Here’s How Shmusicup Works

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A few weeks ago, we reported development of Shmusicup, a shoot-em-up that determines bullet patterns based on MP3s in your playlist. Developed by Tzai Entertainment in Singapore, Shmusicup is being worked on by a three-man team.


We recently caught up with Tzai Entertainment co-founder, Vincent Low, to learn how Shmusicup works and how the team went about designing it.


Could you give us a little background on Tzai Entertainment? When was it founded, and what are your roots?


Tzai co-founder, Vincent Low: Tzai Entertainment is a games studio based in Singapore, newly founded in 2010. We are a team of three developers, and are actually working from different locations in the world in a virtual office setup.


I used to work for Rare Ltd, Microsoft Game Studios in the UK. I currently do both art and programming at Tzai Entertainment. (Basically most indies end up doing everything!)


Our development team, though small, is well-experienced and highly skilled. Titles that members of our team have worked on include Kinect Sports (Xbox 360), Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii / PSP), Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (Xbox 360), Overlord: Dark Legend (Wii) etc.


We love playing and creating games of all genres. Generally fun, innovative and polished games attract us most. Our dream is to create awesome games that everyone would love! We are working hard towards this goal, and hope that everybody would enjoy our games and support us!


Your first project is Shmusicup, which is a shoot-em-up that uses music from the player’s MP3 playlist to determine bullet patterns. What kind of music did you build the game around during development?


We keep a library of music from different genres and test our game with all kinds of songs. From heavy metal to pop to R&B and even classical, we put them into the game and design around them. Obviously, we had to try out some Dragonforce songs too!


Sometimes a bullet pattern that we designed works really well for one song but not so for another, so there is lots of tweaking to cater for all kinds of tunes.



How do different kinds of instruments influence bullet patterns? Or is it based on an equalizer, rather than the music itself?


We don’t really detect for instruments, instead we determine the patterns partly based on the equalizer and mostly from the intensity of the music.


Sparing the boring maths of how our algorithm works, basically an upbeat song’s pattern will be radically different from a ballad’s pattern. You can even see the difference in a pop song with a slow verse and an intense chorus.


How do you go about making sure people have a good experience despite the kind of music they use?


This is one of the important aspects we look out for when designing the game. Most music based games tend to rely on the kind of music for difficulty, with really fast and intense songs being the hardest and slow songs being too easy. What we want to achieve in Shmusicup is to let players have fun regardless of the music they listen to.


There are different enemies of various difficulty levels to choose from, so that players can still have a great time by selecting an easy enemy if you are a casual shoot-em-up player but listen to insanely fast metal. Conversely you can still make the game challenging with slow music by choosing the harder bosses.


Obviously one of the cool things about music based games is seeing the complexity of the hardest possible level generated by music (and overcoming them!), and Shmusicup allows you to do that too!


In the trailer you released, it wasn’t really clear just how the music was influencing bullet patterns, but since you’re still actively working on the game, will it ultimately reach a stage where knowing a song and its beats will help you predict bullet patterns to an extent?


As we mentioned, Shmusicup generates the bullet patterns based on the intensity of the music.


So instead of a direct interpretation of the equaliser where all numerical data are crunched and automatically converted into bullets in a factory-manufactured way, we designed the bullet patterns more as a representation of the pace/intensity of the song.


The game analyses your music, then generates patterns in sync to the beats with complexity to reflect the rhythm. Just imagine being able to play the cool music visualization of your MP3 player!


What other shoot-em-ups did you draw inspiration from and in what way?


We love shoot-em-ups, and we were inspired from many different games from various ages. In particular, we really liked rRootage by indie developer Kenta Cho. Its bossfights-only gameplay makes it very engaging and straightforward. You can clearly see the influence of it in our game.


Any shoot-em-up fan would be familiar with Touhou Project by Team Shanghai Alice, as many of our fans have mentioned. We really love Touhou, but we do also understand that not all players are that hardcore so we do design some of our levels to cater for more entry-level players. After all we want to introduce the shoot-em-up genre to a wider audience!


Other really cool shoot-em-ups we like that may have indirectly inspired us are Ikaruga by Treasure, Warning Forever by Hikware and the R-Type series by Irem, just to name a few.



Who’s the cute lady mascot you play as?


Meet Lyric, the main character of Shmusicup. Lyric is a pilot who takes part in the Music Arena Battles. Much like a gladiator, she flies and fights against giant mechanical beasts powered by music, in an effort to become the best pilot in the arena!


Players will be able to choose from three different suits that have different characteristics such as score multiplier system, shooting pattern and stats etc.


Could you give us an idea as to when you’re aiming to release the game and on what platforms?


We are aiming for an early 2011 release, and are working very hard towards this. The game is currently on PC but we are also looking at various other platforms to launch the game in. Please stay tuned for future updates and announcements!

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Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.