Game Design Document: Variations on a Dream

Variations on a Dream

Game Design Document

Variations on a Dream

1. Introduction

Variations on a Dream is a first-person music experiencing game, with music-based light gameplay elements from puzzle and platform adventure genres. The player plays as a dreamer travels across and explores the fantastic variations (levels)[1] of the dream teeming with music, looking for the entrance to the next level of dream under the guidance and challenges of the harmony, melody, rhythm, tempo, dynamics and music style of the music which is also of the musical form of variation and constantly playing in the background, but functioning as the core mechanics. The player doesn’t respond to the music directly but the music affects the environments in the dream as well as the player avatar’s properties, leading the player in the dark dream scenes; however tuneless, ominous sounds may lead the player to the nightmare and he/she might wake up. There’s no winning or losing in the game, but just the unique way of music experiencing as a journey.

1.1 Unique Selling Points

  • Unparalleled Interactive Music Appreciation Experience: The game features this experience that immerses the player in the game world and gameplay which are totally based on the game’s ludic interpretations and the player’s appreciation/perception of the music.
  • Puzzle and Platform Adventure Revolved around the Music: The game draws classic gameplay elements from puzzle and platform adventure genres and connects them with the basic elements of music.
  • Interrelated Level Design and Music Variations[2] on the Theme of “Dream”: Both the music and the essential game have one enchanting theme—”Dream” and based on it variations of the music and the interrelated levels of dream are composed, designed and unified.
  • Unlit Environments and Sparse GUI Highlighting the Audio: The environments of the game are largely unlit to emphasise the player’s own exploration with the avatar’s dim light under the guidance of audio clues in the environments and enhance the experience of the music.

1.2 Design Goals

  • Unified Experience as a Journey: The music will be unified with and integrated into the gameplay, creating a whole experience of music-driven adventure emphasising on the process itself but not the results.
  • Highlighting Audio Signals: In the game, visual signals will be properly reduced to highlight the audio signals which contribute to the music-oriented experience the game aims to convey.
  • Moderate Difficulty: The game’s difficulty, on both aspects of the perception/appreciation of the music and the gameplay will be moderate and with an immersive tutorial to appeal to a potentially larger audience.
  • Various Emotions: The music will vary to express and convey various emotions related to the levels of the dream.

1.3 Gameplay Overview

Variations on a Dream conveys a linear experience of variations of dreams, in terms of both the game levels and the associated music with each level. As the player travels across and explores a level of dream, the player will discover entrance to the next dream or the nightmare version of the current dream. The player, as well, can fall to the nightmare as the avatar’s light dims out or simply fall off from edges. See Section 2.1 for more detailed explanations.

In the dream, the player will experience these gameplay elements:

  • Exploration: The player explores the largely unlit dream scene with the avatar’s own light under the guidance of audio clues in the scene which produce different harmony effects together with the music to indicate the good or bad events/situations ahead in general. There will also be various consumable items distributed in the scene to be collected.
  • Puzzles: The puzzles in the game will be totally based on music, containing challenges of musical pattern (melodies, rhythms and music styles) recognition, memorisation and inference related to the music playing in the current dream. Puzzle solving rewards the player with light and unlocks passage or secret area.
  • Action Platform Adventure: There will be various traps activated by the rhythm of the music. Also there will be challenges of platform jumping and the player’s speed and height of jump are affected by the tempo and dynamics of the music.

1.4 Target Audience and Platforms

As a game focusing on music experience, Variations on a Dream aims to appeal to players who enjoy music games and potential players, including true music lovers (especially classical music lovers) and people who have some basic knowledge about music theory (e.g. music students). The game may also attract indie game lovers who would like to try out something new.

As a music game that requires hearing for directions, playing with headphones on is recommended. Therefore, the game aims to be developed for and released on platforms of PC, Mac, iOS and Android.

