By RPS on March 3rd, 2008 at 12:19 pm.
Like some sort of lumbering clockwork giant, the RPS Hivemind has duly constructed the second instalment of its new Monday feature – discussing a recent game of note, then casting a vote upon its worth. No ludicrous letter-based scoring systems here, though – simply, to buy, or not to buy? That is our question.
This time around, it’s award-winning synaesthesia game Audiosurf. We’ve waffled about it a fair bit on RPS previously, so you’d presume we all loved it, right? You may be surprised. You may be less surprised to see our thin veil of camaraderie ripped aside to reveal the snidey barbs, self-interest and hypocrisy beneath. Rock, Paper, Shotgun – like an old, married couple arguing about groceries.
Note – Alec’s on vague ringmaster duties for this one (also abstaining from the final vote), as his opinions about the game are due to appear in the next issue of PC Gamer UK.
Alec – so, Audiosurf. It’s an indie game all about music – your music, as opposed to somebody else’s nasty licensed tracks. Each song is quickly run through dark magicks that then generate a track that visually represents the song – your job, meanwhile, is to collect or avoid coloured blocks that appear in it. Wipeout meets Rez meets match-3, essentially. Is its core idea a success?
John – If its core idea is to generate a racetrack based on the graphical equalisery output of the song, and then have you race along it, yes. Is it everything it could have been? No – I think it falls quite short of the ideas anyone will have the first time they play it.
Kieron – It’s the tricky thing, I guess – “It’s not everything it could be” is such a pointless thing to say. Is there anything else like it? No. It’s like playing Doom and noting that it’d be amazing if the Monsters talked. Yeah, true, but…
John – I meant something more specific than that – clearly I’m not saying, “It’s imperfect in some way and therefore I’m complaining.” Kieron knows better than that. The point is, the first time I played it I made assumptions about the sorts of thing it was likely to do, and was then disappointed to find it didn’t do them. It feels like the halfway stage of a really brilliant game. I thoroughly enjoy playing it, but always with the strong nag that there’s a big ingredient missing.
Alec – To what extent is it fair to put such expectations on Audiosurf? Is it trying to be a really brilliant game first and foremost, or to be a companion to music?
Jim – The point about Audiosurf is that it’s one of those pieces of design that is interesting because you haven’t quite seen it before. I mean there are parallel games, such as phase, but Audiosurf is pure PC indie design: super-accessible, totally comprehensible, and slightly magical. It’s also straddling all kinds of genres at once that makes it fairly tricky to judge. I’m not sure I want a companion to music, in the sense that I don’t really use those light-generation toy things, so the fact that the game is flawed becomes a bigger deal.
John – I agree with Jim. It IS more involved than a Winamp plugin, or a musical accompaniment. It’s an involved game that’s orientated around gaining a high score. It sits between these two places – a relaxing visual toy, and a fast-paced high-score-em-up. But because it’s in neither, I always feel that nag.
Alec – Does everyone feel that way?
Kieron – To be honest, I’m tempted to say something like that people who don’t like like Audiosurf pretty much don’t like music. But that’s over-defensive, innit?
John – Sigh.
Alec – Would Audiosurf work at all if you were stuck with whatever music was built in?
Jim – no, I don’t think it would. The magic is in seeing your track transformed into light and this flowing puzzle. The problem for me, i think, is that it’s a puzzle game that I find a bit awkward. This is what John was talking about, i think – “what if” it were a racing game?
John – Or even, “what if” it were a puzzle game? The problem is, that match 3 game at the bottom of the screen isn’t very good. Everything else is joyous. It’s sublime to swoop down your favourite record. But it’s got a bit of a crappy block game in the way.
Kieron – I think crappy is a simplification. The problem with Audiosurf is that the concentration you take to really make the block game work is entirely the opposite of what you need to do to feel the music. The two parts of the game can tug at each other a little, at least at first. On one hand, a zone game. On the other, a high-speed sorting puzzle.
John – So do you think it’s a good high-speed sorting puzzle? Or a good enough one?
