June 28, 2014
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I’m going to open this reflection up with the verdict: Audiosurf is a brilliant game that offers a refreshing departure from most of the games I normally play, and its setup means it practically has infinite replay value. Released back in 2008 by the company Invisible Handlebar, Audiosurf is a musical puzzle game that procedurally generates stages based on patterns in the music provided to the game. The gameplay is simple: players control a vehicle along a track and collect coloured blocks while their music plays. Game-types vary from collecting blocks and dodging grey blocks, to collecting blocks in specific patterns and configurations to optimise score without overfilling. In concept, the game is quite simple to play, but under the hood, a clever algorithm analyses the input music to generate AHS files, which hold the information about the track. The game loads the environment from the ASH files, with the track’s elevation, surface and layout reflected in the dynamics of the music being played. Soft and mellow songs produce an uphill track that would be very slow, relaxing and rich in cool colours. Conversely, intense intense and loud songs yield a downhill, high speed ride thick with traffic and lit up with hot colours. I first played Audiosurf back in 2010 on the campus computers, prior to a vacation to the Suzhou-Hangzhou region; the freeways here are lined with LED guard-rails that periodically change colour, and after evening dinner, we would head from the restaurant to our hotel along these freeways. Several of Rie Tanaka’s songs began playing on my iPod Touch, and I suddenly felt like I was immersed in Audiosurf.
- The figure captions today will depart from the typical format, and I will be talking about some of my favourite songs to use in Audiosurf. We begin with Rie Tanaka’s “Soshite Sekai wa Kyou mo Hajimaru” (lit. “And so, the world begins again today”), a song from Chobits that speaks of Chii’s experiences in the world as she experiences things in the world, feeling a little melancholic and wistful. Many of the songs in Chobits are either jazz or pop à la The Carpenters, and confer a particularly relaxing listen. The slower but catchy pacing in Soshite Sekai wa Kyou mo Hajimaru makes it particularly suited for a relaxed environment, such as a coffee shop, or driving through a quiet freeway by nightfall or dawn’s first light.
- “Katakoto no Koi”, or “Awkward Love”, is one of the happiest, most upbeat and friendliest songs in my library. This song captured my heart when I heard it for the first time, and the simple lyrics belie an innocent nature that reflects on Chii’s personality. This song’s pacing and composition, especially the presence of a trumpet and beautiful performance from Rie Tanaka, reminds me of honest, warm and soft style that The Carpenters were known for.
- Rie Tanaka is one of my favourite artists of all time: my first exposure to her music was through Token of Water from Gundam SEED, and I promptly fell in love with her musical style and voice. I was in high school at the time, and preferred soundtracks over vocal music, but through Rie Tanaka, I gradually opened up to vocal music of all sorts. Boku wa kimi ga suki (lit “I love you”) is a bouncy song from the album Garnet. I listened to this album for the first time after enjoying fish fried in tomato sauce in Suzhou, before making our way to Wuxi, back in 2010. The freeways in this part of China are well-maintained, and as noted in a previous post, have LED-illuminated guardrails that gently change colour.
- Midori no Mori (lit. “The Green Forest”) is a song on Rie Tanaka’s 24 Wishes. Finding this album was remarkably difficult; sung by Rie Tanaka and Keitaro Takanami, this bossa nova song gives off a warm, almost tropical feeling that is reminiscent of the southern islands in Japan, where vast green forests run up to the ocean. If memory serves, 24 Wishes has some music from Chobits, although truth be told, I’ve never actually seen the anime. The time is ripe to change that.
- Besides Rie Tanaka, Lia is also one of my favourite singers: her performance for Angel Beats‘ “My Soul, Your Beats” is phenomenal. The song has two distinct components: Lia’s smooth and continuous vocals carry the melody, while the underlying harmonic elements are rhythmic and staccato, mimicking a heartbeat.
- As my third undergraduate year was winding down, I picked up Angel Beats! out of curiosity after coming across the opening song again. I was interested in seeing the series, and on days where classes ended before noon, I would return home and watch Angel Beats! while enjoying lunch. In its finale, Ichiban no Takaramono (“My most precious treasure”) plays as Otanashi and Kanade part ways. The song carries a genuine feeling that made me tear up upon hearing it for the first time.
- Seishun Vibration hails from the K-On!! Character image album for Mio. Sung by Yōko Hisaka, Seishun Vibration is fast-paced, heavy with percussion and bass elements. The lyrics speak volumes about Mio’s true self: despite trying her hardest to be mature and focussed, Mio can occasionally lapse into an undisciplined state when provoked, and she also has a love for cute things. Her songs reflect this, and in Seishun Vibration, it’s clear that Mio wants to experience what love is at the most passionate level, as evidenced by the (somewhat suggestive) lines “I want to be able to do this forever: that position would feel better than anything …/…The moment we become one, I burn hot!!”.
