Musical Range is a virtual reality game in which the player is equipped with two futuristic laser weapons that shoot beams of musicality at spheres corresponding to individual notes on a pian. What makes it really different from other rhythm games is its focus around individual notes in a piano-like scroll rather than an approximately on a limited number of pitch zones, which adds an extra level of musicality to the gameplay.
Musical Range is also an educational tool to be utilized for music lessons, classrooms, ear training, and even composition, as it combines the rudimentary aspects of musical interval, rhythm, relative pitch, and more with modern and fun gameplay fit for all ages.
When Rockhopper Studios brought the Emperia Sound and Music team on, we knew that we could take this game to the next level through compelling sound design, refined new and evocative instruments, and delicate creating the fusion of sound design, songs, and virtual musical instruments within the VR experience.
In the game, small meteors fall towards the note spheres placed along the piano roll to highlight which notes should be played and when to shoot them in rhythm with the music. Additionly, notes can be bent side to side to bend pitch when the melodies or instruments of the song bend and scoop and also pulled back to add creative FX processing to each player’s performance. With a range of difficulties, players can learn the basics with a reduced note range and less notes to play per song on “easy”, but can gradually increase difficulty up to expert mode where they can play a song note-for-note!
When designing sounds for the game, we wanted to make the guns feel powerful and fun to shoot without distracting or conflicting sonically from the tone of the instruments or the song that is playing back. The gun sounds had the potential to mask the instrument if the sounds were too voluminous or noisy, but simultaneously wouldn’t feel satisfying if they weren’t powerful or noisy enough. For example, each gunshot feels full and engaging with a healthy amount of bass, but bass frequencies easily clash with the song and make the overall mix muddy and unbalanced. This posed a unique challenge, as sound design and music aren’t typically this closely related harmonically.
First, Emperia went back and forth with the RH team to create the best sounds for the guns, providing them with a wide selection of sound design and narrowing it down to our favorite. Then we dove into a bit of experimentation and decided that the best way to keep the sound design present without overshadowing the music was to make different gun sounds for each of the 12 notes in the chromatic scale. Each gunshot is harmonically processed to allow for the notes of the instruments to shine through the mix while still being audible. We used some resonant filters, EQ, and pitched synths to get the guns more harmonically aligned with each note, and then used careful EQ and multi-band compression techniques to carve out offensive frequencies while also accentuating the pitch of each note.
Rockhopper also wanted the Emperia Sound and Music team to create new instrument sounds that the player would use throughout the game. These instruments needed to reflect the high-powered electric beams that the guns emitted, while still feeling like an organic instrument. We ultimately decided on a hybrid synth electric guitar sound and went through the process of sampling and looping the instrument. This hybrid synth-guitar approach was perfect for the game as it helped blend together the futuristic and digital aesthetic of Musical Range with the organic feel of the music being played within.
Not only was our goal to create new instruments and sounds for the game, but also to assist with how the gameplay affected the instruments and how they sounded. We’ve spent hours playtesting the game, focusing on how the controller movements affected the instruments while taking our perspectives as musicians into account, thinking about how the game should react to our movement. We wanted to make the gameplay just as enjoyable to seasoned musicians as it was to those who have never touched an instrument.
Building on our harmonically synchronous and complimentary sound design approach, we added new aspects of auditory player feedback to the game for correct and incorrect notes, target hits and misses, shooting the targets with the wrong hands, and advising on all levels of audio development, programming, and mixing in Unreal Engine. For example, when a player shoots a note, it will play one of a few sounds to indicate the player’s accuracy both in direction and in timing. There are also indicators for OK accuracy, Great accuracy, and Perfect accuracy that respectively get increasingly more exciting to provide positive feedback to the player.
All of these aspects blend together perfectly to create an immersive and musical experience for the player unlike other rhythm or musical games that have been popular in the past or that are currently in the market. The sounds are built to guide the player, regardless of musicianship, to success while allowing the music to shine through, and the instruments pull the player further into the game, keeping it fun to play so that they can better their musical skills through the melodic and harmonic musicality that Musical Range provides for the player.