Kieron – I think it really doesn’t matter how good or bad a sorting game it is. The concentration takes you away from the music. Which is why people tend to travitate towards mono.
Jim – But would I pay money for a high speed sorting puzzle game? Probably not.
John – It’s interesting that people have immediately made the simplest game their favourite. You’re still engaged with the track in a way, but you don’t have to ignore the tune.
Jim – Again, i’d go with the guitar hero thing – the output the track creates is amazing, the output you create, as the user, is less interesting in Guitar hero it’s *your* output that rocks.
Alec – How could your output be done better in Audiosurf?
John – I think if you take Mono – Mono is about dodging blocks, not collecting them. To a point. You’re still chasing the colours, but you’re working very hard to avoid the grey. And that makes me feel much more *involved* with the tune. So what if the tracks were more like obstacle courses? Not stupidly so, but much more about steering your way through the tune?
Jim – perhaps it was a case of a game that didn’t identify its best game mode strongly enough?
Alec – On the other hand, you’ve got some players saying mono is cheating. How much should we be thinking of this as a game of skill?
Kieron – Well, it’s got those high score tables. They’re there for a reason. And that the other modes do take so much more skill than mono grates on those people who *have* learned to play ‘em. But there’s an odd twist to this. I mean… I get the strongest, highest, purest music kick from the other modes, not mono. Am I alone?
Alec – As moderator, I can’t possibly say I completely disagree with you.
John – It’s not fair to suggest that someone who doesn’t enjoy another mode hasn’t learned to play them properly. I have found that when I play them, and get big scores with them, I’ve enjoyed the process a lot less than I did on Mono.
Alec – To what extent do the main activities of those other modes feel tied into the music?
Jim – I think about 50% of the time I played Audiosurf I spend marvelling at the ways in which the tracks formed form the music, and the other 50% of the time getting annoyed because the game mode wasn’t helping me enjoy the music. I’ve not persisted with Audiosurf as much as you guys, and that because I feel there’s a real disconnect for most of what I’m doing.
Kieron – Well, the biggest connect is kicking Alec and John‘s skinny asses.
John – I beat Kieron and Alec‘s Wuthering Heights score on my *fourth* go at the game. Which proves I’m best.
Jim – Perhaps that’s another issue for me then: high score battles aren’t usually what i get a kick out of.
John – I think that’s a reason why I’m very impressed with Audiosurf. VERY few games ever engage me with high scores. The last one I can think of is Zoo Keeper. That sort of willy waving never normally grabs me. But with AS, my willy’s a waving.
Jim – And in the game?
Alec – So why does the high score mechanic engross here, but not in The Club?
Kieron – Well, the high score mechanism worked for me fine on the Club. It’s you guys who had problems with it. [An incorrect statement - the group's shared concern was the presentation, not the idea - RPS Hivemind-at-large]. I’m very much fine with the oldest skool high score chasing. But I also think it’s kind of only part of what A-surf is about. There’s that exploratory side of it too – exploring your record collection and seeing what they turn out like.
Jim – Which is tied into what we did talk about with the club, which was the payout for playing thing, with Audiosurf the payout is the track itself.
John – It’s peculiarly rewarding when you put in a song that generates a loop. That’s a stupid thing to feel pleased about, but feel pleased I do.
Kieron – Exactly – the way I see Audiosurf’s future is something people return to and dabble with. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Devs do patches to change bits of the visualiser. So when they release a patch, people drag it out again. It’s not going to be something people play for months. And, for a fiver, it’s got no reason to be.
Jim – yeah, there’s a whiff of game alchemy to it.
Alec – I suspect it has the perpetuity of Peggle. Whenever I’m not sure what to do for 10 minutes, I pull up audiosurf and try a new song. Or am I deluded? Is this a gimmick I’ll grow tired of?
John – I really wish you could make a playlist for that. I’d like to play an album, for instance. Or line up the best Steinman tracks.
Kieron – I think you’d drive yourself mad thinking about the future in games.
