Sound Shapes for PS Vita: Jonathan Mak Demystifies Music Creation

Monday, July 25, 2011 · 0 comments

Last week I finally had a chance to go hands-on with Sound Shapes, the upcoming PS Vita platformer-cum-music-studio that left critics reeling in its E3 debut. Coached by co-designer and Everyday Shooter creator Jonathan Mak and co-designer Shaw-Han Liem, I discovered a deceptively simple platformer that gave me the tools to build a series of game levels – and a corresponding song – in seconds flat.

Sound Shapes’ level creation and music composition are inseparable. As you use the PS Vita’s front touchscreen to place objects – platforms, lasers, obstacles – that you’ll interact with during gameplay, you’re simultaneously laying down beats and musical cues that will evolve into a full song when you play. During the creation process, you’ll use PS Vita’s rear touch panel to resize platforms and objects to further tweak your level’s gameplay or musical style. Where you go from there is entirely up to you: the final version of Sound Shapes will enable you to upload and share your creation via PSN for others to enjoy.

Sound Shapes is a strange but eye-opening experience that’s completely unlike any music-creation game — or platformer — I’ve played. After I set down the PS Vita, I was bursting with questions for both Jonathan Mak and Shaw-Han Liem. Read our full conversation below and leave your questions in the comments!

Jonathan MakShaw-Han Liem

Jonathan Mak, co-designer of Sound Shapes (left); Shaw-Han Liem, co-designer
PlayStation.Blog: Jonathan, we didn’t hear from you for years after Everyday Shooter came out on PSN. What were you up? How long were you working on the Sound Shapes concept?
Jonathan Mak, co-designer, Sound Shapes: Shortly after Everyday Shooter, I met Shaw-Han Liem. I went to one of his shows, and I ended up showing him Everyday Shooter. We were sort of on the same wavelength — not necessarily video games and music, but…
Shaw-Han Liem, co-designer: …interactive music?
Jonathan Mak: That sort of thing. So we ended up collaborating on some stuff. We worked on visuals for shows, and later worked on a few gaming concepts. We spent two years prototyping concepts — I think we prototyped enough stuff to make another Everyday Shooter. But we kept upping the ante. While we had a bunch of cool ideas, we happened upon this prototype [gestures to Sound Shapes sitting unassumingly on the nearby table] and decided to pursue it. We decided to contact PlayStation, they showed us the early development hardware for PS Vita, and that’s how we got started.
PSB: Did you come up with the side-scrolling gameplay first, or the idea of creating a level that played music? What was the genesis of that concept?
Jonathan Mak: I think we came up with it partially out of frustration. We kept making prototypes for ways for people to actually make music, as opposed to games like Everyday Shooter where you can play musical sounds. We wanted players to actually make their own songs, which you can do in Sound Shapes.
I don’t know, I think it all came together at the same time. We chose platforming because it’s a well-known form of gameplay, where a shooter is kind of abstract — “I’m dodging bullets in space, weird!” With a platformer, you know you’re in this world and it makes more sense immediately. It seemed like a natural fit to introduce gamers to this idea of making music.
PSB: How did you work into the process, Shaw?
Shaw-Han Liem: We started collaborating on a pretty casual basis, just trying out different ideas. Some of them weren’t game-related at all, like “what can we project behind a rock show that will look really cool?” We wanted to find ways to use technology as a way to interact with and experience music.
Jonathan Mak: The interesting thing about this collaboration is that it’s not a case of me being the programmer and Shaw being just the music guy. We’re both capable of writing code and creating music….You can’t think of the gameplay first and then cram the music in; it doesn’t work that way.
Shaw-Han Liem: In order to make a game like this, we’ve realized that you need a musician who can make a game and a game person who can write music. Having gone through this process, I think it’s been a key thing. We both have access to the same toolsets and we can work off of each other.
Sound Shapes for NGP (PSN)Sound Shapes for NGP (PSN)
PSB: Did you always plan for Sound Shapes to be a portable game?
Jonathan Mak: Because Everyday Shooter came out on the PS3, so we thought we might have a lead there, though we weren’t really thinking about a platform at the time. The PS Vita was a happy coincidence, because the touchscreen makes it a lot easier to compose and edit in the game.
PSB: How would you define Sound Shapes, if you had to? A music creator, a platformer…?
Jonthan Mak: It’s weird, because I had to do that a few weeks ago…and I couldn’t do it. [laughs] Um…it’s equal parts musical instrument and equal parts videogame. Sometimes I pick it up and I pretend it’s just a musical instrument — that there’s no game. It’s cool to sit there and make music, even using it in ways that it’s not intended.
Shaw-Han Liem: It’s sort of two things. If you’re a musician, it is a cool musical composition tool that also allows you to experiment with making these game worlds. If you’re a game player, it’s a platformer that also has this musical element and introduces you to the idea of writing a song. So depending on who you are, you might look at it in slightly different ways. We’ve never come up with a good, one-sentence way of summing it up…but once people try it, they get it.
Jonathan Mak: We’re hoping it’s a bridge for people. If you just play videogames, it would be a bridge for you into making music. If you’re a musician, it would be a bridge into making game levels. I think we really want to empower people to make music, though. As musicians ourselves, we take for granted how awesome it is to be able to write music. But it’s actually not that hard — it’s very simple.
Shaw-Han Liem: Just put a bunch of fingers on the screen [he places three fingers on the PS Vita touchscreen] and you already have a loop. That took three seconds and you have a drum beat. That’s the whole idea — to demystify making music. If someone who never thought of themselves as a musician tries out Sound Shapes and realizes they can do it, and then later picks up a drum machine and sequencer…that would be amazing.
