Today marks the culmination of a long journey exploring the limits of what a strategy game can be. We’re bringing our next funky title Backbeat to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. When we started working on the first prototype in Spring 2020, I knew the project had a lot of potential. It was the second title from our small indie studio, and we wanted to add some of the things that were cut from our first game, Hexagroove: Tactical DJ – an onboarding system to introduce our mechanics slowly through gameplay, a story full of colorful characters and an experience as enjoyable as it looks. Fine-tuning our release candidate for launch this winter, I’m excited to have all of this possible on PlayStation.
When we started to design the basis of Backbeat, we wanted to take some principles from Hexagroove and introduce new ones as well. The game merges the spatial challenges of a sokoban-style game with the team-based resource management of a stealth strategy title. Your challenge is to move a group of four characters through a series of isometric maps in a limited number of turns. How you pass these turns and the paths you choose affects a number of shared resources that increase and decrease over the course of the level. Each of the character timelines are controlled separately but are interdependent. Opening doors and deflecting enemies must be done in the best interest of all four, otherwise they will prevent your team’s success on the stage.
To contrast Hexagroove’s synth-fueled EDM soundtrack, Backbeat is built on a vast pool of live music riffs, improvisations and solos recorded by Stockholm’s top funk masters. Changing directions on the map, interacting with doors, or blasting enemies with a loud saxophone all queue up unique audio clips that play together in sequence at the end of a level. This gives your unique solution its own custom victory song. Every strum, bang and toot sounded so good that I just had to find a way to help them shine even brighter. After experimenting with the dev kit, I realized that the PlayStation 5 DualSense Wireless Controller was the perfect instrument to support our studio musicians.
I started by working with our composer Pete Fraser to bring a strong musical element to the more interactive parts of Backbeat: when you hit something, when you go through an oncoming car, when you manipulate time… I feel those brief moments of interaction, when you push one and as soon as something succeeds (or fails), those moments should all be rewarding…and musical! I copied bursts of chords, fanfares, strums, and drum hits all sampled by studio musicians and fed them into the DualSense controller’s creative tools to produce haptic musical harmony that heightens sound effects used at the same points in the game. Then I tweak the vibrations using a stack of filters, amplifiers and EQs to draw attention to the frequencies we associate these types of flourishes with. After these small tweaks, the DualSense controller plays a perfect chorus in time with the music and echoing effects from your hi-fi or headphones.
Good music is only part of the experience I wanted to provide with Backbeat. The game is set in 1995, paying homage to the great 32-bit arcade and console games I grew up playing with in smoky back rooms of restaurants and in our family den. We worked on this not only on the retro low poly style of our characters and environments, but also on the iconography and sound effects. Time manipulation is the key to understanding the core challenge of Backbeat, so we’ve embraced analog technology and integrated the sampled videotape skeuomorphism into the UI and feedback. When you switch characters, the game quickly advances or rewinds to the point where the active character has advanced. This is accompanied by audiovisual tape distortion, and holding the rewind button in-game loops tape samples, including speeding up and slowing down with each interaction. It’s another fantastic place to use DualSense to increase the immersion and visceral nostalgia we crave in Backbeat. Hold down the circular button and commune with the soothing vibration of the DualSense controller, built directly from those chunky, rotating white coils.
Today we bring you a taste of the full experience coming soon to PlayStation. Hope you feel some good vibes on this short journey through some of Backbeat’s early levels, and follow along as we approach the crescendo of our studio’s second track. Enjoy the show, you are part of it.
Backbeat Demo Tape is available today on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
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