The Major Pentatonic Scale

Today I thought I’d do something a little different, and share with you a simple design trick which has really helped me to improve the “juiciness” of my games and prototypes:

The Major Pentatonic Scale

Now, I’m no expert in music theory, but here are some things I do know about the major pentatonic scale:

  • It’s a five note scale, C, D, E, G, and A.
  • All five of the notes in the scale are in tune with each other.
  • By virtue of that last point, the notes can be played in any order, or even over the top of one another, and still sound good.

So why is this relevant to a game designer?
To put it simply, you can make a game feel more musical by playing a random note from the major pentatonic scale, rather than some other sound effect.  To illustrate this point, I present you with this simple flash prototype where you use the arrow keys to move a box around the playfield:

That’s pretty boring right?
Now compare it to this one, which uses the major pentatonic scale, rather than the simple clicking noise:

Most players who try this second version begin to move their square around rhythmically, creating simple melodies.

Incorporating the major pentatonic scale is an easy way to increase player interest and enjoyment.

My game Planet ZOOB uses the major pentatonic scale to turn a standard shooting game into an interesting musical experience.  The scale can also be used in the design of menus or other player interfaces, to keep players engaged and interested.  While I’m not saying this technique should be used in all types of games — I certainly couldn’t see it working in a horror or stealth game — I’d just like to offer it to you as an additional tool to keep in your game design toolbox.

To that end, I’m offering five different scales for free download under a Creative Commons Zero license.  What this means is that you can download these scales and use them any way you please.  You can use them in commercial and noncommercial products without the need to leave credit or ask permission.  They’re completely free!

  1. Gameboy Scale 1 – Download
  2. Gameboy Scale 2 – Download
  3. Saw Wave Scale – Download
  4. Sine Wave Scale – Download
  5. Square Wave Scale – Download

Each of the five scales consists of five .wav files in a .zip folder.  The first two were generated by an original Nintendo Gameboy running LSDJ, while the last three were generated using sfxr, and pitch shifted with Audacity.

I hope this technique will be as useful for you as it has been for me!
If you have any questions or other feedback, I’d love to hear it!


So lately I’ve been in a bit of a rut, I’ve tried to participate in a bunch of game jams and competitions, but haven’t really had the motivation to do so.

After a bit of introspection, I’ve realized that the reason for this is a lack of passion.

At the beginning of 2012, when I first started taking game development seriously, I was passionate about making any game at all, simply because it was a new experience for me.  Now that a year has passed and I’ve made several games, I’ve found that I can’t become passionate about just any project, there are some ideas I’ve had for a long time that are really calling out to me.

It is for this reason that I’ve decided to dedicate the rest of the year to the development of one such idea, a virtual pet game/music visualizer called Audiovore.  I’m not yet ready to talk about the details of it, as I’m still working them out, but I’m really excited to be working on a larger project; especially one that I first conceived back when I was in high school!

Since I don’t like to do posts without at least one image, here’s a little bit of Audiovore concept art:Thanks for reading!  Leave me a comment so I know that someone actually reads this!

Game Jams Galore!

I love game jams.

They’re a great opportunity to flex your creative muscles and make something amazing, in a very short amount of time.  They allow small developers like myself to get our games out to a much larger audience than we would normally have access to, and they bring developers together to work toward a common goal.

Here are a couple I’ve participated in recently:

0h Game Jam – November 4th, 2:00 AM to 2:00 AM
“During DST hour shift, we shift clocks backwards, so there’s actually 1 hour between 2:00 am and 2:00 am. This is the best time in the year to make a game! Make a game in zero hours!”

My entry for the 0h game jam is called “NO TIME!” it’s a short, 5 level game that’ll put your reflexes to the test!  Can you beat it?


F*** This Jam – November 9th, 6:00 PM to November 17th, 6:00 PM
“F*** This Jam is a jam centered around the theme of making a game in a genre you hate.  Through utter ignorance for conventions and hate for the established rules of a genre, beautiful things will happen.”

The genre I decided to tackle for this jam was the family board game.  I hate the genre because it typically focuses on luck-based gameplay, rather than skill-based gameplay.  With my entry, LUDO-BOTS, I took the tropes of the family board game genre, and turned them on their head!  While the game heavily features dice rolls and random card picking, the only way to win is to carefully observe your opponents’ behavior!  Download it, print it out, and try it with your family!


Ludum Dare 25 – December 14th, 9:00PM to December 16th, 9:00PM
“Ultimately, our goal with Ludum Dare is to encourage people to sit down and make something. Our hope is that the new structure continues to encourage more and more developers to join us and create a game in a weekend.”

The theme for the last Ludum Dare of 2012 was “You are the Villain”.  This theme fit perfectly with an idea I’d had kicking around for a while, a 2D platformer with a one second control lag.  Normally with platformers, it’s absolutely taboo to have any delay between when the player presses a button, and when the player character reacts.  I wanted to explore what would happen if you introduced a lag, and whether or not it would be possible to make a good platformer this way.  Try it out and decide for yourself!


I hope you enjoy them!
I’ll be participating in my first Global Game Jam on January 25th at Quinnipiac University, so expect another game really soon!