iPod Hero

CM Mark

The East is Ours!
Apr 13, 2005
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Pretty Pretty Unicorn
#1
http://blog.wired.com/games/2007/11/hands-on-phase-.html

Looks like Rock Band isn't the only thing Harmonix has up their sleeves: today, a rhythm game for iPod made by the MIT music geeks showed up on iTunes. Phase, which sells for $5, leans heavily on the company's past work to create a music title that works with the small screen and limited controls of Apple's player.

Similar to the recently released Musika, Phase creates game data from any song you choose on your iPod. But Harmonix's game actually turns your music into a rhythm-based game in which you press buttons in a pattern to the beat of the song.

In that way, it differs from Musika. That game's creator Masaya Matsuura told Wired at the time that while they were technologically able to create rhythm-based gameplay on the iPod, "the player can't concentrate on gameplay within a mobile environment... if they concentrate to play a very strict type of rhythm-based game, it would be too much."

Harmonix would seem to have no such worries -- or if they do, they weren't enough to steer them from creating a rhythm game. Phase is quite similar to all of the company's past efforts: the 3D musical interface that shows the notes you must press looks identical to Frequency, and Guitar Hero for that matter. The game plays just as you'd expect -- when the green notes hit the bottom of the line, you press the appropriate button (the left and right sides of the click wheel, and the middle button).

There's one other input -- when you see the blue lines of tiny dots, you run your finger over the scroll wheel gradually to sweep them all up. Do well on each section that the songs are split into, and you'll earn points and Stars (with graphical shorthand straight out of Rock Band) that measure your score; miss too many notes and you'll lose the Hearts that keep you alive.

It's not an especially complicated interface, but the addition of the sweep commands mean that you do have to practice a little to adjust. A variety of songs are included in the game (including one from friend-of-Game|Life Jane Pinkard's band), but the real appeal is of course using your own tracks to generate the game's levels.

But this is where things get a bit tricky. Before you can do anything, you'll have to upgrade to iTunes version 7.5. Why? Because Phase doesn't generate tracks on the fly. When you download it, a new Playlist will appear in your iTunes window on your PC, and you have to individually drag tracks over to it. ITunes will then analyze and generate gameplay data for each track individually, which takes five to ten seconds per song (you'll see the progress bar).

Having done that, you'll need to re-sync your iPod, making sure you sync Phase and the playlists. If the stars align correctly, you should be able to load up Phase and get playing, either choosing individual songs or a Marathon mode that gives you a series of increasingly difficult tracks.

But how does it play? Quite well, considering the limitations of the iPod. The three-key gameplay patterns are rendered rather well; playing "Highway Star" I was sometimes surprised by how naturally the patterns matched up to what was going on in the music. The iPod's controls rarely failed me either on the rhythmic pressing or the sweeps.

Playing the game on the hardest difficulty level is pretty hard -- I didn't win any of the songs I tried on it. The patterns get complicated, and since the patterns are generated procedurally you can't ever rely on them being exactly what you think they are. Practice, and some experience with watching the patterns, will end up being necessary.

I don't know how often I'll play Phase versus simply listening to music the normal way, but a game like this had to happen for the iPod. Hopefully future versions can take this totally viable concept and expand it out into something a little less of a diversion and more of a compelling software title of its own.