Wot I Think: Chime

By Kieron Gillen on September 8th, 2010 at 12:26 pm.

You're expecting funny captions on a screenshot like this?

Chime has come from the land of not-PC to the land of PC, via Steam with proper geek-power Still-Alive to round off its fine line up of bald techno-men (and Philip Glass). So, with controller abandoned and mouse held mightily in my paw, I have a look at this music-adorned charity-infused puzzler and tell you Wot I think…

I bought Chime on the 360 pretty much solely because the idea of playing a game to a Philip Glass soundtrack amused me. I mean, obv. I had a pleasant enough time with it for an hour, before getting distracted by a shiny light and I returned to my comfortable land of terrain and orcs. Thankfully, it arriving on the PC gave me a chance to go back and have a harder look at it.

Fundamentally, Chime’s in the pattern-sorting lineage begat by Tetris. You have a level. You’re given a random shape from a selection. You can position the shapes wherever you want. You have to make Quads, which confused me for a few minutes until I realised they meant squares not chunky-tired bikes. Bigger quads, bigger points. Placed yet un-quaded-up bricks slowly decay. Every quad you make, increases your multiplier meaning your points for new quads increases proportionally. However, if any of the bricks on the screen decay totally, all the decaying bricks remove themselves from the board and your multiplier resets. The basic mode is a time challenge, where you simply have to get as many points as possible before the clock counts down.

That’s the basics. The game mixes it up in a few ways. Most obviously, the game changes both the map layout and the selection of pieces for each of the six levels. The wide open spaces and friendly pieces of the lower levels are much easier to wrestle with, than the awkward tight areas and equally awkward pieces of the latter ones. There’s a few other score bonuses to chase too – if you manage to fill the whole map, you get a big bonus and the whole thing is cleared so you can start again. Also, by filling the area, you gain more time, meaning it’s worth trying to paint as much of the world as possible anyway. Oh – and shortly after you’ve made a quad, it disappears, giving you more room to manoeuvre. Also just as quads are formed you have a time limit to expand them (Which resets every time you expand them). So if you rush, you can turn a low-scoring quad into a high-scoring one by throwing down pieces in a frenzy.

That’s basically Chime. Leaderboard chasing shape-arranging. However, how it tries to differentiates itself from other slick puzzlers is what’s outside the actual game mechanisms. That is, how it uses the music.

The quality of the music is one thing – Paul Hartnoll (Orbital), Philip Glass, Moby, Markus Schulz, Fred Deakin (Lemon Jelly) and now Jonathan Coulton’s Still Alive. The key thing is how it’s actually used. To quote from the back of the digital box: “Fill the grid to alter the track loop, place pieces to play notes, and create quads to trigger a range of song samples”.The freeplay mode – where you get to just throw down quads without worry of the scoring or a failure state – allows you to explore this aspect as much as you want. In other words, depending how you play the game, you’ll create a unique re-mix of the music for the level.

Abstractly.

No, still not funny.

In practice, the differences aren’t profound. Basically, it’s nothing more than longer you play, the more of the song you hear. I’m sure that there’s a lot of clever technical stuff going on, but in practice, I wouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference between what results from me playing and a long remix of the track in question that just went in a linear fashion, starting minimalistic and slowly building up across time. The changes are minor and so subtle as to not feel connected to your choices in any real way. It’s just a good tune to have while playing.

In other words, it’s not a real problem. It’s just not much of an advantage and if you come to it expecting something revelatory you’ll be disappointed. It leaves Chime as a puzzle game with a superior sound-track.

And a superior puzzle-game at that. Philosophically, it’s a flip from Tetris. That was all about the pressure and holding off the inevitable. At first, I failed to click with Chime as I thought it felt just entirely without challenge. You died when you ran out of time and got a score. Like, woo! Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s only when I started trying to force the mechanisms into the red, it started to work. The challenge is a self-enforced one – of seeing how well you can do, an urge which it makes as easy as possible to create my integrating with Steam’s leaderboards. A couple of clicks finds out where I am in the world rankings. Another click finds out where I am compared to my friends. And bingo! There’s the missing reason to try and play well.

When in this mode of play, I went through a few stages. First, what I’ll describe as the happy panic. I realised that I can make quads very quickly. That increases my multiplier. Let’s see exactly how high I can get it before one one of my blocks decay and causes it to crash away. It’s worth noting that this stage was partially caused by realising that you got an achievement for going over 25, which is a good example of how such devices can be used to facilitate learning parts of the game by encouraging the player to pursue them. Secondly, there was completion anxiety where I abandon making combos and just try to 100% a level, as I hadn’t done one yet. Finally, I reached what I’m doing currently – which is all about efficiency and riding that curve. Playing a little more conservatively I can get the multiplier high by simply not leaving blocks to decay. Then, I move to expanding the timer by filling the area and working towards that 100%. That’s just bagged me a top 3 place one of the leaderboards, but the scores above me dwarf me so I suspect there’s stages they know which I don’t.

