your sounds, and then put up giant sticky shapes to see how your level could progress. Toy with the BPM and scale, and if something interesting just isn’t working for your level, don’t be too proud to remove it! You can reuse ideas for future work, where it might just fall into place. A piece of advice I was given: if something is good, you can use it more than once. If something isn’t good, don’t use it ever again. Do what you want to do, and have fun!
After you have your blueprint, save and quit. Play your level and figure out if the audio/framerate dips and why. The answer is usually a clashing of two audio tracks that might play smoothly while editing, but for a freshly loaded playthrough causes lag. Another cause is the timing of getting certain notes, and the triggering of memory-heavy creatures and stuff.
Also, play test as often as possible! Force your friends, co-workers or whomever to play through it. Lure them with candy, beer, whatever it takes. I would get feedback like “I liked the other one better” from one person, with another saying the complete opposite. Take criticism well and often!
One trick: If you place a note and then place a duplicate note on top of it, it sounds louder for that slot (note: it can effectively stack ~4 times). You can use this for added emphasis on desired sounds within a loop or sequence. It’s very situational, but can bring something soft to the forefront in a major way.
TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?
D_Mise: I’d love for more artists to lend more audio to play with. Maybe some Flying Lotus, Grimes (go Canada!), Anamanaguchi, or even Ronald Jenkees (awesome YouTube pianist) and Module (the guy who did the Shatter OST). Make it happen!
In addition to what a few others suggested (collaborative options, group rotating, screen by screen BPM editing, etc.), one update I’d like is a sort of chain trigger, which would hold off on playing a note/sequence until the entire chain is complete. I’m a fan of games that have some sort of huge payload, like getting a bajillion points at once, or massive critical hits. Perhaps this can lead to a scoring mechanic?
I’m just nitpicking though. I appreciate the simplicity (complexity?) of the creation engine, and the limitations encourage more original work.
Thank you for this way cool opportunity to talk about all this!
Big thanks to D_Mise and the Sound Shapes community for taking part in the series. The support has been really awesome especially from so many places around the world. Sound Shapes is truly an international phenomena and is bringing people together to create beautiful art. I’m happy to be a part of it and you should be, too.