PSB: So if I picked up Sound Shapes loved making music, where would I go next? What would be the next logical step, in terms of music creation?
Shaw-Han Liem: The musical logic, once you figure it out, is very similar to the way a drum machine works. So it’s basically a 16-step sequencer with an eight-note scale. As you’re playing through the levels, each game screen is like an instruction manual for how to make that music. It’s like you’re looking at the sheet music as you play the game, but you’re visualizing it differently. As you play, you’re learning how to write music. And once you grasp that concept, you can take it to other music software, drum machines, sequencers… Those all use the same concepts.
PSB: During E3, a lot of media raved about Sound Shapes; some have even said it’s one of PS Vita’s killer apps. Did you expect that reaction? What does that feel like?
Jonathan Mak: Uh..well, I didn’t think people would get it, or like it, so… [laughter] It was really awesome when it was the exact opposite of what I expected!
Shaw-Han Liem: Going into E3, we both had a certain amount of terror because we couldn’t describe it in a sentence, and because it’s a new idea and so different…
Jonathan Mak: …and it doesn’t have that neat one-liner. Like, “oh, it’s in HD!”
Shaw-Han Liem: What was a surprise was that everyone who has seen it has approached it with an open mind. Once we explain it, people seem to be enthusiastic.
Jonathan Mak: And to be honest, the version we showed at E3 was pretty barebones. It was just about introducing the premise, so we showed a very simplified version of what it’s going to be.
Sound Shapes for NGP (PSN)
PSB: So if this is the framework, where does Sound Shapes go from here? Where will you focus your attention for the remaining development time?
Shaw-Han Liem: On a general level, the goal is to build out the tool set so that you have enough entities to build a really interesting world with a lot of gameplay. And to also add a lot sounds to allow totally different styles of music from one level to another. Basically, giving the tool more power — which will allow us to create cooler levels, but also giving more options to the players.
Jonathan Mak: From the gameplay point of view, there are some classic platform mechanics that aren’t in the game right now because we haven’t had time. If you like platformers, you’ll know there’s some obvious stuff we could put in there. And every time we add one entity, we exponentially increase the number of levels you can create.
PSB: Do you have a name for the, uh, protagonist?
Shaw-Han Liem: It never even occurred to me that it should have a name, but a lot of people have been asking…
Jonathan Mak: The key is that we didn’t want the avatar to steal the spotlight because the focus should be on the music that’s being created. So we made him a little bit low-key just to allow the music to come to the forefront.
PSB: In terms of a single-player experience, what’s your philosophy? Will I sit down with a campaign of sorts, or just a big, hot mess of levels to play?
Shaw-Han Liem: The metaphor that we’re using is that you’re sitting down with your record collection and you’ve got a bunch of levels – tracks – to leaf through. As you progress, you’re unlocking tunes, a new record… I guess people don’t sit down to listen to records anymore, but I still do! In terms of a “narrative,” that’s what we’re thinking. It’s about creating the atmosphere and interacting with music in a cool way.
PSB: What’s your vision for the online sharing element? Can I pass a level along to a bunch of friends and have them all leave their mark on it?
Jonathan Mak: Right now, it’s simple because we’re focusing on the core game. But you’ll be able to share levels with the community and download other people’s levels. There are a lot of good ideas kicking around…that we probably shouldn’t even talk about!
Shaw-Han Liem: The high-level goal is to capture the fun of making music — playing it for people, sharing it, making a record and sending it into the world to see what happens to it. If you can share your work and be proud of it, that’s going to encourage you to make more cool stuff.
Jonathan Mak: On the internet, people are like, “check out this song I found!” Once we get enough community-created levels, it would be cool if that happened to Sound Shapes. There might be a niche audience who really likes one guy’s levels.
PSB: Are you guys gamers?
Shaw-Han Liem: Five years ago, when I started this collaboration with Jon, I wouldn’t have considered myself a gamer. Around that time, people like Jon and some others introduced me to games that interacted with music in a cool way, like Rez. That’s what got me interested, and now I love Call of Duty. I don’t know what it was, but about a year ago I became a fiend.
Jonathan Mak: I play a lot of Tetris. I’ve always played Tetris. I hope to turn pro one day. Maybe…
PSB: What draws you to Tetris, Jonathan?
Jonathan Mak: I guess it’s a game that grew with me. I started playing it at eight years old, and I thought it was a piece of crap. But then I watched my brother’s friend play it like a speed run, so I started playing it that way. As I grew older, I started reading deeper meaning into Tetris: it only gave you certain shapes, so it’s kinda like life — you have to deal with what you’re given. Then came the poker craze in the 2000s, and I started applying that to Tetris: Even if you’re given crap, you can rearrange it in a way that’s fruitful, grab onto an opportunity. So it was all about probability and playing the odds .
Shaw-Han Liem: You should watch him play Tetris sometime, he’s like Rain Man.
Jonathan Mak: The funny thing with Sound Shapes is, I’ve never played platformers. It’s not a genre that I like and I was never good at them. But having worked on a platformer now, I can finally play and appreciate those games now. They used to be way too hard for me.
But yeah, it’s mostly Tetris. [laughter] There are a lot of games I want to play…I really want to play Journey when it comes out. I broke down and played a little Portal 2.
Source: playstation

