For most people, the term ‘music game’ still conjurs up images of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and SingStar: playing along to popular pre-recorded songs.
But Timbre Interactive founder and director Samantha Kalman wanted to develop something different: a game in which users are as much creating music as they are playing it. The result was Sentris, a crowdfunded puzzle game that was released through Steam Early Access in August.
Like many independent developers, Kalman opted to power her game with Unity – a no-brainer given her considerable history with the engine.
“I’m in the unique position of being a very early member of the Unity community,” she tells Develop. “I discovered it at version 1.0, back in 2005 or so. I had only learned a little bit of programming at the time, and I started using Unity to learn how to make games. I know the engine quite well by simply having used it for such a long time.”
Kalman cites two major factors in her decision to use Unity: its usability and its affordability. The range of tools, she says, enables devs to “focus their attention on the most important parts of development”.
“And it’s free, so virtually anybody with a computer can start making games with it,” she adds. “Even the paid version costs are affordable, so small teams only need to allocate a tiny amount when budgeting their crowdfunding goals.”
Sentris has a unique graphical style, with the different elements and instruments of each song arranged in a circle. Kalman shares the secret of how she gave the game it’s striking look.
“The visuals in Sentris are all meshes built procedurally with the Mesh class and Mesh Topology,” she explains.
“Calculating meshes was the best way to achieve the very clean look of the circles while allowing them to distort and animate in non-uniform ways. I also used serialised properties and runtime modification quite a lot. Those are Unity’s bread and butter in my opinion.”
A new beat
As Kalman gears up for the game’s Spring 2015 full release, she plans to continue updating the game with fresh content and features, particularly once the next iteration of Unity has been released.
“I’m really looking forward to 5.0 so I can leverage the audio mixer, new audio effects, and a ton of under-the-hood audio improvements,” says Kalman.
“The response to Sentris so far has been great. The community of players is growing and doing really cool things with the game. Someone set up a Twitch Plays Sentris account, and I spent an afternoon making music with people from all over. Another player managed to hack the game and replaced all the bass instrument recordings with samples from the old television show Alf. Watching his video was really trippy.
“Generally, my players are just excited to see what I do next with the game – and I plan to do a lot more.”
When asked what advise she would give to new Unity users, Kalman said: “Always be creating. Make small games. Make weird games. Make personal games. Make games with friends.
“Learn how to improve from anywhere and anyone you can. Ship a lot. Shipping is the best way to grow as a developer. Ship your failed games. Keep failing until you fail at failing, then success will be waiting for you.”