So it turns out Steve Hunt may have beaten me by about 8 years to write a commercial game for the 8-bit Atari, but whereas I turned my back on games programming he soldiered on. But here is the good news. In my career, I have been made redundant once. Steve? TWICE. Who the hell is laughing now?
Well, Steve I guess. He decided to go indie after his second redundancy, starting Cold Beam Games. He got to work on his first game originally titled Audio Space Pwnage! which, as titles go, is right up there with the greats like Microsoft Bob, Trend Micro AntiVirus and Planet Attack. Fortunately, he settled on Beat Hazard and shipped to XBox last year; in recent months, the PC crowd got to enjoy it.
Okay, I’ll stop picking on Steve, especially as I don’t know him, and just cut to the chase. Beat Hazard is fabulous and sexy. Stripped down, it’s just a fairly basic arena shooter; but this isn’t Gok Wan on how to look good naked. A “basic arena shooter” misses the point.
Beat Hazard is a music visualiser with shooter aspects, choreographing both enemy attacks and the power of your weapon to the music in play. The game is just part of the visualisation, a concept that’s surfaced before, such as in the notable elephant in the room right now, Audiosurf.
It’s quite gorgeous when it gets going, which leads us directly into one criticism of the game: it all gets a bit Space Giraffe when the visualisation cranks up and turns the screen into molten lava. Steve has already added the option to tone down the visualisation – at the expense of 30% of your score. The downgrade is not for me. I love the way that when I decide to fire, light haemorrhages across the monitor and shatters the enemies into sparkling embers. I love the way the screen shudders in excited anticipation as a boss lurches into view. I love the graphical “shit, where am I?” insanity when things really get going.
There’s another criticism. Some tracks are bastards. If you’ve piped in a rock extravaganza, you’ll get to play with majestic laser rays of supreme death, but if the music is subdued, your weapon is as good as a pea-shooter. So, for example, if you take too long to kill a boss dead, you’ll be left fighting it out with rocks and stones if the song segues into a lull. But this is Beat Hazard’s beauty. No, really. It’s up to you to choose a track which suits the game you want to play. Let me give you an example.
After I upgraded to the paid version, I was able to experiment with my own MP3s – and discovered the game was more of an audio lab. Challenge reared its head when I chose one of the bonus tracks from the Inception soundtrack web site, Projections, even though I played with an XBox controller which I find easier for shooters than a mouse. Every time it seemed I was close to reaching the climax of the track, I died. The music was just too calm, making the journey towards the end hard work. But I kept trying and trying until I finally sharpened my skills enough to make it through to the bombastic coda and experience raw joy. Beat Hazard, after all the pain it had put me through, rewarded me with the power to RAIN DEATH UPON MY ENEMIES.
Here’s a YouTube video of a victorious session, although I’ve cut out several minutes in the middle of the track. I wouldn’t want you to get bored. (HD video, so fullscreen it for maximum viewing pleasure.)
If you’re looking for innovative pow-pow shooty action, Beat Hazard is not for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something that staples some of your best-loved music into a game to make something crazy and exciting, this is the place to be.
Before I walk away, I had to squeeze in this ridiculous video. Even if you have no intention of playing Beat Hazard, you owe it to yourself to watch this. I stole it right off Steve’s blog, which shows you just how much respect I have for him.
Post-game buzz: Musically-generated shooter, awesome results. Will melt your retinas.