Watch the 2011 EVO World Finals Live in PlayStation Home


The largest fighting game competition in the world is right around the corner and we are giving you, the PlayStation Home community, a front-row seat to witness the no-holds barred action of the 2011 EVO World Finals.

From Friday, July 29th until the final battle on Sunday, July 31st we will be streaming the event live from the Rio Resort in Las Vegas to the PlayStation Home Theater. Watch as competitors from around the globe duke it out on PS3 across five competitions: Marvel vs Capcom 3, Tekken 6, Mortal Kombat, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II, and Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition. Players include 2009 and 2010 Street Fighter champion Daigo Umehara who will attempt an unprecedented “3-peat” victory. Along the way to his goal he’ll face one of the strongest fields of competitors ever assembled, including US legend Justin Wong, Korean wizard Poongko, French phenom Kayane, and UK champ Ryan Hart.

The purpose of this event is twofold: First, bring the world’s top fighting game competition directly to your PlayStation 3. Secondly, we have some new video streaming technology to test in the PlayStation Home Theater and what better opportunity than this? Join us for this special event and help us test this new video streaming technology by posting about your experience in GlassWalls’ EVO 2011 World Finals Stream Test thread on the official PlayStation Home forums. Attendees will receive a line of exclusive PlayStation Home/EVO virtual items: Visitors on Friday will receive a limited edition EVO t-shirt for their PlayStation Home avatar; on Saturday players will be rewarded with a special fighting stick companion item; and on Sun all viewers will receive a replica of the EVO trophy for their PlayStation Home personal spaces.

