How To Find Your Rhythm
Or, alternatively: Tips and Tricks for Beginners in the Rhythm Game Genre
As I prepare for the second part of my rhythm game review-based series of articles, I find myself frequently visiting YouTube to preview games before I decide to download and review them. Many of the popular games (especially on the Nintendo Switch) are priced around $30-$60 which is a lot of money for a struggling university student like me. This means that before I invest in an expensive game, I want to make sure it’s one that I’m interested in using outside of when I’m playing to review it. In addition, I also want to hear other opinions about the game, from both professional players and those just starting for the first time, because each group struggles and identifies with different parts of the game.
This meant I watched a lot of amateur players on YouTube. Before I rip into some of their errors, I have to praise them for uploading videos of themselves messing up. I only ever upload videos of plays I feel really good about, so I find it super admirable that they have the courage to go out into the public eye and try something new, even if the results aren’t perfect!
Anyways, as I watched, I noticed many of them were making the same mistakes. These are things that hadn’t really occurred to me before, but something I don’t see much in professional playthroughs, which made these problems suddenly clear to me when I compared the two. So, without further ado, here are some of the most common mistakes I see new players make and some ways to help remedy them!
Play Around With Your Settings
The first thing I noticed is that it’s rare for new players to check out the settings and options for a new game. Since the settings for rhythm games tend to be a bit more technical than other games, many people just don’t bother with them and stick with the default. While this isn’t wrong in itself, sometimes default might not be appropriate for you or the device you’re using.
A good example of this is a setting called “offset” which basically measures how close or far off beat you can be in order to get certain scores. However, things such as audio or input lag can make it so the note timing that default settings think should be correct is different from what the player is experiencing. These errors tend to be smaller on PCs, but can be score-destroying on touch screens like your mobile phone.
Here’s a good visual example from Reddit user Sinkken from their own post about the topic:
The popular game osu! which I’ve already reviewed has a gauge similar to this at the bottom of the screen while you play, so you can see where your inputs are registering compared to where the computer thinks they should be. Here is another good diagram from Reddit user Cr*ppySalami using the gauge to determine offset:
Here’s how the gauge works in real time. The color lines appear whenever a note is hit, and marks on the graph how far off they are. The brighter the line, the more often you’re clicking at that offset. Credit for this gif goes to ME because I couldn’t find any gifs of it by anyone else so I had to take my own video.
Limiting VFX/SFX Effects
This next setting might seem obvious, but a lot of new players don’t realize how much it affects their accuracy until they try the game without them on. In a similar way to how increasing the volume of the sound notes make when you hit them helps you stay on beat (as opposed to the sound of your hits disappearing into the music), reducing VFX effects or unneeded sound effects can really help your concentration! For games like osu!, doing this can be as simple as dimming the background the notes are displayed against. For games with lots of bright colors, flashing, and voiceovers, it may take more playing with the settings to get them all reduced, but if you’re like me and get easily distracted, or just find yourself overwhelmed by what’s happening on-screen, it’s worth it!
Another setting to look at is note speed. This usually only applies to games where the notes are locked to a surface and they approach the player to be hit. Where these notes need to be hit is usually at a line somewhere near the bottom or top of the screen, like above (lines marked in red). I’ll elaborate on this in my next point…
Anticipation and Speed
Anticipation. It can make the game or break it. According to Dictionary.com, anticipation means “the act of anticipating or the state of being anticipated.” Thanks! That was very helpful! Anyways, anticipation is defined (this time by wikipedia.com) as “an emotion involving pleasure or anxiety in considering or awaiting an expected event.” It’s the feeling you get before you attempt to hit a note when it hits the scoreline.
I watched many people hit notes too late or two early simply because they were waiting for the note to reach the line and were overcome by the anticipation. Either they instinctively hit the note as soon as they saw it appear on the screen, or they spent so much time mentally readying themselves to hit the note, that when it finally came, they froze up. The remedy for this can often be increasing the note speed.
I know, I know, you’re probably thinking something like “increase the speed? Won’t that make them harder to hit?’ Not exactly! You see, increasing note speed doesn’t speed up the song, or affect the number of notes themselves. Instead, it gets rid of this nervous anticipation by only showing you the notes approaching as you need to hit them, or immediately before. It doesn’t give you enough time to worry about hitting them or not. In addition, it makes the notes easier to read. Since they approach faster but still need to stick to the speed of the song and its beats, there will be larger gaps between notes to compensate for the faster approach.
Here’s an example from YouTuber Yumisall Allisyum using BangDream! Girls’ Band Party (another game I reviewed last time), where 1x is the slowest speed you can have in this particular game, 5x is the default setting, and 11x is the fastest you can set the notes at: https://youtu.be/_mp28csAQOc
The larger gaps and faster-approaching notes get rid of most nervous anticipation as you wait for the note to hit the scoreline and leaves only instinct behind. Increasing speed isn’t a cure-all for everyone or every game, but it’s good to try, anyway!
