Declan Kolakowski

Strategies for Empowering Players to Compose

Added on by Declan Kolakowski.

One of the things I touched on in my last post on empowering creativity in players was the relationship between interactivity and music when empowering players to create and its general neglect in videogames today. The most common form of music game today are rhythm games, which are not at all creative. They give the illusion to the player that they are creating music by forcing them to be a monkey who just repeats back what they hear. Something which the game rhythm heaven even commented on.

In my game NORnS I tried to created some interactive music elements for the game. I found however that for the most part players were unaware that they were having any effect on the music. I felt for the most part that my attempts to improve the creative output on audio in my game failed and I wanted to explore why that was. I think the creative and aesthetic nature of the music in NORnS was successful but not its ability to empower.

So here are another set of strategies based on things I learnt that you can use to improve creativity with the audio a side of your games:


  1. Keep it simple. Given the nascent state of this type of game, the player base for it is relatively small and inexperienced and so, simple is better than complex, especially at the beginning, Make it easy and perceptible to the unmusical ear what is going on.

  2. Harmony first, rhythm second. Offering players a pre-written harmonic language that they can play around with gives them a lot of space to create and will almost always yield results that sounds pretty good. Rhythm is a lot harder to pin down for the unmusical, despite it being something we take for granted as musicians.

  3. Synths over samples. In terms of player usability the clearness of the synthesized sound is much more accessible. Again this goes back to general inexperience with this type of play. The synthesized sound with none of the muddiness of real instruments is easy to understand initially.

  4. If you do use rhythm use of a grid. Or slap on so much reverb it doesn’t matter.

  5. Make it fun!

Many of the things I discussed in my previous article about general creative empowerment apply here too. You still want to create a safe space for your player to compose in. You still want everything to be integrated. And you still want to not overly tie the explorative nature of creativity to your games objectives. To close out, here is one of my favourite interactive music scenes.