Eric Yockey, CEO and founder at Unit-e Technologies, reported to Bemanistyle, a feature recently implemented into Neon FM that will create more robust gameplay in the title. The update allowed for “manual difficulties” to now be featured in Neon FM, which will ensure charts are specifically developed for players of all skill levels.
“Previously, we would write one chart for the hardest difficulty, and the game would auto-generate the easier charts by deleting notes on a semi-intelligent basis,” Yockey explained. “Now, we can assign each note’s difficulty individually, which allows us to make sure the easier charts are of higher quality.”
With the feature rolled out to cabinets via online update, Yockey said all of the tracks released starting in July automatically support the feature. This means the following game tracks currently feature manual difficulties:
“Atom Bomb” by Benasis
“Beast mode” by Benasis
“Lunatic” by SaneBeats
“Swisher” by D!rty Aud!o
“Razor Sharp” by Tristam & PGB
“Bubblegum” by Jackal
“Energy Drink” by Virtual Riot
“Shakedown (Loudpvck remix)” by Jackal
“We’re going back and adding manual difficulties to other charts based on their popularity,” Yockey said. “The game currently has 80 tracks, so it will be a gradual process. Other tracks will still use the automatic difficulties until we update them.”
While the Neon FM concept had been in development for more than a decade, the current machine finally found itself become the tangible product it is now over the past couple of years. Through its lifespan in arcades, Yockey said the current technology allows Unit-e Technologies to follow how the game is played and reach feature decisions such as this.
“We mine a lot of data since most of our units are online, and we find that over 95 percent of players do not play on the hardest difficulty,” he said. “We’ve noticed through observing players that the auto-generated difficulties often include sections that are too difficult or too simple, which lowers the quality of gameplay. The (manual difficulties) feature wasn’t requested, but the types of players who are affected by it are typically not vocal.”
Yockey said the data shows most games on Neon FM are played on beginner difficulty, using three buttons on the song’s easiest chart. He added venues with higher foot traffic tend to skew toward easier difficulties.
Yockey said Unit-e has featured about 10 authors creating charts for songs in Neon FM, all of which are credited during the title’s song sampling feature. With the developer dipping back into its already-released catalog, he briefly detailed the creation process involved in Neon FM.
“We interview chart authors and have them submit sample charts,” Yockey said. “If we feel they are a good fit, we’ll assign a few charts. If those are good, we give the authors access to a list of uncharted, but licensed tracks that they can tackle at their own pace and preference.
“There’s a fair amount of oversight to the chart process, and I personally oversee the charts,” Yockey continued. “Ninety percent of the time, I will send a chart back for revisions or make changes myself.”
The manual difficulty feature is automatically piped into Neon FM cabinets through its online update feature, which bucks the traditional format of arcade operators needing to purchase new boards or “mixes” of a particular title. From a business standpoint, Yockey said the delivery model tips the scales both ways for a developer.
“Modern arcade games tend to include these kinds of updates as the delivery cost is far lower than manufacturing upgrade hardware,” he said. “That said, there’s also a lot of money not being made since we aren’t charging for the updates. I would liken the model to games such as Guild Wars, where the initial purchase value includes the expectation of continuous content. That said, song updates do not prevent us from releasing future paid hardware and software upgrades.”
Looking to the future of Neon FM, Yockey said fans of the series can expect some sort of announcement in the near future.
“Keep an eye on the GTI China show,” he said. “We’ve been full of surprises lately, but another surprise will be in store at the event.”
The fifth-annual GTI Asia China Amusement Expo is scheduled to take place Aug. 28-30 in Guangzhou.