Forget bleeps. Forget bloops. Forget any noises in "Halo" or "The Sims." Imagine a game that spits out only one type of sound: guitar riffs. Got it? Good. Now stop picturing "Guitar Hero." Instead, imagine a game that looks like "Space Invaders" viewed through a kaleidoscope but sounds like an acoustic instrumental.
The game is "Everyday Shooter," and when it is released later this summer as a downloadable game for the PlayStation 3, the only sounds players will hear from it are the guitar notes 24-year-old Jonathan Mak plucked in his basement in his Toronto apartment. Last week the game received at least two E3 Game Critics nominations — from gaming blog Kotaku and from MTV News — for Special Commendation for Sound. This was after an E3 that also included "Guitar Hero III" and "Rock Band." So what was so special about Mak's project?
In "Everyday Shooter," players use the PS3 controller's left stick to move a space ship and the right stick to zap swarms of candy-colored enemy ships, snakes and abstract shapes. The guitar soundtrack that ripples through the background? That's Mak's composition. The spare riffs that play when the player's ship blows up the bad guys? Those are from Mak. The notes heard when the player's own ship goes out in a blast? Those are Mak's too.
Jon Mak has created what is essentially the first solo project for the PlayStation 3, and he's done so by crafting an unusual hybrid of video game shooting and sound. The whole game is, almost literally, an explosion of music, a simulation of shoot'em-up warfare made as abstract as in "Asteroids" and "Geometry Wars," and wrapped in a soundscape that builds a song out of mass destruction. Every shot, every explosion and even every video game death helps build a score — in both the points and the soundtrack definitions of the word.
"The idea of this game is to use music as a reaction," Mak told GameFile during an interview in a Sony demo room at E3 a couple of weeks ago. "Explosions are one form of reaction — a visual reaction. But music is another one."
Mak was in a corner in the Sony room at E3, hanging out with Sony producers Rusty Buchert and Deborah Mars, who are well on their way to helping make the PlayStation Network the downloadable-games service with the most indie cred. It was only in March that Mak's game was one of the standouts in the Independent Games Festival. Just a month before that, PSN launched the game "flow," which was embarked upon about a year earlier as original designer Jenova Chen's grad-school thesis. Buchert told GameFile that he's wanted PSN to showcase this kind of talent since before the PS3 was even launched. He took the role in February 2005 when, he said, "we started looking beyond traditional development."
Unafraid of being untraditional, Mak had been trying to come up with a new game since spring 2005. "After many terrible game ideas, it finally became what is now 'Everyday Shooter' in October 2005," he said. He describes his game as "an album of shooters." He doesn't think in levels for his game. He thinks of singles. Each level sports a specific look, a specific style of shooting and scoring, a specific soundscape and lasts a finite amount of time. When that time is up, the gamer plays the next level — he or she plays the next track.
Shoot'em-up games often generate visual chaos. Look at current PS3 download darling "Super Stardust HD," in which the top players have just broken a billion points by boosting and blasting a space ship through a spherical bombardment of meteors. Mak is aiming, at least aurally, for something else: harmony.
"When you play this game, you'll notice that there's this background guitar track playing, and as you shoot things, the player [will hear] different guitar riffs and notes and sounds that are harmonious with the track," Mak said.
When he started programming this, he realized that forcing a sound effect for every single enemy spawn or death would create sonic chaos. So he programmed around that. "The frequency that an enemy gets killed or appears also matters a lot because then you can't have really long riffs playing for those or else it doesn't make sense. Usually when you do something big, you get a big sound."
Mak is finishing his game soon. He said he's near the finish line, and Sony reps say his game should be available for download on the PS3 later this summer. When it's done, gamers will get a chance to see if a game designed like a music album is what they're looking for.
And Mak, who has been on a self-described "no-game diet" will finally be able to play some new games. He's been focused on "Everyday Shooter," and only on "Everyday Shooter."
"It's better to keep the ecosystem in my mind sort of clear on that vision so it doesn't get polluted," he said.
Soon enough, though, he'll be ready for something new.
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