Think of your favorite song at the moment. Try to hear it in your head, or, if you've got access to it, play the song on your computer. Close your eyes and focus in on the singer's voice and the effect that each instrument has on you, from the verse to the bridge to the chorus and back to the verse. Really concentrate on the music and push all distractions away.
Oh, and while you are listening, try to imagine an answer to this confounding question: What would a computer game based on this song look like?
Building a video game inspired by the general sound and mood of a song seems like a difficult, abstract task -- but it is precisely the assignment that has been given to several indie game developers by influential music blog Pitchfork. Over the next several months, Pitchfork will assign a certain song from a popular indie artist to a participating developer and ask that developer to program, from scratch, the game that his or her assigned song suggests.
It's all part of a strange, fascinating new initiative from Pitchfork and Intel called "Soundplay." The project will result in several free, web-based computer games that you'll be able to play on the Pitchfork website when they are finished.
The project has been created -- aside from bringing publicity to the musicians and game designers -- to shift the perception of what a video game is and can be artistically, according to Matt Frampton, vice president of sales at Pitchfork.
"People still have the image of gaming as kids in sweatpants eating Doritos and playing Halo for 24 hours straight," he said in a telephone interview. "We want to show the diversity and breadth of games."
"Diverse" is a gentle way of describing the overwhelming strangeness of the initial raft of games, which are uniformly bizarre, transfixing and bewildering. Three of the games -- based on tracks from popular indie electronic artists M83, Cut Copy and Matthew Dear -- are already available on the Pitchfork Soundplay website, where anyone can play (and listen!) for free.
A fourth game, based on a song by Chromatics, is on its way. It premiered at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this past weekend.
The final products turned out wildly unalike, and differ from one another in almost every way, aside from their consistently hip soundtracks. Turns out, if you ask three developers to design a game using the same general method, you're still going to end up with three radically, unpredictably divergent gaming experiences.
It is fascinating to keep in mind, as you play and listen to the soundtrack, that what you are experiencing is what each developer sees in his head when he listens to the given song. Each game is, in effect, an exploration through the inner-workings of a designer's brain on music.
Jake Elliott's storybook take on M83's "Intro," for example, is particularly striking. In his video game version of "Intro," you play as a lost little girl traveling through a dreary snowscape, searching for her missing parents. In order to find them, you need the help of a philosophical wooly mammoth and an untrustworthy tiger, who ends up trying to eat you.
What makes Elliott's game so especially remarkable and puzzling is that none of these elements -- not a philosophical mammoth, nor a man-eating tiger, nor even, really, a little girl -- appear in the lyrics to "Intro" by M83.
Put on some headphones and try out the game below. You may have to first download the Unity 3D player in order to play:
The main sponsor of the Pitchfork Soundplay project is chipmaker Intel. The company set up several realistic arcade machines running the games at this past weekend's Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Intel, you might remember, has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to advertise Ultrabooks -- a new class of thin and light, MacBook Air-challenging laptops that run Windows and use Intel's recently released Ivy Bridge processors.
The connection between Intel and indie video games seems somewhat tentative. The pitch is that efficient and powerful Intel chips enable designers to write games from anywhere, apparently.
With the PC market's recent struggles as more consumers opt to buy tablets -- Intel's involvement seems like a challenge to developers. The motto of the Soundplay project might as well be, "let's see you build this game on an iPad."
Processor wars aside, three strange, striking games based on tunes from Cut Copy, M83, and Matthew Dear, are ready for you to play them. If you don't want to download the Unity web player -- required for "Intro" and "Street Song" -- you can try the Cut Copy game, which runs on Flash. (As a footnote, that game was designed by former Cut Copy bassist Bennett Foddy, probably most famous as the creator of a game called QWOP, which earns its nickname as "the most difficult game ever").
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