Category Archives: inSynch

A new trailer’s in town a release’s inbound

Hello everyone, here’s the new version of our trailer annoucing the release date for Linux, Mac & Windows of our first game ever!
We’re very excited to tell you all that inSynch will be purchasable on this very website on the 24th of April 2014!

Si vous le désirez, vous pouvez activer les sous-titre en français sur la vidéo Youtube !

On the meaning and authorship of inSynch

So we’re working on a musical game, that’s no secret, and I wanted to share with you some of the thinking that goes on behind the scene and into designing the experience.

Now to be absolutely blunt: it mostly came from a good intuition. This was no grand scheme that we or I had envisioned for month: we stumbled upon the idea and refined it again and again by listening to what our system had to say about itself. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, let me preface what I’m about to say with long exposition and game design principles and theories… ’cause that never gets boring. GAME DISSECTION AHEAD !

controller anatomySo as video games took a seat closer and closer to the front -partly due to their moneymaking capabilities- it enabled enough smart minds to picture a carrier in the field, and to question what games have to them in general. While ‘games’ outside the field of numeric or digital or video games existed for a long while, they have never been under as much analytic scrutiny in the history of mankind than in the last 10 years.

One of the first things that came to light early in this ‘ludology’ or ‘game studies’ endeavor is a concept that we called ‘ludonarrative dissonance’. It was made to talk about a friction in-between play (ludo) and storytelling (narration) that was undermining the message games could have. It was coined by Clint Hocking, and was widely adopted, partly because frankly, it’s a fancy name and people (me included) that started to study games in depth wanted to be taken seriously. Nowadays, Clint himself pokes fun at the term itself, while games are becoming a widespread academic curriculum and every student goes about vanquishing ludonarrative dissonance in their term paper. Not that it does not exist, mind you, I would just argue (and we have a forum for that if you’re so-willing) that it’s not the only scope we have to look at the difficulties of carrying meaning through dynamics (and worry not, I’m not alone in that).

So ludonarrative dissonance is about many things, but amongst them is the authorial balance between the designer and the player. Games are an incomplete media and need the player to be manifested. Not to exist, mind you, but while a book is a book whether or not it’s unfolded, a game exists in systems and possibilities that need to be awoken and made experience to ‘exist’ as an instance of a game. The book is the same, its interpretations vary. No two games are the exact same. Why was I talking about all that again?

Because when Them Games started thinking about inSynch, the only thing we knew was we had to make a music game; and in a music game, the question of authorship has, more often than not been very restrictive on the player side. See, when playing Guitar Hero, for all it’s awesomeness and social value, you are not making music, nor are you playing music, you are letting music happen or failing to do so. Press the right key and the music unfolds, press the wrong one and it does not. But who are you again in this system? You are the person pressing play on the remote or turning the pages to push things forward. The game encourages you to do it, it does so in a very convincing and entertaining way, but it does not do any more that this. You, as a person, are way less interesting and the intent that you express is so little of you so to be non-personal.

You are an intelligent being, yet Guitar Hero sees you only as an agent of it’s own design, pressing buttons along so well that in the end, we prefer to talk about “rythm” games than music games. What the system is telling you is that you have no part in it, it’s a game about conformity and fantasizing about being a rock star, but never about becoming one. The more you play, the harder the game is, the more of your brain goes into full on automated mode and the less of an intent you express. You could say it’s a very good game about being in the show business.

On the other hand, wouldn’t I be a lazy game designer to give you a cello and pass it as a game? Yes, this is the other end of the spectrum, total freedom, an instrument, a toy if you will, made with the rules of acoustics, with its own internal consistency, but with no goal. If you have a specific goal that awakens agency on the part of the player, you make a game, the wider and more distant the goal, the more of a toy your game becomes. And don’t get me wrong, Minecraft is barely a game, yet it’s toylike nature is a thing of beauty, and on the other hand, Heavy Rain is barely a game because it asks for almost no agency from the player and it is still a very nice experience even if more akin to interactive films.

rock star watercolor pupet strings

Willing to strike a balance in between those two extremes, we tried to make a system that communicates intent “please react to that” and accepts as valid a lot of what players give us back. This means that while there is an absolute and straightforward algorithm to optimise your scoring in score mode, there is also a lot of room in the system to go your own way and try to build the music and the score according to your taste. We are not and will probably never be claiming that this is the best or only answer to the question of authorial control in music games, since we don’t really believe that there is such a thing, it’s just what we wanted to make: a game in which you the player are playing with the music rather than simply playing along. We will give more details on scoring systems and game designs later.

Now onto the question of meaning. There is a question that has been asked by a lot of people, of which Clint Hocking which gave a very interesting talk at GDC in 2011 on that very question. What do the rules of inSynch express, what do they mean? What do you actually art taping on your screen or keyboard and why would that meaning be relevant to you?

Well… Hard question… You know, babies have this thing: playing around with the world, fiddling with stuff around them to understand how they work… Our adult brains still have that: you get into a game and the minute you are in, you start to test things and make sense of the outcome. See, that’s what will save you when aliens have abducted you and you’re on a distant planet with weird gravity and air displacement: your brain will fall back to child mode and you will start to play with things. And all those alien adults will go “Why is he putting things into his mouth? No! Don’t drop that on the floor that’s my vase!”… In inSynch, you start a game and try to make sense of the system: you do things and look at outcomes and results to see how to progress but whether you know what you are doing or not, you express intentionality that is fed back to you.

