Written and supplied by Jigsaw hc
Monday, 06 April 2009 14:36
Continuing our series of developer interviews we have Aaron Ramsey the creator of Xbox Live Community Community Game BeatBlox. Mr. Ramsey thanks for taking time to answer some questions for us.
Question: How did the idea for BeatBlox come about?
Aaron Ramsey: I’m a long-time fan of music/rhythm games; Konami’s various Bemani games (beatmania IIDX, DrumMania, etc) have been a major part of my gaming catalog for several years now. In addition to typical music-based games, I’ve also enjoyed seeing various games experiment with integrating music with core elements of gameplay — Lumines, Rez, and so forth. I knew that I wanted to develop a game that integrated music into the gameplay, but as my first XNA project I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tackle a full-scale standard rhythm game. Besides that, I wanted to try a fusion of concepts that I felt hadn’t really been done before. And so, after sketching out a few different concepts, what I felt to be my most workable idea ended up being a rough outline for BeatBlox.
Question: Could you describe BeatBlox for anyone who hasn’t seen it?
Aaron Ramsey: BeatBlox is a puzzle game that fuses simple puzzle concepts with rhythm-based gameplay. The play area consists of a grid of colored tiles that you can move around at will. As the background track plays, Beat Blocks will appear in time with the music, and after a short while, will explode in time with the music as well. The goal is to create chains of like-colored blocks and attach them to Beat Blocks before they explode, with longer chains earning more points and restoring more of your life meter. While the basic gameplay concept could have been realized without the music element at all, I feel that making the music central to the player’s sensory experience contributes to the game feeling more satisfying than a standard puzzle game played by itself — much like Rez made its music-oriented gameplay feel more satisfying and engrossing than a standard rail shooter.
Question: How large was the team that created BeatBlox and how long did it take to develop?
Aaron Ramsey: The game concept and programming was done entirely by myself; the only assistance I received on the project was for some of the artwork and the music tracks. In total, I received assistance from three different graphic artists and six musicians, all either friends or friends-of-friends. The project was started in mid-January, and was basically completed by mid-March. I worked on the project every free evening and weekend during that span of time.
Question: When you first set out to make BeatBlox was it always planned to be a rhythm based puzzle game?
Aaron Ramsey: I knew that I wanted to create a game that fused rhythm-based gameplay with something else — I had a few different ideas, but in the end, a music-based puzzle game seemed like the most interesting to me. The fact that an attractive-looking puzzle game could be made entirely in 2D graphics was a nice bonus, which saved significant development effort.
Question: BeatBlox is a single player only game. Did you consider adding multiplayer modes?
Aaron Ramsey: I did, until relatively close to release. My major stumbling block was trying to figure out how the two (or more) players would interact with one another — in the puzzle game world, some sort of mechanic that allows players to muck up their opponents’ plans are a core part of the multiplayer experience. Many games implement “garbage blocks” or things of that nature to accomplish this. In my case, though, I had struggled to find an acceptable solution that would allow players to complicate things for each other, without changing the core gameplay experience — everything that I thought of either interfered with the basic “rhythm-based puzzle action” concept too severely, or simply didn’t seem like it would be any fun. I decided that if the multiplayer gameplay had nothing to differentiate if from the single-player experience (i.e. if it were simply a game of “who can earn the highest score”), then it wouldn’t be a worthwhile addition to the game. And so, ultimately, the multiplayer idea was dropped.
Question: Looking back on BeatBlox what are the things that you are most proud of?
Aaron Ramsey: At the beginning of the project, when I only had some key gameplay bullet points sketched out on paper, I had a lot of big concerns. Would the gameplay be easily abused and too easy to win once the player figured out some “trick”? Would the gameplay get repetitive too quickly? How would multiple difficulty levels be differentiated? How would the gameplay integrate with the music? Would it be fun at all? Despite all of these concerns, I managed to create a product that overcame all of them. Given that this was my first foray into the world of XNA (and, indeed, my first personal software project that has been distributed to such a large audience), I feel that not only was it a valuable learning experience, but it came out very well considering what I had going into it.
Question: Was there anything you were hoping to get into BeatBlox that did not make it?
Aaron Ramsey: The initial plans were to include seven songs instead of the current five; due to time constraints on the part of the music producers and graphic designers, however, that turned out to be infeasible. As mentioned earlier, I also was hoping to include a multiplier mode, but that proved to be a design challenge. I had also originally hoped to include more sound effects for each stage to fully complete the experience — for example, a cymbal sound each time a block in a chain exploded, or a bass hit whenever a chain ended — but in practice, I felt that they muddied up the sound too heavily and made it much more difficult to tell what the “real” musical track was doing, and was directly contradicting what I was trying to accomplish with the game.
Question: Now that BeatBlox has released are you planning another XNA game?
Aaron Ramsey: I’d like to start another project sometime, but since I’m using my XNA projects as educational tools for myself, the development cycle will likely be far longer on my next project, as there is still much of the XNA toolset that I have not yet delved into. At the very least, my next game will be in 3D as that is something that I managed to avoid touching during the development of BeatBlox 🙂
Question: Can you give us some tips or strategies for BeatBlox?
Aaron Ramsey: First, realize that the beat blocks can appear two different ways — in randomized locations, or in static locations. If you re-play a song multiple times, you will notice that at certain parts of the song, blocks will appear in the same place every time. This usually occurs during large build-ups, phrase endings, or climaxes within the song. You can use this knowledge to plan ahead and set up your chains to prepare for these blocks. In addition, remember that constructing a very small chain is better than no chain at all — if you have three beat blocks that are all about to explode, creating a 3-chain on each block will result in much less life loss than constructing a large chain on one block but neglecting the other two. You will earn fewer points, of course, but if you are struggling to clear a particular song, maintaining your life bar should be your first priority. Finally, if you would like a shortcut to unlock everything in the game fully, you can select “Enter Code” from the main menu (only on the full version), and enter Up, Up, Down, Down, LB, RB, LB, RB, B, A. (Fellow Konami fans will no doubt smile.) Press Start, and the game will be unlocked. I hope this helps!