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Why the future of rhythm games might not be so rigid

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At PAX East, a quartet of developers scratched their proverbial chins and prognosticated about the future of music games.

In what directions can they head?

According to Disco Pixel's Trevor Stricker, developer of the rhythm game Jungle Rumble, which combines rhythm and real-time strategy games, in many video games, players make choices and compromises. For example, they might choose [strong] but slow items or fast but weak items. In some rhythm games, you're following a script and being graded on timing.

Harmonix's Jim Toepel said that rhythm games can become less precise. Many rhythm games are about doing a very specific set of things at a certain time in a certain order, but it doesn't have to be that way, he said.

"It basically becomes this weird, binary player state," Toepel said, referring to the Rock Band franchise. Players get to approximate what the music does, but they never do anything more than that.


"Its kind of this rigid, rhythmic structure that a lot of games seem to prescribe to," Toepel said. "One of the things we tried to actively push against in [Fantasia: Music Evolved], was this sense of always having me do something at all of the time. When the player is spending all of their time just trying to keep up with the rhythm, it becomes very hard to elicit a little bit of creativity from the player. That stuff, I'm really interested in — creativity and performance in general."

Ryan Clark, developer of Crypt of the NecroDancer, said he designed his game to by rhythmic but not rigid. It's about getting players into a "groove" alongside simple gameplay. He showed this in his own game.

"The thing that I think makes NecroDancer interesting is that, in a lot of rhythm games ... they're about moving on the beat," Clark said. "And a lot of rhythm games, especially with [Dance Dance Revolution], you have to be really precise. If you're not on the beat, you're punished. In Crypt of the NecroDancer, we kind of flipped that on its head. Instead of having to be prceise on the beat, the focus of the game is on making decisions.

"In DDR, you're kind of just following a script — it's like left, right, up, down, left and right — you're just doing what it tells you. There's not a lot of thinking, but you have to be fast. In our game, there's a lot of thinking, and you don't have to be so fast. It's kind of hard to stay exactly on the beat when a a fire-breathing dragon is chasing you in the dungeons."