Just like gaming, music in itself is its own career and specialty. And unless you’ve studied both gaming and music in your life, then combining the two together can be seen as a massive challenge.
So for this post, we’ve spoken to music gaming industry specialists, Amanotes, about the key steps and top tips developers should know when making their own music games. (This will be the first of a series – watch this space for our next blog on music in gaming).
If you want to skip to a specific section, feel free to do so here:
- Why use music as a core mechanic?
- Different ways you can use music as a core mechanic
- Things to keep in mind when making your game
- Useful resources
Now that introductions are out the way, we’ll let Amanotes take the mic.
Right now, there are over 19 gaming categories on the App Store (and growing), having now over 800,000 mobile games featured on there as of 2018. Our company, Amanotes, have been around for 4.5 years now, and in that time we’ve managed to release just over 100 games, all focused on music in gaming.
Although this is still a fairly new category, there are definitely a few perks to use music as a core mechanic. Here’s just a few:
Music makes games more addictive
The average American is estimated to spend up to four and a half hours listening to music each day. A catchy (but not annoying) tune can keep players coming back for more. Combining addictive gameplay and music together could really add a lot of value to your game. Introducing some super popular songs for Magic Tiles 3 helped us to increase the time spent in the game for 33%.
Music makes games easier
Though it may seem to be the opposite, if it’s integrated well, then music can actually lead you through the gameplay at a ‘semi-conscious’ level. Take Dancing Road for example, after playing it for a couple of minutes (or even a few seconds), players can get into a rhythm and almost predict when the next beat will be.
And the demand for music is booming
Music has been used throughout the generations, and across the globe. The latest data from the likes of Spotify speaks for itself (average hours spent listening to Spotify per month stands at 25 hours). By incorporating music into your game, you’ll potentially be appealing to the music audience (and not just the gaming).
This being said, understanding how to use music in your game is a skill, let alone a core mechanic. How do you know which soundtrack to use? At what point does this sound repetitive? Is the music catchy or annoying? Using music as a core mechanic adds a whole new level of design and development to your game, which you definitely should not overlook.
Thankfully, there’s a couple of routes you can go down when integrating sound as a core mechanic into your mobile game. Here are our top 3 (plus examples):
1. Match gameplay with music through the action
Magic Tiles 3 is a good example of this at work. Although the mechanics are still simple and intuitive, your players will have more satisfaction from this type of gameplay as they’ll feel as though they’re actually playing the song (imagine a simplified piano). Having basic mechanics with a catchy tune means the game isn’t too complex for your players, but also means it’s not too complex for you to create.#ProTip: when making Casual-Music Mobile Games, keep your mechanics simple with a catchy tune. That way, it won't be complex for your players, but also means it’s not too complicated for you to create. #gamedev #indiedev Click To Tweet
2. Match gameplay with music through the visual
As seen in Tiles Hop: EDM Rush!, gameplay requires you to keep up with the pace of the music, to avoid missing a continuous succession of tiles. So there is less creativity involved here, but more of a challenge (which is a bit more in line with the casual genre). We mentioned this above, but it really is true that music can help improve a player’s gameplay, to a point that you can even guess when the next beat will be.
3. Mix both of these ways together (if you’re feeling courageous)
Tap Tap Reborn 2 is a game that does this very well (without going overboard). What this game essentially does is merge the above two together, so players can have that creative freedom from Magic Tiles, but the challenge element from Tiles Hop. However, the last thing you’d want to do is give your players sensory overload (you’ll need to find the right balance if you’re going down this route, so prepare for a lot of testing).
How we’ve merged the above two points together:
- You play along to actual songs – we’re trying to merge the creative element with more challenging mechanics. So it makes sense to have real songs here to play against. This is also a big selling point in this game, as not a lot of music games let players actually do this.
- It doesn’t matter if you miss a beat – this is where it gets interesting. As there is more going on and the gameplay is more complex, we decided to remove the consequence of dying immediately. Instead, you have a level bar. Miss too many, then you lose. We found that this balances out the gameplay and complexity quite well, without making the game too difficult to complete.
- You can choose the difficulty level and speed – some players may find this gameplay too difficult, whereas others might want more of a challenge. Adding this in overcomes that issue, and gives our players more control on how they play this game.
It’s vital to make sure the music matches the visuals. Heavy rock music probably won’t go too well if your visuals (colors, tones, and theme) are intended to look more cuddly and fuzzy. If you have something that needs to look dynamic and relevant, pop music is a great way of enhancing that.
Repetition is also an easy trap to fall into. Make sure to avoid producing rehashed versions of the same tune over and over, because after playing a bunch of levels, your player will likely notice. Something slightly different every time helps keep the core loop fresh, but you’ll need to make sure you have a wide array of sounds to choose from.#ProTip: if you're making a casual-music mobile game, keep each level fresh. Your players will notice is you use the same tune again and again (even rehashed versions of it) 🎶 #gamedev #indiedev Click To Tweet
And lastly, make sure you have enough music knowledge to make it well. It’s important to understand how to combine the right gameplay with music elements. For example, if the game mechanic is about tapping the screen – then it makes sense to synchronize music with drums or beat. Whereas if it’s a type of “avoid obstacles” game – it may be about the melody. Even if you don’t have professional sound producers, just find a friend who can DJ, or perhaps a guitar player who can bring this music feeling.
There’s a ton of resources out there that can help you with your game, but what we strongly recommend is to speak to an expert. We’ve been making music games for almost 5 years now, so if you have a concept or prototype you’re working on, but need help crossing the finish line, feel free to get in touch. We’re more than happy to review your game and give you some advice.
If you want to go down your own route, that’s fine too. Here’s a list of useful resources you can use:
- Audacity – it’s open-source, free, and lets you record as well as edit sound files,
- Cubase – it lets you compose, record, edit and mix your sounds in one place, and
- FMOD – it has the seal of approval from the makers of Bioshock and World of Warcraft, for its effectiveness as a sound mixing tool.
If you’re keen to know what other sound tools are out there, check out this list of developer tools you can add to your arsenal (quite a few of them are free).
Thanks for reading. If you found this blog to be useful, then make sure to check out these ones: