Cello Fortress playtesting photo

Using a real musical instrument to play a game is nothing new. But using that instrument to create a dynamic concert filled with bullets and explosions? That’s the creative vision behind Cello Fortress, a game that can only work in front of a live audience.

The unique interplay between cello and controllers comes from the mind of Joost van Dongen, the cofounder and lead programmer at Dutch developer Ronimo Games. A trained cellist himself, Dongen was the man responsible for Proun, the 2011 award winning abstract racing game.

As you can see in the diagram below, Cello Fortress requires a rather unusual set up. Using twin-stick controls — where one analog stick navigates movement and the other shoots — a maximum of four players, pulled from the audience, can work together to take down the titular fortress with tanks. As the cellist, Dongen defends his territory by playing improvised melodies, with the game analyzing his notes via a microphone: Playing dissonant chords activates the flamethrowers, aggressive notes brings in the burst cannons, and an “ominous melody” unleashes a full-on bombardment.

“I find this project an incredibly interesting experiment,” said Dongen on his personal development blog. “I have played cello for years, including in a band and currently in the Kunstorkest amateur baroque orchestra. I do lots of improvisation at jam sessions and such. But how does it feel to improvise with a gameplay goal? If I need to suddenly play low notes to fire a certain cannon, then I will need to come up with a melody that brings me to the low notes quickly, without sounding like random notes.

“After all, I am making music here! Besides the players, there is also an audience listening and viewing, so they need to hear good music as well as see interesting gameplay. Quite a challenge, and I look froward to trying it in front of an audience.”

Unfortunately, we’ll just have to imagine how all that works until Cello Fortress makes its playable debut later this month at the Indigo 2012 exhibition in The Netherlands. Organized by Dutch Game Garden, Indigo is an annual showcase of the best new games coming from Dutch developers.

Cello Fortress explanation