Ding Ding Ding! – Rewarding Sound Design in Tsum Tsum

Scholar Karen Collins provides a historical exploration of the history of arcade game audio in her article, “Game Sound in Mechanical Arcades: An Audio Archaeology.” Beginning in the 19th century and continuing to the present, she studies the role audio plays in furthering the enjoyment and novelty of carnival and arcade games. After reading this historical examination of arcade sounds, I concluded that Tsum Tsum draws heavily from a history of simple games with rich audio effects.  In particular, the audio of Tsum Tsum is critical in enhancing immersion and in creating the sense of reward and accomplishment so commonly associated with casual games.

First, let’s examine the sounds of Tsum Tsum.  I’ve included a video below of the game-play to give a sense of the audio effects of the game.  As you can tell by watching it, the audio in Tsum Tsum is highly rewarding.  Each Tsum makes a pleasant, popping sort of sound when you connect it to another, and for each chain of Tsums the player connects quickly, the pitch gets higher and higher, creating a sense of excitement.  Using the power-ups from the character in the bottom left-hand corner (in this video, Anna from Frozen) also creates pleasant and exciting noises.  Although it’s hard to tell because this player moves so quickly, the soundtrack also changes during the game’s “Fever Time,” becoming even faster and more upbeat.  The game’s audio tracks overall are bright, fun, and pleasant, enhancing the enjoyment of playing the game.

Tsum-Tsum, as a casual game, has a fair amount in common with arcade games.  The game is not narrative heavy, rounds are short, and the mechanics are relatively simple.  Collins highlights the importance of audio in attracting players to arcade games and making them a rewarding experience, so it only makes sense that a casual, arcade-style game would follow the same pattern.  Collins cites Dren McDonald, a freelance casual game sound designer, who explains that “If you’re doing a game, say, like a Bejeweled type of game, everything in that game is to reward you and make you feel like you’re really accomplishing something.”  Tsum Tsum certainly follows this philosophy.  Just like with the arcade games Collins studied, the simple gameplay is accompanied by a rich audio landscape, making the play experience highly rewarding.  Additionally, Collins identifies that as early as the 1930s, designers used sound effects to enhance a game’s immersive qualities. Tsum Tsum’s audio definitely accomplishes this goal.  Like Jamie Madigan identifies, a good match between the visual and audio components of a game makes the play experience more immersive.  Hearing the popping sound as the player connects the bubble-like Tsums on her screen makes a more complete and immersive sensory experience.

While casual mobile games are a relatively new technological development, Karen Collins proves that rich sound design has been a component of arcade and carnival games since their inception.  Tsum Tsum is descended from this tradition of immersive, stimulating audio in simple games.  The delightful popping sounds and upbeat soundtrack of Tsum Tsum are but one instance in over 100 years of deliberately rewarding game sound design.

A video of Tsum Tsum gameplay.  Source

Works Cited

Collins, Karen. “Game Sound in the Mechanical Arcades: An Audio Archaeology.” Game Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, Oct. 2016.

Madigan, Jamie. “The Psychology of Immersion in Video Games.” The Psychology of Video Games, 20 Oct. 2015, www.psychologyofgames.com/2010/07/the-psychology-of-immersion-in-video-games/.

Tsum Tsum – The Ultimate Casual Game?

In reading “What is Casual?,” Jesper Juul’s chapter outlining the typical characteristics of casual game design, I was struck by how perfectly Tsum Tsum fit into all the stereotyped expectations of casual games.  Juul identifies five components of casual game design: positive fictions, usability, interruptibility, lenient punishment, and juiciness.  Tsum Tsum, as I will explain, displays every one of these characteristics.

First, let’s examine the positive fiction.  Casual games, Jull explains, are usually set in pleasant environments and have positive storylines.  While a hardcore game may center around killing zombies, escaping an evil laboratory, or fighting a war, casual games are more likely to have much more positive fictions, such as exploring new worlds or finding buried treasure.  Tsum Tsum has a very positive fiction.  The game’s premise is that the tsum toys have all fallen off the shelves in the Disney store, and the player has to help arrange them in time for the shop’s opening.  This premise involves helping solve a benign problem, cute toys, and a company that markets itself as the “happiest place on earth.”  It’s difficult to conceive of a more positive, pleasant storyline.

Second, we’ll consider the game’s interruptibility and usability.  Rounds of Tsum Tsum are only a minute long, and there’s no penalty for quitting mid-game.  The player doesn’t have to reach a save point and never risks losing more than a minute’s worth of play.  Clearly, the game is highly interruptible, perfect for playing while waiting in line at the supermarket or riding the bus.  Juul defines usability by the intuitiveness of the controls.  In short, what the player does with her body should translate in obvious ways to the actions in the game.  In Tsum Tsum, the player uses her finger on a touch screen, connecting similar tsums.  The movement of the finger correlates precisely to actions in the game world.  The game, therefore, is highly usable.

Third, the lenient punishment and juiciness.  In Tsum Tsum, getting a negative outcome is nearly impossible.  The player can only accrue points.  Performing poorly in a round of the game simply results in a lower score, but even a low score enhances the player’s overall stats.  The game does have a limited number of free plays per day, but after running out of turns, the player merely has to wait twenty-four hours before playing again.  The game’s lenient punishment is countered by its extreme juiciness.  While very few negative outcomes occur if a player performs poorly, very positive ones occur when she performs well.  I wrote about this juiciness in a previous post, so I won’t repeat everything here, but suffice it to say that Tsum Tsum rewards the player with all sorts of lights and sounds for a positive performance.

Although I didn’t do particularly well in this round, my overall score still increased, exemplifying the games near non-existent punishment

After reading Juul’s chapter, I was left to conclude that Tsum Tsum is the quintessential casual game.  Juicy, pleasant, and very easy to use, the game meets all of Juul’s criteria for casual games.  However, as Juul identifies, the simple nature of the game and the intuitiveness of the controls don’t correlate directly with easiness.  The pattern recognition and quick reflexes Tsum Tsum requires take time and effort to develop, like the skills for any other game.  Although being very bad at Tsum Tsum is difficult, so is being especially good at it.