Explosions In The Sky

At a press event in north London on the 5th of April, EA unveiled their first ever Xbox Live Arcade title, the rhythm action game Boom Boom Rocket, made by Bizarre Creations, creators of the award winning Project Gotham Racing series and the simple yet frighteningly enthralling Geometry Wars.

Boom Boom Rocket revolves around triggering off fireworks as the camera pans around moonlit 3D cityscapes to the beat of ten classical music tracks remixed by the composer Ian Livingstone. The game which has been worked on by the Pogo team who’ve had great recent successes in the casual game market aims to appeal to a range of skill levels, difficulties ranging between a comfortable pace for the less capable player to a frenzied rush for those looking for a more intense challenge. Visually the title is fairly spectacular, Steve Cakebread who worked on Geometry Wars was brought in to ensure the final product would have the same psychedelic palette and style as the aforementioned XBLA title, again focussing on maxing out the 360’s power without attempting to reproduce reality in games; the combo fuelled powerup is a showcase of this, rewarding players’ skill with not only extra points but also an intense pulsating showcase of graphical prowess.

Having had the chance to play the game I can happily say it’s an enjoyable little title- unrestricted by the specific genre focus of games like Guitar Hero it’s accessible, simple to play and my main thought when playing the game was that they’d hit the nail on the head with the rhythm mechanics. Offering depth and difficulty for the masochistic number grinding gamer and a selection of pretty colours and loud music for those like myself who rather enjoy an inebriated turn taking session with friends after a night out on the lash, it’s looking to be a gem of a title all round.

The game will be available for purchase on XBLA around mid April, retailing at 800 points the game features simultaneous two player on the same screen, Xbox live high scores, Endurance and Practice modes, as well as a visualization option which will shower you with an array of pretty explosions in time to music from your own collection. The final part of the package is the child/drunk friendly Freestyle mode which allows you to set off fireworks without having to actually worry about the timing of when you pull off your spectacular moves in relation to the music, rather like dancing in a darkened corner of a nightclub.

During the event I managed to grab hold of Boom Boom Rocket project leaders Sam Hall and Nick Bygrave for a few minutes to have an informal interview discussing their thoughts on the soon to be released title, the motivations and influences behind the final build of the game and a little discussion about the rise of the increasingly popular rhythm genre…

Q: Thanks for the interview guys! I’ll dive straight in here; let’s talk about the music… What about the choice of using remixed classical music in the game, was that a conscious choice for the game’s direction or was it just a realistic route for making the production more affordable by avoiding licensing fees?

Obviously that is a factor, and avoiding the license fees helped- but working with original music and working with a composer allowed us to make sure that music and levels worked really well together, and we wouldn’t have had that flexibility with licensed music.

Q: Are you looking into the possibility of extra music packs for Boom Boom Rocket to download over XBLA?

It’s something we’ve considered certainly, there’s nothing set out yet but we’ll see what feedback we get from the game- it’s definitely a distinct possibility.

Q: What about the choice of Ian Livingstone for the game’s music?

We’ve worked with Ian before on the Gotham Racing 2 theme music so we knew he was a good composer; he looked at the game and the track he sent us just instantly worked, so we had him work with us again for Boom Boom Rocket. It’s been a very closely linked process, the levels and the music being developed simultaneously, allowing a much tighter rhythm game experience than we would have been able to make using licensed music.

Q: Playing it reminded me rather of the dancing minigame in Rayman: Raving Rabbids on the Wii due to the fact that rather than just hitting buttons to the beat, in Boom Boom Rocket the timing focuses on different aspects of the music and it seems to fit really well, did getting away from bassline-focus that electronic music rhythm games have help make the style of the game more varied?

Yeah, we could apply lots of different styles of music to the game and really play around with it a bit more- obviously the aim was to use music that would be familiar to as many people as possible, certainly that was where the choice of classical music came in: people would recognise the songs from adverts and TV programs, and remixing them in styles that people would recognize as sounding like specific bands or artists seemed to give us a good coverage that people will be able to relate to and enjoy.

Q: In terms of the visual presentation of the game at least it does remind me an awful lot of the early PS2 title Fantavision, have you used many of the aspects of that game in Boom Boom Rocket?

We’ve never actually played Fantavision actually- we were worried early on that people were just going to make this comparison, and that it might be a thorn in our side. The visual similarities are there of course, you’ve got the fireworks and the cityscape backdrops, but the gameplay is very different- Fantavision was more of a puzzler where as this is pure rhythm action, and hopefully when people play the game they’ll see past the aesthetic comparisons and realise that in terms of gameplay it probably has more in common with something like Guitar Hero.

Q: Well admittedly I’d have to agree with you there- the most striking aspect of the game I found when I was playing it was that I seemed pretty incapable of playing it without being able to hear the music, and that’s something that all music based games should really strive to achieve isn’t it?

