NACVGM 2020 – Meter as Mechanic: Audio-Visual Coordination and Beat Difficulty in Crypt of the Necrodancer

From the Abstract

Joseph Jakubowski (Harvard University)

Meter as Mechanic: Audio-Visual Coordination and Beat Difficulty in Crypt of the Necrodancer

Brace Yourself Games’ Crypt of the Necrodancer (2015) merges rhythm game and roguelike mechanics in a dungeon crawler setting.  Players coordinate their movements with the beat of Danny Baranowsky’s EDM-inspired soundtrack, while avoiding and/or attacking enemies that also move with the beat.  The Challenge comes from making decision in short, isochronous timeframes, promotion movement as a learned “skill” in place of the esoteric knowledge and planning associated with turn-based roguelikes (Williams 2013; Clark 2014).

This talk examines meter, beat, and gameplay in Crypt of the Necrodancer.  I focus on two issues: 1) the coordination of auditory and visual entertainment, and 2) the relation of beat complexity to difficulty. To be successful, players mut entertain to an auditory stimulus (the backing track) and match that meter to visual information (the periodic movements on the screen).  The relative strength of the auditory system in the regard allows players to automate the timing of their responses and focus on the more complex and rapidly changing situations unfolding on screen.  I analyze a segment of recorded gameplay in these terms, considering how players relate entertained meters to onscreen events-and sometimes fail to do so.  Second, I characterize difficulty as a function of beat complexity.1 In analysis of three contrasting tracks (“Mausoleum Mash,” “Konga Conga Kappa,” and “Last Dance”), I show how genre, beat style, and the use of syncopation and distractor rhythms musically increase the challenge of later levels.


Clark, Ryan. 2014. “Game Design Deep Dive: Finding the Beat in Crypt of the Necrodancer.”Gamasutra, published 17 September 2014/ Accessed 11/15/19:

Kuchera, Ben. 2013. “A roguelike that’s a rhythm game?  Jesus Christ, FINALLY!” The Penny Arcade Report, published 9 September 2013. Access 11/15/19:

Williams, Mike. 2013. “Dance Yourself to Death with Crypt of the Necrodancer.” US Gamer, updated 26 June 2013.  Accessed 11/15/19:

Source: Bardic Knowledge

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