From high-profile grudge matches to the Grand Finals (running all day on Sunday, July 31st), this year’s EVO World Finals is not to be missed. Knuckle up and log into PlayStation Home this weekend to watch the best of the best throw down until only one champion remains.
Full schedule:
Friday, July 29th
  • 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM Super Street Fighter IV Tournament, Early Rounds

  • 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM Super Street Fighter IV Tournament, Quarterfinals

  • 8:00 PM – 11:00 PM Super Street Fighter IV Tournament, Semi-Finals (top 32 players)

  • Saturday, July 30th
  • 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Tournament, Early Rounds

  • 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Tournament, Quarterfinals

  • 8:00 PM – 11:00 PM Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Tournament, Semi-Finals (top 32 players)

  • Sunday, July 31th
    9:00 AM – 9:00 PM The top 8 in each tournament square off for the 2011 championships. In order:
  • BlazBlue Continuum Shift 2 Tournament Finals

  • Tekken 6 Tournament Finals

  • Mortal Kombat 9 Tournament Finals

  • Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Tournament Finals

  • Super Street Fighter IV Tournament Finals

  • See you in Home!

    LittleBigPlanet Vita studio now Sony-exclusive developer

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011 · 0 comments

    Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) has secured a deal with LittleBigPlanet Vita developer Double Eleven, which will see the UK-based studio produce games exclusively for PlayStation platforms.

    Founded last year by ex-Rockstar Leeds staff, Double Eleven was announced as the brains behind the Vita iteration of LittleBigPlanet at E3 2011. The studio will continue working on the game before starting development on new titles for Sony platforms, with a focus said to be on Vita software.

    Speaking on the deal, SCE Worldwide Studios Europe senior vice president, Michael Denny, commented,  “Double Eleven are one of the most exciting developers to emerge onto the development scene in recent years, their technical expertise makes them a great fit for LittleBigPlanet on PSVITA and we’ve very pleased with the progress the team have made on this hugely anticipated title.”

    “For us to become strong partners with Sony at such a crucial stage in our own development underlines the unswerving commitment we have made to the quality of our production, added Double Eleven CEO, Lee Hutchinson.

    “It is a testament to the hard work of all the exceptional team here at Double Eleven and we're delighted that this agreement will help our company grow and flourish, working on prestigious titles, on leading-edge platforms.  The opportunity to work so closely with Sony is simply fantastic and we look forward to a truly exciting new phase in our own development, with the absolute intention to become a world-class studio.”

    Inside PlayStation Network - Mega Man 9


    The digital delights of Sony’s scrumptious PlayStation Network service know no bounds. Aside from letting punters compete in online gaming, stream films, browse the Internet and more, its premier attraction rests in the copious supply of downloadable games ripe for the picking. From PSN exclusives to PSOne Classics, minis and plain old add-on content, Sony’s online space is chock full of goodies battling it out for your hard-earned digital dollars.

    Welcome back to another installment of Inside PlayStation Network, where every Monday – Friday we’ll pluck a PSN release—be it new or old—and put it in the spotlight for a thorough dissection. Fancy getting a new PSN game but don’t know what one to plump for? Perhaps this feature will help. Didn’t realize that a game was available in your region until now? We've got you covered. Or, perhaps you were musing over what those lucky Japanese folk were tucking into over in the Land of the Rising Sun? You can be sure our coverage will extend to those rare regional exclusives as much as those firmly embedded on the public consciousness.

    Today, we shine the spotlight on retro-flavoured platform romp, Mega Man 9.


    Developer: Inti Creates/Capcom
    Region(s) available: North America, Europe, Japan
    Players: 1

    Sometimes game developers do actually listen to their fans, and nothing perhaps exemplifies this more than Capcom’s recent revival of Mega Man. Indeed, fans of the blue bomber had reason to celebrate a couple of years back when the Japanese giant released Mega Man 9, a retro-fused outing that proved a stellar hit with long-time followers and casual gamers alike. And the good news? It’ll still as teeth-grindingly tough as it’s always been.

    Mega Man 9 sees the little blue fellow out to exonerate his benevolent creator Dr. Light, after false accusations linking Light to a dastardly ploy appear on national Television. In terms of core mechanics, the game adheres firmly to the groundwork laid down by Mega Man 2 – in other words, you’ll be bathing in nostalgia from the very moment you pick up the pad and play. Capcom wisely sticks to the barebones here, so Mega Man can simply run, jump and shoot. That’s it. However, it works just as great as it always did, proving there's no need to fiddle with a classic formula.

