Role: Designer, playtest manager
Jam Band is a Flash program that is the final project in CS 3750 (User Interface Design), taught by Professor James Foley in Spring 2008. The goal of the course was to teach students many of the basics of Human-Computing Interaction, particularly when it comes to designing things for people to use. While the study of interface design covered everything from doorknobs to websites to video game controllers, a good portion of the course was dedicated to instructing students on how to obtain feedback and data from test groups during the design process of an item.
The final project was conducted over the course of the spring semester in iterative phases, with brainstorming and rough prototypes in the beginning, data gathering and feedback from the experimental prototype and similar items next and final testing, implementation in the last phases. Our group was titled as ‘Team Totally Awesome Sweet Alabama Liquid Snake’, a reference to the animated TV show ‘Metalocalypse’on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. As we were all fans of the show with its death metal theme, our goal early on was to create an interface that would allow users to create and edit song tracks using a guitar controller meant for the Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band video game series. Rock Band had just been released and was immensely popular at the time, and we felt that while fans of the game had a vast variety of songs to play with, the next step in rhythm games would be to design a method of creating and editing tracks to play or showcase. The latest iterations of the Guitar Hero series, ‘Guitar Hero: World Tour’ and ‘Guitar Hero 5’ have incorporated proprietary software into their games to let users create their own tracks, so our hypothesis seems to be correct at this point.
The team consisted of four students including myself, mostly with backgrounds in computer science while I had experience with game design at this point. One of the team members had already written up a simple, but useful program in Max/MSP that accepted button input from the Rock Band guitar controller through a USB connection. It allowed a user to play notes based on which fret buttons were pressed while the strum button was pressed, and the user could change scales with the effects switch. While this program served as a base for our design, it needed to be implemented in a manner that was user-friendly, stylish and had more features. Utilizing a fairly formal method of UI design, our team set project goals early on, gathered feedback from users who had played music games and/or used music editing software and came up with a variety of design alternatives and UI prototypes. We also created fictional users who fit within the demographics that we targeted and created possible user cases for each one. Some of the design alternatives included an online performance tool in a virtual environment, to allow users to perform concerts in Second Life for instance, and a virtual concert simulator that allows users to utilize pyrotechnics, lights, stage set ups and so forth for performances.
The finished project fell short of our initial ambitions, but it fulfilled the requirements of our project goals nicely. The demo allowed a user to record guitar notes on the Rock Band USB guitar controller, then provided a basic editing track and tools. Users can select chunks of the track, copy and paste, speed up and down through playback and add/erase notes. With more time, testing and refinement, it could have very well been a basis for the editing suites in the latest Guitar Hero games. My contribution to the team was in data gathering and testing, UI design and documentation, with two programmers and an audio designer.