If I had to choose one game from the Rezzed event as my Game of the Show, it would go to Beatbuddy without a doubt. I suppose that Sir You are Being Hunted might have rivalled it, but I didn’t get to play the quintessentially English game. Beatbuddy though was something else.
Denis Rogic Art Director on Beatbuddy described it as being a mix of two genres. “It is an action adventure, and it’s everything you’d expect from that, literally: free movement, fights, puzzles, exploration and all those things. But we have this other layer of music in there which is… this is where the game gets beautiful, because literally the entire environment, everything, every game mechanic is related to music and…that’s what I meant: once you’ve played it you will see a very different view because then you then understand the beauty of it”
Denis has a point, it isn’t easy to describe the game without playing it, but even just watching it gives you a taste for what is to come. I found myself coming back to the stand at the show a couple of times, transfixed by the wonderful art and amazingly adorable lead character, Beatbuddy.
It hasn’t been easy though for the team at THREAKS to get it this far with release just about a month away. “We started four years ago, actually. We were a group of students and we were stupid enough to think we could make games” Denis told me when I asked about the development process. The version on show at Rezzed “took us eleven months to make; we scrapped every single iteration we did, we scrapped completely and started over again because at some point you just realise that ‘this doesn’t work, we should start over’”
While development started four years ago, it wasn’t until the team received investment a year and a half ago that they could expand up to eight people. Despite this small expansion, Denis revealed that “none of our team members have ever released a game, so this is like our first time and we are really curious with what’s going to happen.”
There might only be eight full-time members of the team working on Beatbuddy, but they have been lucky enough to get some support from some of the biggest names in the industry. Perhaps the most eye catching name involved in the game is Rhianna Pratchett who has worked on titles as diverse as Mirror’s Edge and Tomb Raider.
The initial story in Beatbuddy was written by Denis and game designer Laurens di Gier, neither of whom are writers. Denis was worried about how it was coming together, at times he couldn’t even sleep because of the worry. Help was at hand though in a story which just goes to show how alive and encouraging the indie development community is. Austin Wintory who had done the soundtrack on Journey was helping out with the art on Beatbuddy and was also friends with Rhianna.
From there, as Denis tells is: “Rhianna contacted Austin to ask ‘Dude, do you know someone who is in need for writers, especially indies?’ – and he knew us so he got in contact because of that. And she took the story – you have to imagine the entire game was done, we even had the cutscenes done, and she just re-wrote it, and made a story out of it and… it’s incredible! She’s… I don’t even know how she does that, it’s just amazing and she literally polished the entire script, worked with that what she got and made a story out of it.”
There was only one level playable at the show, so sadly I was unable to really see how the story comes into play, and Denis assures me that there is a funny tale to be told. “When I read the script I laughed so many times, really hard and I’m so happy about that! There are some comedy moments, and we like to make the game as quirky as we could because that’s how we feel it should be.” It certainly does feel quirky, but definitely in a good way. From the way Beatbuddy himself moves to the environmental objects that are hooked up to the music, it comes across in a very unique way, but one that is definitely fun to play around with.
As you play you see your route blocked by creatures moving to the beat of the music, while at one point in the demo I played you jump into a little ship. This ship moves with the music and you can get a big jump by timing your button presses with the music allowing you to burst through some obstacles. It is amazing how well it all fits in together and I was intrigued how it works. Denis told me that “We actually built some tech for that, so we have separate stems, and we kind of built them into the engine and it generates the animation out of it. So we have pre-determined animation, but the timing is done by the engine. Getting that right took us a lot of iterations because sometimes stuff is confusing and it’s tough, and since we don’t have many points of reference for that, we did a lot – a lot – of playtests.”
It should come as no surprise then to learn that the story itself is all about music, the game world is called Symphonia and Denis said that the world literally is music. “there are three guardians who channel that called Beat, Harmony and Melody and at some point the Prince figures out that this is actually happening, and that this is the source of the power, so he tries to gather and channel it to himself, which brings the entire world out of balance. Beatbuddy wakes up, sees that the two other guardians are gone and figures out what’s going on and how to fix that.”
Playing Beatbuddy feels wonderful and it is really down to how the team at Threaks have managed to interlink the music with what happens in the game. I’ve still got the electric tone and beat of the game in my head a week after playing it and memories of the gorgeous art style will stick with me until the game is released. Of the games I played, Beatbuddy was easily my favourite and I can’t wait for launch.