Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Beat Hazard (Cold Beam Games)

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When I think about the combination of music and video games, I can’t help but think Konami and Harmonix.  Thanks to the Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) series by Konami – c’mon gamers, everyone tried it at one point – your love for music and games could be realized.  Unfortunately the series focused on techno music, many tracks from Japan, and there wasn’t that connection with the songs you really wanted (although there was this awesome DDR on the original Xbox that had a remix of the Neverending Story Theme).  Enter Harmonix, a company that made its humble beginnings in similar techno infused video games with titles like Frequency, and its idea to take a big cumbersome plastic guitar and mix it with hard rock tunes.  Guitar Hero and the slew of spin-offs that Activision juiced out of it had one painful flaw: you were still limited with the songs that were released.  Even today Rock Band has thousands of songs but you aren’t able to pick anything you want/like.  That’s where Beat Hazard comes in.  A twin-stick shmup that utilizes any music track you provide to create an entire level lasting the length of that track.

Okay, let’s get the setup clear because a “level” will be in a fixed location (Asteroids, Geometry Wars) and not a scrolling level (Gradius, R-Type).  Enemies will appear along with certain aspects of the code to generate the various obstacles that will be thrown at you – everything from actual asteroids to large bosses.  I don’t think that developer Cold Beam Games has released any info on how the game is able to take your music and create a level, but if I were the developer I’d keep that secret until my game had run its course.  Even more impressive is that Cold Beam Games CEO Steve Hunt appears to have created (and possibly developed) the game by himself, although I can’t find concrete evidence of that.  In addition, Hunt admits to taking the addictive concept in Geometry Wars and adapting it to taking codes from MP3 files.  As time has gone on he has updated the game as well as created a definitive version, Beat Hazard Ultra, which now supports many formats such as iTunes’ AAC format and even streaming formats like those found on Last FM.  The original, which can be found on the XNA community channel on Xbox Live, only supports MP3 files as far as I know.

Expanding and Going Ultra

Beat Hazard premiered on the XNA channel at a whopping 400 MS points ($5), one of the most expensive titles in a sea of 80-160 ($1-$2) games.  Despite this fact, its quality made the game a runaway hit and was awarded one of the top 20 XNA titles to play by the Dream Build Play 2010 Challenge.  A good friend of mine (Rob aka “TreesLounge” from the EZ Mode Unlocked podcast) recommended the title, which even I was speculative of, and I was immediately hooked.  I even set up my PC for streaming MP3s on my network to get access to all the wonderful songs this game is compatible with – especially artists like Prodigy, Steel Panther, and SpineShank, which would never be in a commercial title.  It also made an appearance on Steam and eventually received DLC in the form of Ultra, which integrated more songs (oh, did I mention it has its own licensed songs included in the game?), more compatibility with the aforementioned file formats, and more enemies.  This version, named Beat Hazard Ultra, with the DLC already integrated was released on PSN with a $9.99 price tag (I think the Steam version was $4.99 and I’m unsure of the DLC cost, if any).  Of course, being a digital game these prices are always subject to discounts (I know the XNA version was $1 for a while, I got the PSN version on sale for $4, and it was a Steam sale for 99 cents for a while).

As one could imagine, both fans of the series (and those hoping to get a copy on their platform of choice) and developer Cold Beam Games want to expand to more platforms.  Back in summer 2011 an interview on Indie Games revealed that a MAC version was in the works (that version has since released) as well as an iOS and Android (not sure if iOS version released, Droid is definitely not available yet).  Unfortunately because XNA development tools are currently in C#, the programming language originally used to program Beat Hazard, and the newer versions (especially Ultra) are in C++ it was rejected by Microsoft.  Unless Cold Beam Games can produce a version ofUltra in C#, which it has already said it cannot due to the massive undertaking of reverse engineering the code, then XNA can’t get the newer versions.  Hopefully Microsoft XNA tools will soon support C++ and Xbox 360 players can get their hands on the definitive version.  For now, I would recommend trying to get your hands on the Steam or PSN version if you can.

The draw of Beat Hazard (Ultra) reaches farther than simple shmup fans – every gamer from those that never left the arcades or Ataris to those that began gaming this year should experience this title.  In fact, I would go farther and say that music buffs who have never played a video game before should try this game out (although I doubt they would ever be reading this article).  It’s truly a game for the masses and I can’t wait to see what comes out of the independent innovators like Cold Beam Games.

Speaking of something new, tomorrow we will discuss a truly recent title,Sine Mora, which has been out for about 8 days now and comes from the unique mind of game designer Suda 51’s development studio Grasshopper Manufacture.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

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