    A total of eight stages are on offer, each one culminating in a duel against a robot master and subsequently awarding Mega Man with an extra weapon. Furthermore, the robots themselves are weak against each other’s weapons, so you’ll have to exploit their vulnerabilities in order to gain the upper hand. It’s harder than you might think, too. Our titular hero isn’t free of weaknesses either; Mega Man possesses a fear of heights, doesn’t like getting up close and personal with other robots and has a habbit of blowing up when near heat blasts or spikes.

    Naturally, the game exploits these weaknesses to the max, packing copious amounts of enemies and environmental hazards into each stage in order to test your platforming credentials. As mentioned, Mega Man 9 is tough, more so in fact than any of its predecessors – and those weren’t exactly a stroll in the park, either. Outside of making it through each stage in one piece, Mega Man 9 also throws in a number of challenges – 50 in total – that you can tackle if you are feeling particularly confident. These include tasks such as neutralizing a boss with just the mega buster or finishing the game without taking any damage. Elsewhere, you can also obtain bolts dropped by defeated enemies to invest in extra lives, energy tanks and other helpful items.

    Beyond the obvious charms of Mega Man 9’s retro-flavoured aesthetics and appropriately MIDI-style audio, the game also offers up online leaderboards, as well various downloadable content including extra characters, new difficulty levels and an all-new stage complete with a fresh boss fight against Fake Man. And when that’s all said and done, you can tuck into the follow-up, Mega Man 10. Fans never had it better.

    Join us again same time tomorrow for another glance Inside PlayStation Network.


    Tekken x Street Fighter at 'zero percent complete,' says Harada


    Crossover brawler Tekken x Street Fighter currently stands at “zero percent” complete, according to Tekken overlord Katsuhiro Harada.

    “Currently, the development of Tekken x Street Fighter is at zero percent. It’s developing about five percent in my head,” he told GeekIn at an event in Paris recently.

    The comments shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Harada-san previously commented that the game has yet to enter production. However, he did add that work on the beat ‘em up will begin as soon as development on Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is done and dusted.

    “I was really busy and also SF x Tekken and the Tekken x SF were not originally in the line-up. We were also working on Tekken Tag Tournament 2 at that time, so we haven’t got on the development of Tekken x Street Fighter. But Tag 2 is nearly finished, so when I get back from Paris, I plan to start working on that game,” said Harada.

    Elsewhere, he said that Namco is seeking feedback from fans via Twitter in regards to what characters they’d like to see included in the game.

    “At the moment, through Twitter, we’re asking people to send us suggestions on what characters to include in the new game. I especially want Street Fighter players to let us know which characters they want to see in the series," he said.

    Tekken x Street Fighter has, rather obviously, yet to attract a release date, though Capcom's crossover effort Street Fighter x Tekken will hit stores in early 2012.


    Lara Croft rebooted because she was 'losing some relevance,' says dev


    basically, Tomb Raider had to be rebooted as heroine Lara Croft was ‘losing some relevance in the gaming world,’ says Karl Stewart, brand manager at Crystal Dynamics.

    Speaking to RPS, Stewart said that the time was right to steer Miss Croft back to her roots, though admitted Crystal Dynamics had a swell time working with the series on the past three games.

    “I think Lara’s a beloved character and Crystal has really enjoyed their time they’ve been able to spend with her,” he said.

    “We felt she was losing some relevance in the gaming world, that she was a little too hard and removed. We wanted to create her more approachable and relatable. I think this was a great time for us to reimagine the franchise, taking Lara back to her roots.

    “I think it’s growing to be a great way for players to learn to reknow who Lara is, retell her story.”

    He also spoke of the development team’s ambitions for the new-look Croft, saying they wanted to create a character who gamers could relate to, and one who ‘wasn’t perfect.’

    “I think she definitely became an icon. When you do, you remove yourself from relatability. We wanted to bring her to a place where she didn’t have all those skills, she wasn’t perfect. The modern gamer can relate to that, they want a complex hero,” explained Stewart.

    “I think Lara had done all the growing she could. We’d taken her to a great place, to somewhere she had some closure. There weren’t really many more stories we could have told. So we feel like with this new place we have fertile ground and there is many of places we can go.”

    Tomb Raider is pencilled in for release in fall 2012 for PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360.
    via VG247