Continue reading

Variations on a Dream – The Music

Variations on a Dream is a first-person music experiencing game. You travel across and explore the variations of the dream teeming with music, looking for the entrance to the next level of dream under the guidance and challenges of the harmony, melody, rhythm, tempo and dynamics of the music. The music leads you in the dark dream scenes, but tuneless, ominous music and sound will lead you to the nightmare and you might wake up. No winning or losing, but just experiencing.

Here to listen to the music, Variations on a Dream :

Game Concept: The Last Muse



The Last Muse is a 2D isometric “music adventure” game for PC, in which players play the last Muse, who’s been kidnaped by some alien music creatures to a strange music realm. They want to imprison Muse so as to eliminate all music on Earth. To break up the scheme, players have to escape the alien music realm, and defeat enemies and traps along the way by “performing music” to unleash various abilities according to the rhythm and melody of the music that’s playing.

Key Features

The Last Muse features a music thematic adventure. In The Last Muse, almost every part of the gameplay is connected with music, from the pace of the game, to attack/defence and music abilities. In brief, the game replaces the conventional gameplay elements in adventure games with music-related ones.

Each level features a different piece of music and each platform/passage features a different section of the piece. As the game progresses, the music becomes increasingly complex in melody and rhythm.

The player’s goal is to escape the alien music realm and try to keep Muse as well as possible. So the score starts with 10000 and every time Muse (the player) takes damage, the artistry decrease.

Music thematic adventure

The adventure of the game will be set across environments (platforms and passages) of music themes, so does the light comic story. The game offers option for an unparalleled game experience of high integration of music and action adventure game.

Pace following the music

The pace of the player and enemies’ movement and actions are in accordance with the tempo of the music. So when in a platform with music of slow tempo, both the player and the enemy move and act at a relative slow pace along the music. The music’s pace also affects the pace of the story and the overall flow of the game.

Act along the music

Apart from receiving the passive effect on pace, the player and the enemy also have to act along the music’s melody and rhythm. For the player, the music actions include restoring inspiration and texture, basic and combo attack/defence and music abilities. For the enemy, they attack, defend and use abilities according to the music as well. Meanwhile, there are music puzzles, such as lock picking, trap disarming, etc. involving similar music actions. The detailed actions will be explained in Gameplay section.

Terminology and Content


Term Description
Pace The overall pace of the game, similar to the playing speed setting of a multimedia player
Platform The basic game world structure and gameplay loop
Artistry The overall score of the player, starts with 10000 and decreases when taking damage (texture decreases)

Can be negative

Normal state The state when the player is not engaged in combat with enemies or in other gameplay activities (e.g. lock picking)
Combat state The state when the player is engaged in combat with enemies
Inspiration The energy/mana of the player

Can be restored by completing melody combos in normal state

Texture The health/HP of the player

Can be restored by completing rhythm combos in normal state

Melody combo 2 or more consecutive input commands that fit the melody of the music that’s playing (sometimes the melody also contains the same rhythm to the bass rhythm, but the input of melody cannot replace the input of rhythm: difference between monophonic and homophonic music)

The number of the input commands determine the effectiveness of the combo

Monophonic music A single melody and the rhythm is contained in the melody
Homophonic music A melody with bass rhythm as accompaniment and the melody and rhythm are separated
Rhythm combo 2 or more consecutive input commands that fit the rhythm of the music that’s playing

The number of the input commands determine the effectiveness of the combo

Basic attack In combat state input a basic attack command that fits the rhythm of the music that’s playing

Need to target enemy

Cost inspiration

Combo attack In combat state complete a melody combo

Can be attached with an offensive ability

Range attack

Cost inspiration

Combo defence In combat state complete a rhythm combo

Can be attached with a defensive ability

Cost inspiration

Offensive ability Passive music ability, needs to be used with combo attack/combo defence
Defensive ability
Special ability Active music ability, cost inspiration to use
Collectables Items that can be collected in the game levels, has an instant effect or can be used with special abilities
Losing condition The texture reaches 0

