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Avatar Runner: Coding to the beat

I won’t hide the fact that I love Audiosurf and it is no doubt one of the major influences in why I wanted to create Avatar Runner. The look, vibe and scoring are all of course very different with Avatar Runner having a (hopefully!) cheerful feel to it but at the heart of it, the game is about playing along to music.

Audiosurf works by analysing the entire song and building up the track. Whilst the XNA framework does provide analysis of audio, it requires the song to be playing. Unfortunately for in order to know what is coming next and create a nice and exciting run I would need to play through the entire song first. That is some loading time!

With the songs currently in the game I was able to analyse the music myself and plot turns of pace, increased spawning and colour of items. However that isn’t possible for the Custom Mode where you can play any track from your music library. I would imagine many people would find this mode an attractive option therefore I still wanted to have some way of slowing down the player when there’s a lull in the song as well as providing pace for the more exciting parts. To achieve this I’ve done a few calculations based on the visualisation data provided by XNA and have been able to tweak the player’s pace and spawn rate to match the song. It ain’t the perfect solution but it still provides a great gameplay experience, unlike anything currently on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Checkout this video of me playing along to two great tracks on my personal Xbox Music Library!

Diversity in Avatar Runner

Avatar Runner was introduced with a healthy dash of samba and sun as a game that was perfect for slobbing on a lazy Sunday afternoon. However not all runs have a relaxed feel-good factor to them. The later, faster levels will have you gripping the controller tight as you find yourself nearer to the edge and more prone to mistakes.

Not only will there be differences in speed and the gaps between items, but the environment and music will have its differences. One run might be an easy going plod through the desert or down a beach with flutes playing and the next will pick up tempo as you head through a more fiendish setting.

The custom game mode will give players the freedom to set their own difficulty whilst running to their favourite songs on their Xbox. If you want to listen to some tunes and keep yourself busy at the same time then stick it on an easier difficulty and go for a run. Want to have a go at playing the game to a heavy metal song? Crank the difficulty up all the way and see if you can cope!

I’m still working on the balance and spread of levels (how many easy? how many hard?). For the speed nuts and hardcore gamers, mainly the more intense levels will appeal but there’s certainly a place for the slower, more relaxed levels. They provide a good entry for people who maybe aren’t as nimble with the controller and I also enjoy them when just wanting something to do when my mind is too numb to focus on more difficult gameplay.

Perhaps the biggest challenge here is providing access to these levels. I don’t want to force a very skilled player to play through all of the easy levels first, but then do I limit the amount of easier gameplay, or bury away. Equally that first level should be the easiest right? But it needs some pace to hook in those looking for at least the promise of a tough challenge.

I will explore this in my next blog… but for now enjoy this new video.