Friday, January 25, 2008

Loom: Music as part of gameplay

This Blog has moved to

This particular Page has moved to

If you are a recurring visitor, please update your bookmarks & rss feeds. We apologize for the inconvience.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel this post is rather the crown jewel of the Round Table this month and there are a tremendous amount of points to follow up on. I think I want to start with the "music is not a language" premise.

Human language (both written and spoken) is essentially an agreement to attach significance to an assembly of sounds and symbols in order to communicate more complex thoughts.

And if the primary use of language is to communicate, who is to say that 'evolved' notions such as "pick up milk at the store" need to be possible for something to qualify as language? Biologists often refer animal communication as "language" and to our everyday perceptions, birds' language is no more (or less) subtle or complex than music and I doubt a bird has ever asked their mate to pick something up at the store.

Additionally, music is totally complex enough to weave codes into. Should a couple decide to assign meaning to various notes, note progressions and chords, it would totally be possible sit down at the piano and make specific shopping requests.

So, let's argue that for a moment while I go find a copy of Loom to play. ;-)

27 January, 2008 14:50  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

Crown jewel? I'm flattered!

Concerning Human language and other forms of communication: I think we have to separate "communication" and "language". Obviously, you music is a form of communication. Also, animals also communicate with sound, smell, visual signs and other things. However, human language is very, very special and unique. It is actually the single, most remarkable feature, that sets us humans apart from animals.

As I said, there is a lot of linguistic research on how languages work and what sets them apart from other forms of communication. One person who should be mentioned here is Charles Hockett who developed the so-called Design Features of Language. He identified 16 (!!) features of human language. Every human language satisfies all of them. Some other forms of communication, such as music or various animal communication satisfy some of the 16 but never all of them.

Some of the features are really very specific and basic but the features I find most interesting are the following:

Semanticity - Speech sounds can be linked to specific meanings.

Discreteness - Each unit of communication can be separated and unmistakable.

Productivity - The ability to create new messages by combining already-existing signs.

Displacement - The ability to talk about things that are not physically present.

Reflexiveness - Language can be used to refer to (i.e., describe) itself.

Prevarication - The ability to make false statements (to lie).

Duality of Patterning - Meaningful signs (words) are made of -- and distinguished from one another by -- meaningless parts (sounds, letters)

The last one is interesting and has more to it then it seems. I'm not sure if I am able to explain it correctly but it is nice to imagine a language which doesn't have this feature:

If a language had no Patterns at all, we would need a new sound for every meaning. The human voice apparatus is only able to produce around 60 different sounds. Of course, machines can produce much more but at some point it become difficult for the listener to discern the sounds from each other. So most human languages only use about 30 different sounds, which by themselves have no meaning.

If a language had a single Pattern, everything you say would have to be a single sequence of sounds - just one word. So there would be a word for every meaning. So "Honey, would you buy some Milk" would be "XYWZK". "Honey, would you buy some Bread" would be "ÖOTRE" etc.. . This is basically the language of Loom and it would be the language of our theoretical couple. In Loom, it is ok because we only have just a few verbs to communicate. However, in real life our ability to communicate would be limited to just very common expressions. It would be difficult to express something new ... like the Theory of Gravity.

Only because we have this double structure, we can use a limited number of meaningless sounds to produce a limited number of meaningful words to produce an infinite number of meanings, which can be understood by everybody who has mastered the language.

And I love that little fact that only a true language can produce lies. Almost poetic ;-)

27 January, 2008 15:38  
Blogger Chris said...

I enjoyed your post which I found very articulate and attentive to detail.

The claims you make about language (and the subsequent comments) remind me of a few features of language worth mentioning (I can't remember whether these come from Wittgenstein, Gregory Bateson, or someone else):

- languages allow beings to make reference to objects not physically present.
- languages allow us to differentiate between particular qualities - ie, between the taste of an orange and its color.
- we can indeed only tell lies in language!

The problem with the way that linguists and psychologists deal with language is that communication is only ONE of its properties. Language also allows us to express and constitute experiences in particular ways that are impossible without language, and not simply for the sake of communicating inner states to other people.

That is why I feel partial to both arguments - that music seems to share some properties of languages because it is an expressive practice (as Corvus mentions), yet it does not share many of the communicative/designative/representational properties that Krystian mentions.

And, this is something again missed by most linguists and psychologists, what makes language meaningful and grammatical is its basis in something more foundational: human social practices - Wittgenstein's "agreements in action". The only point I'm making here is that language isn't language because it's a system of symbols that magically has the Hockett's 16 properties... a language is a language because it allows us to "step out of" our agreements in action and ask each other the question, 'What was it we were doing again?'

Anyway, I'm writing way too much here, and getting way too deep into philosophical diatribery. Suffice to say, it's great seeing someone take a deeper look at music.

And, be sure to read my little article on iMUSE - I wish I had added some clips from Loom! This is one of my favorite games of all time - truly unique and beautiful.

Have you seen my swans?

01 February, 2008 07:57  
Blogger Luke said...

Hi, I just stumbled upon this post as I occasionally search for entries on the web of what I'm currently developing.

I'm a 3rd year music student in Australia, and I'm actually trying to develop a game as a piece of music. There's currently alot of research going into having music be this never-ending experiential thing, but I say bollocks to that.

I think that many great games have a linear structure - a beginning, middle and end. I think applying this structure of a game to build a piece of music whereby simple gameplay objectives create the music is something like a musical instrument being its own piece of music.

Anyway I have many thoughts but nothing concrete to back it up. I'm halfway through the final prototype development - level 2 out of 4 levels. I'm coding in AS3, and I'll be sure to let you know once I'm done.

In the meantime, are there any resources on this avenue of interest that you might recommend?

29 February, 2008 09:13  
Blogger Yu-Chung Chen said...

Your idea sounds very interesting to me.

I don't have any noteworthy musical skills or talents, though I also have been thinking about another type of music/rhythm based game where it is not only about you "activating" the right sound at the right time, but using the game - as you said - more like an instrument.

I also tried this in AS3 but had to realize that playing sounds on keypresses isn't consistently in rhythm enough for what I had in mind.

If you have satisfactory results in this regard, would you care to share some pointers with me?

29 February, 2008 11:45  
Blogger Luke said...

Well there's a few different things you could do - if you want keypresses to be locked into a beat, I wouldn't cue the sound from the keypresses.

Create a timer which pulses at a regular tempo, say four times a second. In BPM, this would be 240bpm. This timer would run a function checking to see if a key had been pressed in the last interval - if true, then a sound would be triggered by the Timer, still in time with an overall beat.

Of course, this isn't always accurate - it's only as accurate as the computer is fast, but I've had success in creating pieces in the style of a guy named Steve Reich - look him up.

For more specific stuff, is there any way to email each other?

29 February, 2008 16:20  
Blogger Yu-Chung Chen said...

Hi Luke,
thanks for the quick response.

I'm aware of that workaround, which is OK for the typical rhythm-based game: press in sync and you'll activate the right sounds, otherwise you miss it completely.

Unfortunately it doesn't help me.

What I'm trying to do is something like virtual drums. Your key presses always make sounds, it's up to you to make a rhythm. BPM is whatever you make the beats to be.

The goal is to have the "level" make you create a song. Imagine Rez, but instead of activating more and more tracks within a song, how you interact with the enemies makes the song.

I don't know yet if this makes sense at all, but that's also the reason why I want to prototype it. Too bad AS3 still sucks at sounds.

But yeah, this is not the place for AS3 discussion.

Please write me at
[my last name (four letter)]
[s]chool of

29 February, 2008 19:48  

Post a Comment

<< Home