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.
I was introduced to this week’s Shaper from a screenshot of one of the best re-creations of a character I’d seen in SoundShapes. Sure there were a couple of Mario doppelgangers around but a faithful re-creation of a character from a staple of the Anime genre was new and kind of mind boggling. It was this level that brought me into the world of community member DUSTINISGOOD.
Playing through some of his levels gave the feeling that he not only understood the unwritten language of what makes a good platformer but also that he likes to torment his players with rhythmic death symphonies. I decided that I was up to the challenge and failed miserably ( insert sad face ).
Some of the levels I played were:
“Breakdown” – I loved the color palettes he used in this level, I’ve seen them used before but for some reason they stood out to me in this one. The section in which the bouncy cubes were implemented added both a level of depth to the level’s music but also to the complexity of the platforming. Breakdown is hard and can be unforgiving in spots if you aren’t paying attention and learning what it is trying to show you but if you can dodge enough lava bullets and swinging wrecking balls you will find yourself on the leader board. Good luck, though, because at the time of this article there are fewer than fifteen folks there already.
“Termite” – Is a very cool symmetrical 1SL level that is deceptively hard. The laser robots play guardian as you try to get to the goal and do not make it easy. The level plays like a virtual game of “hide and seek” and can be quick if you want to get a low time but much more daunting if you looking to capture all the notes on this level.
“Cowboy BeBop” – Is a masterpiece, end of story. I am still dumbfounded and amazed that DUSTIN made this level in this type of a game. I’m amazed at the artistry and imagination it takes to re-create almost down to the pixel a picture of such an iconic character. BeBop is less a platformer right now than a proof of concept, as it is still in beta, but nonetheless extremely impressive and beautiful. I believe this level opens up the scope and boundaries of what people believed was possible in the Sound Shapes engine.
Dustin took some time to talk to The Spawn Point and tell us about his process.
TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
DUSTINISGOOD: My background as a gamer started when I was very young. Atari was an excellent way to pass the cold winters of New Hampshire where I grew up. I liked Pong enough, and Asteroids was fun, but Pitfall was the game that introduced me to platforming and what really blew my mind. When Nintendo came out and I played Super Mario Brothers for the first time, I became a platformer for life. Mega Man, Zelda II, Super Monkey Ball, Bit. Trip. Runner. – these games define me as a person. Obviously, Sound Shapes is just the next step for me. Sound Shapes also appeals to me as a musician. I learned to play the drums in High School and also sang in the choir. (I grew my hair out too… I thought I would be the next Eddy Vedder). In college, I played drums in a few bands and got into raving, had a sweet set of turntables and beat-making equipment. I could spend all day just mixing beats. That is what makes Sound Shapes so great, it really goes beyond gaming and into the world of making art. How lucky are we all to have a single thing that provides us with an excellent artistic outlet with a readymade gallery and audience. Coupled with some seriously awesome platforming? I couldn’t be happier! Today I live in Denver, Colorado and work as the head horticulturalist, facility manager, and master cultivator for a medium-sized medical apothecary, and I also consult for the hi-tech indoor farming industry. I used to work as a sports photographer and that satiated my creative streak nicely, but since I switched careers in 2009, I have been missing art. I love my work, but it doesn’t provide me with that creative outlet that I crave, and Sound Shapes fills that void perfectly.
TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
DUSTIN: To plan out my levels, I break it down into a few steps. First, I make a gameplay style choice. Will the level be a speedy platformer, a super hard death-a-thon, an artistic display, or epic story. The next step is to lay down the music. For “Cowboy Bebop” for example, I tried to replicate the baseline to the theme music for the anime series that it is based on. Like jool2306′s level “Seasons”, you couldn’t recreate the music of “Seasons of Vivaldi” after placing a bunch of gameplay elements, the music must come first. After the basic elements of the music are in place, it is time to consider your color palette. For each frame you basically have 4 colors to work with and one will always be background and one will always be on top. That limiting fact makes for an interesting creative challenge that I love to see how each Sound Shaper overcomes in their own way. The next step depends on that original gameplay style choice. If I am going for platforming speed or challenge, I work on those elements next. If it’s more about story telling or art I will come up with thematic elements next. Finally, it is all about polish. I replay the level over and over and fix any bugs, fine tune the gameplay, and box in the frames so that gamers don’t end up lost in what I call “the netherworld”. I am ashamed to admit that I will add in music “coins” after the fact, for the purpose of coin collection gameplay, but I will try to make them add to the music or at least be unobtrusive, but it does make the sound potentially more garbled.
TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
DUSTIN: I play and make levels on my PS3. I am very tempted to buy a Vita though, because my girlfriend does not tolerate me playing video games while she is around, so I end up doing most of my Sound Shaping after she falls asleep. I may be able to get away with playing Vita while she is up but that is iffy! PS: (I don’t mean to make my girlfriend out to be a tyrant, she is actually quite lovely!)
TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
DUSTIN: My favorite published level that I have made is “BREAKDOWN.” (Not to be confused with the level “Breakdown” by Anoy337 which is also one of my favorites). This level has only 6 completed play-throughs and most of those took over 10 minutes. My score of 4:50.61 is first, but I know it could be beaten by at least a minute. I am just waiting for someone to step up and crush it. (I have posted much faster times in the level creator mode!) Get to it before Milkmaniac does, because his scores are mostly unbeatable!
