The SoundShapers – Tony Tough
The “SoundShapers” is a series of articles and interviews that spotlight a different member of the Sound Shapes community weekly. Check out other posts here.
In this day and age there aren’t many emotionally evocative and poignant stories told in gaming; very few spark the imagination or tug at your heartstrings. Without sounding too hyperbolic, I believe the levels that TonyTough has crafted are some of the most beautiful art I’ve had the pleasure to experience in a long time. He has figured out ways to tell new and interesting stories, and re-imagined classics as well.
“Red” – I first became aware of Tony via his level “Red”. I was struck initially by its screenshot, a worried depiction of Red Riding Hood. I did a double take because I hadn’t really seen anyone make lifelike portraits or images in Sound Shapes before seeing Red. So I jumped in and was treated to an awesome show of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and cleverness. While playing the age-old tale I observed objects being used in ways I hadn’t thought of before and narrative pushed out in a storybook format. It really gave me a new understanding of how the game could be used to tell stories and provided a little insight into how Tony’s mind worked. With its number of plays (###) and likes (###) you can see why it is a community favorite.
“The Ninja (part 1)” – I had expectations of awesomeness going in. Tony again stepped his game up and did some really smart things with perspective that I hadn’t seen before. By making things smaller on the 2D plane it gave them the appearance of being a background element. It gave a faux foreground and background to this level, fleshing it out even more and adding depth to each panel. The story of a ninja warrior getting revenge against a rival family because of a death isn’t new but Tony’s telling was fresh because he figured out how to implement ANIMATION within the Sound Shapes engine, by making a flipbook in his levels. My jaw totally hit the ground. A stick-figured ninja flipping through the air and stabbing his adversary sounds simple but I don’t even want to know how he brainstormed that out. It shows both how innovative he is and how flexible the engine was. It opened up a whole new way players could think about building their levels.
“Nightmare on Church Street” – I bypassed this level at first, but after reading our interview and how glowingly Tony talked of it, I had to take a run through. Funny enough after playing it, it became my favorite. Being a huge horror movie fan, this level spoke to me. Moving from a dark cemetery to a haunted house sets up most of the platforming, but use of certain elements that form beds, pianos, and chandeliers is what impressed me so much. Even with the well done callbacks to horror greats like Freddy Kruger, Psycho, and The Ring, the real standout of this level is the music. It’s thematically on point but also has just enough pulsating beats to keep it funky.
At the time of this writing, a couple of absolute plays have come from Tony: “Walk in the Park”, and his Halloween Themed level “Trick or Treat”. I might discuss these more in-depth at a later date but I will say that “Walk in the Park” was a visual and auditory delight. It evoked the same feelings I had when I played Journey for the first time. “Trick or Treat” has a special animation in it that still boggles my mind — I won’t spoil it for you but you must play it.
Sr. Tough also gave us some insight into how he goes about making his levels and other thoughts on the game.
TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
TT: I am a manager of a healthcare consulting company focusing on online application/website design. I have an engineering degree and have always had a passion for music and graphics, which is the reason that I have always loved computer games even now over the age of 40.
I have always loved sequencers and own a Korg and play mostly by ear. Sound Shapes was a perfect fit for me, for my love of music and 2D platforming. I actually was in the early stages of developing a similar game when I heard Sound Shapes was going to come out and they went above and beyond the game I wanted to develop.
TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
TT: I always start off with a song. I want to make great music first. Once that is done, I think of a theme that goes with the song and start to develop the graphics and artwork around the song.
TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
TT: Vita only. Having a family, it is hard to get in front of the TV, so most of the stuff I do is late night or lunch hour at work.
TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
TT: My favorite levels I have made are my story levels. I like to engross the player with a story so they are excited to see what is next. I typically like to throw some curve ball in my story so that there is some sort of surprise either in the story itself (“RED”, and my latest level “NINJA”), or in the way you exit the level (“The Egg and the Beanstalk” and “Nightmare on Church Street”). Each of them has a reason why I love them. I have a very specific style I used when designed these levels in that I like to make them look 3D even though we are in 2D platforming world. This way the level itself is like a puzzle, thus making it uncertain in what can you step on and sometimes tricking the visual sense due to the 3D look. I haven’t seen many have a similar style. A good example of that is in my “Egg and the Beanstalk” level. When going down Church Street, sometimes you are not sure what you can jump on and what you will fall through. It was the first one I created and has a special meaning to me. Not to mention the surprise ending I made which was hiding the exit, which wasn’t seen too much when the game first came out.
My other favorite is “Nightmare on Church Street” (which I tried to make as if the beanstalk level continued to the right of the beanstalk). I love this level for its graphics, its eerie theme, its adventure to solve its way out of the level, and the music I chose for it. The “NINJA” level I just created is a very cool concept I thought of when I made my “Descent” level. I used this approach to make Animation appear on the screen. Very cool concept and I haven’t seen it done before in Sound Shapes. It reminded me of being a kid when I used to use those stapled flip books and draw animation one page at a time.
TSP: What is your favorite level you’ve played and why?
