Interview: Gun Jam’s Developer On The Rise Of The Rhythm Shooter

There’s been something of a ‘London Bus’ effect going on in the rhythm-shooter genre at the moment. It’s a fresh, original take on shooter games, mixing bullets with music. More than just using the soundtrack to enhance the visceral feel of firing a gun in the way Doom might though, rhythm-shooters actually use the beat of the music as part of the shooting mechanic. It seems like an obvious evolution for the FPS genre, seeing as musicality and noise have always been core building blocks of such games and taking out hoards requires rhythmic timing; in fact, it’s such an obvious idea that three different studios seem to have come up with it at the same time completely independent of each other. Those games are BPM: Bullets Per Minute, Metal: Hellsinger, and Gun Jam – we sat down with Dan Da Rocha, one of the devs behind Gun Jam, to figure out where this evolution came from, and where the shooter genre could go next.

“I think that with the complete freedom that indie development allows for, new ideas are popping up frequently and it’s always enticing to play something that’s fresh,” Da Rocha says. “I think the important thing with [hero shooters and Battle Royales] is that they don’t change too many variables that they become alien to players. Battle Royale is a good example as the base gameplay is what you know and like but with new depth and new rules.”

That familiarity is reimagined in Gun Jam, which Da Rocha sees it as a “hybrid” between a rhythm game and a shooter game, although he says it leans more towards the FPS box so there are many tropes you’d associate with a first person shooter in Gun Jam. “I see it as a fresh perspective on the FPS genre because it contains a lot of the familiar themes – action, adventure, high-intensity firefights. It’s just that there’s this new explicit rhythm layer to it that shakes up the play style.”

Much like music games with plastic peripherals, Gun Jam works by tasking the player with hitting targets in a pre-set rhythm of the backing track. Only instead of colourful squares on a fretboard, it’s your enemy’s face.

“The game will have multipliers for hitting correct notes so the player is rewarded for their accuracy,” Da Rocha says. “The Guitar Hero influence is clear here and we wanted to lean into that arcade game feel. These streaks would then enable the player to unlock more powerful shots, moves and special abilities. It’s very important to connect the main elements and make sure there’s an even balance of shooting and rhythm. One of the largest design challenges was clearly indicating the notes to the player whilst also letting them easily see enemies and the environment, which we’re still refining.”

The title is particularly fitting, as it all came about from Da Rocha just jamming while playing with a (virtual) gun. “I was sat messing about with an FPS prototype and then randomly decided to see what it would feel like if I timed my shots to the beat of the background music,” Da Rocha says. “It actually felt pretty good. The idea of directly linking the music to the gameplay was exciting to explore. I then assembled a tiny team to begin prototyping the idea and the concept was born.”

That makes the whole thing a mix of Halo and Guitar Hero, Da Rocha says, although Dance Dance Revolution, Bulletstorm, and (predictably) Doom are also mentioned as core influences. It’s a big leap from Da Rocha’s previous games, Qube and Hue, but not as big as you might think. “There’s something simple yet appealing about working with bold colours,” Da Rocha says. “All the games feature a big splash of colour. Qube has different coloured cubes you interact with, Hue was a very colourful platformer, and Gun Jam will feature a vibrant colour palette.”

More than that though, Da Rocha is taking influence from his life outside games, where he – and several of the other devs involved – play musical instruments. “I play guitar and am mainly into rock and metal music so Gun Jam is like my teenage life distilled into video game form, I guess! Da Rocha says, “It’s certainly helped bridge the gap between my two hobbies of playing music and gaming and interlinked them in this unique way. I think that fundamental understanding and appreciation for music goes a long way with a project like this.”

Rock and metal seems to be consistent across this newly formed rhythm-shooter genre (Metal: Hellsinger even has it in the name), but Da Rocha says that while metal is a part of Gun Jam, it’s not the only part. “We want the freedom to explore different music styles and we’ve tested a lot of great material internally. We’d want it to be inclusive of at least a few music genres.”

I throw a few genres at Da Rocha – R&B, funk, soul – and while he’s coy on exactly what will make the cut, the only one that gets a hard no is country. There go my dreams of mowing down bad guys while spraying my machine gun in tune with Miranda Lambert’s Kerosene, I guess.

Gun Jam is currently listed as ‘Coming Soon’ on Steam.

Next: The Music Of Red Dead Redemption 2 – An Interview With Matt Sweeney And David Ferguson

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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

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