The player will respawn at the nearest checking point

Winning condition The player reaches the end of the last level
Podium The leader board

Music Abilities (later in development)

Category Ability Description
Offensive ability Forte Enhance the player’s attack damage
Fermata Cause lingering damage
Staccato Add special attack effect, extra effective to certain enemies
Legato Add special attack effect, extra effective to certain enemies
Harmony Add special attack effect, extra effective to certain enemies
Defensive ability Piano Weaken enemy’s attack damage
Counterpoint Reflect enemy’s attack
Special ability Cadenza Change the current music to the pre-selected one form the collected masterpieces
Rest Pause the music for a while during which both the player and the enemy cannot take combat actions

Collectables (later in development)

Category Item Description
Instant consumable Score Restore some texture

Add some artistry

Idea Restore some inspiration

Add some artistry

Storable Masterpiece Music pieces that can be collected to use with the cadenza ability

Add some artistry

Enemies (to be designed)

Puzzles (to be designed)


Small Loop: The platform/passage

The platform/passage is the basic game world structure and gameplay loop. It is the location where the main actions take place. In each platform/passage, a section of a piece of music is playing and looping, which directs the pace and all combat actions.

When in normal state, the player can choose to restore inspiration/texture and explore the platform/passage and solve music-related puzzles.

When in combat state, the player can choose to defeat the enemy. In some cases, the player is not required to defeat the enemy in order to proceed to the next location. The enemy has a certain target range.

Note there are two situations of music when considering implementing the music and its input commands i.e. the monophonic and homophonic music. However, the separated input for melody combo and rhythm combo is always needed.

Examples of music actions & input commands:

At the moment, the music that’s playing is a homophonic piece:


x: input for basic attack

o: input for rhythm combo

1 2 3 4 5 6 7: input for melody combo

Action Input commands
Basic attack Any x that fits the bass rhythm
Rhythm combo Any two or more o that fit the bass rhythm

e.g. oo, ooo, oooo etc.

Melody combo Any two or more melody combo inputs that fit the melody(and its rhythm)

e.g. 35, 352, 3523 etc.

Each combo has a certain maximum number of inputs.

At certain locations, plots will be triggered.

Medium Loop: The Level

A level consists of 10-30+ platforms/passages. Each level has a piece of music as the theme of the settings (both for the music-related gameplay and the visuals).

At the beginning & end of each level, cut-scenes are played to narrate the story as transitions. And the current artistry will be displayed.

Large Loop: The game

The whole game consists of 5-15 levels (depending on the practical development).

The losing condition is that the player’s texture is decreased to 0, but the player with respawn at the nearest checking point. So there is no real losing condition.

The winning condition is that the player reaches the end of the last level. The final artistry will be displayed and the player may enter the podium if a high artistry is created.



The game world is set in a strange alien music realm in ether which consists of many platforms and passages connected to each other. In some cases there are boundaries between them, so before certain objectives are achieved in the current location (e.g. defeating the enemy, unlocking the boundary). A platform/passage may contain certain number/combination of enemies, traps, locked boundaries, interactive objects (portals, etc.) and collectables. Two platforms are connected by a portal or by one or more passages.

An example for the layout of a level:

Level layout example

Reference for the settings:

Game world setting_Chinese Paladin V

(The well of daemons from Chinese Paladin V)

Game world setting_Audiosurf

(Music track from Audiosurf)



The game is presented is a 2D isometric perspective




Perspective_Might and Migic Clash of Heroes

(Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes)

Visual style

The visual style is set to be a compound of cartoon and surrealism.

The main character Muse and the enemies are cartoon figures, while the game environments should be depicted in surrealist style.

The main character Muse is a white robed figure and as he/she grows in power, the apparel becomes increasingly rich in details. Muse wilds a floating golden treble clef as the weapon.

