Is there a space between practicing music and playing video games? Can it enhance the experience of both? During my final year at the RCA I designed and made a prototype video game and set of controllers to explore the idea.
The game uses familiar Bemani conventions – play your part correctly (as dictated by the coloured lines scrolling past), and the brass band stays in time and together; play it wrong and they drop their instruments, walking off in disgust.
The game design is based on a traditional Whit Friday brass band march contest held in villages in the north of England every June. I arranged the in-game music. It’s a Nintendo-style chiptune arrangement of one of William Rimmer’s most famous marches – Punchinello. You can listen to the whole tune here.
The main difference between this game and other Guitar Hero-style games is that the keypress combinations and theme music melody are directly mapped to a real instrument – the idea being that by playing the game, you are also learning a fingering pattern to play the theme tune on a real instrument.
I starting learning the trumpet at 10, and I remember playing video games far more than practicing, which is probably why I ended up going to art school. I would spend hours learning sequences of carefully-timed keypresses, timing jumps or special moves, probably using many of the exact same learning processes involved in practicing music. Maybe if I’d had this as a kid, I’d have got more of those dreaded scales ‘into the fingers’…
The larger instruments were painted wooden models, but I built a working cornet prototype hooked up to a game done in Flash (with a lot of help!). The main body was cast polyurethane rubber, with turned aluminum and acrylic valves, hooked up to microswitches which generated the keypresses inside the game.
This work won first prize in the Conran Foundation Awards at the Royal College of Art show in 2006. I got to meet Terence Conran, who seemed faintly mystified by the whole project.