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SXSW's most interesting indie turns cybergoth culture into a multitasking rhythm game

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Easily one of the most interesting games found within South By Southwest's Gaming hall had players taking on the role of an elite rave warrior as they used neon tuning forks to reflect deadly waves of music back at enemies and the environment.

Klang takes the captivating aesthetic of cybergoths and electronic dance music, blends it together with an original soundtrack and turns it into an amazing rhythm platformer.

"You are an elite rave warrior called Klang," developer Tom-Var Arntzen told me. "You crash a rave party and the sound lord Sonos is pissed off at you.

"That's all you get to know at the beginning of the game."

Even amidst the cacophony of a gaming show floor packed with a fighting game tournament, talks and a carnival of competing indie titles, Klang almost immediately stands out.

The game's eponymous central hero wears the face mask, neon synthetic hair and goggle-like eyes so often identified with cybergoths. The game itself pulses to its soundtrack, created by -bLiNd-.

The game's core mechanic has players moving a thumbstick in one of eight directions to face a pie-wedge shaped icon on the screen. When the wedge fills, players tap a button to swing Klang's tuneblades and reflect the attack back on an enemy. Players can, and eventually will have to, move through the world as if it were a platformer. While the demo comfortably ramped up the difficulty, eventually having me slamming the stick in different directions to the complicated music and tapping a button, the full title will incorporate rhythm platforming onto the deflections as well. So players will find themselves running through the platformer world to the music as they deflect attacks.

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And the whole thing, which Arntzen said is crafted by hand, features a story. The game, which was funded by the Norwegian government, is currently in development for PC, Mac and Linux sometime this fall with hopes of eventually bringing it to console as well. It was also just approved for Greenlight on Steam.

The intriguing blend of gameplay and over-the-top music and visuals were inspired by two things, he said.

"I've always loved rhythm games but I dislike how they're totally about pressing buttons and that's it," he said. "And then I like action games like God of War and Devil May Cry but the soundtrack just plays over the player's reactions. It's like an orchestra that doesn't care what's happening on stage."

So Arntzen figured why not put the two ideas together.

"I also wanted to make a game that highlighted my strengths and I have a background in animation," he said. "I wanted to make a game that complimented my skills. Something electronica based or borderline dancing would be cool. So a music game.

In developing the look of the game, Arntzen initially only wanted to make sure that everything in it symbolized something music related, he said.

"Since I went with electronic music, I decided that I might as well go for this sci-fi aesthetic," he said. "The references I found online were like Tron and the '80s German electronic dance music scene. That's where this originally came from."

The glow stick-like tuneblades and Klang's look are immediately evocative of their inspirations, but I didn't see much dancing when I played the game.

Arntzen said that Klang's moves are dance-like and procedurally combined.

"A random value decides what kind of move he performs," he said. "I tried to make it so that the moves can go into each other. Once he goes faster his dance will grow more and more intense."

While the look, sound and feel of the game are all very unique, Arntzen said that's not what he thinks will help differentiate the game.

"We are trying to press the multitasking in the game," he said. "That's Klang's gimmick over other rhythm games."