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From Buttons to Beats

Will Warren | 15 Mar 2013 19:00
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Gaijin Games' Lilt Line has combined a minimal racing style game with rhythm action elements. These interesting mechanics are all held together by a brutal jump-up dubstep soundtrack from the appropriately named DJ's 16-bit. The game works especially well by reinforcing the challenging fast-paced action with the level design centered entirely around the music. The line will flow along to the bpm (beats per minute) of the songĀ and when new musical elements are added the track will move up and down accordingly. Perhaps the most enjoyment comes out of the signature dubstep bass drops in the music which you will nervously anticipate as you frantically try to control the line and keep in rhythm. The Bit Trip series also by Gaijin Games has the same focus on electronic music as a core part of the mechanics and takes a diverse range of genres spanning its six games. Like Lilt Line, it adds to the basic rhythm action idea by adding in different old-school style games into mix.

These games are perfect examples of the intimate relationship between cultures because the designers recognized the link between retro games and their use of electronic music and produced the games in an era when the inclusion of that music was no longer a necessity. What makes them notably brilliant though is that whilst playing the games it really feels as though you are composing the music. Certain actions will produce certain noises that, as the levels progress, will combine into a glorious electronic score. They appeal to both groups because they are essentially interactive albums as they blur the lines between games and music.

These games are perfect examples of the intimate relationship between cultures because the designers recognized the link between retro games and their use of electronic music and produced the games in an era when the inclusion of that music was no longer a necessity.

It is not only games that blur this line; The process of DJing, composing and performing electronic music has been deeply influenced by the advances of videogame hardware. Products such as the midi fighter use arcade buttons for DJs to remix music on the fly and contain special super combo effects when certain notes are pressed in order. More and more Dj's are experimenting with game equipment such as Wii remote and Kinect hacks to spice up the often bland methods of performance. These techniques aren't mere gimmicks however, as they provide a thrill to even audience members who don't identify as gamers by using what makes games unique to enhance the experience: interactivity. It is not just performances that have been influenced, as in the music itself many Dj's will reference gaming vast history or release game like interactive EPs over traditional music.

Unfortunately, the most obvious example of these two worlds colliding failed to live up to expectations. DJ Hero by Harmonix didn't succeed - in my opinion - to capture the joyous experience of DJing by restricting the amount of musical freedom the player has. Only designated songs are allowed to be mixed and that mixing is even less faithful to the actual process of DJing than banging buttons on Guitar Hero. Ironically, Harmonix's earlier, more abstract attempts - Frequency and Amplitude - which don't rely on peripherals create a much more engaging experience by allowing players to remix songs and have an enjoyable amount of control over which elements of music they want to bring into play. The games that successfully merge the two cultures together are those that do not try and imitate the process of performing electronic music, but those that glorify the abstract nature of combining buttons presses to translate into electronic beats.

This niche of dance music focused games and the huge libraries of game inspired songs may not appeal to all gamers. The games require a real insight from developers to intimately understand the ins and outs of electronic music and regrettably many of these games have underperformed. The future isn't entirely bleak, though, as with the rise of indie and downloadable titles there will hopefully be many more of these unique artistically rich games that will excite those of us who can't stop dancing with controllers in our hands.

William Warren is a part time DJ and radio show host performing weekly on University Radio Nottingham. He spends his time turning a Techno into a Techyes and spends his free time gaming and making awful puns.

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