“BREAKDOWN” is my favorite published level because of the pure gameplay of it. Every frame has a way to blast through super fast but it is not readily apparent the first time you play. Little tricks like waiting for the monster to come to you then running underneath or placing yourself in just the right spot to be shot right past the obstacles is the only way to fully appreciate the platforming of this level. It was originally named “Timing is Everything,” but I renamed it after watching most of my friends breakdown completely while playing it. As far as I know, it hasn’t made anyone cry yet though!
TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?
DUSTIN: Choosing one favorite level is nearly impossible for me! There are so many reasons to love this game and everyone puts their own thumbprint on it when creating levels. So here is a list of some of the levels that I really love:
As far as I can tell, Daftbomb is the most prolific Sound Shaper. His levels are always super polished, have great music and flawless gameplay. “+” and “3″ are my two favorite of his, though, because of the challenge. Both of those levels took me several hours to beat with a score that satisfied me, and I still go back to them again and again just for fun.
“Diamond Elephunk” by TheBeejAbides was the first user-created level that I played, (mostly because of the “Big Lebowski” reference in his username) and it is still one of the best! Beej’s platforming is so much fun throughout his levels and his storytelling is very fluid and entertaining, and no one can beat “Seizure square dance” or “Totemly awesome” without becoming a master platformer.
yodalex is another superb Sound Shaper. I tend to like his/her levels all equally as they are all very similar. Pure platforming, no story line, nothing un-essential, super clean. Just you and the speed run… Go!
Now it is time to talk about jool2306. I can’t heap enough praise on this creator. His levels are amazing! He has a great, cartoony art style, difficult and fluid gameplay, a true knack for picking the best elements of his favorite levels and adapting them to his own uses, and the ability to make me feel sad or make me laugh out loud completely unexpectedly and without warning, all with just the simple set of tools that Sound Shapes provides. It is most impressive! His epic, episodic, egg themed levels are hilarious and everyone should play them. “Without you” and “Seasons” can drown you in melancholy and sadness in a very satisfying way. However, his best levels in my opinion are his 1SLs (one stage levels). “Pizzzza” is so hard that I have played it probably 100 times and have yet to make that final jump onto the finishing “slice”, and “Devil symphony” was a wholly zen experience for me. This simple level with the awesome title screen art is ridiculously hard. I stood, inches from the TV for over an hour trying again and again to inch closer to the finish. I screamed, I jumped up and down, I almost chucked the controller through the TV, and I finally got it after I got myself into a trance-like calm where it was just instinct, nothing else. I don’t think I have ever had a gaming experience that intense before.
Some of my other favorites include: “Lets go” by gassst, “Gezawesome vol. 1″ and “The wheel of music – 1SL” by gezouten, “Pear tree & fish” by AntiHumor and “Beat it” by Milkmaniac.
TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
DUSTIN: The biggest advice that I can give to anyone is to backup your levels; make copies, save to the cloud, upload your unfinished levels and just mark them as unfinished, or something. “Cowboy Bebop” is an unfinished level. I am still working on it as we speak. Soon I will reload it with a bunch more “scenes” and a remixed soundtrack. The reason that I uploaded it unfinished is because I really didn’t want to lose it like I did with the “Breaking Bad”-themed level that I made a few months ago. I spent at least 50+ hours making it and it was my best! Of course, you have to take my word for that because my PS3 froze up while the save icon was lit up, and I was forced to restart, and I lost the whole thing. After speaking to Jon Mak of Queasy games, I sent him the corrupted data, but unfortunately it wasn’t able to be retrieved. I greatly appreciate Jon Mak’s patient help and correspondence, but it was still a huge bummer. The whole thing could have been avoided if I had only made copies.
TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?
DUSTIN: I have a ton of ideas about DLC that I would be psyched to see. Here are a few:
Have an option to put any object in the foreground (interactive) or background (passive). That would be a great way to easily create depth.
Have an option to choose from a color wheel and change the color of an object without changing its interactive properties.
Have an enemy that eats other objects in the frame.
Have the option to give the player a “ground pound” sort of action and blocks that can be smashed.
Have an adjustable curved line tool, where you place a line and then grab it from somewhere in the middle and pull it into a curve. Making curved lines is so hard in Sound Shapes, and I believe that a curved line tool would really help bridge the gap between creating rudimentary digital art and more traditional techniques such as painting or calligraphy.
I want to say thank you to all of the amazing Sound Shapers out there who have provided me with countless hours of entertainment. To Kahlief Adams for giving me this opportunity to share my views of this amazing community that we are so lucky to be a part of. To all of the people who have reached out to me through PSN and continue to share their thoughts, opinions and stories with me, and to everyone at Queasy Games for making the best indie game of all time!
Huge thanks to DUSTINISGOOD for participating in this week’s article. The end of the year is quickly approaching and so is the end of our #SoundShapers series. It has been a wild and amazing ride, I thank all of the Shapers who have been a part of it and Queasy Games for being so awesome. Stay tuned and check back here next week for our next Shaper.