A music video game, also commonly known as a music game, is a video game where the gameplay is meaningfully and often almost entirely oriented around the player's interactions with a musical score or individual songs. Music video games may take a variety of forms and are often grouped with puzzle games due to their common use of "rhythmically generated puzzles.
Strong support for the convergence of live music and video games is evident with the success of the Video Games Live concert series. Emergent games for live concert performance, "game-scores," augment traditional western music notation with the dramatic elements of animation, interactivity, graphic elements and aleatoric principals (Anigraphical Music). The concept of incorporating Game Theory and music is not new and can be traced back to Musikalisches Würfelspiel.
Music video games are distinct from purely audio games (e.g. the 1997 Dreamcast release Real Sound: Kaze no Regret) in that they feature a visual feedback, to lead the player through the game's soundtrack, although eidetic music games can fall under both categories. As well, music video games are distinct from games about music videos (e.g. the 1992 Sega Mega-CD series Make My Video) in that music video games emphasize music whereas games about music videos often emphasize the video portion. Crossover titles such as Spice World may be about music videos but also contain musical elements to allow the music video game label.
An extremely popular series of games published by Konami in Japan that make up a significant proportion of total sales in the music video game genre, the "BEMANI series is named for Konami's music games division. The division's name is derived, in common Japanese syllabic abbreviation, from its flagship game, BEatMANIa. In Beatmania (1997), the player uses a set of buttons and a controller in the form of a DJ's turntable. The BEMANI series also includes several games requiring the use of controllers shaped like musical instruments, such as GuitarFreaks (1998) and DrumMania (1999). Bemani's musical arcade titles include Mambo a Go Go (2002) and Toy's March (2005).
Only a limited selection of the BEMANI games have been released outside of Asia, the most notable being Dance Dance Revolution (1998) (commonly abbreviated to DDR; also known as Dancing Stage in European release). In DDR, players step on or otherwise activate panels on a large (about 1 meter square) floor controller in time with an on-screen sequence. Home versions of the floor controller somewhat resemble the Nintendo Power Pad accessory. The overwhelming success of DDR and its sequels has spawned numerous re-creations or clones of the game or its mechanics, both commercial (as with EZ2Dancer, In the Groove, and In the Groove 2) and free (including StepMania, which is also FOSS, and also provided the engine for In the Groove). This makes DDR possibly the most duplicated music game in existence.
The BEMANI series can be credited with several trends in music games. One such trend is the use of novel, specialized game controllers, in both arcade and home versions (which Konami had also pioneered in non-music games such as Police 911). Another trend is the use of a sizable catalog of short mixes and covers of existing songs as well as songs produced in-house for the game which serve as a common basis for many members of the series. Many games in the series also have further sequels in which the main change is the selection of songs, and the mechanics of the gameplay remain similar to the original.
Harmonix Music Systems is an American game company that primarily makes music games. It first became famous for the game FreQuency (2001) and its sequel Amplitude (2003), both of which feature edits of existing songs (as well as original selections) and a gameplay similar to that of Beatmania.
Harmonix also produced Karaoke Revolution (2003) (published by Konami as a BEMANI game in the same vein as Dance Dance Revolution). In Karaoke Revolution, a player sings on-screen lyrics into a microphone along with accompanying background music (in the style of karaoke) and is scored on closeness of pitch between player and tune. Although now one of the most well-known pitch-oriented games, Karaoke Revolution was released three years after the publication of the Finnish PC game, PlaySingMusic (2000) by SoittoPeli (possibly the first such game) and its subsequent presentation at the LA iWireless World conference by Elmorex Ltd. in 2001.
A newer game by Harmonix, Guitar Hero (2005), has expanded into a popular series for which Harmonix is best known. Guitar Hero makes use of a guitar-shaped controller with five neck buttons. The sequel, Guitar Hero II, was released in November 2006.
