A Look Back At Audiosurf
Audiosurf was an interesting step in my gaming education. It was probably the first “indie” game I had ever seen or heard about. It struck me as incredible that a single person (in this case Dylan Fitterer) could make an entire game by himself! All my mates were talking about it and the tunes of the moment became battlegrounds for everyone to get their name on the leaderboard. I remember that at the same time everyone was playing the hell out of Guitar Hero 3 and obviously the hardest song was ‘Through the Fire and the Flames’, so that ended up with ridiculous scores and YouTube videos. Unfortunately I’ve lost my login and password for the leaderboards so I can’t tell you exactly how awesome I was at Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ (I was definitely at the top of one of the leaderboards at some point, honest). Fun times were had by all, so I’m going to tell you why its a great game.
So what is Audiosurf? I would describe it as an engine that procedurally generates a racetrack full of collectables based on your music, downhill for fast sections and uphill for the slower ones. There are flourishes of colour as the tempo and volume change, while the track jumps up and down to the beat. You control one of several cars depending on what mode you are in, that look like F Zero cars from the Tron universe. These different modes come in three tiers of difficulty; some, like the Ninja mode, exist in all three while others exist in only one or two. All of the modes revolve around the mechanic of running into blocks from three lanes to connect three or more of the same colour in a grid to score points. These points get tallied up with various bonuses and multipliers at the end and are put on a public scoreboard. Different modes change your abilities, from being able to pick up and place the blocks to pushing them between the lanes. The most intriguing one is probably the co-op mode that gives you two cars to collect the blocks on a larger single grid. It’s great fun with a friend that has the same taste in music, as there is no way to lose; you get to listen to the whole song through. Seeing a single person control both cars successfully is rather impressive.
I would have to say that I spent most of my time messing around in the Ninja mode. While I was listening to something from Bloc Party’s ‘Silent Alarm’ album (their best – so many good songs on it) I’d be collecting up waves of colour-shifting blocks and trying to stack them high while jumping and weaving around the (bad) grey blocks. It always felt good to get the Ninja bonus, especially when it helped me get onto the top 10 public leaderboard. Going through my favourite albums again and again, trying for the top spot, took up a few of my evenings and was probably how I would have been listening to them anyway… apart from without the flashy shiny colours and numbers!
It’s essentially the world’s best music visualiser. Racing along you can see the hue of the track edges and the body of your car morph into a bright yellow as the song becomes livelier. The size and shape of the car’s exhaust pulses to the beat and gets longer when the track gets louder. Meanwhile the background changes colour too like a tasteful tie-dye shirt (oxymoron?). Alien-looking constructs spin and flail their arms, dancing to the song and at the end of the track is a metal octopus… thing. There are also nice touches like subtle whooshing and tingling sounds that let you know when you get a bonus or go over a certain score.
What initially impressed me most about the game is the procedural generation – the fact that it can make a game out of a song was and is very cool. It helped people to appreciate games that had music at the heart of their experiences. Games like Beat Hazard and the Bit.Trip series are fun and successful in part due to Audiosurf breaking the ice. The good thing about music is that new tunes are being made all the time! As long as we keep using the same file types then Audiosurf will be able to play them. That’s pretty cool and it seems that there is a healthy community still filling up those leaderboards, and even if there wasn’t it’s still great as a visualiser and as a personal score challenge!