It ain’t just about Guitar Hero

April 5, 2009


I have to confess: Guitar Hero kicks ass. There’s nothing better than getting stimulated by several senses in harmony, which is why people love dancing, delicious candlelit dinners or my favourite: snowboarding with music. We seem to dig synesthaesia.  That’s also why rythm action games are so fun (see also Audiosurf and Music Catch) – but what’s really interesting is when the game let’s you play with the music rather than just on it.

Here are three that blur the line between game and musical toy.


Dain Saint and William Stallwood’s Auditorium won the prize for most creative game in this year’s Mochis (which recognises the best Flash games each year). It’s a cross between a musical instrument, a physics based puzzle game and the Aurora Borealis, and seriously addictive. I’d recommend it to anyone.



Way back in 2003, designer and artist Josh Nimoy came up with this very simple concept which has since made it to just about every platform, most recently as one of the purely Javacript games in Google’s Chrome Experiments. In the words of Gosfish Games: 

“BallDroppings is an addicting and noisy play-toy. It can also be seen as an emergence game. Alternatively this software can be taken seriously as an audio-visual performance instrument. Balls fall from the top of the screen and bounce off the lines you are drawing with the mouse. The balls make a percussive and melodic sound, whose pitch depends on how fast the ball is moving when it hits the line. This delightful application allows experimentation with sound and vision which will compound and intrigue you. Whether you are an adult or child, scientific brainbox or avid gamer. It doesn’t have a plot, no heroine, no villain. It has no guns or alien beings. It is simply time to get creative, and those who are creative will love this.”



This blurs the line more towards musical toy or synthesiser than game, but I expect is fun in much the same way as BallDroppings. You manipulate a series of blocks (which look like pucks) on a touch sensitive table, with each one either generating or allowing you to manipulate a sound, all by moving them around.

“The way the Reactable works is deeply inspired bymodular analogue synthesizers such as those developed by Bob Moog in the early 60s. Reactable’s pucks represent the building blocks of electronic music, each one having a different functionality in sound generation or in effect processing. While in modular synthesizers one typically had to connect these different modules with patch cables in a complex and error-prone process, on the Reactable this is attained in a much easier and intuitive way, since connections between the pucks are managed automatically based on their types and affinities and on the proximity between them. As a result, one can construct any specific setup quickly and on the fly, by simply moving the pucks and bringing them into proximity with each other. Additionally, the resulting sonic flows are represented graphically on the table surface always showing the real waveforms that travel from one object to the other.”

Why only games?

With tools like Arduino and Processing, it’s surprisingly easy to experiment with ways of combining touch, light and sound in cool and fun ways. The question is: can these techniques also be applied to the more mundane and functional objects around us? Could we inject the same sense of wonder elsewhere? How much more engaging can we make our world?


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