Totally Important Games: Audio Surf



A long while back, before I conceived this blog, I was considering writing a long series of articles about games I considered to be Totally Important. Not necessarily to gamers, but to designers, in part to be awed by and mimic their great ideas, but also to learn from them in a broader sense. Not always great games or great ideas, but great learning experiences and great examples.

I’ve pulled out the list of games I wrote down, and I want to talk today about Audiosurf. It’s a great indie title by Dylan Fitterer — you can pick it up on Steam for about 10 bucks, and it’s totally worth it. Audiosurf is an amazing title not because it’s really challenging or deep (though it can be pretty tricky!) but because of it’s intelligent, procedural implementation of music, and it’s open play concept that lets anyone enjoy the game.

If you havn’t tried it yet, here’s how Audiosurf works. You play as a ship of some sort, flying down a techno-highway of lights and colors and you gather and avoid colored blocks in the road. It’s dead simple. There’s two key play modes, the standard where you collect colored blocks and stack them in a cue, then score for accumulating enough of them while avoiding overflowing the cue, and there’s the Mono modes where you collect colored blocks and avoid grey blocks with no greater complications.

The game has an interesting approach to level design, however — it generates its tracks from an MP3 file of your choice. The game analyzing the structure of the audio file and constructs a smooth track that rises, falls and turns to match the music you’ve picked, and places color blocks on the beats and with notes. The key idea here is that you play your music.

How does it work out? Pretty spectacularly. The game’s trippy visuals are good — though the game could offer more visual themes or styles comfortably without hurting its appeal; maybe in Audiosurf 2 — but it’ emphasis on YOUR audio makes it a winner for anyone who even casually likes to listen to music.

Being the big geek that I am, I like to wander over to OCRemix and download a few remixed retro game tracks, or load up an album from my music collection — some Matthew Good Band maybe, or Queens of the Stone Age. (I make no apologies for my musical tastes, by the way.) For me, Audiosurf presents a strange and rare opportunity — a chance to sit and listen to music and really feel engaged with it. I have a hard time being idle for anything; I have to be writing or drawing or reading or something, and that detracts from what I’m listening to, sometimes to the point where I don’t even hear it anymore. Audiosurf, however, lets me stay engaged in a way that doesn’t let the music slip past me.

Even to compare to Rockband, or Elite Beat Agents, or DDR, or any other rhythm game, Audiosurf is superior, if I’m looking to listen to music — no destructive sound effects, custom soundtrack, and they game is so relaxed in a broad sense that while I’m actively playing it, the music still gets more attention then the game itself — with other games, the music comes second.

And that is why Audiosurf is a game I’m convinced is totally important. You should check it out — there is a demo available that’ll give you a complete idea of what it’s like before you shell out your dollars for it.


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