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Ugh, stop twitching
audiosurf vs. the music game genre
music Posted 2010-02-01 21:42:17 by Jim Crawford
Playing a good music game, I slip into a groove with the song and get to know it from the inside. When I'm playing at my best, it feels like I'm letting my conscious mind go, so my reptile can brain take over, process the audial and visual information in synchronicity and translate the patterns directly into commands to send to my limbs or fingers. To “become one with the music” is a cliche because it happens and it is awesome. After mastering a song in a rhythm game, I find that I understand the song, musically, much better. This is the magic of rhythm games: they put you inside the song and show you how the music is constructed, by giving you high-level visual patterns to match with the music and asking you to prove that you “get” them.

Sometimes I get into a similar flow-state in Audiosurf, finishing with an unexpectedly high score. Afterward, I invariably realize that I was completely ignoring the music. The visual information presented by Audiosurf is mostly random. The patterns that connect to the music are coarse-grained at best and misleading at worst. It is not edifying. By associating itself with games like Amplitude and Rock Band, Audiosurf is a scam.

Sidebar: Impressed by Audiosurf's pattern-detection code? Here, let me ruin the magic for you. Audiosurf looks for three patterns in the audio stream, all trivial to detect from a DSP standpoint:

  • Periodicity in the low frequencies. This allows Audiosurf to undulate the “road” at the tempo of the song.
  • Transients covering a wide spectrum, such as a distorted guitar stab or a snare drum. This allows Audiosurf to place colored blocks that, more or less, fit the music. Often, it screws up and places a block slightly ahead or behind the stab, asking the user to internalize false patterns.
  • The overall loudness of the music, which feeds into the speed of the player's vehicle and the slope of the road.
The rest is just tuning the algorithms involved. Well, that, and the human brain's tendency to see patterns that don't exist.
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comments
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Posted by Anonymous (Craig Timpany) on 2010-02-08 02:09:35
My least favourite part of Audiosurf was trying to play the Columns-esque colour-matching game while intercepting blocks speeding over the horizon. I've never been able to split my attention between the two. I'm not the only one that has this problem. 80% of the leaderboard entries are people playing Mono.

Which reminds me of my 2nd-to-least favourite aspect: the absurd number of game modes. They should've picked one and perfected it.
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