A journey into sound: making music with Lucky Frame’s side-scrolling sequencer Wave Trip
Wave Trip begins – startlingly – in absolute silence, a sound so alien in modern gaming we wonder if we’ve accidentally muted our iPhone. But it’s intentional, we’re told. “It’s a bit scary from the perspective of making a music game,” admits Yann Seznec, sound designer at Edinburgh studio Lucky Frame, “but on the other hand it means that when the player starts generating the music it can create a very powerful attachment. When the sound arrives it’s like, ‘Ohhhhh!’”
Indeed it is. Following Pugs Luv Beats and Bad Hotel onto the App Store, Wave Trip is a continuation of Lucky Frame’s “philosophy of interweaving music and gameplay”, and it’s perhaps the studio’s most successful realisation of that ideal so far. Playing – and sounding – rather like a hybrid of Tiny Wings and Sound Shapes (a strong source of inspiration, as Seznec cheerfully acknowledges) it’s a curious kind of side-scrolling sequencer, as players collect scattered objects to add layers to an ever- evolving soundtrack.
“We wanted to make a game that was much more song-oriented than Bad Hotel,” says Seznec, perhaps a tacit admission that the procedurally generated soundtrack of the studio’s charmingly odd tower defence title was a little off-kilter. The goal was a game “which rewarded advanced engagement but didn’t punish casual players”, and so the team began to look through a selection of prototypes created by programmer Jonathan Brodsky. “He had one really funny game where you had to pick up objects as they fell,” recalls Seznec. “It was very simple, but it had a lot of potential for strong musical associations. So we went with that.”
The game has changed significantly from its original form. A geometric craft moves automatically through a series of abstract environments, climbing as players press their finger to the screen, and falling upon release. Orange objects, when collected, fire bullets into flying enemies, adding points to your score, while blue items contribute to a multiplier that resets whenever you take damage. A tap on the left side of the screen activates a shield that can destroy static or incoming enemies, though it has a brief cooldown period to prevent overuse. It’s quite a challenge to earn a healthy score, as levels are briskly paced and busy, but crucially, you’ll make a pleasant musical backing regardless of how you perform.
It’s still an unconventional game in many respects, but there’s a confidence in its execution that shows a definite progression from Bad Hotel. Is Lucky Frame, which when we last spoke admitted to being staffed by “terrible game designers”, getting better at making games? “I think we are getting better, for sure,” says Seznec. “And I think all of the work we have been doing combining music and gameplay is starting to pay off. We’ve been really lucky to have the opportunity to prototype, finish, and release games that are all exploring and experimenting with different approaches to [this combination], which has helped us build a pretty great set of skills and knowledge, which we have totally applied to Wave Trip.”
The studio has evidently learned from its own experiments, but it’s had a little help from its friends, too: Simogo, Bennett Foddy, Vlambeer and Michael Brough are all namechecked. “We’ve been really lucky that over the past year we’ve managed to get a little bit of credibility on the indie games scene,” he says, referring to IGF nominations for both Pugs Luv Beats and Bad Hotel, “and it’s been super great to be in contact with people like that. It absolutely helps.”