Interface (to be designed)

mocklevel sketch

(mock-up GUI  by Nathan)

Music ability menu

(the music ability menu I can think of now)

Music ability menu: 3-level radial menu

Visual clues:

For players who are not comfortable with playing the music based on hearing, visual clues are displayed by default to hint the inputs of melody and rhythm. The visual clues will be displayed on the top centre of screen as a constantly scrolling timeline, where melody hints are displayed on the timeline and the rhythm hints are displayed beneath the timeline.



The music should progress from easy to hard. Most of the music will be composed by us. The masterpieces should feature real masterpieces of different genres so players can choose their most familiar and favourite ones.


All sounds should be as instrumental as possible to be consistent with the music theme of the game.


Muse is captured by some alien music creatures to a strange music realm. They want to imprison Muse so as to eliminate all music on Earth…

Let’s develop this into a light comedy…


Two sets of control schemes are available.

On PC:

Control scheme 1 (complex) Control scheme 2 (easy)
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 keys for melody combo

Left mouse button for basic attack

Right mouse button for rhythm combo

1, 2, 3, 4 for melody combo

Left mouse button for basic attack

Right mouse button for rhythm combo

Target Audience

12+ casual game players who like music games and action adventure games

music lovers who do not play many games but would like to have a different music experience through a game.

Target Platform

PC (or any more?)port to iPad if game has good response.

Game Prototype: Quantum Rose

As a tribute to Liu Cixin’s great science fiction novel The Ball Lightning, I wish to tell this interactive story through Quantum Rose, a game in an unconventional form of 2D platform and puzzle games.

About the game (click to view the original pictures)

Page1 Page2

I pitched the game to my tutors, classmates and some other industry people.

Check out the prezi I made for the pitch.

The game prototype has been developed further since the pitch. Here’s the latest gameplay video:

Game Prototype: Quantum Rose from Ni Hu on Vimeo.

Due to the limitation of the game prototype (ludic sketch), the story cannot fully unfold in a continuous manner. But the designer’s comments will give brief explanations on the plots where necessary.

Download and play the prototype, and all feedback is welcome!

Game Prototype: Snowwhite

In Snowwhite, I tried to explore how to convey a light mood through the discrete connection of music and game.
The gameplay is sparse, and if without the music it’s just pattern matching. However, I’d like the player to feel they are playing along the music while listening to this beautiful piece.
The music here is Guillaume Lekeu’s unfinished Piano Quartet, the second movement.

Game Prototype: Snowwhite from Ni Hu on Vimeo.

Download the prototype

A “Diegetic” Attempt to Improve the Puzzle

Puzzles can be ludic as they are meant to be. But to convey a consistent gameplay experience, being ludic is not enough. A good puzzle in a adventure should be in the adventure, that is to be “diegetic”.

In the design of the original puzzle 2 (shown below), the tracks may not be well explained from a player’s view — what’s the point of setting up tracks in Tesla’s laboratory  even in a half-fictional game context?  In addition, it doesn’t contain adequate ludic elements of electricity.

a2 tracks puzzle

An attempt of improvement was made to make it more “diegetic”.

First, the whole track system has been redefined as a AC/DC power dissipation simulation experiment left by Tesla.

In the room there are some high-resistance circular plates which can be rotated to form a circuit to conduct both AC & DC power form generators to motors. Both AC and DC motors are connected to an elevator through the power transmission.

Notice that a plate in the centre is missing, only the DC circuit can be established to partially power the elevator though the DC motor. Notes around the room indicate that DC power loses current easily over long distances (simulated by the high-resistance environment in this situation).
The elevator can only take the player down to a storeroom where the missing plate is located when powered by the weak DC current.

Now the player has to figure out a way out since they are now trapped in the storeroom, for the DC current is too weak to pull
the elevator back upstairs. Then other puzzles involving ladder assembly and trapdoor lock picking can kick in. After the player successfully get back to the upper room with the plate found, the AC circuit can be completed and then leads to the AC motor puzzle. Finally after it is solved, the elevator is powered by the AC motor, which runs on the strong AC power, it can take the player up to the next puzzle room.

a2 tracks puzzle _2