I'm Samantha Kalman, I'm a game designer in Seattle, and I've founded a new company called Timbre Interactive. I'm finishing up a Kickstarter campaign for the studio's first game, Sentris. It's a game about making your own music, which has never been done before in mainstream music games.

Previously I've worked for Unity Technologies (as one of the first 10 employees), and I've worked as a Design Technologist for Amazon.com where I build prototypes. I've made a bunch of small games before but Sentris is the first to gain any kind of traction.

Ask me anything!

The website for Timbre Interactive is http://timbreinteractive.com

The Sentris Kickstarter campaign (funded over $50,000) is http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/samanthazero/sentris-unleash-your-inner-musician

My own personal website is http://samanthakalman.com

Proof of my IAMA tonight is here: http://samanthakalman.com/devblog/2013/11/19/ask-me-anything-on-reddit

Comments: 64 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

Waterrat7 karma

First off,thanks so much for not forgetting us Linux users. This game looks like fun. Will you be including traditional instruments like the hurdy gurdy,hammer dulcimer and fiddle?

SamanthaZero7 karma

Wow, I would love to include both the Hurdy Gurdy and the Hammer Dulcimer! If anyone can put me in touch with musicians that have access to these instruments, I will figure out a way to get samples and put them in the game. That would be amazing! Fiddle/Violin is definitely on the list of instruments to include no matter what!

pseudalithia2 karma

It sounded as if your existing tone generation source is synthesized rather than sampled. You could also use Karplus-Strong string synthesis.

SamanthaZero2 karma

True, all the sounds in the prototype are synthesized. Good ear! That was done for the sake of faster production, to use draft sounds. I want to record high-quality samples for the final game.

johnmichael9566 karma

What would you say is the key aspect of your career that allowed you to be where you are today?

SamanthaZero11 karma

Career-wise, the single most critical thing has probably been learning to program. I started learning code in my early 20's, while I was working as a Test Engineer testing websites. I thought I could never code because I wasn't good at math. But I tried anyway. Sentris has been able to come together because I learned to write code. It's the method of bringing ideas to life digitally. And I'm not even a great programmer, just "good enough". I think everyone should learn a little code!

doubledingo5 karma

Hi Sam, what did you work on at Unity? Were you building the underlying C++ game engine?

SamanthaZero6 karma

Hi! I was actually the first QA Director. In fact I was the entire QA department for a couple of years. I wrote the documentation for Unity starting with version 1.5. I tested and shipped the first iPhone port of the engine. I also managed the small team that tested and shipped the first version of the Unity editor for Windows (version 2.5). I also did a lot of the support work, helping people work through problems, administering licenses, etc.

I didn't write any C++ code myself, but I was doing testing and test management of the engine on multiple platforms, plus the editor and web player. It was a lot of work :-)

doubledingo3 karma

Sounds like an exciting role, thanks for sharing. BTW, your project inspired me to finally get a KS account and back you (my first project backed) - your dedication really shone through.

SamanthaZero6 karma

Oh wow, thank you! I really appreciate all my backers, and I'm glad the project is interesting enough for you :-)

grey_dragon5 karma

Congrats Samantha - Will the game have the ability to export a mp3 of how you solved a level?

SamanthaZero6 karma

Thank you! It will definitely have song sharing of some kind. I'm not sure if I can afford the license for MP3 technology with such a small budget. I'd really like to export to MP3, but that might have to come after the game has generated some sales revenue.

In the meantime, I'm experimenting with exporting to other formats. I have a lot to figure out first, so I'm not able to commit to anything besides some form of song sharing.

childcancer5 karma

Can you possibly export to free formats like flac and ogg instead of mp3?

SamanthaZero7 karma

Yes, that is a possibility. There are some fairly low-level technical changes I need to investigate before I am ready to make a commitment to any particular format. In a perfect world, the game will export songs to every possible format.

FuriousCoder744 karma

Why a music game? Why not something original, like a FPS, or an RTS, or an MMORPG? You know, something that's never been done before?

