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Q&A: The 'rhythm violence' of Thumper

September 28, 2015 | By Lena LeRay

September 28, 2015 | By Lena LeRay
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More: Console/PC, Indie, Audio, Design, Production, Video

I got a chance to try Drool's indie game Thumper at Tokyo Game Show. It's definitely a rhythm game, but it isn't like any other I've played.

"We hope that we're bringing something new to the genre, sort of creating a subgenre which we call 'rhythm violence,'" says Drool co-founder Marc Flury. "It's just a different way to experience music and games together."

The gameplay is as simple as it is brutal--the only controls used on the PS4 controller are the left joystick and the X button. And Drool also created some unique audio and visual design. Flury took some time at TGS to answer some questions about Thumper, touching on his and his development partner's past experience, their design goals, and the graphics of the game.

Please tell me a bit about your experience in game development overall.

I've been a professional game developer for 10 years. I started my career at Harmonix in 2005 and worked there for six years. Four years ago, I moved to Korea an I became a full time indie working on Thumper, which is my first game. I've always been a programmer, and now I do programming and game design for Thumper.

You say that you've been doing it professionally for ten years; Does that mean that you made games on your own time before that? What was your programming experience before that?

I did game-like things. I never really finished anything before that. I studied computer science for four years at university and in I school. I mean, I was always a gamer, so it's what I always wanted to do.

What all games did you work on at Harmonix?

"We wanted to make the rhythmic stuff feel super impactful in a way that rhythm games usually don't"

Well, I look like a genius now, 'cause Harmonix was actually around for about ten years before I joined and I joined right when they were working on the first Guitar Hero, which was their first big hit, or course. So I was a user interface programmer on Guitar Hero 1 and 2, Rock Band 1 and 2, Beatles Rock Band, and I was the lead programmer on Dance Central 1 and 2, as well.

Have you found that your experience with user interfaces on the Harmonix games have been useful with Thumper? If so, how?

Yeah, somewhat. A lot of what we did at Harmonix was about: How do you communicate time and space together for beat matching, for rhythmic stuff? What kind of effects work to tell you that you've hit something, or missed it? How do you make that stuff readable but still look cool? That's a lot of the stuff we've had to do in Thumper. My partner that I work with is also from Harmonix, and he was an effects artist there for a long time.

Were Amplitude and Frequency influences on the development of Thumper and its design?

I think those games have influenced all the music games, or rhythm games, that have come after [them]. So, yeah. I think that a lot of what we were trying to do with Thumper wasn't really related to the Harmonix games we were making. We started out wanting to make a game that's really stripped down and simple, and then focus on making the rhythmic stuff feel super impactful in a way that rhythm games usually don't. Most of them are about throwing more and more notes at you, or having more and more buttons to press. We were trying to see how far we could take one button and one stick and make it feel good.

Was minimalism part of the game from the very beginning, or did you consider multiple tracks to traverse, for instance, adding more complexities to the game?

It was always kind of a guiding principle, and then we've always kinda strayed away from it and come back in different ways. Like, you've just played the first level of the full game. The track will get wider, you'll have to go left and right at some points, but keeping it simple and pure has always been a goal. Though even between the two of us, my partner and I, we always disagree about that means.

On what technologies is Thumper built?

The only middleware we use is FMOD for audio, which is great. Everything else is a custom engine that I made. That's why it's taking so long.

Is there any special technique you use to get the flashy graphical effects that you have?

There's nothing super complicated that we're doing. A graphics engineer could understand it all. It's just that through iteration, we've gotten a unique look, I think. We get a lot of mileage out of the same effects. So, the technology that we use to build the track and make it all smooth is the same thing we use to animate a lot of the bosses and the decorative tentacle things that you see. My partner is really good at maximizing the tools I've made.

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