January is over. Another year has passed and a new one is well on its way. So in the spirit of things to come, I’ve decided to make a prediction— one which I invite you, my hypothetical readers, to hold me to come year’s end. I predict that by 2011 a notable band will release a music-videogame in place of a conventional music video. This music-videogame will be available on the band’s website, on social networks like Facebook, on platforms like the iPhone and on home consoles via XBLA and PSN. And regardless of how well it’s received, it will be the first of many to come.
Already the line between music and game is blurring to the point of indistinction. Games like Parappa the Rappa and Rez set the mold a decade back, and the spectacular successes of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series continue to capture the attention of the music industry. Now that the Beatles have embraced the Rock Band format, it’s safe to say that popular music and video games have formed a bond that will, as far as I can see, last indefinitely.
The next step? I’m imagining a band, likely some hip indie group, releasing a game tailor made for a new single. It will be short and simple, perhaps lasting no longer than the length of the song itself. A few games fit this description already, minus the notable band– I Made a Game with Zombies in it first on the list. It’s a conventional two-stick shooter in every way except for its music. The zombie massacre is accompanied by a song that sounds like a mix of the Pixies and a couple guys recording a funny song–no tiresome techno or featureless nu-metal here. This score is broken into several movements that transition seamlessly as each stage is cleared. Each movement matches its stage in mood, and as you play, you feel as if you’re progressing not only through levels, but through the song itself; its beginning, its middle, and the energetic reprise at its end. When the game is completed, the song too comes to an end. And even though your actions do not directly affect the music, playing the game feels like playing the song as well.[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t7Dn0qFmd0&feature=player_embedded 500×400]
But videogames allow for an even deeper relationship with music. They offer a chance to truly interact with it. The XBLA indie title Groov is a prime example. In many ways it is similar to the better known Geometry Wars, but what and when you shoot have interesting consequences. Each bullet fired plays a note that, in tandem with multiple shots, creates the game’s central melody. The bad guys play different musical samples when they explode, depending on their shape. Circles play bass notes, stars play drum hits, others play vocal samples, guitar, horn. When the screen fills with dozens of these baddies, your performance unleashes an electronic symphony of your own making. Your controller is the instrument, and each time you play the music is slightly different. An ambitious band could release a ‘song’ that follows this model. Skilled musicians, with the help of skilled programmers and artists, could set the parameters, choose the instruments, establish tempo, mood, melody and release a song their fans could ‘play’ themselves—a song that never sounds exactly the same twice. I find this possibility an exciting one.[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNPAsbsoS5c 500×400]
The channels for such a project are open. Today’s climate favors small, independent games. Digital distribution is well entrenched in home consoles. Peoples’ telephones are powerful enough to play these sorts of games, and the casual playground of Facebook would make a perfect home. A music-videogame is not as crazy as it sounds. Precedent has been set. The talent is out there. A market and method of distribution is in place. The only thing left is for someone to do it. And for all I know, someone already has.
The Rock Band Network went into open beta recently, which allows musicians to make their music available to the world for download and play. While this isn’t the music-videogame I’m imagining, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Music has changed the way we play games, and now video games are starting to change the way musicians approach their audience. We see them live, we listen to them on the radio and we watch their videos. It’s only a matter of time till we start playing them too.