Here’s an idea: what if, in developing a video game, the gameplay came second to the music? What if audio — which is often thought about near the end of a development cycle — was pushed front and center, and a game grew out of music creation? This is Current Circus’ experiment with its music-making exploration game Alpha Muse.
In the game, players take on the form of a god-like creative that serpentines through environments that look like a cross between outer space and the depths of the ocean, interacting with surfaces and objects to make music. It’s abstract, there’s no point-scoring system or clear victory state. The focus isn’t on traditional gameplay objectives, studio director Yossi Landesrocha told Polygon. It’s about making music you enjoy, and enjoying your time with the game.
“We always felt audio was treated badly in a way [in many games],” he said. “It’s generally added at the end, so it was a goal for the team to focus on it. We really cared about the music and audio and wanted to bring that to the front. We also looked at other music and rhythm games and didn’t think they gave people any creative expression. So the combination of these two things inspired Alpha Muse.”
Alpha Muse bears greater resemblance to games like thatgamecompany’s Flower and Cloud and Q Entertainment's Child of Eden than it does traditional music and rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The developers designed the game’s levels in a way to guide players through the world, but how players choose to interact with it is up to them. Sounds and notes are placed in such an order that they play out a correct scale when players fly through them, but it’s completely up to the player what sounds they want to bring to life and what they want to ignore. And as the player composes music, the music itself affects the visuals. Players compose both the sound and the structure of the game world.
“We’re trying to give people the freedom to create anything they like, and one of the bullet points we’ll put on the box is we don’t require people to know how to read sheet music or anything like that. It’s a pick-up-and-play for any musical ability at any age,” said lead programmer Paul Seedy. “So there needs to be a bit of intelligence inside the game engine that ensures there’s a strong chance of something musical coming out of it. If the generation of notes and beats was completely random, then obviously it would sound like a complete mess. So we put a lot of effort into making sure all the notes are in the correct scale, and you’re not getting the equivalent go a baby smashing their hands on a piano. It’s something that makes sense musically.”
Alpha Muse is currently in development for PC with an aim to launch later in the year. Those interested in gaining early access to the game can find more information on its official website.