Music video game

Music video game
Open source music video game StepMania

A music video game, also commonly known as a music game, is a video game where the gameplay is meaningfully and often almost entirely oriented around the player's interactions with a musical score or individual songs. Music video games may take a variety of forms and are often grouped with puzzle games[1][2][3][4][5][6] due to their common use of "rhythmically generated puzzles".[7][8]

Strong support for the convergence of live music and video games is evident with the success of the Video Games Live concert series.[9] Emergent games for live concert performance, "game-scores," augment traditional western music notation with the dramatic elements of animation, interactivity, graphic elements and aleatoric principles (Anigraphical Music). The concept of incorporating Game Theory and music is not new and can be traced back to Musikalisches Würfelspiel.[10]

Music video games are distinct from purely audio games (e.g. the 1997 Sega Saturn release Real Sound: Kaze no Regret) in that they feature a visual feedback, to lead the player through the game's soundtrack, although eidetic music games can fall under both categories.


Major gameplay variations

As the genre has gained popularity and expanded, music video games have demonstrated the ability to support a range of different styles of gameplay. While the oldest form of gameplay is eidetic in nature, the most common form of music game today is rhythmic in nature and has been termed the "rhythm game." Other common modes of gameplay in music video games include the sandbox style that encourages a free-form gameplay approach and the recent hybrid style that combines musical elements with more traditional genres such as the shooter or puzzle game. Music video games are also commonly included as minigames in the party game genre.

Music memory games

Rhythm (bottom 3 tracks) and pitch (top track) elements combine in the music video game Rock Band

Music memory games test a player's musical memory. The two major regions of musical memory that are tested in current games are short-term memory and eidetic memory. These two types of games can be seen as directly analogous to the simple children's games of Simon says (which tests short-term memory) and Pelmanism (which tests eidetic memory).

Sight-reading music games

Sight-reading music games take a variety of forms depending upon which aspect of the music serves as the focus of gameplay. Although the majority of such games primarily emphasize rhythm as the major gameplay-determinative musical element, other elements of musical notation and development such as pitch and volume also serve as points of emphasis in a number of more recent games. In all of these game-forms the goal of the player is to provide a direct injective response to each prompt (linked to an element of the music) from the game. The prompts and responses alternate and as such the gameplay tests the player's short-term memory and sight-reading ability in a manner directly analogous to the non-music-centric children's game Simon says.

Rhythm games

Rhythm-based games range from dance games such as Dance Dance Revolution,[11][12] and other music-based games such as Donkey Konga and Guitar Hero.[12][13] These games challenge the player to press the right button at the right time. The popularity of these rhythm-based games has created a market for specialty input devices such as dance mats and electronic drums.[12]

In rhythm games, the player must press specific buttons, or activate controls on a specialized game controller, in sync with the game's music. The control scheme is usually fairly simplistic, and the moves required are usually predetermined rather than randomized. The earliest rhythm game produced was Nintendo's Dance Aerobics in 1987.

Pitch games

A pitch game, as characterized by Karaoke Revolution, Lips (video game) or SingStar series, tests the player's ability to match the pitch of a piece of music provided by the game. Players use their voices and a specialized microphone as input and they are scored on their tonal accuracy. These games typically remain linked to rhythm as well due to the basic nature of rhythm in most music, however pitch games are characterized by comparatively simple rhythms and an emphasis on the pitch element of the songs instead. Pitch games generally fail to address pronunciation flaws. For example, if you sing on pitch and on beat, but you mispronounce the word, you still get credited with the score.

Volume games

The element of volume is very rare in music games, however it has featured in such games as Mad Maestro! and Wii Music. Although volume games emphasize volume, the player typically does not accomplish this with his voice as with pitch games. Rather, a variety of methods are used to provide alterations in volume. In Mad Maestro!, for instance, the player is able to vary the volume according to the requirements of gameplay by varying the pressure he or she applies to the buttons of the Dualshock 2 controller which are capable of recognizing variable pressure. Alternatively, in Wii Music, the player varies the angle at which the Wii Remote is held in order to vary the volume of the game. The great majority of volume games remain intimately linked to the rhythm aspects of the song.