- Mugi’s Dairy wa Fortessimo (sung by Minako Kotobuki) might be as upbeat as Mio’s Seishun Vibration, but whereas Mio’s song is more passionate, the lyrics in Dairy wa Fortessimo is about her happiness at being able to enjoy tea and perform with her friends. Three summers ago, I was out on a day trip to the mountains with the research lab: together with Seishun Vibration, Dairy wa Fortessimo feels like the perfect music for drives along the open road under the mountains.
- Ashita e no Michi (“The Road to Tomorrow”) is from the Tari Tari character albums and is probably my favourite out of all the songs: the composition brings to mind Leslie Cheung and Jackie Cheung‘s Canto-pop compositions, which I listened to frequently when I was much younger. They somehow remind me of the university, and in particular, Ashita e no Michi turned out to be an exceptional, if obscure, song. I had little idea of what the lyrics were, but a bit of assistance from another blogger allowed me to fully translate the song.
- Choucho’s Dream Riser is the opening to Girls und Panzer, the anime that turned out to be a surprise hit. Whereas opinions on it were initially divided (most people were anticipating something similar to Strike Witches in that there’d be limited story and excessive anatomy lessons), the anime soon proved itself to be a solid story on personal discovery, the significance of friendship and what good sportsmanship is.
- As of late, I add ClariS’ music to my list of songs that I enjoy in Audiosurf. The opening music they have performed for the Madoka Magica anime and movies is amazing; the change in tempo and intensity also lends itself to some interesting moments in Audiosurf: the song has a lullaby-like feeling in its opening moments, with gentle piano and synth elements. Strings and percussion soon join the accompaniment, and what was prima facie a ballad quickly transforms the song into an upbeat pop song with an uplifting melody.
- 7 Girls War is the opening song to Wake Up, Girls!, that, as a song composed as a J-Idol song, somehow manages to be more intense than the fastest of my DragonForce songs. In Audiosurf‘s simplest game setting, mono, there are coloured and grey blocks on the track. The aim is simply to collect the coloured blocks and dodge the grey ones. Gentle, slower music yields blocks that are mostly blue and purple, while high intensity songs will yield orange and red blocks. None of my DragonForce songs have actually sustained the same level of intensity as the songs from Wake Up, Girls!, which I found to be quite surprising.
- We finally step out of the realm of anime music, to other titles. I play a mixture of instrumental and vocal music in Audiosurf, and some songs are better suited than others for unlocking achievements. Longer instrumental songs are quite well suited for this task, as they tend to have quieter moments. One such song is Halo 4‘s 117, which, together with To Galaxy, are my favourite pieces on the soundtrack. Stepping away from Martin O’Donnell’s style in older soundtracks, Neil Davidge presents a new musical style to the Halo universe that is a refreshing new take.
- At the time of writing, I’ve unlocked sixteen of nineteen available achievements in Audiosurf, and here, I am enjoying a quieter moment in the DragonForce song “Heroes of Our Time”. The new DragonForce albums are amazing: “Seasons” and “Fallen World” are among my favourite new tracks, joining the likes of “Soldiers of This Wasteland” and “Valley of the Damned” as my top DragonForce songs.
- Now that I think about it, I’ve never actually tried Nightwish or Rammstein in Audiosurf before. There are several achievements that are significantly easier to unlock using instrumental songs, though: here, I am attempting to unlock the “Snowstorm” achievement (collect a chain reaction of at least seven white blocks), and the trick is to, using the Double Vision game mode to accumulate a “base” of blocks, then collecting the required number of white blocks and waiting for the correct moment to set them off.
I’ve now got my own copy of Audiosurf from the Steam 2013 Summer Sale (for a cool 1.99), and, upon loading the very same songs I listened to in the Suzhou-Hangzhou region, I am brought back three years to that summer. This time, though, I’ve got a 1080p display, and it is quite magical to play through Audiosurf while listening to my favourite songs. Over the past year, I’ve unlocked a majority of the achievements, save the ones that involve displacing friends’ scores, and the game continues to be a thrill to play. There are numerous game types to keep things varied, and together with a massive music library, the possibility and incentive for replay is nearly infinite; despite being a very simple game, by being able to turn my favourite songs into levels, Audiosurf personalises the experience. Different players will experience the game differently, and for me, I see a game that provides an exhilarating light show synchronised to my music. I see a game that allows for endless replay: as long as I’ve got music, there will always be a reason to play this game.