daft-bomb

The Sound Shapers-DaftBomb

There are very few games that come out during a generation that give its users the flexibility and tools to not only create fun gameplay spaces, but also spaces that look and sound beautiful. MediaMolecule’s LittleBigPlanet 1 & 2 and Minecraft are just two great examples of these great games. The communities that have embraced these games and used their artistic talents and ingenuity to create gobs of additional content and have gone far above and beyond even what the developers thought was possible in making awesome levels.

Sound Shapes by Queasy Games has quickly become one of these creation platforms for budding level and game designers. People are using its tools to create everything from re-creations of classic narratives to one-screen death puzzles. They have exemplified the idea that “If your mind can conceive it, you can build it.”

I’ve played Sound Shapes (SS) and tinkered with making levels, published them, and thought, “I just made something pretty damn awesome.” And then one day I checked out the community’s “Best of the Best” levels and wanted to burn my Vita. Some users made levels that were gorgeous, using the same tools I had in hand, and turned the standard use on its head, building visually interesting landscapes with intricately built platforming elements, all synced with evocative music. They in essence have made games within a game and not only done it extremely well but also quickly. So after playing many of their levels I reached out to some of them to get an insight into what they see when they create and why they have taken to such a quirky and fun game.

I have unofficially deemed these creative geniuses “The Sound Shapers”. (Yes, it’s a little dramatic and corny but I think it fits.) Over the next few weeks I will introduce you not only to their levels and why I believe they’re so good, but also to the artists themselves.

Our first Sound Shaper is:

I came across his work when one of his levels came up in the “Community Spotlight” section of the game. Although he has put together a bunch of levels recently, these are a couple that caught my eye.

“3”-Three is amazing for many reasons. Most SS levels have replay value because a player tries to beat them with a faster time or beat them with collecting the most notes. The beauty of this particular level is that it has “real” replay value due to its multiple path design. Each path has its own twists and difficulty. Take the level one route and it’s challenging but not super difficult. Take one of the other routes and things get much more difficult. The level is both challenging and super smart in its design and made me really want more levels like it.

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“Shruiken” – Daft and some other Shapers came up with a sub-genre of levels called “1SL” (One Screen Levels). They are intricate, usually pretty difficult, and make use of the enemy creatures and death zones to great effect. This level smartly uses double-sided pipes as its main movement vehicle. The player is put into a symmetrical one-screen level where you have to grab notes by circling to them via the pipe system. Once you get a handle of how the pipes connect and where they end up, it’s pretty quick, but what stands out for me is how collecting these notes formed a really cool hip-hop kind of break beat. Usually it’s hard to get a semi-complex beat to come together but he got all of it to work within that one screen.

Shruiken

“Satellite”- Satellite made me want to pull out my hair (what little I have left), but in a good way.  You collect notes around a sphere that emits snare-drummed lasers of death. Revolving around like a clock you have to spatially determine where you can safely “hide” from the lasers while navigating around the level. It’s difficult, but once you see the spaces where you can jump from open space to space you get the hang of it. While playing it you sometimes get into a groove in which you can anticipate where the next laser beam will hit. The bobbing and weaving definitely makes for a complicated but fulfilling dance. It’s musically interesting and designed really well. You can tell that Daftbomb took meticulous care with how it was mapped and created.

Satellite

After playing and telling my friends about some of Daftbomb’s levels, I decided to get his perspective on the game and his process.

TheSpawnPoint:  Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.

Daftbomb: I love games, I love aesthetics & design and I love creating. So it’s almost like this game was made explicitly for me.

TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art)

DB: Usually neither. I tend to focus on an idea or the gameplay first rather than the sound or visual aspect. However, I do find it’s much harder to make a good soundtrack if I focus on the artwork beforehand (hence some of my levels sounding like a clown fart). I try to make the focus on gameplay and platforming enjoyment first priority.

You can probably see my OCD in my levels. I strive for tidy, cohesive level screens with good visual composition. Had the developers omitted the Snap-To-Grid feature from the editor, my designs may well have looked as handsome as a stool sample.

TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita and why?

DB: Vita most definitely. Five years ago if you’d asked me what I’d love to see being made, it’d be a portable PS3, so you can imagine my shamefully geeky excitement when I heard it announced. Having the ability to take my games with me and play them anywhere is great, even if it’s in the front room while my girlfriend is using the TV. I haven’t made one level using my PS3. There’s just something so right about being able to fire up SoundShapes where ever I want and playing around with some ideas.

TSP: What are some of the favorite levels that you’ve made and why?

DB: “Arcade Fireworks” – This level far surpassed my initial concept (just a basic Pac-Man themed level) and even though it looks great on mute, I’m very pleased with how it looks and plays. I had a lot of fun discovering new ideas as I made it. I believe I’ve made better levels since, but I’m most fond of that one.

