Today we announced ToneStone, our new musical creativity platform. Tom Leonard and I founded the company because we believe that anyone and everyone should be able to make music.
What we are doing at ToneStone is the result of some ideas about music and gameplay, which I have been carrying around in my head for years.
I first started out making music in the ’80s and early ’90s, playing bass in a Boston band. MIDI sequencers were just beginning to be available on personal computers, and I was captivated by the idea that you could create music with software tools, even if you had no skills — so I got a Mac Plus and started using these tools. They were and are amazing — I still use them to this day. I am a big fan of Reason, but have used lots of different DAWs (digital audio workstations) and tools over the years.
I stumbled into an opportunity to work on PC games at LookingGlass Studios and started doing that full-time after my band broke up. I started out writing music and developing sound effects, but over time, got more involved in design and creative direction. I was not really a gamer up to that point, but I got to work with some truly brilliant people, and started learning about game design and game mechanics.
One of the key things I learned is that video games are incredibly powerful teaching tools. They are great at breaking complex systems up into small, digestible pieces, and then stepping players up a skill curve by introducing these pieces gradually, and rewarding players for mastery of each piece.
So by the time I got to Harmonix in 1999, I had two insights:
- Games are great at teaching complex systems — but generally, the complex systems they teach are games. If you are skilled at LoL or Fortnite, your in-game skills don’t always transfer to other aspects of your life.
- Digital music tools are complex systems, and if you learn to navigate those systems, you can express yourself musically — which is really rewarding. But existing tools are generally complex, because they are optimized for the most advanced users. Even if you have skills, it can be hard to be creative — you are often fighting the tools, and your musical ideas can get lost in the struggle.
So, with my new friends at Harmonix, I put a lot of effort into trying to apply game design principles and mechanics to music creation. Along the way, we made games like FreQuency/Amplitude, Guitar Hero, Rock Band and others. I am really proud of those games, and happy that they introduced tons of people to musical experiences — but they are fundamentally not creative experiences. They simulate the experience of making music, but they don’t give players opportunities to make their own musical choices.
So, you may ask, what’s the hold-up? It turns out enabling musical creativity through gameplay is a really hard design problem. Hard, but not impossible! Over the last few years, I got to make some prototypes that started to show the way forward — and that led to the full platform vision for ToneStone that we are now building. We now believe we have cracked the code. Once these systems are up and running (soon!), you will be able to get into a flow state in the ToneStone engine, navigate through the system in real time (solo or multiplayer) and generate music instead of gameplay. With the set of tools and mechanics we are building, it should not be harder to make music than it is to play shooters, MOBAs or RPGs.
We are working on these mechanics now, and we’ll be integrating them into ToneStone over the next few months. And we need your help in figuring out where to take these systems. We’ll be listening very closely to you, the early users, to help us evolve the toolset and game systems to realize the ToneStone vision of bringing true musical expression to anyone who wants some.
I and other ToneStone team members will be posting regular updates as development progresses, and we want your input. If you want to try ToneStone in its current state, go to www.tonestone.com to jump on the waitlist, or wishlist ToneStone on Steam — there’s a lot to check out already, and more all the time. Join the conversation on our Discord server, or send us an email.
— Greg LoPiccolo