H E X
Hex is a puzzle-solving game created by our Muchakombucha Studio, for the course Game Design, Prototype, and Production, taught by Thomas Corbett, at Carnegie Mellon University.
The initial task of this project was an individual assignment to redesign the classic puzzle Sudoku. After the assignment, our team called for a meeting to discuss and vote for which design we should continue. The result was a color-block switch-n-align design brought up by Jan, our programmer.
We then furthered the design by changing the block model to a hexagon model with 6 colors and can be rotated around its center.
Like a lot of games, we take on the idea to have the hexagons align on some axes, but we made the align matching rule differently: all the colors on one axis must be distinct to be called a match, and, to clear the level, our player must match colors on all the axes.
As usual, besides the role of a game designer, I’m the sound designer on the team. I started to discuss with our artist Sofia about the prototype of the hexagons in order to get inspiration for my sound design.
The prototype we agreed on was like “pebbles shine in a shallow river” kind of luminous and simple style.
The first set of design came to mind was using piano and guitar or other light string instruments to compose simple background music with clear bells as decorating sound. However, this traditional approach was unsatisfying: if I wanted to keep the music simple, then I would have to reduce the melody lines and use as many long chords as possible; however, long chords without flowing melody would be tedious and extremely predictable, which would ruin the general Zen sense invoked by the art. So it seemed my usual way of background music composition can hardly apply here.
My next design was inspired by an interesting project I saw from my computer music class: it was a piece of music entirely composed by a computer program that utilized, for the majority part, randomization algorithms to select what note should be played next. This design was my lucky shot. Hoping to mimic the same luminous pebble feeling, I found a dreamy instrument in Ableton Live which sounds somewhat similar to that feeling. I created a track with random long chords to represent the river in the background. And then I selected a mellow bell instrument and created a set of single strike sounds following a simple scale: starting from C3, a single note was recorded for every major 3rd up until C5. These single notes were assigned to the “turning” sound effects of the hexagons.
Every time the player clicks on a hexagon, a random number would be generated by programming codes; then, all 8 notes in the set have equal chances to be selected based on the generated number; the selected note will be played as the turning sound effect for that click. Because the notes are played entirely by computer codes, the music formed by the notes are completely unpredictable and different every time it is played. In this way, the background music is complete while matching our style: light in load and not boring out of repetition.
My Zen style sound design won over the interest from the entire class, including the professor and TA. Something that made me proud was Tom’s very first question after Hex’s debut: “Very nice game… who’s your sound designer?” The fact that he asked this question before anything else was, to me, a sign of recognition and I was hugely encouraged and ensured that I had made a great decision.
Advancing to other sound design in the game such as UI sound effects, I followed the same logic while choosing the audio sources and designed the other sound effects to sound like they are from the same family as the turning sounds. As for the music played in the menu, I mimicked the bell-striking music in traditional Chinese repertoire and composed and recorded a simple piece. Later, I considered the possibility that, even though the notes were played randomly and so the music was less likely to be boring, the tonality, or the general feeling, of the set might be another source of tediousness. So I recorded two more sets of turning notes based on two other scales in a similar manner, with the company of two more background tracks in the corresponding key.