In development for four years, Sound Shapes has been reimagined by its creators ten times.
The current version of Sound Shapes features packs of levels, called "albums," created in part by famous musicians and visual artists. In the summer of 2011, though, Sound Shapes was purely the work of two indie developers: Jonathan Mak and Shaw-Han Liem. Without any big-name collaborators, they had created a number of songs and levels for what seemed then to be a promising Vita launch title.
At this week's Sony press event, I had a chance to ask Mak whatever happened to those levels.
"They don't load anymore," he said, laughing. "I'm sure we can fix it. [...] That's how the game development has been. You've seen one game that was thrown away. We've seen ten whole games."
Sound Shapes didn't begin as a game even, Mak says. After releasing Everyday Shooter in 2007, the young developer wasn't eager to make another video game. The Sound Shapes project, developed with Everyday Shooter's collaborator Shaw-Han Liem, was intended to be an audio visualizer for use at live concerts.
This was 2008. Where, I asked, did they think their project would be in 2012?
"I thought it would be done," said Mak.
"I didn't think I would still know you in four years," said Liem. "I was like, this guy is going to be out of my life."
"Stop coming over to my place," said Mak. "Stop sleeping on my couch."
The two have a symbiotic way of answering questions, as you'd expect from a couple of guys who've worked in close proximity for four consecutive years.
As time passed, the project evolved. Asked when they realized Sound Shapes was a video game, Mak stopped to think. "When the government gave us money," he said, "and we said we were going to make a video game. That's when we started calling it a video game."
As a game there were different iterations still. At one point, Sound Shapes was a beat-'em-up. For a long time, they were trying to dodge making a level editor. Ultimately, the two realized they wanted to make a game that made writing music less intimidating.
Gauging from the demo, the platformer level editor — which buries the more abstract bits of music, from notes to time to pitch — delivers on their vision.
The simple design, weaving the two disparate genres, attracted attention at E3 in 2011. From there came the partnerships. Now, Sound Shapes is less than a month away from its August 7th, 2012, release date. The two are eager to see what users do with the editor.
"Writing music is actually really easy to do," said Mak. "It's not mystical. If you can play Call of Duty, you totally can write music. I can never imagine getting the 15 kill-streak whatever helicopter thing. But people can do that. If you can understand to do that, why can't you understand to do this?"
Mak continues, "When I grew up learning to write music I was sort of stereotyped as a programmer kid. So I could feel this wall, where it was like, you're not allowed behind this wall or door. I feel like maybe this game will open that door for people. Hey, it's not magical. You don't have to be born with it. It's just some fun sh*t to do."
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