Posted by: bracehare | September 26, 2011

Music games: cliches and conventions

Undoubtedly the genre with which I have the most experience, music games represent a genre with surprisingly little variance.  The general gameplay mechanics of any music game have the player pressing some button or combination of buttons, usually on a specialized controller, in response to visual patterns which act as prompts and which (generally) follow the music.  Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Beatmania IIDX, and Taiko Drum Master all differ primarily (though certainly not solely) on the issue of their controller.  In fact, all of these games in theory could be run using the same game engine with only minor changes in graphical themes (and this is not an idle claim as the Stepmania game engine has been made to run most of these).  Minor differences between games involve the presence or absence of “hold” patterns (where a button has to be held down), the visual appearance of the prompt patterns, and whether or not a button press triggers a sound to play, as well as the nature of the scoring system used.

There are other, more subtle tropes though.  One involves “boss songs”; the existence of songs which are deliberately created to be substantially more difficult than the general body of songs, often played or unlocked during extra or final stages.  Another concerns the existence of multiple different sets of note patterns for players of different skill levels, labeled with corresponding difficulties.  Ultimately, music games tend towards uniformity.  I don’t believe this is bad though.  I am not sure that the point of music games is for them to be novel.  Players who enjoy them tend to enjoy the inherent gameplay mechanics.  Recurring patterns lend themselves to the playability of the games (as the player does not have to constantly relearn and can build on past play experience) and to the enjoyability of games; as long as the game gives players the possibility of improvement, both through songs of diverse difficulty and through a scoring system which is sufficiently strict (by some standard or other, it doesn’t really matter which), the leit motifs of music games can repeat ad infinitum to the perfect contentment of the average music game player.



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