(C)ello from the Other Side

Hello, RoboMusicians!

Last week, we went behind-the-scenes of FGRC21. This week we’re excited to share some early musical concepts for a RoboCo challenge that we are calling Silicon Sonata!

If you played RoboCo during our Closed Alpha testing in October 2020, you may recall that different groups received different challenges to test. Some of you received a challenge called Light Their Fire where you built a robot to light a candle for a couple’s romantic dinner. 

After Closed Alpha, we concluded that this challenge was turning out too similar to the RoboCoffee challenge: both involved carrying an object (likely with a robot claw arm), filling / lighting the object, keeping it from spilling / snuffing out, and placing it on a table

So we thought back to our earliest prototype of the challenge, which included playing the cello as one of several ways in which you tried to make the dinner romantic. We decided to move the cello back into being the challenge’s main focus. (The candle is still around, if you know where to look.) We also decided to give your cello-playing robot a musical partner, allowing you to play a duet with another robot playing the violin.

This raised the question of what the duet would sound like. Our resident composer Josh Bartels put together some demo videos with three options to help us discover the right direction. We wanted to share these early concepts with you as a fun example of the kind of experimentation we do before we arrive at the version of the game you will play.

As these were internal demo videos, please excuse the placeholder human sound effects, the untextured violin bot, and other issues that will not be present in the final product.

Option 1: Call and Response

There was a call and response option, where the violin would play a riff, gesture to you on the cello, and you would respond with the same riff. A robot with machine learning could be a good mimic, so we liked how this option justified how you learn what to play. This option’s legato style of playing also matched with the longer bow movements we expected.

Option 2: Battling Strings

There was a battling strings option, where each instrument played something impressive in a vaguely Dueling Banjos-esque standoff. With this option, we liked how the RoboCo theme showed up at the end for a heartwarming finale.

Option 3: Robot’s First Recital

Then there was the robot’s first recital option, where we were honest about your robot’s expected level of cello-playing expertise. It also reflects the kind of sounds that would come out of a cello unless it is held up and played properly. With this option, we thought it was hilarious how everyone reacted as if your playing was perfectly acceptable. We figured we could build on this and have the humans applaud like proud parents at their child’s first cello recital.

Get Your Cello Bow Ready!

In the end, we decided to combine elements of all three options into the final sequence. How did it turn out? You’ll have to play the challenge yourself to hear!

And that’s it for this week’s devblog! How do you plan on tackling this new RoboCo challenge? Let us know in the comments down below or in our Discord! Next week, we’re crowning a new Engineer of the Week, so make sure to tune in to learn more about one of our favorite Discord members.

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