Well when we were doing the early testing we’d sat people down with the game and seen that they were trying to concentrate on hitting the buttons as the fireworks crossed over the line, which is of course what you’re supposed to do, but after telling them not to concentrate so much on the visuals and just keep in time with the music something and then suddenly something just clicked. Amazingly there’s a video on Youtube of our EA producer Joe playing an entire level on hard blindfolded and still getting an A* rank, it’s something we didn’t really know about until we saw it later, but after seeing that obviously we became much more confident that we were on the right track with making the game musically focused.

Q: I mean I’m not particularly into my rhythm games, but in within about thirty seconds of playing I really started to get the urge to start moving my feet about, the only other game that’s made me feel like that recently is probably again: Guitar Hero, have you found similar responses when playtesting?

Hahah, yeah- when we were showing you all a demo of the game earlier I felt a bit conscious of the fact I was playing it infront of a room full of people; I HAD to bob my head a bit, just to help keep the groove…

Q: Going back the music in the game, given the choice personally is there any particular genre of music that you’d really like to integrate into Boom Boom Rocket?

That’s a good question… Personally I like dance and house music, but that’s pretty much catered for in the game already- When we started work on the game we were using mainly pop music, it kind of worked ok, but it didn’t quite feel right. We haven’t really had to predict what music would work in the game, and that’s been interesting- it’s all been pretty trial and error in terms of getting music to fit the game, trying out new songs and styles and getting feedback until we had something that seemed to work. Having direct access to the composer made a huge difference, it meant we were able to make changes to the music to fit with the game rather than vice versa. I don’t think any one kind of music works better than any other, it’ll be interesting to see what other styles we end up using if we carry on in the same direction we’ve been going in the production process we’ve used so far; with gameplay and music being developed in tandem it opens us up to a lot of exciting possibilities for the future.

Q: Certainly in the brief time playing Boom Boom Rocket despite the totally different visual stylings it reminded me a little of the PS2 music game Rez in terms of the almost hypnotic nature of the game- is this a game you’d relate to more than Fantavision for describing your influences?

Absolutely, we love Rez. We work as a part of the audio team for Bizarre, there’s been about nine of us in total all playing a part in the process of making the game, all of us from a musical background which of course has added a lot to the game- it’s a very different from Rez, but we think it’s different in a good way.

Q: Yeah, it’s definitely much more simplified, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing- aesthetically it’s basically just a 2D game with pretty graphical effects, but with sound based games it’s often best sometimes to keep it simple visually.

I think again that was definitely an intention, I mean at times during production the game did start to become more complicated and we had to keep reining it back in to keep the core gameplay simple and get it right rather than throwing in loads of extra stuff that didn’t quite feel right.

Q: On a personal level, what would you guys like to do next? Would you be interested in any point at going back to something in the style of Fur Fighters and perhaps making a similarly styled third person shooter for XBLA, or do you think that area’s been covered strongly enough by full price titles currently in the market?

We’d certainly not like to rule anything out for the future, and if we had an idea for something similar that we imagined could be good fun then I’m sure it’s certainly something that Bizarre would investigate. From the team’s point of view we’re all working on titles to be published this year that’ll be keeping us busy for the next few months, but beyond that we’d certainly like to start work on something else and I’m sure the company would like to keep up the momentum we’ve got at the moment with our current team; it’s been really enjoyable.

Q: Again, with the XBLA limit recently bumped up to a fairly generous 250mb it’s opened up a lot of possibilities- Again on a personal level, in an ideal world where you could make any title you’d like to for XBLA, what sort of game would you love to make?

Hahah, well obviously most of our lunchtime sessions are spent discussing that question, but it’s more often than not just ideas being thrown around that are concept over substance. Personally I’d like to make something a little more abstract in the vein of Rez, but there’s no plans in the pipeline for anything like that- we all love that kind of game, but it’s a bit too niche.

Q. That’s understandable, but at the same time it seems music based titles are definitely on the rise: Dance Dance Revolution is recognized the world over and it seems Guitar Hero is quickly heading that way- also titles on the way such as Boogie for Wii and the recently announced Rock Band look to suggest that music games are starting to move more into the limelight of the games world. Obviously the focus of these games musically has often been commercial dance and pop and more recently rock music, but do you think the rise in popularity of the genre could open up a gap in the market for the more niche electronic music based titles? would you be interested in moving on with what you’ve learnt and achieved with Boom Boom Rocket onto something a little more abstract?

Well obviously we can’t speak for the company, but that appeals to very highly, yes. We come from a background of making music, so any game that can achieve a sense of you being involved in making music whilst playing would be an amazing achievement. It seems like there are a lot of generic games in the genre, and as it’s such a wide new market there’s a lot of exciting uncharted territory to explore. Going back to Guitar Hero- It’s great because it’s brought the rhythm game back into the mainstream, taking away the image of your little sister playing Britney’s dance beat and making enjoying rhythm games something that gamers no longer feel they should be ashamed of.

Thanks again to Sam Hall and Nick Bygrave from Bizarre Creations for their time, I shall be looking forward to getting my teeth into some more Boom Boom Rocket upon it’s imminent release!