Beats The Game: An Interview with the Creators of 140
GF: Do you think the way that game design is changing, in the way you’ve just described, makes creating games more like creating other kinds of media?
JS: It’s very similar. I put some notes in something, and I listen to it, and then I hate it, and then I delete it.
JC: I would think that game designers, even in a big company with a complex structure, would be allowed to make raw prototype, and be able to test it out, and be able to play it. But then they wouldn’t get to decide if it gets to stay in the game or not.
GF: Have you had to take things out that you thought were good ideas but you changed your mind about?
JC: The first game idea was actually different. It was also a music idea but it was actually different. You threw a ball, and it had a speed that was set to beats-per-minute. The distance between all the walls was divisible by beats-per-minute, so every time you threw it, no matter where you threw it, the bouncing matched the background music. It became too complicated. We never managed to get the synchronization between the game and the music completely precise. There were always technical problems.
JS: The elements here [in 140] are designed to have a very simple relationship, directly to the music.
GF: When you watch people play it, do you notice a difference in terms of how fast they pick up on the relationship between the gameplay and the music?
JS: Definitely. We have encountered a few people who never really realized that the music is helping them. They will continue to use their reactions and kind of just get a subtle feel for when they should jump. Most people seem to pick up on it being after the snare drum.
JC: There are two groups. There are the people who have a little bit of rhythmic sense, and they pick it up very fast. And then others try to play it like a normal platformer, and it’s super-hard.
GF: Would you say, at the end, it gets really really hard? How hard did you want it to get?
JC: [laughs] I like hard games.
JS: It has to be doable, if you’re a stubborn guy. It’s not among the worst we’ve played.
JC: My balance is, I see a lot of people play it. I bring the laptop anywhere to friends, or whatever. And if it’s too much, it hurts in my stomach when I look at it. I wanna skip — I have a skip button to go to the next part, and I really want to hit it.
GF: I could feel the tension when I was sitting here playing it. On the one hand — I could hear you guys laugh — it must be sort of satisfying to watch people not figure it out at first, but you don’t want it to be too bad.
JS: We want you and all the other players to have the experience of, “Oh man, that was hard, but now that I beat it, it feels so much better.”
JC: I have a few testers playing the game as it is now, from beginning to end. They are tired when the game is done. It’s only 45 minutes, but their brains are dead tired. You beat one challenge, and the next one gets you immediately.
GF: Would you have plans to ever expand it?
JS: We’ve thought about it, many times.
JC: As it is now with spare time, it takes me a long time to design one level, really a long time. One level could have four different new rhythm mechanics. I have to design 20, to get down to those four. I design one, maybe I get excited about it, but maybe I can only do one cool trick with the mechanic.