Jim – it’s a fucking awesome gimmick, to be honest
Kieron – Gimmicks are awesome. They’ve got a bad name. And, yeah, that you have to put all your songs in a folder to play a series is a little bit unfortunate. As is being unable to just select “Play last song” or whatever from a list.
John – Was anyone surprised when it didn’t win the IGF top award?
Kieron – I wasn’t. It’s the sort of game which your can reduce down to its parts and it becomes less than its sum. On a personal poll though, I’d have chosen it above Crayon Physics.
Jim – no, World of Goo and Crayon Physics are more valuable to me, I think. Audiosurf was justly rewarded.
John – I was really hoping for World of Goo or Crayon Physics too. But part of me thinks that Audiosurf has achieved more than those two games. It’s achieved an accessibility and immediacy that few games manage.
Kieron – it’s going to sell more than both, I can bet it. I suspect it’ll sell so many that the people who it doesn’t work for will have a sizeable backlash.
Jim – It’s been number one on Steam since it came out, I think
Kieron – Oh, I’m not saying the other ones won’t sell – I think all of them will clear up.
Jim – I wonder if there’s a gamers-appreciation-of-music thing tied into Audiosurf. I mean, the pace of it is going make it a relatively tricky gaming experience. It’s not something my mum or my sister would be able to cope with
Kieron – I dunno, man. Mono isn’t much harder than Gutar Hero
Alec – So Audiosurf is as much as success because it’s a sort of geek wish-fulfilment as because of its actual qualities?
Jim – I dunno if it can be wish fulfillment, if no one was wishing for it. I don’t think we were all thinking about the connect between games and music
Alec – But we were all playing Guitar Hero and wishing we could stick our favourite music into it. Audiosurf says “fuck it, why not?” and provides the scaffolding of a game around it
Kieron – I agree with that, actually. The magic of audiosurf, at least partially, is that it takes you to a place which is both completely alien and totally familiar
John – Kieron, I want to know something about what you were saying earlier. You have a much more involved relationship with music than most people I know – like some sort of disgusting musical gynaecologist who’s in it for all the dirtiest of reasons. You seemed to suggest that Audiosurf seems to embellish that for you?
Kieron – That it translates the topography of the songs into the topography of a (new) level… well, it’s a really intimate thing. It’s interesting in that the hardest (or at least the highest scoring) part of the track on the non-mono modes is also the most musically intense bits. Like those walls of red on Wuthering Heights. So if you *can* do it, and get that score it’s an enormous pay off – the music meshes with your success and its overwhelming. I’m not even joking about crying while playing a few times. I don’t think anything has ever done synaesthesia as well for me. It’s just incredible.
John – I can’t imagine it ever making me cry. I feel like I’m missing out on something.
Jim – it’s an emotion we call “love”
So – VOTE! Do we love the game they call “Audiosurf”?
Kieron – I’ll buy it and view those who think otherwise with suspicion. And Fear.
John – I think it’s great. I can’t help but wish it was more of an obstacle course than a match-3 game. But I would think someone who actively disliked it to be troubling.
Jim – I’d buy it, but I can see people thinking it a waste of a fiver.
And so, our scores, with help from our special guest thumb, Optimus Prime. Your votes, gentlemen please:
Our verdict: Sale!
Kieron – Do we want a post-score jokey thing like last time? Like, favourite audiosurf track?
Jim – i hate jokes! And music.
Kieron – Which is odd, Jim. As your music taste *is* a joke.
Jim – wheee!
Kieron – Wheee!
Alec – I can’t see Tom Waits working on it, certainly.
Jim – Actually it works pretty well. Well, the madder, later stuff does
Alec – I would strongly recommend The Who’s Baba O’Reily (that one out of CSI and stuff) and Little Spanish Flea, which makes me cry hot tears of hysterical laughter.
John – Detachable Penis by King Missile is a brilliant track. It works so well.
Kieron – Wuthering Heights. Still. Though Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio and Dizzee’s I Luv U are great too.