Yann Seznec, director of the small Edinburgh-based game dev outfit Lucky Frame, points out that when it comes to interacting with both games and music, we use the same word. We “play.” And Seznec doesn’t think that’s a coincidence. Both involve certain structures and parameters that an individual must operate within; both see individuals taking their own unique approach to those established rules. For Seznec, then, it made perfect sense to design a game that ignored the differences between the two activities and, in fact, made them one and the same. In Wave Trip, his team’s latest release for the iOS, if you’re not jamming out, you’re probably not doing very well.
If you’ve played the popular title Whale Trail (or its Flash-era ancestor, that green-and-black Helicopter game), you’ll quickly get the gist here. Tapping and holding the screen lets your avatar gain altitude; pulling your finger away causes him to dive toward the ground. But the central difference with Wave Trip is that all the floating objects you encounter along the way are linked with some scrap of music. Every level starts in silence, but as you steer your avatar through the scattered shapes, a rhythm track starts to emerge. Throughout the level, crashing through different colored doo-dads produces a range of other sounds–strummed guitar chords, drum hits, and all sorts of bleeps and bloops–while running into unfriendly shapes penalizes you with bum notes. The better you fly, the catchier your track becomes.
The game includes some 20 levels, though in these it’s more accurate to say that you’re playing music than making it. But another section of the app, the level editor, lets you be the composer, giving you the responsibility for arranging the snares and strums and everything else. While using the same visual style found in the game itself, the interface for the editor changes to resemble the type of step sequencer you’d find in a typical piece of production software like Fruity Loops or Ableton. It’s a clever way of sneaking a more conventional music-making tool in the game’s backdoor.
And opening up the joys of making music to a wider audience is very much part of the ambition. Seznec was a musician before he was a game developer, but he’s long been irked by the air of exclusivity that comes along with the designation. “I have a really hard time with how music is taught and how we treat music creation in Western society as something reserved for a special group of people,” he says.
Seznec and the others at Lucky Frame had explored the idea of marrying music and games with their previous releases, but of the bunch Wave Trip most resembles an actual game. Still, the developers didn’t want the musical element to take a backseat to the gameplay. For the hybrid to work, players needed to feel “a very strong sense of agency over the music,” says Seznec, and the connection between their actions and the sounds they were hearing had to be “immediate, powerful, and charming.”
Which is precisely why you won’t hear any cute theme music when you’re navigating Wave Trip’s menus, or when you’ve paused the game mid-flight, or even when you start a new level. Here, if you want music, you have to make it yourself.
You can grab the app for $2 from the iTunes App Store and find out more about the game on Lucky Frame’s site.