One of the most interesting rhythm games to hit the market in the recent memory is Thumper from two-man studio Drool.
Rather than having consumers play along to pop and rock hits, like in Guitar Hero, Thumper has players hitting buttons sparingly to a soundtrack that can only be described as nightmarish and intense.
Yet despite its gameplay, Drool doesn’t really view the game as a rhythm title: It has a very different vibe to what people consider music games to be,” developer Marc Flury says.
It’s not about euphoria or the joy of playing music, it’s really a dark and intense experience. It really evolved over the years as we worked on it. It kept getting faster and we kept going deeper and deeper in a specific direction.
"We started calling it a rhythm violence game, which is an effective marketing term. It’s something that’s memorable and gets people interested in the game.
"Ultimately, when people play the game, I hope they don’t think of it as a rhythm game because it’s more of an action title that has its own weird logic. It’s not the same kind of experience as playing Rock Band or something.”
With its music-focused rhythm gameplay, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Drool is formed of two former Harmonix developers. Thumper started life when Flury and his co-developer Brian Gibson were still at the Guitar Hero and Rock Band studio.
We started work on Thumper seven years ago,” Flury explains. It was a side project for a long time. It was as much making a game as trying to become a better programmer and designer.
"We worked at Harmonix for a long time, but the kinds of things we got to work on were limited in terms of range. For Thumper we built our own engine from scratch and ended up supporting PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. It was a huge learning experience and that was part of the reason it took so long.”
He continues: Brian actually pitched it as a Harmonix project, but it was rejected. His original idea was this simple concept of having a rhythm game that’s really stripped down and simple.”
The title launched in mid-October around the time of PlayStation VR, which is supported by the game.
When we started, VR technology was some fantasy,” Flury says. It wasn’t really practical. A lot of it was us working on the game for a long time. We saw the amount of hype and money being put behind pushing VR as the next big thing. We figured we’d at least try.
"To be honest, we didn’t have any high expectations. We thought the game might not work at all in VR, or we’d have to entirely redesign the game to support it. Sometimes your timing is just right. We had the right game at the right time and it worked really well in virtual reality. It certainly took a lot of work in terms of optimisation. We had to redesign the game, had to optimise the effects and presentation for VR.
The basic concept of Thumper translated so well to VR; it’s intense, it’s overwhelming but it doesn’t make people motion sick. We were pretty lucky to be honest.”