SamanthaZero7 karma

Just wait until my I announce my next game ;-)

eeGLaDOS4 karma

What degree(s) did you go for, if/when you attended college? Also, how did you come up with the idea for Sentris? Congrats on reaching the goal by the way :D

SamanthaZero7 karma

I actually studied music theory and video production at community college. I was hired as a software tester as I finished my AA. In tech, employers tend to care more about what you're capable of doing and less about your education. It depends on the company of course.

The idea for Sentris started out as a Rez clone called Project Subdivision. Originally it was a shooting game! Then over time I joined a band and realized I needed to focus the game around the emotions of making music.

(and thanks! :-D)

disembodieddave3 karma

Hey Sam! We met at that one Seattle Indies get together a while back. Congrats again on getting funded! It's great news.

Have you thought about having tuplet rhythms in Sentris? They seem like that would make some really complex puzzles.

SamanthaZero5 karma

Hi Dave, good to find you on here! Yes, I've been wanting to enable triplets in this game pretty much since the beginning. It's a hard problem to solve, and I haven't quite figured it out yet. But I'll keep working on it!

seonr3 karma

Hey Sam, Congrats on reaching your KS goal! Super excited for you :-)

SamanthaZero6 karma

Thank you Seon :-) The campaign has been an incredible experience. I'm glad the game is being received so warmly!

honoraryorange3 karma

So excited to see this!

Is this something you've worked on in your spare time or did you leave your steady job to make this dream happen? (And if so, how did you get the courage?!)

SamanthaZero8 karma

It started out as a spare-time project and stayed that way for a few years, but at that time I still didn't really know what the game was -- I just knew I wanted to make a cool music game. After about 3 years working on it very irregularly, I realized that it needed to a game about making music.

From that point I knew I needed to focus on it full-time. I decided to take a risk and leave Unity to go indie. I made a version called Sen (which you can play on Kongregate), and it didn't go anywhere. Made no money at all. So I had to get a new job and save up to try again.

I think for me, I just got so tired of working on tools. I wanted to be making the experiences. So I consciously saved and tried to live frugally twice. I actually ran out of money again making the Sentris prototype, which is why I went to Kickstarter now instead of early 2014.

SamanthaZero5 karma

(and thank you, I appreciate your excitement!)

baaarrooon3 karma

A little late to the AMA bus, but this look fantastic!
Being a musician myself, I love music/rhythm based games. Looking at the gameplay video I was wondering if there would be a free/endless mode?

That would be great for something like a casual beat making process. Maybe the player can set the parameters like what instruments he/she wants in this mode and just go on making a beat? I really like the circular layout for it.
Maybe (since it's a game), you can unlock the endless mode once you complete all or a certain number of puzzles, making it a little competitive.

Ooh ooh have you thought about possibilities of community modding? Maybe users can import their own sound samples in the game. Sorry, I'm getting a little excited about the possibilities!

SamanthaZero4 karma

Yes, yes, and yes to all of this :-) Freestyle mode: yes. Selection of instruments: yes. Uploading your own samples: yes, eventually! I have the sound editors as a stretch goal right now. If the stretch goals aren't reached, I'd like to provide those editors later, after the game has generated some sales revenue.

TooMuchProtein3 karma

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

SamanthaZero8 karma

In ten years I'd like to be running my own well-established studio, with a catalog of successful and critically acclaimed games. I want to be surrounded by incredibly creative people and enabling them to do their best work.

heroic_racoon3 karma

So... Fellow (amateur) musician here. Which programmes did you use for the sounds? Did you have any inspiration for the audio part? How did you make the music? And i could not find any soundtrack or gameplays on the internet, so if you know any please link it here _^ I have never heard of it, but i have become interested and good luck in your career...

SamanthaZero3 karma

I'm using Logic on OS X to record and mix sounds. The music I like to make is a little more post-rock, heavy on texture and rhythm. I have a rig with two Korg DS-10s and several effect pedals.