Eidetic music games

Eidetic music games, for which Space Channel 5 serves as an example, test the player's ability to memorize a musical series of notes or beats and to repeat it back in a Pelmanism-style format. Eidetic music games can be differentiated from the sight-reading music games by the escalating series of prompts and responses required for successful completion. Each successive prompt and response contains the entirety of the prior prompt or response as well as additional material determined by the round and as such the gameplay is designed to tests the player's eidetic memory. Due to the simplicity of gameplay, eidetic music games have been employed to great success as minigames in such titles as The 7th Guest, Zork Nemesis, and Myst. Eidetic music games are the oldest form of the musically-influenced games, discounting the free form music art games, with roots reaching as far back as the audio games of the late 1970s.

Music management games

In the Make My Video series, the player in control of editing the music videos of various popular bands.

Music management games are roughly equivalent to Sports management games except that they involve the management of a musical band or group or the production of music videos. Although the direct interaction between music and the player is considerably limited in music management games, the games nevertheless center on the musical nature of the management tasks of scheduling, producing, and promoting music stars. Examples of such games include Rock Star Ate My Hamster, Total Distortion, Spice World, The Idolmaster series, and the Make My Video series.

Free form music games

Non-games such as KORG DS-10 blur the lines between video games and software utilities.

Free form music games, characterized by games such as SimTunes,[14] are those in which the creation of music takes predominance over gameplay and as such these games are often more similar to non-game music synthesizers such as the Tenori-on. Free form music games occupy a position somewhere between generative hybrid music games and non-game utilities dependent upon the degree to which their gameplay relies upon a driving underlying plotline. Further examples of this form of music game include Fluid, Electroplankton, Wii Music, Traxxpad, myRMX, and MTV Drumscape. Free form musical modes are also often made available as alternate gameplay modes or unlockables as in such games as Daigasso! Band Brothers, Quest for Fame, and Osu!. This form of music game is closely analogous to Sandbox games in the realm of non-musical games and the term "sandbox" has been used to describe this form of gameplay.[15][16][17]

Music art games

Music art games are a form of music game whose emphasis lies on the artistic aspects of musical gameplay rather than the ludological aspects. These games often lack a discernible plot and as such are similar to non-games or utilities (in keeping with their relationship to free form music games). As art games, these games often lack mainstream appeal, however they have shown up visibly as installations in art museums.[18] Examples of music art games would include Moondust, tranquility, and the MusicVR series.

Hybrid music games

Hybrid games like Rez combine gameplay elements from classic genres such as the rail shooters with intrinsically musical gameplay.
Indie project Phase Shift, a music game offering real music modes to enable players to learn real songs as they play, as well as combining traditionally separate gameplay modes from the dance and instrument based music games.

An offshoot of the serious games initiative,[19] hybrid forms of music video games such as Otocky (a generative hybrid) and Pteranodon (a reactive hybrid) are characterized by substantial and meaningful interactions between a player and the music in a game that ostensibly belongs to a non-musical genre.[20][21]

Generative music games

Generative-form hybrid music video games often make the concert music resulting from the interaction between performer and in-game dynamics a goal of the game.[22][23] To achieve this the non-musical genres to which these games give the outward appearance of belonging are often characterized by simple, straightforward dynamics.[24][25][26] In Rez, for example, the game takes the form of a simple rail shooter, however by integrating sound effects created by the actions of the player (as he completes the normal tasks of rail-shooting) with the soundtrack as a whole, the game is intended to permit the player's direct interaction with the soundtrack and to encourage the creation of a synaesthetic experience.[27]

Reactive music games

The major difference between the generative and reactive forms of hybrid music video games is that games of the generative form allow for the creation of music as determined by gameplay whereas those of the reactive form employ music to determine gameplay. Reactive-form hybrid music video games such as Pteranodon, Rhyme Rider Kerorican, or iS – internal section focus upon the underlying genre such that the music serves to determine the dynamics of the non-musical components of the game. In these games the player takes substantial cues from the soundtrack to devise his gameplay. Comparable reactive-form[28] music video games such as Vib-Ribbon, Audiosurf, or Dance Factory lack a differentiable underlying genre and as such cannot be considered hybrid music games.

Mixed-genre games

Mixed-genre games are typically party games in which a number of minigames each of different genres are merged into one frame narrative. Examples of this kind of mixed-genre game featuring musical elements include Feel the Magic: XY/XX and The Rub Rabbits!. Other games may be considered mixed-genre games if they meaningfully merge music video game elements with gameplay from another distinct genre. Although hybrid music games can be seen to accomplish a similar effect, the overlap between the musical elements and the gameplay in hybrid music games prevents the game from being fully understood when regarding either the non-musical aspect or the musical aspect in isolation from the other. Mixed-genre games such as the musical RPG, Ragnarawk, accomplish a much greater degree of separation between the traditional non-musical aspects of the game and the musical aspects.

Music Games For Concert Performance

Games intended for live concert performance in which the musical performer navigates a dynamic interactive manuscript (game-score), with or without embedded accompaniment, projected for audience viewing and/or involvement of the performer's decision process leading to each musical performance being unique. See 'The Anigraphical Etudes'

Major developers


Although Andamiro was previously known within the gaming community at large for its prize-winning arcade mini game, Arch Shade,[29] within the realm of music video games the company has become best known for its Pump It Up arcade series.[30] Pump It Up (1999), while widely believed to be based on Dance Dance Revolution,[31] was in fact developed simultaneously to DDR although it was only released in Korea after the release of DDR.[32] It is not as well known in America due to Andamiro keeping the game's availability only within its native Korea for many years.[33] Its dance-mat layout was the inverse of the layout for DDR - the arcade machine uses four diagonal pads and one center pad for each player (see gameplay of Pump It Up). In November 2006, Andamiro announced Pump It Up New Xenesis, which was to be developed by team Nexcade[34] (Andamiro's previous development team, FreeVolt, was to compose approximately half of Nexcade[35]). Pump It Up New Xenesis was released in December, 2006.[36] Andamiro has produced at least 20 versions of the Pump It Up series worldwide,[37] but due to their naming convention for new game titles it is hard to determine an exact index for the games. Andamiro has also developed nine consumer software versions for PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable.[38]

Konami's "Bemani" Series

An extremely popular[39] series of games published by Konami in Japan that make up a significant proportion of total sales in the music video game genre, the "BEMANI series"[40][41] is named for Konami's music games division. The division's name is derived, in common Japanese syllabic abbreviation, from its flagship game, BEatMANIa.[42] In Beatmania (1997), the player uses a set of buttons and a controller in the form of a DJ's turntable.[43] The BEMANI series also includes several games requiring the use of controllers shaped like musical instruments, such as GuitarFreaks[44] (1998) and DrumMania[45] (1999). Bemani's musical arcade titles include Mambo a Go Go[46] (2002) and Toy's March[47] (2005). Konami currently only works on six titles in the BEMANI series, including jubeat , Reflec Beat , beatmania IIDX, GuitarFreaks, Drummania, pop'n music and Dance Dance Revolution

Only a limited selection of the BEMANI games have been released outside of Asia,[48] the most notable being Dance Dance Revolution (1998) (commonly abbreviated to DDR; also known as Dancing Stage in European release). In DDR, players step on or otherwise activate panels on a large (about 1 meter square) floor controller in time with an on-screen sequence.[11] Home versions of the floor controller somewhat resemble the Nintendo Power Pad accessory.[49] The overwhelming success of DDR and its sequels has spawned numerous re-creations or clones of the game or its mechanics, both commercial (as with EZ2Dancer,[50] In the Groove,[51] and In the Groove 2[51]) and free (including StepMania,[50] which is also FOSS,[52] and also provided the engine for In the Groove). This makes DDR possibly the most duplicated music game in existence.[53]

The BEMANI series can be credited with several trends in music games. One such trend is the use of novel, specialized game controllers, in both arcade and home versions[54] (which Konami had also pioneered in non-music games such as Police 911[55]). Another trend is the use of a sizable catalog of short mixes and covers of existing songs as well as songs produced in-house for the game which serve as a common basis for many members of the series.[56] Many games in the series also have further sequels in which the main change is the selection of songs, and the mechanics of the gameplay remain similar to the original.[57]


Harmonix Music Systems is an American game company that primarily makes music games.[58] It first became famous for the game FreQuency (2001) and its sequel Amplitude (2003), both of which feature edits of existing songs (as well as original selections) and a gameplay similar to that of Beatmania.[59][60]

Harmonix also produced Karaoke Revolution[61] (2003) (published by Konami as a BEMANI game[62] in the same vein as Dance Dance Revolution). In Karaoke Revolution, a player sings on-screen lyrics into a microphone along with accompanying background music (in the style of karaoke) and is scored on closeness of pitch between player and tune.[61] Although now one of the most well-known pitch-oriented games,[63] Karaoke Revolution was released three years after the publication of the Finnish PC game, PlaySingMusic[64] (2000) by SoittoPeli (possibly the first such game) and its subsequent presentation at the LA iWireless World conference by Elmorex Ltd. in 2001.[65]

A newer game by Harmonix, Guitar Hero (2005), has expanded into a popular series for which Harmonix is best known.[66] Guitar Hero makes use of a guitar-shaped controller with five neck buttons.[13] The sequel, Guitar Hero II, was released in November 2006.[67]

After being bought by MTV in 2006,[68] Harmonix began work on Rock Band, a game that combined guitar peripheral gameplay with singing and drumming to create a band experience.[69] Former publisher RedOctane[70] (now owned by Activision[71]) turned the task of continuing the Guitar Hero franchise to Neversoft.[72] Harmonix released Rock Band on November 20, 2007 in North America, with the game being published by EA Games[73] and followed it up with its sequel, Rock Band 2. An expansion to Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (2007), was created prior to the release of Rock Band in order to fulfill the contractual obligations with Activision, as its development started prior to the ownership transfer.[74] Harmonix released Lego Rock Band with TT Games on November 3, 2009.

Apart from music video games, Harmonix is known for being one of the first developers to make use of the EyeToy camera accessory for the PlayStation 2.[75]


iNiS is a video game developer most commonly known for their cult video game[76] Gitaroo Man (2001) for the PlayStation 2 and their Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (2005) series for the Nintendo DS.[77] All of iNiS' rhythm games were designed by Keiichi Yano.[78] While the company has been around for many years, none of their previous games matched the recent success and support that Ouendan received.[79] The popularity of Ouendan led to interest in the older game, Gitaroo Man.[80] Published by Koei in 2002 throughout North America, which soon became difficult to find for sale as it gained cult status.[76] In response to this demand, Koei resumed production to ship more copies[81] which resulted in the elevation of Gitaroo Man from a cult video game to a sleeper hit. In addition, iNiS ported the game to Sony's handheld PlayStation Portable gaming device as Gitaroo Man Lives![82] (2006).

iNiS's success with these rhythm games prompted Nintendo, who was the publisher of Ouendan in Japan,[83] to pressure iNiS to produce a spiritual sequel to Ouendan that would appeal more to North American audiences.[84] The reason for this was that Ouendan included musical and cultural references that would make little sense outside of Japan. This resulted in the production of Elite Beat Agents in 2006.[85] Elite Beat Agents includes well-known Western songs, all performed by cover bands.[86] It also has a few new gameplay tweaks (see gameplay of Elite Beat Agents). On May 17, 2007 iNiS/Nintendo released Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (Burn! Hot-blooded Rhythm Soul! Go! Fight! Cheer Squad 2?)[87] (2007) in Japan as a direct sequel to the original Ouendan.[88] Ouendan 2 featured new characters, situations, and Japanese music.[87] iNiS made its Xbox 360 debut with the pitch-oriented game Lips on November 18, 2008.


Relatively late to the market, Namco's first foray into rhythm games came in the form of its Taiko no Tatsujin series.[89] These arcade games featured 2 large taiko-style drums[90] and their popularity[91] prompted the release of a PS2 version, Taiko: Drum Master (2004) which required a specialized taiko-drum-shaped "TaTaCon" controller to play.[92] Other games in the Taiko no Tatsujin series that have been released in Japan include both Taiko no Tatsujin Portable for the PSP and Taiko no Tatsujin Touch De Dokodon for the Nintendo DS.[93][94] In 2003, Namco expanded Nintendo's flagship Donkey Kong series into the realm of rhythm games with its Donkey Konga series which currently consists of Donkey Konga (2003), Donkey Konga 2 (2004), Donkey Konga 3 (2005), and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (2004).[95][96][97][98]


A Japanese video game company now known as NanaOn-Sha is credited with the creation of what is generally considered to be the first modern rhythm game,[99] PaRappa the Rapper (1996).[100] The gameplay generally involves repeating the rhythms of raps from another character (one per level), by pressing any of eight buttons on the game controller. The button sequences are displayed on a timeline at the top of the screen. Pressing a button plays a sample of PaRappa's voice corresponding to which button was pressed, regardless of whether the pressing of the button matches the appropriate rhythmic sequence or intended button selection. PaRappa can sometimes be heard to say "Oops!" if no sample is associated with the button at that moment.[100]

The game is scored for sequence and timing, and adhering closely to the given timeline results in a passing grade. Unlike many other music games, the player may obtain an even higher score and access a special "COOL" mode of play by improvisational "freestyling" (though the algorithm by which this is scored is often nebulous and the results virtually unpredictable).[100] The game's success resulted in the spinoff UmJammer Lammy (1999), which is based on guitar samples,[101] and eventually a proper sequel, PaRappa the Rapper 2[102] (2002).

NanaOn-Sha also produced another novel series of music games including Vib-Ribbon (1999), Mojib-Ribbon (2003), and Vib-Ripple (2004), however these games were only released in Japan (and, in the case of Vib-Ribbon, Europe).[103][104][105] The gameplay involved in Vib-Ribbon centered on the player's reactions to elements of the landscape which in turn resulted from the tone of the background music. The game came with a soundtrack, but players were additionally able to load their own music on CDs into the PS1 and an in-game algorithm would produce the resulting landscape based on waveform analysis.[103] This freedom of landscape was again extended to players in the rhythm-centric Vib-Ripple, as the game allowed players to import images of their own choosing to serve as the background. As in the case of the waveform algorithm in Vib-Ribbon, Vib-Ripple contains an algorithm which converts externally loaded pictures into corresponding levels.[104] Mojib-Ribbon followed a similar concept as the Vib titles, but used text files to create kanji rap-based rhythm gameplay.[105]

Their most recent music title is Major Minor's Majestic March for the Wii, which uses the Wii Remote to replicate a marching band leader's baton.

Q Entertainment

In the month following the dissolution of Sega's United Game Artists division in 2003,[106] UGA's former lead designer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, left Sega along with several of his co-workers to form an independent game studio, Q Entertainment,[107] which continued producing music-based games, along with a handful of other titles.

The first step of Mizuguchi's newly-formed Q Entertainment was to develop the blockbuster Lumines (2004) for the PlayStation Portable.[108] Lumines is a puzzle game in which the goal is to arrange like-colored falling blocks into squares which will then disappear. Like Rez (a game Mizuguchi had previously designed[109]), each stage in Lumines has a unique musical and visual theme. In Lumines blocks marked to be cleared do not disappear immediately. Instead, a bar called the timeline sweeps across the screen in time with the music and clears away the properly arranged blocks, producing a musical effect in sync with the background music each time this happens.[110] Sequels to Lumines include Lumines Live! (2006) and Lumines II (2006).[111][112]