TT: My favorite level initially was probably “And I to fire” by jordanbuster. Reason being, it was that level that gave me a lot of inspiration to do my levels in such a way as to trick the end user with some sort of surprise. It also had an amazing sound track. But to be honest, I really don’t have favorite levels; I have favorite artists that I constantly look out for. The community for Sound Shapes is unlike any other I have experienced, such a great group of people all wanting and willing to help each other. I have to give credit to Daftbomb as he is a true inspiration amongst all Sound Shapers, not only in the levels he creates, but the willingness to help others. He really made this experience great for me personally because he pulled together a group of great artists and AMAZINGLY SKILLED PLAYERS such as TheBeejAbides, Gezouten, Gannon767, DigitalJ88, Jool2306, Sunset Panther, Old_Poptarts, MidguardDragon, Vengeful Torture ,gasssst, Milkmaniac and many others which I’m going based on memory and sorry if I left any out. I list them here so other users out there can find some great levels via their username
TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
TT: Yes many tricks I’ve learned. But here is my humble advice.
1) As I mentioned, I always build a great song first, many screens long keeping a theme in mind sometimes.
2) I love using very very low bass. I do this by hitting the Start button, using MINOR scale and bring down the Octave to -6 usually. I also use VERY SLOW tempo. This is a very good tip because I seem to be able to fit ”more song” into a loop. Especially since I can use the Sound Shapes drum objects which can record more beats per frame then the standard sequencer loop which only can hold 16 notes.
3) I like to use the sound shapes flowers (a lot) to add notes to a screen before the user even collects coins. The nice thing about the flowers is that you can make very long sequences. Like 32 notes’ worth before they repeat. Maybe even more. And they give the environment a nice sound even if the user doesn’t select coins.
Flowers and other Sound Shape objects can be hidden by Black and White Sound Shapes, use that to your advantage. A nice technique for what I call 2-for-1 (or even 4-for-1) use is placing an object such as a flower near the edge of your screen. Any adjacent screens that the flower flows into (even by extending its stem) will also play that object’s sound. So you in essence can have the same note (or group of notes) play on multiple screens as long as they spill over into that screen. It can save you some entities if you max out the number of entities on your screen (more on that later).
4) I like to add a lot of checkpoints and not frustrate my end player. Yeah, I’ll make it tough to find the exit using clues; but the playing itself, I don’t want to piss people off. It’s about having fun and solving a mystery or enjoying the story with my levels.
5) Lots of detail with the background images. Using a background color so that the background images pop, such as the purple background.
6) Never use any sound shapes tools that yell words or sayings or are very loud. It usually just annoys everyone.
7) Close all gaps and areas around all screens so a player can’t slip out of the game and lose the moment.
8) After I build my level, I go back to my song and cut and paste my screen of notes about one screen above my graphics I want it in. Then I can simply hit L1 and select all the notes and drag and drop them down to the correct spot without having to figure out how to create the song again.
9) Use the Multiple select option (L1) button on Vita and hold it down while selecting stuff to be able to copy and paste multiple items at a time.
1) You can download a previously published file off of the sound shapes server by hitting TRIANGLE just prior to playing it online. You can only download levels you create. Note: if you download your level from the server, you will NOT see it in your editor. To see it, simply “pretend” to create a new level in your editor, then exit out and you will see the original level you downloaded in your list of levels.
2) ONE OF THE BIGGEST TIPS I CAN GIVE AND ONE I HAVE SHARED WITH AS MANY PEOPLE AS I CAN IS SAVE FILE MANAGEMENT.
I realize it’s not regarding level design but important nonetheless… Early on I lost a ton of work because I got a corrupt save file. Doesn’t matter how many times you back it up, if your file becomes corrupt. YOU LOSE EVERYTHING. (Every level you have stored on your Vita that you created gets wiped out. FYI: I never use the PS3 for Sound Shapes so I’m not sure if it happens there). So basically you have to play the tutorial from scratch. That kind of everything. SO to prevent disaster. (I had to redo my entire Area 51 level over, ugg.) You will find that this happens usually as you tend to MAXIMIZE the number of entities in your level. (Not the screen, but the whole level).
So to help minimize your risk, I do the following:
a) when you are done with the campaign and getting the editing tools, make sure you SYNC UP with the Sound Shapes server. This way you can sync up again if your save file becomes corrupt and get your edit tools back without having to play all the campaign over again.
b) If you are working on a level. PUBLISH IT OFTEN. This way, if you crash your save file, you can go to the server and re-download it back to your editor as stated in #11 above. But realize if you publish a corrupt level (which you can), if you download it and shut down Sound Shapes, when it boots back up, your save file will be corrupt again. SOOOO, my advice to you is, if your file is corrupt and you need to modify it, you can download it, modify it, publish it, and THEN DELETE IT off your local system!! This way your other levels don’t get lost.
