Analysing the IGF: Musaic Box

Analysing the IGF: Musaic Box

Pretty lights; not so pretty music

The second in a series of in-depth look at the IGF Finalists for this year’s IGF Awards, this time I’m looking at the music based puzzle game Musaic Box. It’s available for a demo at the moment through Big Fish games, allowing you an hour with the game. It’s essentially a puzzle in the most basic sense; fit the pieces together in the right way so they work together; only this time it’s not a picture you’re making, but a piece of music. It’s an interesting idea, and one that works only so far as the music works. Take the leap and hit the jump to find out more.

There’s one glaring, fundamental flaw with Musaic Box; the songs it has are dreadful. They’re the worst kind of generic, mostly following the vein of nursery rhymes and ‘classics’. Things like ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Yankee Doodle’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ made me dread actually completing the puzzles because I’d end up having to listen to these played-to-death tunes. The actual execution of the puzzle is surprisingly slick (maybe not so much because it is a finished game, which you can buy here), with the melody playing on a music-box like reel so that you can identify which piece goes where.

They’re arranged like Tetris pieces, forced to fit into a preset map, and not allowing you to have more than one instrument in each row. There are usually four different instruments in each piece, each represented by a different colour and containing a different symbol (although I couldn’t figure out what the reason for them was). You merely have to identify what goes where, play it through and see if you’re right. Some of the tertiary instruments become a little tricky unless you are intimately familiar with cadences and chord sequences, but there is a handy ‘hint’ button that shows you what’s in the right place or not, so I guess that’s not as essential as it may seem.

So you jig around the puzzles, making sure not to repeat any instrument twice in the same vertical row, and finally you’re rewarded with hearing the whole thing in an ensemble, which is fine for the few good tracks there, but I found myself skipping the final rendition to return to the ‘adventure’ aspect of the game, which serves as filler between the puzzles. The premise is that your grandfather has bought you a birthday present, but he’s hidden it, and dozens of slips of paper that serve as the ‘maps’ for the game, somewhere in his house/instrument workshop. You’re presented with a series of rooms that unlock when you’ve completed enough ‘maps’, and they all are filled with fragments of paper detailing the levels. To get them you have to click, mostly at random, on certain aspects of the room which then reveal the pieces. While it was certainly a welcome distraction from hearing ‘When All The Saints go Marching In’, it didn’t seem to hold much purpose bar stopping you from hearing ‘The Entertainer’ (the only song I was remotely interested in listening to), because you couldn’t find the bloody pieces.

The game is nominated for Excellence in Audio and Excellence in Design, and while I can understand perhaps why that’s the case, I don’t really know how it came to be. The principle and concept are sound enough, but you can’t help feeling that the developer would’ve been far better off making his own music, or commissioning someone else do to so. When you look at something like Auditorium, which is astonishingly beautiful and sounds amazing, it makes you wonder why Musaic Box is among the finalists. If you’d like to give it a try, though, you can download the hour long demo here.

Seemingly Meaningless Symbols

3 thoughts on “Analysing the IGF: Musaic Box

  1. This is _casual_ game for masses – not for you especially. So – “dreadful tunes for you” vs “funny, and famous for masses and judges too”. You can read BFG forum – for example

    …”I have had so much fun, so many smiles at familiar melodies, a few dances in my chair and an occasional waltz that extended as far as my headphones wires would allow”

    Then, these tunes are in public domain (license for modern hits cost money).

    Moreover – tunes can’t be “own music” becase game will lost “win” state with unknown for player music, because player dont know what bar sequence is right and what wrong. Usually jigsaw-puzzle have the small original picture before player eyes.

    It is really innovation in gameplay – music/audio is a part of Musaic Box gameplay. Player must listen and think. Yes, Auditorium is a great game but… music isnt a part of it’s gameplay, you can play it without sound at all.

    You can read Jayisgames review too.

  2. Scmorr, thanks for the comment.
    I’ve explained my reasons for disliking the game above, however, but I’m glad others like your (?) game more than I did; it’s a personal taste thing.

  3. I’m sorry but I happen to be one of those people that thinks Auditorium isn’t a great a game… and I certainly don’t find it “astonishingly beautiful.” What it breaks down to, is that you’re looking for a way to form a path, and the more complete your path is, the more complete the song will be. That’s not creative nor innovative to me… it just screams of trying too hard to stand out as an audio or music game, when in reality it doesn’t have anything else going for it besides novelty (oh, and excuse me, pretty glowy lights). It isn’t fun. It doesn’t have beautiful or striking music. Even the mechanic is lacking… I’ve seen more interesting and innovating things done in non-audio games that actually have entertaining gameplay.

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