Monday, August 2, 2010

A Look at Games - Lumines Supernova

I've been back from vacation for a week now, so I guess it's time to get back to this blog as well. Last weekend I finally got a router and was able to share my internet connection to the PlayStation 3, granting me access to PSN store and some games I've been wanting to play. Some of these are quite relevant to my research, so you will be most likely seeing posts like this one in the future as well. So let's get this series started with Lumines Supernova.

I took initial interest to Lumines when I was doing research about games where audio plays a bigger role than usual. Lumines is a relatively simple block dropping game, where you as the player need to form squares of blocks with the same color. The playing field is constantly swept over by a moving beat line, and full squares are eliminated only when the line passes over them. The more squares you can eliminate in a single sweep, the more points you get. Sounds simple, right? In other words, it belongs to the category of highly addictive games like Tetris and Bejeweled. But Lumines might be even more successful in this. Why?

Audio in the game is not simply just separated into background music and sound effects. Every skin (kind of a level) in the game has its own music and effects, which are in fact part of the background music. The music being played is a relatively simple loop but when things start happening on the screen, the player, through his block manipulating actions, becomes the composer. Rotating blocks creates small sounds, forming squares bring forth a little more dramatic effect, and of course the most notable sounds are generated when the beat line erases complete squares. On the paper it might not sound very impressive, but the gaming experience is from an entirely another dimension.

The game pace changes over time and the blocks start dropping faster and faster. In the beginning everything is quite relaxed, but sooner or later things start to happen so fast that complete planning becomes impossible and towards the end it's all just hectic panic. In the beginning, when the game itself is relaxing, the player can pay more attention to the complete audiovisual experience that is Lumines, enjoying the results of his actions portrayed in the background music. This occupies the player right off the bat. Of course, towards the end, the brain becomes so occupied with dropping blocks that no attention is paid to the music. For me it gets hazy after the fifth or sixth skin, and I have no recollection of what kind of music is played from that point on. Another neat thing is that when the game becomes more hectic, things start to automatically happen more quickly - because those blocks are dropping fast - and the music becomes increasingly more intense.

And now the interesting question: what can we learn from it? It would be interesting to try out something similar in user interfaces. Play background music and tie part of it to user actions. Produce small sounds when typing letters in a word processor, complete with a longer sound when a full line is written. Or a paragraph. Whatever the implementation, the key idea would be to use this kind of music generation to increase motivation. I think it would be most suitable for an application domain where user actions are relatively simple and doing them quickly is possible and desirable. In a way, something like this would make the rhythm and flow of work quite concrete.

While waiting for someone to come up with a working prototype, I recommend you to try Lumines (any version) or another game that uses the same kind of background music system such as Rez or Chime (neither of which I have been able to play yet, but will in the future as soon as I get an Xbox 360).

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