by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
In the dim lights of Rezzed 2013, I was invited to go hands on with Beatbuddy, the first title from indie developer Threaks. In the game you an encouraged to quite literally play music, as everything you do will have an effect on the song playing throughout each level. I played a ten minute portion of the first level and then had a chat with Denis Rogic, the game’s artist and part of the eight man development team. Beatbuddy features a story polished by Rhianna Pratchett, and a level containing a song composed especially for the game by Austin Wintory. I asked Rogic how the small team came across such big names and how the game’s development was progressing.
Blobs and Beat Points
Beatbuddy takes place in a wonderful underwater world, the inhabitants of which just love to make music. Even the plants get in on the action, with small crustaceans leading the proceedings. Early versions of the game had you controlling an abstract shape around the levels. The developers wanted something a little more relatable for you to play as, however. The result is a cute little blob-like character with a swirl on his body who swims around using his fins / arms. In the game, you will be swimming around each level avoiding various dangers in your quest for Beat Points. These little crystals are found scattered around each level and will later be used to unlock concept art and the like. Larger Relics will grant you more Beat Points. The real draw of the game though, is the exploration of each level and marvelling at how you are remixing the music simply by moving and progressing.
For example, the early part of the first level I played was centred around drums and the beat behind the song. The all important bass drum was first - a plant which pulses to the beat and propels you quickly through the water if you get too close. You are able to break obstacles in this way to allow you access to new areas. The rest of the drum kit soon followed, with deadly spikes which can be retracted for a short period by bashing on the shellfish conductor. Bouncing bubbles will only let you pass if you propel yourself through to the beat. There was even a vehicle section which had me controlling a little submersible which allowed a boost if timed with every other beat. The music blends into the gameplay beautifully and I was promised that each of the six levels features in the game would introduce four to six new mechanics, including more melodic elements. Each level will look and sound different, and will take around thirty-five to forty-five minutes to complete. Dangerous enemies will also be introduced and the vehicle I mentioned will even get a gun at some point, which will of course be tied to the music as well. You have a health bar which can be replenished by smashing open certain rocks around the world. There are also liberal checkpoints, so if you do die, you don’t lose too much progress.
All this gameplay would be for nothing if the music wasn’t up to standard. Thankfully the level I played featured some great grooves from Parov Stelar, and I have no doubt that the rest of the game’s music will be fantastic too. Especially when you consider that the team has the likes of UK based chiptune artist Sabrepulse, Grammy nominated Austin Wintory (the composer behind the majestic soundtrack of Journey), and others each creating original pieces just for the game. These aren’t the only big names behind Beatbuddy either. Rhianna Pratchett was brought in to polish the story, an impressive feat considering the majority of the actual game was finished by the time she came on board. Her most notable works include Mirror’s Edge, Heavenly Sword and the recent Tomb Raider reboot.
Play the Music
I asked Rogic how stars like this decided to get involved in a small indie project. “People are nice, even if you have to bug them a bit more than usual.” He told me that Threaks had been quite lucky. “Austin Wintory was conducting at Video Games Live and I managed to meet him backstage. I asked if he wanted to make some music for our game and he said ‘Sure!’ We let him play the game and he loved it, and said he would write a piece for us”. Sounds easy enough, but how do you get a writer like Pratchett to help you out? “Rhianna’s actually good friends with Austin. She told him that she wanted something small to write on, and he let her know about our project.”
The game is just about done now, and in its current form makes good on the promise of allowing you to “play” music, unlike some other titles in the genre. It looks great, contains excellent music, and seems set to have all sorts of fun gameplay mechanics. I am certainly looking forward to playing more when it releases.