Sunday, February 24, 2008


Lately, there's been some positive buzz in the gaming community about another indie project called Audiosurf. It won a couple nice awards at the 2008 Independent Games Festival (losing out to Crayon Physics Deluxe for the Grand Prize), including Excellence in Audio. Funny thing is, Audiosurf doesn't really come with any developed audio: it's all yours. Let me explain.

In Audiosurf, you load up a music file (it accepts most formats) and it converts the song into an abstract, psychadelic racetrack. Here's what happens when you choose Radiohead's "How to Disappear Completely." The slope of the track tells you how fast it will run, so in this case, about half the race will be a leisurely uphill climb and then it'll speed up a bit into the finish.

Compare to The Chemical Brothers, "In Dust We Trust." Uh oh. All downhill, and fairly steep. This would be a much more challenging and intense race. This is the unique, innovative way that Audiosurf handles the classic idea of difficulty levels. You choose your own difficulty through your choice of song. If you pick Mozart or Miles Davis, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. If you choose DJ Shadow or The Crystal Method, prepare not to blink for a while.

You pick a car to race with and jump on. As your song plays, you speed along the light highway picking up colored boxes (which the game calls "cars") using either your mouse or arrow keys. When you line up at least 3 of the same color (in any direction, except diagonal), you score points. The more boxes that match, the more points you earn. The "hotter" colors, like red and yellow, also score higher. There are special cars and interesting power-ups along the track, which you'll have to explore for yourself. Here's a video from You Tube of someone playing The Mars Volta:

The intensity of the game matches the intensity of your song in an impressive manner; note how the boxes often appear in time with the beat. You have to be careful not to allow boxes to build up and overload a column, or you'll "die" and lose points. If you play in "Ironman" mode, this means Game Over.

At the end of a race, Audiosurf will post your score onto a world-wide High Score board for that particular song. It will show you people who've played that song globally and locally (in your state). Of course, it's fun to play songs that no one has scored yet (just pick something a little obscure) and see your name up there all alone. You can also visit the Audiosurf forums to find suggestions for really fun songs to play. But most likely, you'll discover these on your own. To date, my favorite experiences have been Soundgarden's "Jesus Christ Pose" and Modest Mouse's "Cowboy Dan" (the latter swings back and forth between mellow and ripping insane). Literally everything by Tool or Radiohead that I've played has been complex and enjoyable.

A couple caveats before you try out the free demo here. If you've purchased most of your music collection through Itunes music store, you will first have to burn your music onto a CD to load it up within the game (unless they're DRM-free). Since this is an indie project, it doesn't have a lot of the bells and whistles you might expect in a high-end project. An in-game music organizer to cue up several songs in a row would be particularly nice. For such a music-focused game, the lack of equalizer is surprising. Finally, this isn't your typical game in the sense of "winning" or "losing." If you're into the whole competition thing, the High Score board is all you've got - and be aware that there are people out there with a hell of a lot more time than you.

The demo only lets you play a few songs (of anything you own), so choose wisely. Most likely, you'll be like me and want to pay the $10 to get the full product after you see the potential time-wasting here.

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