This semester, I am taking a Systems and Experience Design class all about making game systems revolving around different ideas. For the third project, the central theme was altered states. I had a hard time really narrowing down what I wanted to do for this project because of how open the prompt was... And then I remembered one time in high school where I performed my first ever DJ set for a talent show. I remembered how cool it felt to be actually controlling the music, but also how difficult it was to keep myself connected with the audience to keep them engaged. I liked this strange dynamic, and I wanted to embody that in this system and put the player in the shoes of a DJ! For whatever reason I wanted to implement a really creepy theme full of demons and neon lights, and thus I created "Cult Disco", a demonic rhythm game with crowd interactions!
If you want to check out the full documentation I did on this project, check it out here!
I intend to create a rhythm-based game with a focus on the feeling of performing in front of a crowd using interactions with the audience, feedback based on the beat of the music, and lighting as if it was a light show.
My first bit of research was playing Thumper and doing my deconstruction on it. A big part of Thumper is not exactly following any certain song but focusing on the rhythm of the music that’s playing. With how the game responds to correct/incorrect actions, a lot of the game revolves around the feeling of the player’s connection to the rhythm and the feeling of doing things. This idea of the visceral nature of the game is something I wanted to take into account when making the “Cult Disco” prototype. The big difference between Thumper and this project is that “Cult Disco” does have a single song that the game revolves around, which does remove some of the focus off of the rhythm. That being said, the notes that the player must perform along with how the player interacts with the crowd is all focused around the rhythm and the main beat of the game, which allows for the player to focus on the beat of the song rather than the intricacies of the song itself.
An article titled “What Makes Rhythm Games So Successful?” by Jena Craig-Brown goes into detail about what specifically makes rhythm games so attractive to the general population. In short, the reason why is because all people have an understanding of what rhythm is, making the core mechanics easy to grasp (whether or not people are able to or enjoy them is another issue). Because of how rhythm games are very easy to understand by nature, they become very appealing to many, and through their reward systems, they become insanely sticky. In my head, so long as I keep the idea of rhythm simple and make doing the right thing feel good and doing the wrong thing feel bad, my prototype should hypothetically see success.
That being said, my vision for “Cult Disco” requires the player to not only balance pressing the correct notes at the right time but also requires them to pay attention to the audience at the same time. This gave me some concern about whether or not players will be able to balance both of these things at the same time, so I decided to read an article by Asher Einhorn called “How Much Is Too Much?” which talks all about how to not overwhelm the player with things to do and stress them out. The biggest takeaway from this for me was this idea that players must be able to only focus on one thing at a time unless that thing has become second nature. In “Cult Disco”, the way I apply this is by having the notes be extremely repetitive, so the player can easily remember the pattern at which they spawn. Because of that, trying to manage keeping the crowd of demons happy becomes less of a stressful thing!
Finally, I looked into making the feedback of the game feel good through an article titled Scott, Nathan. “Feedback in Rhythm Games – Rhythm Heaven” written by Nathan Scott. Simply put, the game needs to have clear distinction between whether a player fails a note or not and if possible, making sure the player knows if the button they pressed was early or late when they mess up. In “Cult Disco”, the lights of the buttons change based on whether the player failed or succeeded, and because of how the notes move along the launchpad, the player is able to tell if they pressed the button early or late.
The core intent and idea of putting the player in the shoes of a DJ performing in front of a large audience was a success! Most people thought that they could feel the dynamic between needing to perform music while also paying attention to the audience, and while I did intend for the system to be somewhat difficult, it may have been a bit too difficult. The biggest flaw with the prototype in its current state is that its difficulty is too much for players, which not only makes it difficult for players to play through the entire system but also bars them from understanding the prototype in its entirety.
But now, let's look at the QA data! The single most important thing I wanted was for players to feel as if they were actually DJing in front of a group of demons, and for the most part this was true. Players definitely felt the vibe and atmosphere of the environment and definitely did understand the intent that I was going for outside of the demon-theme.
The only thing about the environment and vibe of the prototype that didn't go over well was that half of the testers did not really feel as if the audience was a bunch of demons and was simply just an audience. While this isn't a core part of the intent, it is still a huge part of the environment that has the potential to completely take the player out of the game entirely.
Finally, I wanted to take a look at the balance of "Cult Disco" since it had been pointed out to me before formal testing that the game might be a tad too difficult. Well, "tad" might be a bit of an understatement. The average results of players both thought that the prototype was too difficult due to both the launchpad and demon systems. This is probably due to the overwhelming amount of buttons (8 in total) that players had to use in order to play the launchpad, which then devoted all their attention and then made it so they could not really pay attention to the audience. In future iterations, I will definitely be addressing this issue.
In the end, the prototype succeeded in exactly what it set out to do. The hiccups that the prototype had can be attributed to the difficulty level of the prototype, which can definitely be changed in the future due to how I have set up the song reader in Unity. I love where the prototype is in its current state, so I will definitely be working on it more in the future. Through adding in more feedback, player input on their wanted difficulty level, and other small touches here and there, I believe that this prototype can turn out to be something really cool!