So what I do, to prevent people from playing my Published (but not yet finished) levels which you probably have seen me do if you follow me on Sound Shapes, is simply create a side room with nothing more than an un-escapable start above the finish. This way, you can publish your level for preventative backup and at the same time, keep others from playing it prematurely. I typically will call the unfinished level “new level coming soon” so people don’t bother wasting their time playing it.
As you work on your level in the editor. you can frequently hit the PLAY/TEST PLAY Button while you are developing. It will go to your side room and play it, then you hit the GREEN UPLOAD Arrow to up load it to the server without having to quit out and upload it. IT’S A GREAT TIME SAVER. When you are ready to really publish it, Move your start and finish where they are supposed to go, COPY IT, PUBLISH IT and then delete the one on the server.
13) Just recently with my “Ninja” level, I learned a trick to keep your “ball” going down really fast using a thin lane and the alien object that pulls you very fast. Play my ninja level to see what I mean and focus on how I make the animation go faster using this approach. I also use Bubbles in the beginning of this technique to force the user “up” to hit the alien object to get them started.
TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better.
TT: These ideas were actually a list I had sent to a Sound Shapes programmer recently and he said many of these ideas would not work due to their engine restriction, but here is the list regardless.
1) Just like the L1 button on vita allows you to multi-select, why not an R1 Button squeeze to allow you to Box select. Select 2 points on the screen and everything inside it and touching the box is selected.
2) Once many items are selected, allow a group rotate and a group mirror option. So this way if you wanted a symmetric level, you can draw half, BOX SELECT IT, then GROUP MIRROR IT. Shouldn’t be that hard to implement.
3) Option to turn off back touch on Vita. Many times this causes issues and I’d rather just use the controls to move/rotate, scale etc.
Add comments to a user level INSIDE the vita, without having to do it on the website.
4) Adding a text object for those that want to provide instructions / story / hints to their levels as a user plays it.
I know Daftbomb likes to see how creative people are with text, but in my case where I like to tell a story, these line segments to type text takes up a lot of memory and entities I’d rather use elsewhere in the level.
5) LBP related: a level link object in your level to continue to another level of yours so you can do bigger levels/adventures.
6) I know you have a standard with red in the back, the black objects, then white objects, but it would be helpful to have an option such as move to front or move to back etc for these objects.
8) If not #7, maybe an option to CUT using another object. Just to display a donut, as an example, is not easy because instead of just drawing one big circle and cutting out the inside with another, you have to instead build a torus with a bunch of triangles. UGH.
1) This is hard to explain, but allow a user to create a song that spans more than 16 blocks. Say 64 blocks. Maybe call it a pattern or a sample. This is similar to the sound patterns you already allow them to put down, you know, those notes that are really “sound samples”, e.g., the ones that look like a white circle with two arrows inside them.
You will then have the ability to create your own song patterns and save it down to be used on any of your songs. Many times I want to create a longer sequence of notes. Since I can’t, I end up using the flower objects which ignore the sequencer (well sort of) and allow longer sequences.
2) A way to save these so-called patterns so they can be imported into your other songs, this way you can build a library of beats, samples, etc.
3) A way to export a group of shapes (maybe those you just box selected) and export them as a group of objects to be used on other levels, again building a library of shapes as well.
4) Maybe having a way to send users these saved group of objects/sounds so they can use them.
1) Maybe add a password/lock to non-finished published levels (maybe put in a new area called collaborate. Then another user/friend can join in and help build upon your level or simply play it/test it/review it before you make it public.
2) The ability to have another person join you in playing a level.
3) Have an area for greatest hits on your website for levels that use to be great but are not seen anymore.
4) Have an area for “Most Loved” based on likes.
5) Have an option to “Like” a level but not make it a favorite so you can distinguish between the two.
One last thing I want to say is a huge thank you for Jon Mak and Queasy Games. They go above and beyond what many game companies do and I respect them for that. A great example of this is seeing your level played on Friday Night game night (via twitter) by the creators of the game, which is nothing short of awesomeness. A huge high five to them for doing so. They not only provided a great game, but they share their enthusiasm to their players and it makes it so much more personal. The fact that I haven’t even bought Little Big Planet for the VIta is a huge testament for how great Sound Shapes is. The other great thing about the game is the different people I have “met” from all over the world. Where else can I share an idea or hear about how someone enjoyed my level all the way from Belgium, Italy, London, Canada, across the USA, etc. Simply amazing. Not to mention that a name like TonyTough from NJ/USA is actually mentioned by others in the community. That’s pretty cool. A final thanks to Kahlief Adams for taking the time to write up this article and to showcase some of the work I created. He really is putting a lot of effort into this.
When I started this series I figured I would just write a couple of articles and show off some really cool levels from people I admire. To get a thanks in return is the topping on the cake. Thanks so much to TonyTough for being a part of our #SoundShapers series and, more importantly, pushing the community and our imaginations forward with his awesome work.
Check out our series here and on the Sound Shapes blog. Today is Halloween so check out the spookspired levels folks have made. The guys over at Queasy will be showcasing some of their favorites over at twitch.tv/soundshapes. Pop on by and you might see your own being played.
We will see you all next week when we profile community member: Jool2306