After being bought by MTV in 2006, Harmonix began work on Rock Band. Former publisher RedOctane (now owned by Activision) turned the task of continuing the Guitar Hero franchise to Neversoft. Harmonix released Rock Band on November 20, 2007 in North America, with the game being published by EA Games. An expansion to Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (2007), was created prior to the release of Rock Band in order to fulfill the contractual obligations with Activision, as its development started prior to the ownership transfer.
iNiS is a video game developer most commonly known for their cult video game Gitaroo Man (2001) for the PlayStation 2 and their Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (2005) series for the Nintendo DS. All of iNiS' rhythm games were designed by Keiichi Yano. While the company has been around for many years, none of their previous games matched the recent success and support that Ouendan received. The popularity of Ouendan led to interest in the older game, Gitaroo Man. Published by Koei in 2002 throughout North America, which soon became difficult to find for sale as it gained cult status. In response to this demand, Koei resumed production to ship more copies which resulted in the elevation of Gitaroo Man from a cult video game to a sleeper hit. In addition, iNiS ported the game to Sony's handheld PlayStation Portable gaming device as Gitaroo Man Lives! (2006).
iNiS's success with these rhythm games prompted Nintendo, who was the publisher of Ouendan in Japan, to pressure iNiS to produce a spiritual sequel to Ouendan that would appeal more to North American audiences. The reason for this was that Ouendan included musical and cultural references that would make little sense outside of Japan. This resulted in the production of Elite Beat Agents in 2006. Elite Beat Agents includes well-known Western songs, all performed by cover bands. It also has a few new gameplay tweaks (see gameplay of Elite Beat Agents). On May 17, 2007 iNiS/Nintendo released (2007) in Japan as a direct sequel to the original Ouendan. Ouendan 2 featured new characters, situations, and Japanese music.
A Japanese video game company now known as NanaOn-Sha is credited with the creation of what is generally considered to be the first modern rhythm game, PaRappa the Rapper (1996). The gameplay generally involves repeating the rhythms of raps from another character (one per level), by pressing any of eight buttons on the game controller. The button sequences are displayed on a timeline at the top of the screen. Pressing a button plays a sample of PaRappa's voice corresponding to which button was pressed, regardless of whether the pressing of the button matches the appropriate rhythmic sequence or intended button selection. PaRappa can sometimes be heard to say "Oops!" if no sample is associated with the button at that moment.
The game is scored for sequence and timing, and adhering closely to the given timeline results in a passing grade. Unlike many other music games, the player may obtain an even higher score and access a special "COOL" mode of play by improvisational "freestyling" (though the algorithm by which this is scored is often nebulous and the results virtually unpredictable). The game's success resulted in the spinoff UmJammer Lammy (1999), which is based on guitar samples, and eventually a proper sequel, PaRappa the Rapper 2 (2002).
NanaOn-Sha also produced another novel series of music games including Vib-Ribbon (1999), Mojib-Ribbon (2003), and Vib-Ripple (2004), however these games were only released in Japan (and, in the case of Vib-Ribbon, Europe). The gameplay involved in Vib-Ribbon centered on the player's reactions to elements of the landscape which in turn resulted from the tone of the background music. The game came with a soundtrack, but players were additionally able to load their own music on CDs into the PS1 and an in-game algorithm would produce the resulting landscape based on waveform analysis. This freedom of landscape was again extended to players in the rhythm-centric Vib-Ripple, as the game allowed players to import images of their own choosing to serve as the background. As in the case of the waveform algorithm in Vib-Ribbon, Vib-Ripple contains an algorithm which converts externally loaded pictures into corresponding levels. Mojib-Ribbon followed a similar concept as the Vib titles, but used text files to create kanji rap-based rhythm gameplay.
