I’ve had Electroplankton for a while now, and I feel the need to document my experience. Reviews of Electroplankton in general are redundant: people either get it or they don’t. If you’re a music nerd and enjoy experimental music, you’ll love it. Enough said.
Hence, this exposition, or perhaps exposÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© – you choose. For anyone who came in late, Electroplankton is a title for Nintendo DS that basically has a set of 10 “minigames” that revolve around music creation.
Electroplankton is one of those titles that you hear about and assume that will never surface with an English translation. Lots of interesting titles come out in Asia and never see the western market. But then again, there’s very little to Electroplankton and translation of the game itself would have taken all of about, say, 10 minutes. The manual is a work of art though, and well worth a look in its own right. These days most games don’t really have printed manuals of any description. Thanks be to the folks at Nintendo who have chosen to release this game and documentation in such a complete way to the western market.
What’s fascinating about this title is not so much the fact that Nintendo have released a music title for their handheld, but that the crossbreeding of music creation and art interaction could be so compelling and commercially successful.
Hopefully that’s gotten everyone up to speed. Electroplankton is a music toy. You could conceivably use it as a tool in your musical arsenal, but right now, it’s just not suited to that, at least not in a regular performance sense. However, with some changes it could be absolutely mind-bending. So, let’s call this the…
Electroplankton 2 Wishlist
Or how they could make Electroplankton ROCK…
I’m relatively optimistic, but I realize that most of these things just won’t happen. This was created bearing that in mind, and should be entirely achievable within the confines of the existing DS hardware.
Playing music together is fun. Playing games together is fun. The DS has built-in wireless and support for online play. When Electroplankton initially came out, the multiplayer scene for the DS was pretty weak, but now it’s starting to mature and the infrastructure is there. It would be an incredibly compelling title if the wireless sent timecode and allowed collaborative composition. Given Electroplankton’s current setup which revolves around 1 plankton (instrument) at a time, the simple addition of multiple units synced wirelessly would realize it as a more complete performance instrument.
The speed of the wireless connection (802.11b 11mbits p/sec) is more than enough to support the transfer of basic control information, if not audio itself from one unit to another.
2. Two Plankton at once, on one unit.
Given that the DS is a multiscreen unit, and the second screen is at the moment mostly used as decoration (currently a closeup of the plankton that you are manipulating), the simple addition of a button on the touchscreen that swaps between 2 sets of plankton would be the ideal next step. I don’t think that it would be necessary to have more than 2 plankton at once, (it may be beyond the processor and sound chip on the DS anyway) and having a limitation of 2 plankton would be a nice way to encourage more collaboration as well.
Currently, without some recording hardware on hand, you cannot record your compositions. From the perspective of the serial public transport commuter, it would be nice to have a wider sonic canvas.
3. More plankton
I like the plankton that came with the game — some of them have fantastic little personalities (at least in my mind) — but I’m greedy, and I would love it if there were more plankton to play with. The DS game cart could hold literally hundreds (thousands?) of plankton. Also, if the plankton were user editable (make use of the stylus to modify set attributes of the plankton) how amazing would it be if you could share your plankton via the DS’s inbuilt wireless?
There’s a variety of new sounds that are easily generated with Electroplankton, and having some user-editable attributes would be a nice way to diversify the sound even more. This would also make it more functional as a reliable noisebox for performance.
Another compelling way to encourage interaction would to allow wireless gameplay that placed the your plankton and others in a pool, where you can affect the plankton by placing it in closer proximity to other plankton. As you get closer, the behavior of the plankton could change. A simple and appropriate reaction could be falling into similar tempo with the nearby plankton.
The addition of collision detection would create interesting interactions from the user’s perspective. Simple AI that affected the default behavior of the plankton when they are closer to other groups of plankton could be another useful idea for meaningful interaction. While I’m not suggesting that the plankton should fight or anything of that ilk, an appropriate auditory response to proximity to other plankton would further promote the idea of the plankton as interactive creatures in their own right.
(This thought is brought to you courtesy of flow.)
5. Add a simple sequencer/recorder
It doesn’t have to be Ableton Live, but a simple system that allows recording of your settings and songs would turn this into a performance device. Regardless of any features that could be added, the addition of this to Electroplankton as it stands would see it turning up on stages all over the place. If it could reliably record your songs & settings for playback, it would be a viable option for anyone who wants some new and interesting sounds.
Electroplankton is a fun bit of software, and I’m aware we may never even see Electroplankton 2, but if even a few of these features turned up in a new version, it would be AMAZING.
Related Electroplankton webzen
Nintendo Electroplankton Site
Mile Zero – Composition in Electroplankton
Mile-Zero Electroplankton Composition – Innsmouth Blues
Tenori-on – Toshio Iwai’s collaboration with Yamaha
MTV.com fluff piece
DJ Dave Hollands talking Electroplankton
flow – Indie microbe game with soothing ambient tunes.
Nathanael Jeanneret designed the graphics and layout for Create Digital Music and the upcoming Create Digital Motion, thus making him our hero. -Ed.