Following the release of Lumines II, Q Entertainment released a PSP title called Every Extend Extra (2006).[113] Every Extend Extra is as an abstract action game in which power-ups dropped by enemies, named "quickens", increase the speed of both the player and the enemy, as well as the speed of that drive's music.[113] Like Rez, the basic gameplay itself appears unrelated to the music, however the music reacts to the gameplay in such a way as to produce a concert effect.[113][114]

The same year Q Entertainment also created Gunpey[115] (2006), a puzzle game for the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation Portable based on the classic formula from Gunpei Yokoi's Wonderswan game.[116] It bears Mizuguchi's signature design previously seen in games such as Lumines, where every skin has a different mood, different background music, and different specific sound effects.[115]

Q Entertainment's most recent release was a high-definition version of Rez entitled Rez HD (2008) for the Xbox 360 that additionally includes vibrational support for up to four controllers.[117] In interviews, Mizuguchi has suggested holding one, placing one on the back, and placing one's feet upon the other two.[118]

Sonic Team / United Game Artists / Sega AM9

Sonic Team (formerly Sega AM8[119]) is a division of Sega Corporation,[119] which from 2000-2003 absorbed and incorporated several smaller former Sega divisions[106] following the transitional phase in which Sega dropped out of the console race to concentrate on software and game development.[106]

Sonic Team produced only one music video game prior to merging with United Game Artists.[120] This Dreamcast game, entitled Samba de Amigo (1999), involved the use of a set of maraca peripherals which were shaken in one of three positions corresponding to on-screen cues and the rhythm of the soundtrack.[121]

Simultaneously another Sega division called Sega AM9, led by designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi,[109] produced its first and last music video game under the Sega AM9 name.[109][122] Space Channel 5 (1999), another game for the Dreamcast, has the player control Ulala, a swingin' reporter for the titular broadcast network, Space Channel 5. Ulala defeats her enemies (which include aliens, robots, and nefarious humans) by mesmerizing them with her dancing and/or singing, then incapacitating them with her raygun. The control scheme follows an eidetic format, with players repeating increasing sequences of button presses in time with the ever-present music.[122]

In 2000, the Sega AM9 division was renamed United Game Artists and became a semi-autonomous subsidiary.[109] Under this new name, the division's next title was Rez[114] (2001), a unique synaesthetic rail shooter for Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, destined to became a cult favorite.[123] In Rez, the player flies through a psychedelic, abstract landscape while a Techno or Breakbeat track plays. Whenever the player locks on to an enemy, shoots, or uses a special ability, there is both a musical and a visual effect which occurs in time with the playing track. The controller's vibrating motors pulse in time with the beat, and the game also featured support for a Rez-specific accessory called the Rez Trance Vibrator which similarly vibrated in correspondence with the music created.[114][124] The sensory experiences offered by the game (visual, auditory, and tactile) are all closely interwoven, and the unique audio/visual experience earned Rez many excellent reviews, although sales were lackluster.[125][126] Renewed interest in the title as well as its cult status have prompted Mizuguchi to release an updated high-definition version entitled Rez HD (2008), although this version has been released by his new development company, Q Entertainment.[117]

The last title developed by UGA before its absorption into Sonic Team was Space Channel 5: Part 2 (2002), a direct sequel to Space Channel 5.[127] Space Channel 5: Part 2 dropped the FMV backgrounds from Part 1 and instead featured a more dynamic presentation. It also added instrument-based sequences in which the main character played the guitar or drums.[128] It was generally hailed as a major improvement over its precursor, yet it failed to capture the same commercial success.[129]

In 2003, UGA was absorbed by Sonic Team[106] as a result of which former UGA lead designer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, and several other left to form Q Entertainment.[107] Since the merger of UGA and Sonic Team, Sonic Team has not produced any strict music video games,[130] although members of the former UGA staff (now under the Sonic Team name) have included musical mini-games in their 2004 release, Feel the Magic: XY/XX.[131]

Other major developers


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