The first step of Mizuguchi's newly-formed Q Entertainment was to develop the blockbuster Lumines (2004) for the PlayStation Portable. Lumines is a puzzle game in which the goal is to arrange like-colored falling blocks into squares which will then disappear. Like Rez (a game Mizuguchi had previously designed), each stage in Lumines has a unique musical and visual theme. In Lumines blocks marked to be cleared do not disappear immediately. Instead, a bar called the timeline sweeps across the screen in time with the music and clears away the properly arranged blocks, producing a musical effect in sync with the background music each time this happens. Sequels to Lumines include Lumines Live! (2006) and Lumines II (2006).
Following the release of Lumines II, Q Entertainment released a PSP title called Every Extend Extra (2006). Every Extend Extra is as an abstract action game in which power-ups dropped by enemies, named "quickens", increase the speed of both the player and the enemy, as well as the speed of that drive's music. Like Rez, the basic gameplay itself appears unrelated to the music, however the music reacts to the gameplay in such a way as to produce a concert effect.
The same year Q Entertainment also created Gunpey (2006), a puzzle game for the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP based on the classic formula from Gunpei Yokoi's Wonderswan game. It bears Mizuguchi's signature design previously seen in games such as Lumines, where every skin has a different mood, different background music, and different specific sound effects.
Q Entertainment's most recent release was a high-definition version of Rez entitled Rez HD (2008) for the Xbox 360 that additionally includes vibrational support for up to four controllers. In interviews, Mizuguchi has suggested holding one, placing one on the back, and placing one's feet upon the other two.
Sonic Team produced only one music video game prior to merging with United Game Artists. This Sega Dreamcast game, entitled Samba de Amigo (1999), involved the use of a set of maraca peripherals which were shaken in one of three positions corresponding to on-screen cues and the rhythm of the soundtrack.
Simultaneously another Sega division called Sega AM9, led by designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, produced its first and last music video game under the Sega AM9 name. Space Channel 5 (1999), another game for the Dreamcast, has the player control Ulala, a swingin' reporter for the titular broadcast network, Space Channel 5. Ulala defeats her enemies (which include aliens, robots, and nefarious humans) by mesmerizing them with her dancing and/or singing, then incapacitating them with her raygun. The control scheme follows an eidetic format, with players repeating increasing sequences of button presses in time with the ever-present music.
In 2000, the Sega AM9 division was renamed United Game Artists and became a semi-autonomous subsidiary. Under this new name, the division's next title was Rez (2001), a unique synaesthetic rail shooter for Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, destined to became a cult favorite. In Rez, the player flies through a psychedelic, abstract landscape while a Techno or Breakbeat track plays. Whenever the player locks on to an enemy, shoots, or uses a special ability, there is both a musical and a visual effect which occurs in time with the playing track. The controller's vibrating motors pulse in time with the beat, and the game also featured support for a Rez-specific accessory called the Rez Trance Vibrator which similarly vibrated in correspondence with the music created. The sensory experiences offered by the game (visual, auditory, and tactile) are all closely interwoven, and the unique audio/visual experience earned Rez many excellent reviews, although sales were lackluster. Renewed interest in the title as well as its cult status have prompted Mizuguchi to release an updated high-definition version entitled Rez HD (2008), although this version has been released by his new development company, Q Entertainment.
The last title developed by UGA before it's absorption into Sonic Team was Space Channel 5: Part 2 (2002), a direct sequel to Space Channel 5. Space Channel 5: Part 2 dropped the FMV backgrounds from Part 1 and instead featured a more dynamic presentation. It also added instrument-based sequences in which the main character played the guitar or drums. It was generally hailed as a major improvement over its precursor, yet it failed to capture the same commercial success.
In 2003, UGA was absorbed by Sonic Team as a result of which former UGA lead designer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, and several other left to form Q Entertainment. Since the merger of UGA and Sonic Team, Sonic Team has not produced any strict music video games, although members of the former UGA staff (now under the Sonic Team name) have included musical mini-games in their 2004 release, Feel the Magic: XY/XX.
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