Nifty, then. Not mind-blowing, but nifty.

Just a few other points. Firstly, the matter of controls. Jim loved Chime on the 360 but bounced off on the PC, as he felt the stick worked better. For me, it worked better on the PC. Generally speaking, it seems to be a balance between speed and sturdiness. The mouse is just quicker in terms of choosing your spot, but loses the “weight”. Of course, being a PC, you can plug in a controller if you want. Secondly, to stress the fact it’s a score-chasing game. If you don’t have any interest in chasing those aforementioned scores, there is nothing here for you. For a casual game, you can’t really play it casually and get a kick. It just sits there listlessly. Thirdly, a mention of the charity aspect. Five percent of its price goes towards the One Big Game charity. The game costs four quid. So that’s 20p a copy. Frankly, I throw more than that in the jar when I’m buying a Lion bar from across the road.

(That’s a lie. I throw down two pence tops.)

You know what's funny? The death of your enemies. That's always funny.

I mention this not to denigrate them for doing this – because all those 20ps add up – but to stress that the idea that this gives money to charity shouldn’t be any part of your calculation on whether to buy or not. The maths are as directly simply as the game itself: are you interested in a slick, professional and audiovisually stylish game for a reasonable price? Chime’s here and waiting for you.

But I warn you: you’ll have to play the Moby level at least once to unlock the later stages.

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52 Comments »

  1. faelnor says:

    non-exAP staff saying obv or natch stopped being cool in 1996

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I am ex-AP staff.

      KG

    • Fraser says:

      Not being cool stopped not being cool in 1998.

    • faelnor says:

      My bad then. I’m sorry.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Haha, KG’s response there in my mind had him rising into the air above faelnor’s head, 32-bit eyes glowing an unhealthy green before shattering him into 1000 coins, Scott Pilgrim style.

      “I-AM-EX-AY-PEE”

      Incidentally Kieron, where did your C-Monster name come from?

    • arqueturus says:

      I think the word is.. owned? Not knowing KG is ex-AP for shame :D

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I had a variety of origin stories. I’m not even sure which one is true.

      One thing which I’m sure of is that I wanted to call myself COOKIE MONSTER when playing Wing Commander on the A1200. I try to enter my name… and it doesn’t let me have enough letters. So I shorten it to C-MONSTER. A moniker created by developer incompetence. It seemed appropriate, especially for AP.

      KG

    • Andy says:

      Did Amiga Power really invent the use of “natch” for “naturally”!? Thats what wikipedia says http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amiga_Power I see that everywhere…or maybe I only read ex-AP writers.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      No, AP didn’t invent the phrase Natch. Didn’t they say that in the magazine? If not, Stu/Nash certainly said it in AP2.

      They didn’t invent Obv either. They shamelessly stole it from The One* who invented it as a phrase to mock Natch. Which is PRIME MAGAZINE JUDO.

      KG

      *Or the other one.

  2. The_B says:

    Thirteen, Gillen. Thirteen.

  3. nobutoito says:

    Gotta agree with this article. Except I still don’t exactly know how the mechanics work. I’m making quads. I’m going to the next stage. Is that it?

  4. Trollface says:

    i’m a bit depressed that there’s still an error in the XBLA version of the game, but i’m happy to see that they’ve managed to bring this game onto the PC as well, as now people without an xBox can enjoy this game as well.

    Also, Kieron, i didn’t think that the moby level was that bad.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Joking. MAINLY.

      KG

    • Simon Dufour says:

      The Moby level didn’t really appeal to me either. It’s not BAD but it’s not as good as some of the others. (Haven’t played them all yet)

    • Premium User Badge

      Mo says:

      I love the song, but yeah, I don’t think it works very well in Chime. The low-level loops are repeated too often, and the thumping base kicks in way too late. When it does, it often plays without the “ooh yeah” sample. So it doesn’t really work, but when it all plays together, it’s pure bliss.

      Unfortunately, it’s bliss that’s most often short lived.

  5. Simon Dufour says:

    I bought Chime because it was like $5.00 on Steam, liked that some of the money had to charity and is really happy that some developper decide it’s worth it to bring their XNA games on PC. I also bought VVVVVVV which was released yesterday.

    I was surprised to like it that much. It’s a really polished game. The music is great and depending on what you do, they’ll be chimes added to the tune when the scan bar goes through the screen. It took me some times to realize. To me, it doesn’t add much in term of gameplay but damn.. it makes the game look even more solid.

    + Music is great
    + You’ll be glued to your seat.
    + Easy to make a quick game.
    + Some Steam achievements which is great.
    + Cheap.

  6. Aquarion says:

    Played it, liked it.

    I liked the Portal level, where all the sounds were so very familiar. The stretching of a fine three minute song into nine minutes of plinkerty plink with occasional bits of over-familiar quotes did make it sound like a “my first remix” from youtube, however.

