Day three of PAX Australia was a hectic wrap-up to an amazing event, and we were lucky enough to get an opportunity to speak to some fantastic indie developers. One that we’d like to highlight is Nick from Drastic Games, as we talk about their upcoming rhythm-based hack n’ slash game Soundfall.
Check out the video below for the interview, or if you’re unable to watch it, you can read the transcript further down…
David: Hi this is David from Switchaboo and we’ve got Nick here from the team that made Soundfall. How are you, Nick?
Nick: I’m doing great, how about yourself?
David: Good, thank you. So, Soundfall has received a really good reception at the conference, there are a lot of people at the booth, what has been your response to this?
Nick: It’s great to see. I mean, you spend like two years making the game so far and hadn’t announced it until recently and we don’t know what people are going to think. We think it’s great, but it’s really putting in front of people to test your idea and seeing people gravitate towards it makes us feel like we’re on the right track.
David: What have been the best reactions you’ve seen from people coming to play the game so far?
Nick: When people start dancing while they’re playing is one of my favourites. So sometimes people will try to sneak a video of that and post it to social media.
David: Are you dancing in the background as well?
Nick: Yeah, exactly!
David: Beautiful! So first off, tell us a little bit about what Soundfall is and what your aim was with Soundfall.
Nick: Soundfall is a rhythm-based dungeon crawler where the dungeons are procedurally-generated based on the music. It’s as if you’re entering the physical representation of that song that you’re playing. While you’re in there, the whole world reacts to the music and you as a player are rewarded for doing the actions to the beat of the music as well.
David: That’s very cool! So when you say procedurally-generated, therefore the worlds aren’t actually created before you launch the song, right?
Nick: So basically when it picks the song, it runs a series of audio analysis algorithms. From there, it determines a whole bunch of actions to the song and try to figure out what type of environment best fits that song and then basically takes a whole bunch of level chunks that are kind of like Lego blocks. That comes together to build a level that we think fits the mood of the song.
David: Very cool! Tell us a bit about these Lego blocks. For instance, what do they look like when we go look at them.
Nick: Basically they’re like small squares or rectangles that can stitch together in cool and interesting ways. Within those, there are different ways that they can configure themselves and different attributes of music might yield different types of things within those like maybe more or less encounters, the different types of enemies you’ll see, the type of loot drops you’ll find; things like that.
David: Yeah! Tell us a bit about how in the trailer there are a lot of visualisers and whatnot in the background that were pumping away as you play the game to the beat. Was that something that was always intended to be there?
Nick: Absolutely! So first of all, we wanted to feel like it was a music visualiser. So you’re playing the game and even if you’re standing still, the world need to feel alive; it needs to feel like you are physically in the song. That kind of helps you as the player with everything reacting to the beat to find that beat, whether it be consciously focusing on something or subconsciously keeping tempo.
David: And you noticed the people dancing so obviously it’s really infiltrating the subconscious.
Nick: It helps a lot! If you’re dancing to the game or tapping your foot, it really helps to keep the beat.
David: Yeah! So how did you guys choose the music behind the game?
Nick: Well we’re trying to get a wide variety of genres included in our soundtrack as far as original music goes. So we’ve been listening to a lot of stuff online and trying to find artists that we think would be up and coming and great fits across a variety of different genres.
David: Very cool! Any artist that you’d like to name in particular?
Nick: Well I’ll talk about our demo right now. The two DJs that we have are DJ Striden and Jovian and if you’ve got a chance to play to see the track generated, it’s pretty cool with the variety of environments that are pretty fun to play. For the demo we’ve been focusing on stuff that has a very easy to find beat, it’s very obvious, but in the full game there will be a lot of stuff that’s easy to find.
David: Right, so lots of syncopation and complicated stuff like that?
Nick: Exactly! If something has a really strong bass line, that going to be a lot easier to play, especially if you’re a first-time player. So we’re trying to ease people in but in the real game, you’ll get a variety of genres and different difficulties.
David: So tell us a little bit about the team behind Soundfall. We’ve got you, Nick… oh sorry, you’re Nick (Laughs).
Nick: (laughs) We actually do have another Nick as well!
David: Oh cool, I didn’t make a mistake then (laughs). But yeah, tell us about your team and what made you band together to make this game and basically who are you guys?
Nick: Me and Julian are the co-founders of the company, we are two full-time team members. We met working at Epic Games together and we eventually decided to break off and start Drastic Games. Aside from that, we’ve been able to draft a lot of awesome talent that’s come in with various things like our concept art, sound effects, obviously the music, character modelling and stuff like that.
David: Concerning the story, the main protagonist appears to be wearing headphones that allows her to enter this world that is beautiful and full of music. Tell us a bit about Soundfall and the world behind it.
Nick: In Soundfall, The first character you start as is Melody who ends up becoming the lead of an ensemble cast. Think of your Leonardo and your Red Ranger and she is an audio file who mysteriously gets transported into Symphonia, which is this physical embodiment of music. So as you can see in the trailer, she puts her headphones on and falls into this world. While she is there, she discover that the world is being encroached upon by this dark ancient force, the Discordians. In order to get back to the real world, she ends up having to fight through them.
David: I love the names that you have in Soundfall: Melody, Symphonia, Discordians; it’s wonderful!
Nick: Yeah we’re trying to keep it all music themed.
