The Soundtrack Problem

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Here’s an interesting problem for you, from a completely hypothetical situation.

Let’s say you’re designing a game to match a soundtrack, rather than the other way around. Not to the extent of, say, [Plastic Instrument] Hero™ or other rhythm games, but certainly not the typical oh-crap-we-forgot-the-music mentality. Let’s say further that you’ve decided to design levels to reflect tracks, each one being a vague visual extension of the song in question. Sounds interesting, right? Easy, even. But no!

Problems!

  • What happens when the track ends and the player’s not done with the level? How do you let the player figure things out and explore and yet either A) shackle them with the length of the current track as an ironclad curfew, or B) play the last half of the level in silence?
  • What happens when the player’s doing a speedrun? Or is just uncommonly good with her brain? Do you cut the song off right at the best part? (I like to think these songs are mostly best parts).

Well, it’s a dilly of a pickle, but here’s the solution we came up with.

Suggestion - minimized

Suggestion box - minimized

Why not give each level a suggested track? Instead of forcing a track change, simply suggest to the player that this level plays well with Song X. The player can then choose between switching to the suggested track or continuing with the current one; either choice only takes one click.

It’s not perfect. It does require the player to read in an already text-heavy game. It requires a click, which is sometimes a lot to ask. A future improvement might be to stop suggesting after a few seconds so the player can simply ignore it. But then we have to address the problem of the player missing the suggestion and wondering what it could have been. Informing them of which, in turn, leads to more clutter on the MP3 player. So for now, we’re going to try the suggestion model. If it drives you nuts, by all means, let us know.

Suggestion - maximized

Suggestion box - maximized

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