How to mix Guitar Hero with adventure set in the 1920— a tale of “Telegraphist 1920” #1

Mateusz Kusionowicz
3 min readOct 31, 2023

In the indie game scene, standing out is crucial, and that often means presenting a unique idea or game mechanic. This contrasts with the world of AAA games. Even with their vast budgets, AAA developers tend to stick with proven concepts. Why? The stakes are high. So, their first instinct is to invest heavily in marketing, sometimes pushing innovative game design to the background (even now in this article I use AAA titles to get your attention — there is a bigger chance that you know a specific AAA game than an indie one).

Now, let’s consider indie developers. While there’s a temptation to mimic the top-tier visuals of AAA titles, this can be a pitfall. If an indie developer or company becomes too fixated on achieving AAA graphics, they might neglect the essence of game design and their own unique style. Doing so can seriously jeopardize their chances of crafting a standout game.

With Telegraphist 1920: Beats of War, we were clear about our limitations. We weren’t an AAA studio. Our challenge was to merge different gameplay mechanics to produce something fresh. But true innovation doesn’t just appear from pure air; it demands insight and inspiration, much in the same way indie developers seek to stand out.

Everything began on HackYeah in November 2022. We decided to take part in the Polish Great Battles game jam theme, and after some brainstorming, we came up with a (seemingly) simple concept:

Let’s create a simple rhythm game where the player taps on the telegraph as the main gameplay mechanic.

As we realized further into the event, this was a really wild idea for 24 hours, especially that we haven’t created any rhythm games in the past.

HackYeah 2022 version — on the bottom you can see Guitar Hero imitation.

But tapping a telegraph as a gameplay mechanic? How would that be a gameplay mechanic?

While creating a game, we checked a lot of other rhythm games and other sources of information and inspiration. I especially like this video on YouTube, explaining gameplay focus while developing a rhythm game:

Many modern rhythm games focus on simplicity, it’s essential to make the user interface as accessible as possible. What we did really is to mix two contrasting genres — adventure and rhythm games, and it’s insane how those two match in the historical setting of Battle of Warsaw. The only issue on the game jam version is that the gameplay felt like a poor imitation of Guitar Hero, but more on this later (it’s also worth mentioning that Guitar Hero is an AAA game).

To our surprise, the idea won us second place in the event 🎉

We loved the concept so much that we decided on developing the game further, aiming to create a fully-fledged version.

After HackYeah, we have gone heavily in the pre-production phase of reiterating game design. Firstly, we set our game design pillars — which consisted of:

  • immersion (where for ex. soldier could enter the bunker while you are using the telegraph),
  • overwhelm (supports immersion further, a chain of gameplay mechanics where you have to do everything at once),
  • player influence (as with other rhythm games).

We began prototyping multiple gameplay variants — we made a lot of them! Each had its flaws and advantages. But that is a story for another post. All I can do now is to show you how game currently looks like:

If you want to read more, please follow and if you are interested in the game then wishlist Telegraphist 1920: Beats of War: https://telegraphist1920.com/steam

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Mateusz Kusionowicz

A game developer at Cubepotato Games. Working on Telegraphist 1920: Beats of War, a historical-rhythm game set in 1920.