When discussing bands, there a certain convenience you probably allow yourself when it comes to new ones. Just how, exactly, do you describe how a band sounds without making ridiculous mouth sounds? Yes, you can list what genres the group or artist falls under, but genres can cover such a wide range of possibilities. It’s definitely important, but it’s also not all that helpful once you get down to it.
What is more useful is telling what other artists they’re similar to. Tell me that a band is classic rock, cool. I know that I’m generally interested in that. Tell me they’re a mix between Queen and AC/DC with a little bit of Quiet Riot and I’m fucking there.
It’s basic band math. [Band1] + [Band2] = [Band3]. It is a bit reductive, but it’s also supremely handy. If you’re at all familiar with either Band1 or Band2, then you’ll know what characteristics they have that are easily combined with one another, resulting in this new band. This informs you of what they sound like, perhaps what they look like, and what probability you’ll have of liking or hating them. In a perfect world, we’d have all the time we’d want to listen to new music and determine for ourselves who sounds like what and whether that’s our cup of tea, but given how sound is a function of time and we’re limited to 24 hours a day, this band addition works out pretty well.
And it also works for video games. There was a time not too long ago when this was considered reductive and, in a word, bad practice. If you said one game was like some other game but with a twist, you were a bad critic and should have you license revoked. That’s still true if the twist you’re describing is “better graphics” or “less fun” without any further analysis or critique, but it seems that a shift has occurred; we’re allowed to do video game math.
Video games have become and are increasingly more mature in terms of simple existence. Conventions are in place and taboos enforced. Buck the trend or stick too closely to the rules and you’re likely to rub some people the wrong way because gaming staples are fairly well established now. Cover mechanics were hewn from the unsightly brick of the days of WinBack into the strident consistency and high quality of Gears of War. Proper third-person perspectives had been shifted from behind-the-back to over-the-shoulder by the impetus of Resident Evil 4. Minigame collections now fly under the flag of Wii Sports or WarioWare.
For instance, when I broke down the wonder of play Dyad last week, I did so by imparting to you the following equation: Tempest + Rez + Audiosurf + Dance Dance Revolution = Dyad. That initially seems like a convoluted mess, but when each element is distilled into its core value, it’s pretty easy to follow along.
When I bring up Tempest, what is the most notable thing you remember? Probably circling around that tunnel, right? You remember going left and right, up and down along the walls of that tunnel with interminable forward propulsion. And Rez isn’t really savored for its gameplay; Rez is all about its visuals. It is psychedelic and potent and colorful and strange and weirdly calming. The fact that you could play it at all seemed like an afterthought.
Audiosurf itself actually could be helpfully described by adding up the attributes of Tempest and Rez since it’s chromatically contrasting as you move between discrete lanes on what could be considered a flattened tunnel, but it’s also more than that. Audiosurf is about moving between parts of your highway, passing through and collecting colored blocks that coincide with your music. Every thump and bump is another hump on your path that is likely to bring about something for you to avoid or aim for.
And that actually almost covers the inclusion of DDR in the mix, but I specifically mention the song “Max 300.” If you’ve ever played it or seen someone play it, you know that one word can perfectly describe it: insane. More specifically, fucking insane, which also just happens to be rather apropos to playing Dyad (or at least playing Dyad at a high level).
When you combine it all together in your basic video game math, you get Dyad, a tunnel-movement-based rhythm game where you interact with music-sequenced gameplay elements that has the potential to put you in an epileptic fit due to color, sound, and fun overload. I could either spend a few hundred words describing exactly what all that means, but if I also tell you that Dyad = Tempest + Rez + Audiosurf + DDR, then it’s pretty easy to picture exactly what I’m talking about.
That’s not to say, however, that being reductive is suddenly permissible. Instead, this shorthand is merely an aide to handily convey to readers the outset appearance of a game. You are describing the cover of a book, but your job is to analyze its contents. It’s just that sometimes it’s handy knowing what the book looks like first.
Or what the band looks like because hot damn, the 80s were awesome.