Friday 14 September 2012

Announcing Cello Fortress: a unique mix of live concert and game

Today I am announcing my new project: Cello Fortress! Cello Fortress is a really weird game concept, very experimental. I am really happy to finally have started working on it, after having it floating around in my head for years. ^_^

Cello Fortress can only be played live at events, and it will debut at the Indigo exhibition later this month!

Cello Fortress combines a live cello concert with a twin-stick-shooter, in which the cellist plays against the audience. It brings a unique experience in which I control the game by improvising on my cello, simultaneously fending off attacks and making music. The audience takes up controllers and tries to beat the fortress. The result is an exciting interplay between cellist, players and audience.

Up to four players use controllers to navigate their tank, using one stick to move and the other to shoot. They dodge bullets and attack the turrets. At the same time, the game analyses the notes played by the cellist, as picked up by a microphone. Aggressive notes activate the burst-cannons, dissonant chords turn on the flame-throwers, and an ominous melody charges a bombardment.

Cello Fortress is only playable at live concerts given by... me! So I am not only the creator of the game, but also the cellist. The debut of Cello Fortress will be at the Indigo 2012 exhibition on 28 and 29 September in Utrecht, Netherlands. The version played at Indigo will be a fully playable, early prototype, to experiment with this weird concept.

I find this project an incredibly interesting experiment. I have played cello for years, including in a band and currently in the Kunstorkest amateur baroque orchestra. I do lots of improvisation at jam sessions and such. But how does it feel to improvise with a gameplay goal? If I need to suddenly play low notes to fire a certain cannon, then I will need to come up with a melody that brings me to the low notes quickly, without sounding like random notes. After all, I am making music here! Besides the players, there is also an audience listening and viewing, so they need to hear good music as well as see interesting gameplay. Quite a challenge, and I look forward to trying it in front of an audience.

This game contains so many weird elements that it is interesting to list some of the rare and unique aspects in Cello Fortress:
  • Using a real musical instrument as a game-controller (like Rocksmith, but this time using a cello and to control normal gameplay)
  • Combining concert and game
  • Dynamic difficulty adjustment directly by the designer during gameplay
  • Completely adaptive soundtrack
  • The game is a show in front of an audience

Since the game is still in the early stages, the version playable at Indigo will probably not look very polished yet. However, I am already playing around with the visual style of the game, so here is a piece of concept art for it:

So to play Cello Fortress, visit Indigo! Indigo is a yearly exhibition by Dutch Game Garden that shows the best new work by Dutch game developers. This year it is held in Utrecht's town hall, at Korte Minrebroederstraat 2. On September 28 it is open mainly for press and business people, while on September 29 it is open to the general public. Entrance to Indigo is free, and Cello Fortress will be playable regularly throughout the day. Hope to see you there!


  1. This is a really interesting idea! Games always seem to combine with music very well, and I can think of so many possible directions to go with a project like this. What if playing on more than one string at once strengthens your attacks, so long as you're in tune? What if transposing to another key or playing in a different mode changes the type of your attacks? What if reusing themes and melodies brings back the same attacks, only stronger? What if you had a 2-player mode featuring cello vs. cello — a modern spin on the instrumental duel? etc. Combined with good musical analysis software, a game like this could both be incredibly fun and a fantastic stimulus for improvisation.

  2. Is there any video from the game played on the exhibition? :)

    1. Some people did film it, but I have not received the footage yet. I will release some footage in the coming weeks, when I have time to record and edit a proper trailer. :) In the meanwhile, there are some photo's of the event on the Facebook page: