Rhythm is in everything. Whether on purpose or not, there’s a rhythm to music but also our lives and other elements such as action. From the motion of kicks and punches, rhythm transcends its musical familiarity.
Aaero – a new on-rails shooter from British developer Mad Fellows — explores these less common applications of rhythm. At first looking like a traditional shooter, Aaero has rhythmic gameplay that’s not just in tune with classics like Rez, but pushes the genre forward.
Previously working on titles such as DJ Hero, the Mad Fellows team, which consists of Paul Norris and Dan Horbury, wanted to branch out while still doing what they’re passionate about. They developed a rhythm shooter fueled by an electronic soundtrack with intense visuals to match.
“The impetus behind Aaero was us wanting to deliver the buzz and connection between music and gameplay that rhythm gamers love, but to open it up beyond having to tap rigidly in time,” said Paul Norris. “To achieve this, we concentrated on gameplay that corresponded to flowing, evolving sounds like the filters on lead synth patches and vocal melodies.”
Paul and Dan’s past working on rhythm games served as an inspiration for how they wanted to evolve the genre. Instead of tying gameplay with a peripheral, the pair wanted to do a music game that felt like a traditional experience while still resonating with players.
THE REZ FACTOR
When players think of the rhythm shooter genre they often think of Rez. Considered a pinnacle, Rez won players over with the combination of trippy visuals and an unforgettable soundtrack. As a fan of Rez, Paul drew inspiration from its approach subconsciously throughout Aaero’s development.
“The first prototype of Aaero had a completely different shooting mechanic to the one we have now. The more I refined it, the more it kept creeping towards being ‘Rez-like’,” said Paul. “I agonized for a long time over if the shooting was ‘too Rez’. Was that even a problem? Was I leading the game down the wrong path to avoid that one element being ‘too Rez’?”
Ultimately, Paul moved forward with the new direction, and the team found originality that rivals that of its unintentional forefather.
With the music driving the experience of Aaero, Mad Fellows were careful with how they implemented it, not just in the stages, but the complete experience. “I’m mindful that you need contrast to have an impact. If something is full-tilt all the time it soon loses impact.
“The most obvious example in Aaero is the menus which are designed to be soothing, tranquil, ambient and ethereal. This means that the loud music, vivid colors, and fast movement in the game hit you that much harder. This sort of thinking is in all aspects of the game from sections of each track to the progression.”
BUILDING THE SOUNDTRACK
With a compelling soundtrack required for Aaero to set the mood and capture the attention of players, how does a developer approach building the rhythm aspect of a rhythm shooter?
“We started out by making the gameplay as fun as possible and putting aside licensing completely. We used whatever music worked the best regardless of who owned the rights,” Paul stated.
“Once we’d got it to a point where we knew exactly what would make compelling gameplay, we set out looking for music that would work. When we found tracks we wanted, we’d rough them out in the game to make sure they worked as expected. Then we began approaching the record labels.”
Unlike other rhythm shooters, Aaero features a completely licensed soundtrack with artists such as Flux Pavilion and Katy B, a task some developers find difficult due to fees and contract stipulations.
“Our ideal genres were run by down to earth, progressive thinking people. Companies were willing to hear us out and could see the potential in what we [Mad Fellows] were trying to achieve. We’re absolutely blown away by the soundtrack we have for Aaero,” said Paul.
Pleased with the musical talent Aaero has, there were a few artists that Paul and Dan looked into acquiring early on. “There were artists that we considered. The Prodigy, Pendulum and Knife Party seemed as if they’d fit well early on. With these particular artists, early inquiries indicated we might struggle to clear the license.
“That said, if Liam Howlett or Rob Swire happens to be reading this, we’d love to talk about working with you in the future.”
FINISHING THE BEATS
Set for release on April 11 on the PS4 and Xbox One, the passion-filled experience of Aaero nears its end for Mad Fellows. Being a small team, Mad Fellows takes things slowly, and the future remains open. Future work on Aaero could involve DLC or a sequel, but Mad Fellows wants to keep their choices varied as they await players experiencing their take on the rhythm-action genre.