Shut Off Your Brain
Another good way of overcoming the feeling of overwhelming anticipation is to just… turn your mind off. Sounds weird, right? I don’t mean go brain-dead or anything, but if your head is super deep in the game, take a moment to remind yourself it’s just a game. Make sure you know that, while the notes may seem super fast and impossible, you’re looking at it while filled with adrenaline. Usually, the notes are slower than you think. This will help with some of the nerves that tend to plague new players, and with another major problem I tend to see repeated…
Overcompensation! Is that one word or two? Take the wheel, autocorrect! So, when I talk about overcompensation in rhythm games I mean the tendency many new players have to cling onto a note. This is when they miss a note and their brain panics! Confused and distressed, they start tapping/clicking extra, even if the note has already passed. It’s kind of like the first stage of grief: denial. This is another good time for you to remind yourself its just a fun little music game, not life or death. Once you miss a note, its gone. No extra clicking/tapping is going to save it.
Use Peripheral Vision
This next tip kind of goes along with turning your mind off while playing. Use your peripheral vision! Stop trying to stare each and every note that approaches right in the eye. Set your focus somewhere and stay there (“where” depends on the kind of layout the game has, but rule of thumb is usually somewhere in the middle, and not where the note emerges or at the scoreline). Darting your eyes around the screen is a great way to miss notes and give yourself a headache. Focus them in one place where you can see the notes and anticipate when they are going to hit the scoreline, but don’t let your eyes follow them to make sure they do. Trust in your peripheral vision and your instincts will do the rest.
Take Care of Yourself
Take care of yourself. This one is pretty self explanatory… or is it? Small, repetitive movements like the ones for pressing buttons on a controller or tapping your screen are some of the most common causes when it comes to things like lateral lateral epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendonitis. It’s so frequently the cause, it even developed its own diagnosis: Tenosynovitis, aka “Gamer’s Thumb”. This is why it’s important to take breaks. If your wrist, forearm, or thumb area hurts maybe even put down the controller for a few full days.
Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: hand numbness (especially if its in your thumb and/or first two fingers), tingling/pins-and-needles feeling in your hands, and general weakness in your hands and wrists.
Tenosynovitis “Gamer’s Thumb”: pain in wrist or thumb during gaming, and pain when rotating your thumb/wrist down and away from your forearm.
Lateral Epicondylitis: pain in your forearm and/or elbow, and general weakness in your arms and hands.
And some tips to help (to be used in addition to getting medical attention, not as a substitute):
Ice: if your hand feels hot or is swollen, put down the game and get an ice pack. Let it stay there for 15-20 minutes, and take a break from games for the rest of the day.
Loosen Your Grip: your hand and wrist is made up of many narrow passageways which can easily cause pain when compressed for too long. Make sure you aren’t holding your device or controller too tightly, or at an overly unnatural angle. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand also suggests turning down the controller vibration intensity, sticking to controllers that fit comfortably in your hands and are lightweight, and reconfiguring buttons to be more sensitive so you don’t have to exert as much pressure onto them.
Improve Your Posture: keep your back upright between 90 and 135 degrees, and your feet flat on the floor with your knees at 90 degrees. Keep your forearm parallel to the floor to keep your arm relaxed, use your hand and forearm in straight alignment with each other, and avoid bending your wrist too far to the pinky site. A good way to help with all this is to raise your screen to your eye level (and also to ignore that, as I type this, I am hunched over like a shrimp clinging to a martini glass, or that my spine could play the letter C during a live-action alphabet bit on Sesame Street).
Finally, once you find a method of playing that you enjoy, try to stick with it for. This goes for settings, controller types, everything. The longer you stay with a certain way of playing, the stronger your muscle memory is going to be and the more effective you’ll become at the game as a whole. Once you start prioritizing one method, it’ll get easier to play that way, but also harder to learn and play other ways. Don’t fall into the same trap I did, where I only played a rhythm game on my way to and from home on the school bus. Before my GPA-crippling case of tendonitis (wow wonder how THAT happened), I played it every weekday, in a position where I had my knees tucked up on the back of the seat in front of me and I was all curled up. Being in university now, and without a school bus to ride so I can get into that position… yeah. My gameplay has never recovered.
Anyways, some rhythm game communities can preach about one way being better than another (looking at you, drawing tablet osu! players…) but at the end of the day, the best way is whichever way you feel the most comfortable at and are the most successful with. Occasionally I switch up my methods just for fun because sometimes you’ll discover something new when using them. Maybe it’ll become a new primary way of playing for you, or it’ll just renew your energy, but either way you’ll gain a new perspective.
That’s All (For Now), Folks!
What do you mean you still don’t have a headache after trying to make sense of all that? Fine, take this then: https://youtu.be/jWDsgCKJ1_E but don’t say I didn’t warn you…