Here are a couple of gameplay videos: Giant Bomb | Worth Playing - http://youtu.be/KkbXyb8Lr0Y?t=19m50s Draegast | Sentris Gamplay no commentary - http://youtu.be/AyNAlMrv_ro

Reed_Solomon2 karma

What does your game offer me, the serious gamer, that another music based game, such as lets say "Bop it", doesn't already?

Also what percentage of that $50,000 donated do you think was made up of desperate Ouya owners hoping to justify their Ouya?

Seriously though congrats on your kickstarter looks interesting.

SamanthaZero8 karma

Bop It is the same kind of game as Simon. Games derived from call/response mechanics are what I call "perfect performance" games. This includes DDR, Rock Band, and others. Sentris is really different from these kinds of music games. The puzzle mechanics require and reinforce some loose musical structure, some instrument combinations, some chords, etc. It's about the layering of the sounds as much as the ordering. And everyone is going to have a unique song of their own at the end of every play session. No music game has done this before. Nobody has tried to walk the tightrope between puzzle game and musical instrument like Sentris is doing. I think that's remarkable.

Reed_Solomon2 karma

I was actually originally thinking of Simon for my example but I couldn't remember the name of it so I used Bop it. Still I wonder if the resulting compositions will in fact truly be original for the majority of people. I'm reminded of this scene from the Simpsons.

SamanthaZero5 karma

I've done a lot of play testing with the current prototype (which you can play if you visit the KS page, btw). Even with that very small collection of sounds, I hear new songs every time I put it in front of someone. More audio content is only going to magnify that effect.

brian_black2 karma

I am in a similar position and want to begin learning to code. What was your method and what languages are best to learn first in building a coding basis?

SamanthaZero4 karma

The best thing for me was to have projects that I was excited to work on. Even little experiments helped, like basic text input handling. And big projects are good too because even if you don't finish them you learn! Work on something that motivates you, because then you'll learn how to do things you haven't done before!

JamieFristrom2 karma

Hi Samantha! (Again)

For a long time I felt that we needed music games about making music rather than playing music (though those are good too) so I'm really excited about this.

How would you describe the music that Sentris (and the player) generate? What genre would you call it?

SamanthaZero2 karma

The beautiful thing about music is that it can exist in so many different, varied forms. I want to provide lots of different instruments and encourage many different genres of music in the game. The systems of the game reinforce a specific kind of layering, so I anticipate the music will be very fluid and organic as sounds are layered atop one another and the oldest sounds fall silent. I guess I would call it "Layered Loop" style of music, for lack of a pre-existing term. Still, I'm playing with more ways to control the musical structure. I want to free players from as many restrictions as possible. It's going to be a challenge to do this while keeping the game super fun to play. I'm up for it!

okdotdotdot1 karma

Pokemon x or Pokemon y?

SamanthaZero2 karma

I was always more of a Card Fighter's Clash kid. Capcom version all the way ;-)

NightEmber791 karma

Should smell synthesis technology become viable in the next few years, will Timbre be producing a companion title: Scentris?

SamanthaZero2 karma

Scentris sounds to me like Scene-tris, which is clearly a game about everyone's scene is dumb.

NightEmber791 karma

While I also like your play on words, let's just go ahead and put the focus back on the funny thing I said.

SamanthaZero2 karma

I dunno, I saw some scent-emitting devices at GDC a couple of years ago. I think it's so dumb, it's awesome. If they become ubiquitous, sure I'll support them. But not before then.

BTW the scent of musical creation is like marshmallows + freshly baked cookies + just a hint of pit sweat. (in my experience, at least)

marknau1 karma

What thoughts do you have on the intended macro-game structure?

SamanthaZero1 karma

At a macro level I want to encourage players to collaborate and form virtual bands within the game. Have their own fan base, make their own albums, perform their own concerts. Hopefully some percentage of those players take their bands beyond Sentris.

booselee-4 karma


SamanthaZero2 karma

I'm not exactly sure what you're implying. But I can assure you my campaign is legit.