Like music itself, rhythm games often follow convention while simultaneously contributing their own form of innovation. This dialectic is especially evident when examining PM Studio’s SUPERBEAT: XONiC, a franchise which follows mainly of the conventions of the genre, while offering its own distinctive control schemes and remarkable diverse soundtrack. With the release of the Switch version imminent, we sat down with PM Studios CEO Michael Yum to discuss the developers’ ambitions, what’s unique about the upcoming version, and when gameplay converges on the impossible.
Tech-Gaming: Franchises like PaRappa the Rapper, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (adapted to Elite Beat Agents in the West), Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA, and Frequency have all enjoyed success over the years, demonstrating an admiration for instrument-less music rhythm games. In your opinion, what makes the genre so enjoyable?
Michael Yum: I really feel it’s the level of difficulty the games provide and the satisfaction from mastering it.
T-G: SUPERBEAT: XONiC is a bit different than its peers, with control scheme that uses a variety of inputs, from analog sticks to face buttons. What prompted this design decision?
MY: We wanted to evolve the game for the current consoles, so we made sure each control device was utilized to the fullest. For devices that also feature Touch Screens, it was fun for us to add that as an extra option.
T-G: Another distinctive feature is the incorporation of different input methods, a legacy from the DJMax series. Most games use simplified patterns to accommodate less experienced players. What was the reason behind creating different control schemes?
MY: Again, we wanted the game to feel like DJMAX but slightly evolved. As much as we love the traditional UI design, we really wanted to try and make it a fresh feeling.
T-G: Speaking of DJMax, can you clarify the roles and relationships between of Pentavision, PM Studios, and Nurijoy?
MY: We’ve been asked this a lot and can finally clarify all the roles. Pentavision and PM was a developer/publisher relationship. Pentavision had full creative control whereas PM had the marketing and distribution control. For PM and Nurijoy we acted as co-developers/publishers. For SUPERBEAT Vita, Nurijoy worked on the designs and programming and PM worked on the art/graphics. For the PS4, XB1 and Switch versions PM Studios handled all of the development. For all new DLC, PM handled all the development.
T-G: How many employees work with your studio?
MY: We currently have 2 offices with multiple projects in the works. In Los Angeles we have 15 employees, and in Korea we have 14. We also outsource a lot to our former colleagues.
T-G: One vital element of a rhythm game are play patterns- those arrangements that make players feel like they’re playing the song. Can you walk us through how they are made?
MY: We have multiple groups that design the patterns. Sometimes they will come from game designers and most often times they will actually come from the sound designers and musicians themselves. The inspiration behind each pattern is very different but the goal is the same. We want the player to feel like they are creating the music as they are pressing the buttons and also have fun doing it. The sound team looks at the keynotes on the song and try their best to match it to the controller and create a seamless flow.
T-G: Have there every been any play patterns that are just too fast and complicated, making you say, “no one is going to be able to keep up”?
MY: Yes, almost all of them lol. We try our best to make each song beat-able yet almost feel it’s impossible to master. That’s why we give players multiple play options and boosters to help you conquer them.
T-G: If I’m not mistaken, some of the music is developed in-house, shirking the need for licensed tracks? What is the reason behind this?
MY: Licensing tracks is just too much of a complicated process and doesn’t allow us to give the gamers the freedom to show their performance. We want gamers to stream their gameplay, share their play records, record footage, etc… and by licensing tracks it almost takes away this freedom because of royalty issues. Also by creating the tracks in house, we can change and alter things to make the patterns more fun.
T-G: How are music tracks commissioned? What’s the dialog like between game and music producers?
MY: This is probably the best part of the game development process. We show our engine and how it’s meant to be played and the musicians come up with their own unique tracks to match it. Once we receive the tracks and design the stage we let them play it and then start sharing feedback from there.
T-G: SUPERBEAT: XONiC has one of the most diverse track lists in the genre, combining everything from classical, metal, house, R&B, to the occasional easy listening song. How do you go about curating the soundtrack?
MY: Our Sound Producer tries his best to put as much variety as we can. It wouldn’t be to fun if the game had the same flow throughout its entire library. We really want to give users a ton of options.
T-G: World Tour mode send players across fourteen clubs, reproducing the life of a top-tier DJ. How difficult was it to obtain permissions to use names and logos?
MY: Very easy lol. We just come up with our own stuff and find inspiration from stuff out there.
T-G: The game was previously released for the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita? What additions can players expect to see in the Switch version?
MY: We also had an Xbox One version that has surprisingly done very well. The Switch version has the return of the Touch controls, which is great for beginners. The Switch version also has several free DLC packs and some unannounced content that will be revealed soon.
Tech-Gaming would like to thank Michael Yum, PM Studios,
and acttil’s Nao Miyazawa Pellicone for their participation
PM Studios with be hosting a Reddit AMA on November 21st, 2017.