David: Is the major boss called ‘Hearing Loss’ or something like that?
Nick: (Laughs) Probably not, but we’ll see.
David: Using beats and rhythm as a platform is a really unique mechanic, can you tell us a little bit more about this mechanic and how it affects the way that you play the game?
Nick: The mechanic actually came about through playtesting with a small group of friends local to us. They were like ‘I wish I could do something on-beat,’ because everything else is acting on-beat. So we tried that, we prototyped it really quick and they loved it so we moved forward with it. So you can do things like firing your gun, swinging your sword or evading; each one of those actions is enhanced in some way if its on-beat instead of off. Your ranged weapons will approximately be twice as powerful and won’t overheat your weapon; sword swings will be longer range and you’ll be able to chain a combo together and your dashes will have zero recovery time so you can just chain those together and dart around the level as fast as you want.
David: How big is the range for when you have to hit that beat, for those who aren’t good at keeping track of rhythm?
Nick: We are pretty generous with what we consider on-beat. We’ll probably continue tuning that throughout development based on feedback now that we’re really exposing it to a lot of people, like here at PAX. But we leave it pretty generous because there’s a lot going on in the game. You’re not just trying to hit the beat, you’re trying to avoid attacks, attack enemies, solve puzzles, so you’re kind of multitasking a lot.
David: Have you ever thought about letting people upload their own music to the game and then going to their own beat considering it’s procedurally-generated?
Nick: Absolutely! There’s obviously a lot of trickiness there with the legal side of things but as far as things go, we’ve been talking to some streaming services and record labels about giving us licenses to import things so that streamers and YouTubers on the user end can upload and stream their content and not get in legal trouble for that. That’s something that we’re continuing to work on but we’re going to make sure that whatever type of music you like to listen to play, you’ll be able to hopefully find something like that in the soundtrack and pull it from external sources.
David: Wow, that’s really cool!
Nick: We’ll have a lot more details on that in the near-future. We’re going to keep working on it and build out that tracklist.
David: I look forward to listening to a lot of indie soundtracks but I also look forward to rick-rolling people via Soundfall.
Nick: Oh Absolutely! That’s super important to us!
David & Nick: (Laughing)
David: The art actually reminds me a little bit of the iOS game Transistor and Alex commented before that it reminded him of Disney. What were the influences behind the art style of Soundfall?
Nick: Well those are actually big influences of ours as well and really flattering comparisons. Especially Transistor, We love Supergiant Games! We wanted something that was bright, vibrant, colorful and energetic. Traditionally rhythm games are very upbeat, high energy and very colorful and flashing and we kind of wanted to bring that into Soundfall as well to preserve that.
David: Right, so it’s an eyegasm as well as an eargasm.
Nick: Yeah, exactly!
David: So you mentioned before that you were from Epic Games who are well known for Fortnite, Gears of War and for their Unreal engine. So what learnings from your past experiences with Unreal engine have you taken and implemented into your game now?
Nick: Just about everything. I spent like the majority of my career working at Epic Games before breaking off to start our own thing. So obviously Soundfall is made in Unreal because know Unreal very well due to our past experience. I think the biggest is learning how to make moment-to-moment gameplay that is super crunchy and gratifying; every sword swing, every shot of the weapon needs to feel super fun to do, every time it should feel great.
David: So every time you hit a beat you’ll get a bit of a screen shake?
Nick: A little bit of screen shake, a little bit of rumble, a little bit of pause in the animation when things impact to make it feel extra powerful.
David: That’s really exciting! So you guys were software for Unreal originally, was it more on the aspects of project management or development?
Nick: We were more on the game side. So Julian came from a level design background and I came from a gameplay development background.
David: Beautiful! So tell us a bit about the process of development. Not to get too much into specifics but what was your sort of workflow?
Nick: It’s pretty crazy! Our team is mostly remote. My house is basically the central office, I guess. Sometimes Julian will come and will crunch out something like a demo for a couple weeks or months. We basically do task-tracking online, talk on Slack constantly and do our meetings over Discord.
David: And everything is sort of combining Blueprint and those sorts of things from Unreal?
Nick: Yeah well I ended up doing a lot of work on the C++ side and then Blueprint for specific abilities and specific weapons, but the main implementations are all C++.
David: Would you have any advice for people trying to get into the game’s industry so that they can get started on making games?
Nick: Well first thing I would do is to basically start making small projects. Ideally pick some super simple game, like an 80s arcade game or something, and try to clone it. You’re going to learn a lot just from trying to mimic someone else before you start adding in all of your wild ideas. That’ll be a really nice baseline for when you start working on your next project, you start doing something a little more original. But try to imitate something that’s very good and very simple and don’t try to overscope. Also, keep building game after game and make sure that you finish them so that there’s a cohesive demo there to show people and be proud of.
David: Awesome! This comes from a man with more than ten years experience – he’s a veteran. So is there anything else you’d like to say to our audience at Switchaboo?
Nick: Well, check out Soundfall, watch our trailer and hopefully see us at the next expo.
David: Where is the best place that they can check it out?
David: And when should we expect Soundfall to come to the Nintendo Switch?
Nick: We’re aiming for late 2019.
David: Right. So that’s Nick from Drastic Games and David from Switchaboo. Thank you for listening (or reading).
What do you think of Soundfall? Will you be playing it on Nintendo Switch? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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