What We’re Playing: Planck Demo

Thanks to Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Auditorium, and Plank I pretty much have 0 incentive to ever learn a real instrument. THANKS VIDEO GAMES.

Last week Brenton, an indie dev from Upstate NY, drove all the way here to Boston to talk to our monthly meet up for local indie devs. He was showing off Planck, an interesting new take on a music game being worked on by new start up Shadegrown Games.

The game is kind of like a mash up between a shoot ’em up and Frequency. You play as an invincible speedboat zipping along a tar black sea, shooting objects in your path with 1 to 4 weapons. Each of your weapons plays the notes of a different violin, and each of the enemies explodes in a little firework which plays notes as well. As you can imagine there is a lot of shooting going on, and you wind up making a fairly coherent, looping, and simple yet gratifying song in the process. Different weapons/instruments behave in different ways, but none of it really matters much as you are invincible so you don’t have much pressure to shoot/explode targets beyond what music you’re trying to make. You also have the ability to “crossfade”, which shifts the tint of the playing field and the style of the music you’re making while keeping the same beat and theme. The whole thing has a nice neon and water aesthetic, and kind of reminds me of Auditorium.

The game is interesting, and fun to play even if it is a bit rough around the edges. The song gets a bit repetitive after a while (only one track is available in the demo), and the gameplay seems aimless at times. That said the game is a neat psychedelic experience, and certainly worth a play. It also looks fairly polished for such an early stage of development. We’re excited to see where these guys go with the game – we’re looking forward to new mechanics, new levels and abilities, and more compelling gameplay choices. And I bet the Shadegrown guys can deliver!

Go download the game and give it a shot, especially if you like music games!


  1. I don’t know if you’ve read through Harmonix Music Systems patent portfolio, but I would not be advertising this as a Frequency-ish game if I were you. Their main patent is extremely broad. It doesn’t look terribly strong either, but that doesn’t mean anything these days.

  2. Hi David! I’m not too worried about this for three reasons.

    #1 I’m sure the Planck guys are aware of this and are taking it into account

    #2 The Harmonix people are good guys. I know a lot of them personally. I don’t believe they will go after them if the game isn’t infringing.

    #3 Finally, mash ups generally are acceptable in terms of game development. Almost all games are derivative of previous titles to some degree. I didn’t feel like Planck was infringing on Frequency territory at any point, but then again I’m not a lawyer.

  3. Hi Eitan,

    I’ve been researching a piece on software patents and their effect on independently produced/published games, so perhaps I am being overly thorough. In particular, point by point:

    #1. Really taking care of this–“taking into account” the patent would require a lawyer competent in software patents—how will that time and cost affect independents? Read the patents, you can find links on the Harmonix Music Systems wikipedia page.

    #2. There would be no need for written contracts if niceness meant anything in business. I’m sure everyone at both Harmonix and Konami are all very nice. That didn’t prevent them suing each other over these very patents. Now they cross license if memory serves, which reminds me of the Richard Stallman argument about software patents being much more dangerous to small developers and individuals than to large companies who can just eat the cost of settlement and/or cross-licensing.

    I worked at Irrational Games during their lawsuits with Crave Entertainment (public knowledge, it’s on the lawyers web site now.) Video game companies constantly sue and threaten to sue each other, even ones much smaller than Harmonix and Konami.

    #3. I am not a lawyer, but have a CS degree and a great deal of experience with audio software and programming, and I will say this after reading several of the patents, particular the 1995 patent. Harmonix seems to have patented almost anything where you mix a prerecorded backing track with melodies over top where the result of the players movements on ANY kind of controller, are fed into something that chooses appropriate notes/chords/samples and thus creates a kind of solo or reconstructs a kind of musical experience. I suspect people familiar with the last 40 years academic literature on computer music, algorthmic composition, and interactive performance research will look differently at this patent than would, say, the patent examiner who approved it.

    Konami undoubtedly has something similarly broad, hence the worlds two main producers of rhythm games suing each other over patent infringement.

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