It starts as a conversation with someone, with a system you don’t know, and as you play, as you get better, you start to actually express yourself and listen to that expression. As you get better, the system fades away as an intermediary would and you start talking more and more to yourself, as if seeing yourself in a mirror for the first time. Making music, listening to it, adapting or trying to adapt parts of it under the rush of an ever-changing environment. InSynch is about fragility, it’s about how you balance the way you want to express yourself and the stresses and mishaps that happen along the way. It’s a game about finding what you think is true in music, what you feel is most reflective of a level’s texture and geometry. How does wood sound as a tune to you? What is the melody of concrete? What does plaster or resin sing?

We hope you’ll want to find out come this fall.

All illustrations by Oscar Barda for Them Games. You can use them at will, simply credit us please. And drop us a line via the contact section if you’d like them in higher resolution.

Handcrafted love

Hi, I’m Oscar, lazy game designer of the three-man team we call Them Games.

When it came time for us to go about making our early game (called the InFine Game) into a fully fleshed out thing that spoke to who we are and what touches us, a hard call had to be made : what is it going to look like ?

I have basic drawing skills and sometimes the styles and expressions that are dear to me lend themselves very well to the project’s vibe (that was the case for Poiesis for instance) but sometimes they don’t. For inSynch, it was particularly clear to me that no matter how dear the mechanics were to what we wanted to share, there had to be something else: a feeling, a… direction, a new one, because the reason the current style existed in the first place was to illustrate a musical vibe we were leaving behind with this early version.

Photo ©YasmineBH

People playing the InFine Game at La Gaîté Lyrique

You know, no matter how many times I tell students and people coming up to me for advice to be aware in their head of their intentionality, how they have to flesh it out, write it down and let it drive them, it always seem to take me forever to apply it to myself… There I was, thinking of what it was going to look like and what look it was going to have and what the looks of it were going to be and circling around and around in my head… I took a pen and wrote down what we had to say: you, as a player, must express yourself within the game, you must feel your agency with a very strict and natural sense of your involvement… 3 lines was all it took. It could not be 3D, it could not be 2D, it could not be drawn, it had to exist, to be a real thing. If we wanted you to believe us, ‘all’ we had to do was to make it real… Literally 5 minutes is all there was between my pen and my phone because I knew who was the perfect team for that job.


oh that ? that’s just a quince in solidified plastic, nothing out of the ordinary…

Le Creative Sweatshop is a team based in Paris, they design contemporary art and architecture, dabble in fashion, excel in all maners of creativity and madness, they are great human beings to work with and they can’t keep a deadline also.

If you clicked on half the links above, you’ll easily understand why I have so much love and admiration for them and why it seemed so evidently striking to be working with them on inSynch: there is such a texture, a feeling of authenticity to every single piece they do that it had to be them… And so it was.

They started working on resin and plastic prototypes and that was… pretty but a bit too poor in terms of animation potential and we all agreed that it lacked a bit of depth and grain even though the shapes were beautiful things to look at:

So we agreed to try another route: materials with more soul, more weight so as to communicate their realness, but keeping in mind that we wanted a wide breadth of animation possibilities which turned into this gorgeous thing:

photo ©Renaud Morinlast914

 But there were two faults with this iteration, the main one was that it was going to be very, very difficult to build many different shapes (and expensive because to have richness in the texture, concrete has to be scaled way up) and our tests seemed to be lacking in color variations. Building each shape out of concrete and polishing them all would take month…

So we went for paper shapes: light, cheap, beautiful and textured, filled with crannies and misfolds that made them feel real, fragile. With the addition of the amazingly talented Sylvain Derosne to the team, we had shapes and someone to make them come alive. In the background, there would be levels of different materials, contrasting against the paper and feeding our musician’s imagination.

photo ©Renaud Morin It took month upon month to make every paper shape that Sylvain had envisioned, the Creative Sweatshop cut and folded every single one of those by hand and when we had them all, we went to a studio to shoot them.

making of inSynch

from left to right Oscar, Sylvain and Charles, one of which is working on the game

Them Shapes ©photo YasmineBH

And then we waited. Because while we dived into our codes and talked about the music, Sylvain was making something really really cool happen… And it took some time but one day, something came to our mailboxes:

cube animation gif

We were so excited to see Sylvain’s work come to life, it felt like recieving a letter from a dear friend because those shapes in all their faults and mishaps were really close to what we had to say… And like that, little by little, shapes evolved into more complicated lifeforms:

quartier animation gif

There was so much life in what had been shot and animated, but a lot, and by that I mean a LOT of work in cutting and trimming images to fit the technical constraints of the game still had to be made. Yet, with every passing week, we could just find motivation in the hypnotic beauty of these moving things that we are going to be making a game out of.

pyramide animation gifWith so many photos of the creative sweatshop and Sylvain at work, we decided not to go for credits as a list of name; instead, the final game will likely include a photo gallery (you have no idea how many gorgeous shots we have) with comments galore and details of how things were made.

inSynch is due some time after this summer, we wanted to finish it before but sadly that won’t be possible. An official and fixed release date is yet to be announced, we just don’t want to set a random one right now. In the meantime, stay tuned for more content to come in the form of articles, photos and who knows… Maybe soon an actual screenshot of the game 😉

Thank you very much for reading and to show our appreciation, here is one more of those little things, one of my favorites out of the dozens and dozens we have:



The photos from this article are by Renaud Morin and Yasmine Ben Hamouda whom we thank very much for their talent and presence in the making of this game.