Devlog 27 - Level 2-4, 2-5

Published: March 4, 2022

This week I managed to crank out two new levels to finish off world 2. Before going into that, though, I've got some exciting news!

Rhythm Quest for Switch

Rhythm Quest has been approved for development on Nintendo Switch! My previous application was rejected (ostensibly because the project was too early in development), but I decided to reapply using my new gameplay trailer, was accepted into the dev program!

I'll be waiting a bit until I can get a devkit, but for the time being I've already managed to get the build compiling for Switch, and have set up another local Jenkins job to run those builds. Of course, whether it actually =runs= properly on the hardware is another question entirely -- and even if it does, I'm not sure controller support will work right out of the gate.

I'll have to sit down at some point and spend a bunch of time working on porting console-specific stuff like saving/loading, controller support, rumble/vibration, etc. Most of the actual Switch SDK and such is under NDA, so I probably won't be delving into too much detail, but I'm sure when the time comes I'll have some more design-oriented thoughts to point out.

Level 2-4: Snowy Peak

Here's a video of level 2-4, currently titled "Snowy Peak":

The only real gameplay conceit for this level is the introduction of double-hit flying enemies, which shouldn't need too much handholding since it's a natural combination of previously-introduced mechanics. Besides that, it's just more of the same standard Rhythm Quest charting that you're familiar with already, though I'm starting to introduce slightly more complex rhythms -- offbeat notes, and flight path sequences. It's a tricky balance -- I want to introduce these gradually to start getting players familiar with them, but if I go overboard with one particular level it could become overwhelming.

I'm using more major 7ths for the music, as I have been with most of the other songs in this world. Now that we're past the earlier levels, I also have a slightly different (more lazy...) approach to melody-writing. With the earlier levels I had more restrictions on what types of rhythms I could and couldn't use -- no syncopation, etc. -- because I needed to work within the constraints of the mechanics that had been presented up until that point, as well as use a sparse note density to ensure the difficulty isn't too high. So it's easier for me to focus on the obstacles first, and then come up with a melody that aligns with that generally.

Now, though, syncopation/off beats are on the table, and I have multiple ways of expressing various eighth-note patterns (doublehit enemies, air jumps, etc.). So I tend to approach it from the other direction more often, where I come from the melody side first, and then think about how to chart it afterwards. Of course, they're still very much intertwined and I always think about both while I'm writing, but I think the biggest difference is that I sprinkle in melodic lines according to a vague guideline in my head, and it's only afterwards that I figure out exactly whether each note is going to be an air jump or a doublehit enemy or what-have-you.

For the backgrounds, I referenced some snowy mountain photos and drew some simple jagged shading. The clouds are filled in with two colors, just using a circle brush at varying sizes. There really isn't a lot of detail, but it works out fine, I think. Towards the end of the stage there's a snow particle effect, and that was pretty trivial to get working -- it's a copy-paste of the falling leaves/petals, but with different sprites and slightly tweaked properties.

Level 2-5: Stratosphere

This is the final level for world 2, so it serves to provide one last challenge using a mix of all of the mechanics used to far. Levels 2-3 and 2-4 were on the slower side -- 100BPM and 110BPM -- so I wanted this one to be a bit faster. It was actually 125 BPM to start, but I bumped it up to 130BPM...and finally down to 128BPM since that seemed a liiiitle too fast.

The graphics for this level mark the first time that I'm expanding the color palette and using a 9th color. I fiddled around for a long while trying to organize the color indices to get it to work with just 8 like the rest of the levels, but in the end I was having a hard time getting the level floor to stand out from the bright strip of clouds in the latter half of the level. In the end, readability and the desire to keep the lush color scheme won out over the elegance of restricting myself to the same color range. I'm still keeping the first half of the level at 4 colors, though, at least.

This level continues the trend of featuring a little more syncopation, and is possibly a liiiitle too difficult at 2.07 actions/second (level 2-4 is 1.75 actions/second), but we'll see. I'm also learning as I go how to give affordances to make charts more readable, especially when syncopation is involved. For example, the rhythm "[pause] [hit] [hit] [hit]" starts on an off-beat and can be written three different ways: with a basic enemy then a doublehit enemy, or with a doublehit then a basic, or alternatively with three basic enemies. Whenever these sorts of rhythms appear I'm forcing doublehit enemies to appear on downbeats, as that's more readable. I also try to start and stop slope changes -- especially for flight paths -- on downbeats to help with this.

Rhythm Quest as-is doesn't have any sort of "beat grid" to help with this sort of thing, and notes aren't color-coded depending on their beat offsets, so this sort of consistent readability is important to me to help make charts easier to sightread. Of course, I could always add in a more explicit beat grid (maybe as an accessibility toggle?), but I do maintain that part of what makes the game cool for me is its ability to leverage the visual language of runner games to allow players to react to rhythms without being shown explicit timings.

Developing the "visual language" of Rhythm Quest charts has been a really interesting emergent property of the mechanics. One more example is that heavily syncopated / off-beat rhythms are much easier to read as jumps as opposed to attacks. This is partly because air jump wings are placed =at= the beat rather than behind the beat (as enemies are), but mostly because air jumps have a built-in way of displaying rhythm based on height differences.

That's it for this week! I'm having a lot of fun putting in these new levels and it's nice to see everything working together smoothly. Making the music and charts is probably the most rewarding part of working on Rhythm Quest, so it's something I look forward to doing a lot more of in coming months. I can really feel my experience as a music producer/composer helping to make this process really smooth as well...I've been able to finish the song and chart for a level in one day, and then spend a second day on backdrops and color palettes, which means I should usually be able to get through two each week, barring having to work on implementing other features.

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