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Interview with "City of Beats" Audio Lead & Composer, Nicholas Singer

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

EGX 2022 was a much needed return to form for the gaming-centric event! With a mix of AAA heavyweights such as Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and indie gems such as 9 Years of Shadows, there was a little bit for everyone to try out and learn about.

One game that we were really impressed with was rhythmic-based shooter, City of Beats! We were able to speak to the game's Audio Lead and Composer, Nicholas Singer and learn more about this upcoming game.

How long have you worked on this game roughly?

We started prototyping ideas about 4 years ago and have been working on it part-time since then. The core concept was in place early on, but we knew it was important to get it right before expanding and adding content. And since we both had other jobs and projects on the go, we were able to take the time to experiment and iterate until we had something that really felt good.

Did you make this all yourself? If not, who did you work with and how did you find them?

It’s currently just two of us - the head chef is Kai Hillenbrand, a programmer and developer from Germany who I met on the Unreal forums almost ten years ago, when I was learning about audio and music integration - he was developing a puzzle game and I suggested adding some rhythm mechanics.

I started sending him music and audio and he was really receptive to my desire to experiment and innovate with musical gameplay, and we eventually went on to release Road to Ballhalla in 2017. That gave us the confidence to work on something a bit more ambitious and to take things a bit further.

What inspired you to make this game?

We both wanted to make a game that embraced and exploited musical and rhythmic mechanics without falling into the “rhythm action” genre.

Tapping buttons in time to music is a bit limiting in terms of gameplay, and excludes a large audience of gamers who lack a sense of rhythm, or who find it a bit boring. But having worked in film music I’ve always been interested in synchronicity and synaesthesia and the magic that happens when you put music and imagery together, and thanks to games like Rez and Tetris Effect we already knew there was scope for a game that uses musical gameplay to increase immersion.

Why not take an established genre of game (top down shooter) and infuse it with the power of musical gameplay? That way we can truly draw the player into the world and create a strong link between their actions and the feedback they are getting. So our aim is to get people into ‘the zone’ and to induce a kind of flow state as they play, which hopefully results in a satisfying and addictive experience.

What challenges did you encounter while making this game and how did you overcome them?

A lot of rhythm based games use audio analysis tools to extract data from music and turn it into gameplay events.

I’ve always found those tools to be a bit limiting, and the tech isn’t quite there yet to achieve what we wanted. So instead we built a complex soundtrack with numerous layers and permutations, and set up a custom system in fMod, a 3rd party audio engine.

The data for when enemies should move or shoot is baked into the soundtrack, and we came up with a bunch of tricks to enable musical weapons etc.

I’ve posted a series of tweets that go into a bit more detail on the tech side of things.

The only disadvantage was that we had to decide to exclude custom music from the game, which was difficult but ultimately worthwhile, and I’ve done my best to compensate for that by writing a ridiculous amount of musical content.. hopefully enough that people won’t get bored. And in theory, the better people get to know the music, the better they get at the game, so overfamiliarity should end up being a good thing!

While City of Beats is being developed by yourself and Kai, the game is being published by Freedom Games.

How did you get into working with Freedom Games? Who reached out to whom first and how has that relationship affected the production of City of Beats?

Freedom [Games] were one of a number of publishers we approached and the funding they gave us, along with a grant from the Baden-Württemberg state in Germany enabled us to push through the last 12 months and expand the game from a working concept into a proper game.

They've helped with marketing, festivals and have done a great job of letting us get on with working on the game while not interfering with our process, which is one of the reasons we were attracted to them in the first place.

That's their modus operandi as a publisher and they have proven true to their name!

The haptic feedback on this jacket (vest if you're American) is a really cool idea! How did you come up with it and are there plans to release this with the game?

The jacket I brought to EGX is by a company called Subpac who make some awesome products.

I normally use it when I’m making or mixing music late at night - it’s essentially a wearable subwoofer which means I can work on headphones but still get a full-frequency experience without waking my partner or the neighbours.

Since immersion is such an important part of our game I figured it would be worth bringing along to counteract the ambience of an expo centre.. plus it did a good job of drawing in the crowds!

I would love it if we could offer something similar along with the game (a bit like the rumble pack that originally shipped with Rez) but as a two-man indie studio I can’t really see that happening!

Maybe we’ll do a special edition if the game sells well :)

Which platforms is this game releasing on?

We’re aiming for release on Steam with consoles hopefully to follow.

When can we expect this game to come out?

Release date is currently Q1 2023, we’ll let you know when we have something more specific!

You can wish list City of Beats and download the demo on Steam here!


City of Beats had an impressive Cyberpunk-esque look to it with a very challenging combat system!

The enemies legitimately move and shoot in time with the music so this game was incredibly frustrating for me at the start as I couldn't figure out the timings but if you consider the music another 'attack pattern', you should be able to maximise your time and space to ensure you eliminate all enemies before they eliminate you!

City of Beats is developed by Torched Hill Games and published by Freedom Games, you can follow the very kind composer Nicholas on his Twitter here!

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