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Level Up Winner: Polyphonic hears the win

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There’s a very cerebral aspect to the Level Up-winning music-puzzler, Resynth.

“Which is our big mistake!” responds Sam Izzo, Technical Director of the two-man studio, Polyphonic.

Or the genius.

Music games like Rez and Luminous have fascinated gamers for years, and with Resynth a new vibe now takes control. It’s one that is founded in a love of music, but directed by a sense of engagement. The result is a multi-award winning game that taps the puzzle sensibility of games with a musical charisma.

These guys were working at THQ’s now-defunct Blue Storm studios (on the tragically under-rated De Blob) when life happened and the studio closed.

But what happens then?

Co-founder Andrew Trevillian is pursuing his doctoral research involving “sensory information across senses… How does a particular color impact sound or visa versa.” But it is also related to games, though in an academic sense. And the emerging game represented not only those scholarly goals, but respected some classic game designs.

Jenova Chen’s Journey was a part of it. And while the games don’t share many gameplay similarities there is a foundation of philosophy that gels them.

“It’s about balancing between anxiety and boredom…and finding ways that you scaffold the experience to keep you in the middle of the experience,” says Trevillian of these theories.

Going beyond that, understanding and delivering on mechanics that engage a player are part of this team’s academic DNA. It sounds like it’s more than games, but still understanding that it’s games.

“There’s a real sense of emotional engagement that builds over time with thatgamecompany games,” says Trevillian, “and for us we’re building this color and music, and innate engagement with music that isn’t dissimilar.”

This came to a pointed event when the team realized that the music had to flow with the level design and that maybe they couldn’t be sourced or designed separately. Izzo asserts that when the first levels went in “a guitarist friend of Andy’s created it, and it sort of didn’t work out.” This helped prove a point of relationship between the level design and the music composition. “Then Andy did one and we realized the levels and music went hand-in-hand, and for me it felt good,” adds Izzo.

Emerging from a PhD project, the game still needed to conjoin disparate parts for Trevillian while retaining its soul for music. A flute, saxophone, and drums player, he had taken this passion into games (partly via De Blob) but also figuring a core relationship.

“Working on the PhD I was engaged in the literature of what makes music work,” he says, “and how it surprises and how it’s generated, and how repetition in a familiar space works, with shifts and alterations that offer surprise and delight.”

This led to a formula to make Resynth work as a game. “Levels for this game have to play in interesting and challenging ways, but also have to sound great, both in unfinished and finished state,” he adds.

It helps, for Izzo, himself a semi-professional jazz piano player, to make it “more of a genuine experience.” And that matters for a game that does blend an aesthetic with an emotional element, and requires both to engage so that gamers connect.

“We know the project is niche, and it’s for people who like challenging puzzle games and like making music,” says Izzo, but he adds “we don’t want to make throwaway games.”

Not to disparage the other teams in the area making less visibly cerebral games, it’s a core focus of a new team looking to make a mark, and successfully making a Level Up mark. “As a new studio, we have to establish a presence,” Izzo says, “and maybe mark us as a team to create something with authenticity and integrity.”

Those lofty goals have paid off so far, but also highlighted the challenges of building a successful game in what Izzo asserts is a challenging market. “It’s hard to get noticed with so much stuff out there,” he says, “so winning Level Up means we can hopefully get visibility.”

After the release on iOS, the incoming PC version should mean greater visibility. And it illustrates the dance. From a side project PhD prototype that went through multiple iterations as an academic study before finding something Trevellian says “felt engaging from the get-go, so people got it quickly,” Resynth has found its voice.

Success isn’t academic. But academics might help.


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