    I am, however, grateful they avoided any bakery-based mistruth jokes.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    Actually my issue is that the stickiness and give in the mouse pointer feels less precise than the analogue stick placement of shapes. And I am all about precise controls.

    Still, recommended purchase from me, too.

  8. Radiant says:

    WHY MOBY? WHY?!?

    How is this not on the iphone or android?
    I’d have thought this would be perfect for a handheld.platform.

  9. Mr Bismarck says:

    The music is good, but if you’re not good then the Moby level is painful, because the low level piece of song it plays over and over while you ham-fistedly try to jam shapes into the board made me want to burst my eardrums with a knitting needle.

  10. anon says:

    “But I warn you: you’ll have to play the Moby level at least once to unlock the later stages.”

    Haha, I got this game day release on steam. I could not get over the 3rd levels song it was just crap disco tech nonsense.

    Turns out that is the Moby one.

  11. Flint says:

    There’s some bizarre Moby hating in this place :(.

  12. Item! says:

    How does Chime compare to Lumines in terms of fulfilling ones need for a music-based block-puzzler?

    (I *heart* Lumines)

  13. KingCathcart says:

    Dammit, now I want a Lion bar.

  14. liq3 says:

    Wow, I and here I am, with the Moby level being my favourite song out of the 6.

  15. choconutjoe says:

    In practice, the differences aren’t profound. Basically, it’s nothing more than longer you play, the more of the song you hear. I’m sure that there’s a lot of clever technical stuff going on, but in practice, I wouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference between what results from me playing and a long remix of the track in question that just went in a linear fashion, starting minimalistic and slowly building up across time. The changes are minor and so subtle as to not feel connected to your choices in any real way.

    Couldn’t agree with this more. A great idea, but the way they’ve done it makes it feel like a fairly superficial gimmick with little replay value. Still, for the money you can’t really expect too much.

    I really someone takes the idea behind this game and runs with it. The thought of weird and wonderful music actually being generated by how I play a game is fascinating.

  16. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    “I’m sure that there’s a lot of clever technical stuff going on, but in practice, I wouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference”

    Which do you think provides a better music to level generation, Chime or Audiosurf? For reference I have played ‘surf, but haven’t touched Chime yet.

  17. bill says:

    Was never a big moby fan – until the end credits of the Bourne movies. Which all rocked.

    Still not a huge moby fan. Is he still going?

    • Stenl says:

      Yes, but he hasn’t been good since Play, and even that would get me mocked by my music-loving friends. His self-titled is actually really good if you like mid-90s techno though.

    • groovychainsaw says:

      I think he’s one of those artists who was probably at his best when he first turned up, and every time he releases an album, gets a little bit worse. How much you like him depends on how good you thought he was to start with. I reckon ‘Go’ is a classic track, personally.

    • Premium User Badge

      Mo says:

      He has creative integrity, and for that I respect him greatly.

      His last album, Wait For Me, is amazing. It’s not the Moby you remember from the 90s, it’s different, and very good. For reference listen to the Shot In The Back Of The Head.

  18. Alex Bakke says:

    I think that’s one of the best alts I’ve seen in a while.

  19. Pedro says:

    I play this game while I eat sandwiches and I feel ok.

  20. Scott says:

    God yeah KG. The Moby level is ridiculously annoying.

    ‘Oohhh yeaaaah!’

    SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP.

  21. John Peat says:

    The Moby track is the weakest in terms of feeling like the game is doing anything other than making it more grating – but it doesn’t denegrate a fantastic game which is horrible UNDERpriced IMO.

    Also – on the donation front it’s a minimum of 20% – I believe it’s actually a % of their royalties which presumably get better as they sell more copies.

    More importantly again – this game takes the idea from Lumines and makes it non-shit – and for that reason alone it’s amazing.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Unless i’m very wrong, you’ve misread it, man. The charity gives a minimum of 80% of the money they receive to their causes. They give royalties equivalent to 5% of the price.

      (In other words, only 16p of the money you give is guaranteed to actually help the people. I was going to say that, but it seemed a little harsh when they say “Minimum”. And – y’know – 4p)

      KG

    • John Peat says:

      I’m pretty sure one of the developers explains the deal in a post on this very website – the Chime giveaway topic?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      He did and confirmed what I’m saying, as well as the change in value between PC and XBox.

      It’s all in full detail on the actual Steam page if you want to pick over the numbers.

      KG

    • John Peat says:

      Clearly, charity isn’t a motivator with games anymore anyway – see the $20 Adventure deal which clearly isn’t going to get anywhere near it’s first “extra game” target…

      Fortunately, Chime is really, really good anyway – £3.99 isn’t much to ask for any game and Chime has so far offered me over 5 hours of entertainment which makes it easily worth the asking price.

      Hell I might pickup the 360 version as well for a more comfy play :)

  22. DrGonzo says:

    The actually game mechanics appeal to me. But only Orbital appeals to me, and Still Alive actually puts me off this a little.

    Anyone know if there will be any more of this with a different style of music?