“3” – For this I wanted to make a level with multiple routes with varying difficulties, I had initially intended that the player was restricted to choosing just one path and the higher difficulties had more notes than the easier paths, but in the end figured it was more fun to let the player choose how many notes to go for. I still like the initial idea and it’s this kind of “breaking tradition” I like to attempt when thinking up a level. Finding new ways to make a level is great fun and I love it when I see someone put a new concept or variation on a theme out there, TonyTough just messaged me about his latest level which has an animation/flick-book theme, awesome. I also really liked the first time I saw one of those “levels that play themselves”.

“+” – I’d just finished “Triptych” which was a 3 screen level with a strong geometric and artistic theme and felt it was the first time I’d seen a level (at least in my opinion) that sounded respectable, looked aesthetically pleasing and was playable with consistency and accuracy despite having no checkpoints. There’s a real old-school hardcore gaming feel of risk vs. reward when all that you’ve achieved up until that point is on the line. “+” Is the spiritual sequel, and in my eyes an example of my best work, it seems unfair to have no checkpoints for five quite intricate screens, but it certainly has that feeling of achievement when you get through it.

“Lockout”- I had the idea that it would be cool if notes on each screen had a time limit and once the time limit had passed that note was locked. Again, it’s an example of a level doing something a bit different or unexpected. It took a hell of a lot of fiddling to make it work, but I think it paid off. For once I had produced a level exactly the way I envisioned it before starting and I like the way each screen is throwing a specific challenge that differs considerably from the last one.

TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?

DB: Too hard to choose, there are so many talented designers and great levels out there. There are three levels that have stuck firmly in my memory as “benchmarks” or pioneers of a particular style:

“Cheer Up, Buttercup!” By TheBeejAbides – For me it was the first level that offered everything and emanated a distinctive “fingerprint” of a designers’ unique style, and Beej has a very strong style and sound. It offers great music, good gameplay and variety, an adorable storyline and exceptional quality. Given the consistent quality and variety throughout his levels, I consider Beej my favourite designer.

“RED” By TonyTough – No soundshaper (that I’m aware of) even comes close to replicating the narrative style of some of TT’s work, his story levels are complex, there is an extra depth to them that goes beyond the scopes of sound and visuals. The artwork has a raw, organic feel and with this particular level I feel he came one step closer to mastering his talent. The ending is brilliant.

“Life is too short” by Jool2306 – although there is little in the way of platforming, my mind was still blown when I played it. Truly incredible artwork, poignant storytelling, and on occasion, damn funny.  If we all put in as much effort into our designs as Jool has into this level, I reckon we would have a mind blowing wealth of quality content.

TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?

DB: Plenty, and the scope for finding new ways to do things seems quite broad. That’s the beauty of this game: sharing a creative genius and exploring ideas that perhaps even the developers hadn’t considered. Quite often, I’ll see something in someone else’s level that triggers a thought of how I could expand that idea, or inspires me to try it for myself. So, looking at other player’s levels is essential to grow as a designer and help others do the same. As for some graphical ideas I did make a level, “Advanced Techniques”, which hopefully explains a few ideas clearly.

I guess my main tip would be to just chuck a few different enemy/scenery items onto the page and muck about finding ways to make them “interact” in ways that either look aesthetic or act in a fun way. Most of my one screen levels were created this way.

Other than that, I would say I find it more important to focus my effort on creating a small number of really complex and higher quality level screens, rather than a huge level with the love spread thin. I think putting everything you’ve got into a design and going the extra mile to make a thumbnail that stands out brings both personal satisfaction and the likelihood that others will take a look.

TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?

DB: I would love to see the option to set when notes or loops are played in the same way the lasers and some enemy items can be. This would allow for much more complex and varied compositions.

I like the idea of having several criteria for leaderboards as well, such as how many notes the player got with just three lives or how quickly the player got a set number of the available notes.

And, most obviously, more shapes, enemies, colour schemes and weird character thingies that hurt your ears with nonsense sounds 🙂

What I hope not to see is text, I love seeing how everyone creates interesting fonts or words, I feel text options would take away some of its charm.

Daftbomb’s levels combine great level design, attention to detail and best of all challenge. It’s amazing to understand that these kinds of things not only can be done in this particular game, but to hear that his platform of choice is the Vita is also a great thing to hear. He is already pumping out levels at a blistering pace and I for one can’t wait to see what new tricks and tips he learns.

I want to thank Daftbomb for taking time out to help with this article and you should check out his SoundShapes profile and work HERE.

The next Sound Shaper we spotlight will be the awesome TheBeejAbides, so come back here for and check him out.

Kahlief Adams

Kahlief was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. As an avid technophile and lover of all things video games. He set his career path in the direction of a life making games until he found out his arch nemesis, “Math,” had other plans in store. So instead of making the next Tetris he found himself writing and talking about games on his website The Spawn Point Blog and Spawn On Me. Check out what I'm blabbering about over @kahjahkins on Twitter. PSN = KAHJAH1 XBL=KAHJAHKINS

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