When not recording albums or playing shows, many musicians spend their free time playing games. But guitarist Andy Ross of OK Go isn’t playing. Instead, he and his pals in mobile game developer Space Inch are making them, starting with the mobile musical game Disco Bees.
With Disco Bees now available on both iOS and Android, I chatted with Ross about how he became a programmer, why their latest game is a musical puzzle game, and what other animals and styles of music they could mash together if they get to make a sequel.
Playboy: How did you first get involved with Space Inch and Disco Bees?
Andy Ross: Programming has been a passion of mine since my parents first got a Commodore 64 when I was six years old. I studied computer science in high school and college, and writing code has always either been my primary job or a serious side interest. When I first joined OK Go, we were playing smaller venues, so I took on some freelance web app work, pounding away on my laptop in the back of the van between cities. A few years ago, a couple friends from college and I decided to start a small company called Space Inch and focus on casual games.
We really wanted to do a puzzle game since they were dominating our personal addictions at the time. Puzzle games are great because it can be fun and creative, but they also work your brain in a way that, say, an endless runner does not. No one had really done a hexagonal game board before, so we thought it might lead to some interesting possibilities. Of course, a hexagonal board also conjures up an obvious image: honeycombs and bees.
And the Disco part?
One thing we learned early on in our bee research was that bees communicate with each other doing something called a “waggle dance.” With a name like that, we couldn’t resist the temptation to make our bees do a synchronized dance when you win a level. Since there was going to be copious bee dancing, we need a genre of dance music and a great soundtrack. Thus, Disco Bees was born.
In OK Go, you play guitar. But since the game is called Disco Bees, I’m guessing that you didn’t just record a bunch of guitar solos for the game, right?
Music and sound effects are such a huge part of the identity of any video game. It was especially true for Disco Bees, where we had a musical theme decided before working on any music. In a way, this made it a lot easier, because the genre of music was clearly going to be disco, so there was a focused direction in which to make the music.
Did you at least play some ‘70s-style, porno guitar with all the wah-wah?
I did play some guitar for the soundtrack, but I have no idea where my wah pedal is, so it was decidedly less sexy.
Given that Disco Bees is a puzzle game, did that have any influence on what you did with the music?
Given the constraints of music file size, you really have only two to three minutes of total audio you can put into a game that will loop continuously. So, I think the key factor for a puzzle game is that, since someone might spend a lot of time playing a certain level, you really need to make sure the music isn’t annoying on the 2,026th listen. This is a really delicate balance for a thirty-second loop of audio, but I think it worked out pretty well for Disco Bees.
When it came to recording the music, did you ask any of your band mates to help out?
Well, sort of. We wanted to add some funny exclamations when you made a really good move. So, I got our bass player, Tim [Nordwind], to say ridiculous bee puns like “bee-dazzling!” and “hive-five!” in a mad-scientist voice. I think he knocked it out of the park.
Did you do this because you were worried that, if you hadn’t, they’d kick you out and replace you with another guitarist named Andy? It’s happened before.
It’s always a threat.
So are there any plans to release the music you did for Disco Bees?
It’s funny, we get that question from time to time. We currently don’t have any plans, but I’m pretty sure you can find the songs on YouTube.
Finally, if you guys decided to make a sequel, but didn’t want to do Disco Bees II: Electric Boogaloo, what musical style and animal would you suggest? Jazz Giraffe? Country Mole? Metal Slug? No, wait, that’s been done.
I lean towards Mejoranera Babirusa, but I worry that it’s just too mainstream to be taken seriously.
Paul Semel has been writing about games (as well as music, movies, books, and other fun stuff) for over twenty years. You can find him online on his own site, paulsemel.com, or follow him on Twitter at @paulsemel.
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