Saturday, 28 July 2012

Thought and theories on game development (IV) - musical games

Since when rhythmic games has been part of my life?

IIDX - since 1999; Taiko no tatjusin (TnT) - since 2001; some are invented more recently, like osu! (2008) (ok all of us know osu! is not the original inventor...), jubeat, project DIVA... What makes them attractive and what's the principle behind their development?

A primary factor of the games is about instrument simulation. Psychologically this is a compensation to players who does not use to play instruments well (I'm not offending those players). IIDX simulates drum kit while TnT simulates taiko which is a traditional instrument. When we play in the acrade machines we have to hit the real drums (TnT) or rub the disc (IIDX) which enhances the feeling that "I'm playing music". Inversely this is also how developer promotes their game using "authenticity" -- playing the game is like playing the instrumental itself.

The second attractive factor is the difficulty set by the game itself. One of the common setting among these games is that the difficulty classification is very clear; each song has several difficulty (no matter how they call it's still EHI/ENHI easy-normal-hard-insane set). As discussed before it can be used to diversify the target of the game, but in such case pro-player is always the most important part of customers and the major source of revenue. Different from publishing game disc, acrade machines are only reachable in gaming centre and only pro-players used to go there and feed the machines with coins. Eventually some mapsets will be extremely hard in order to keep players trying there (if the difficulty keeps the same, considering the overall increase in player ability the games required for them to full combo(FC)/specified target on the song is reduced, which implies a drop in revenue), and this is expected to happen in the commercial view until it reaches the biological limit.

What is a biological limit? It's where human can't do biologically, like reaction speed (time taken between message from eye -> reaction from brain -> action to hand), movement of fingers (speed and complexity) and if you force to exceed the limit you may hurt yourself. Up to now there's no still evidence that the mapset of these games reached the biological limit of human: reaction speed can be compensated by map reciting: if you recite the map perfectly there's no need for you to sight-read the map, then reaction time helps nothing. In Osu! people uses double time mod very often while the limit seems to be far away from usual practice of the song (in the sense that osu! is not commercialized and overmapping is limited), but if we consider single tapping without the restriction of music, BPM 500 1/4 is barely reachable. As a joke we often refer those pro-players as "non-human", or simply "tentacles" which implies "playing with many hands".

Back to the development of mapsets, we should realize that when we link a musical game with instruments, the theories linked with the instruments as well because the sound effects giving out are the same unless you create totally new theories. IIDX is one of the example which follows the old way, the 7-keys are referring to the drum beats in the song with variations, but TnT had chosen to create their own way dealing with taiko because the original system is unpractical. In traditional taiko, density and loudness how they express their emotion, but complicated streams like dkdkdkdkdkkkdddk is seldom used. This is impractial because almost all commercialized song has a fixed beat rather than changing the beat freely according to their emotional change, hence rapid density change does not work. Moreover simple dddd or kkkk bored the players (as most of them enjoy through playing not appreciating the song) so complex stream is used. It has been a widely accepted system, though the word "authentic" never applies on TnT is NOT the creator of taiko!

If we talk about commercial games the developing team is of course responsible solely to develop the theories, system and principle behind "mapping" - the process of placing object over songs. But in a player community, noticibly BMS, O2Jam, taiko jiro, and of course Osu!, has their own way to develop a mature mapping theories, and among them the ranking system in Osu! works the best to push the development of mapsets (well of course I have bias here). Players are free to make maps but only the ranked one has their score ranking listed, result counted in player's profile and is highly promoted in many other ways. As a result most mappers fight for ranked beatmaps. Before they're ranked, they have to be check by authorized teams to ensure general quality. However due to server workload and team workload the ranked beatmaps are limited. Economically this is the case where supply is fixed and less than demand but no black market occurs, the price is the quality while Q is the quantity. In the equilibrium the quality is of course high, and as more mappers join the community the quality only rise further.

Interestingly the mapping market is not fiercely competitive. In other words, mappers don't hate people who fight for ranked maps with them (unless both mappers are working on the same song). As a result there're guides for getting ranked maps easier, like timing guide, slider-making guide (and "how to make good friends with the team"). These guides again increase the overall quality of maps and mappers.

Artistically maps are based on songs so they have to fit the songs unless you compose the song to fit your map, and fitting the song is a very basic requirement for making good maps. When people map freely they may care about how cool they can be played instead of how good the song can be appreciated. As a result random mapping or overmapping floods over the spirit of the song and destroys the song. Only a competitive system forces mappers to concern the basis of mapping and think hard to link the objects with the song.

Creating new theory is never easy. The ranking system operates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and people maps their new idea to rank and to evaluate at the same time. It's same as inventing stuffs: trial and error - publishing - evaluate - and find the best way. Of course there's no "the best song" and no "the best map", but the community can still summerize what could be bad and push the maps better. In Osu! the above procedure takes about 3~4 years for the mapping system to be mature (but 2008's map with full creativity is still my favourite). For taiko in Osu! it's 3 years plus many years of experience of playing and mapping outside of taikosu!. The mapping quality of a mature community is even better than commericialized team. For example, both TnT and Osu! taiko has the map "No buts!" but the one in osu! is widely recognized to be better than the one in TnT. This is not a miracle but the effort of free economics, players, mappers and the system.

This time the passage is a bit messy partly because I have too much to say about musical games, but the system and spirit behind them is really how they develops.

It's also my first time typing ~5000 wds on a certain topic but I'll try more of them as sometimes I'm a bit lazy to do maths stuffs.

28 July, 2012

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