Rhythm-Based Actions

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An activity requiring players to time their actions in relation to a rhythm.

Real-time games require players to act due to events that occur in the game. When these required actions occur in rhythm, they force players to perform Rhythm-Based Actions, where the timing and stability over time can be just as important as performing the right action.


Early sports games such as Olympic Decathlon or Summer Games primarily stimulated Sports by requiring players to perform long sequences of Rhythm-Based Actions, and the outcome was judged upon how well the players kept the rhythm.

PaRappa the Rapper require players to hit various buttons in certain combinations while following certain rhythms, and eases gameplay by having music or songs that have the same rhythm the players must follow. Donkey Konga and the Rock Band series does the same but provide specialized instrument-like game controls; the Dance Dance Revolution series similarly provides a dance mat to make players dance to play.

The fantasy game series Dragon's Lair, the thriller Heavy Rain, and the 2013 version in the Tomb Raider series require players to press certain sequences of buttons correctly to successfully complete some action events in the games.

Using the pattern

Rhythm-Based Actions is a way to require players to perform individual actions in Real-Time Games, e.g. avoiding Ultra-Powerful Events such as Moveable Tiles or avoiding Enemies with Reconnaissance goals. The actions themselves typically are simple ones, such as button presses, and the design of the pattern mainly consist of deciding with combinations and what Timing is required. Since they are self-contained the difficulty of these actions can be set with quite high level of precision, and this makes Rhythm-Based Actions good candidates for Complex Gameplay and through this Challenging Gameplay, especially since they are quite unproblematic to run user tests on.

Two main sub-varieties of Rhythm-Based Actions exist. Quick Time Events are a form of Rhythm-Based Actions used to create Mini Games in other games (found for example in Heavy Rain), either to provide Tension or to provide Varied Gameplay. The other consists of equipping players with Mimetic Interfaces so that their actions while gaming are similar to play an instrument or dancing.

The reasons for performing Rhythm-Based Actions can simply be to Survive, which may have a direct diegetic explanation (e.g. Dragon's Lair) or not (e.g. Dance Dance Revolution series). In other cases they are to achieve Combos - and when these Combos are the only way to beat Enemies this adds the reason of achieving Overcome goals for performing the Rhythm-Based Actions.

Having Clickability in a game is a way of letting players have the option to engage in their own Rhythm-Based Actions.

Diegetic Aspects

While Rhythm-Based Actions can be explained as copies of other activities through Mimetic Interfaces in some games (e.g. the Rock Band series), in others they are mapped to Movement (e.g. Dragon's Lair). Failing the later, especially when the Rhythm-Based Actions are linked to Survive goals, can diegetically be represented as triggering deadly Traps. However, some Traps are constructed as repeating events that instead require Rhythm-Based Actions to navigate. This means that both patterns can modulate each other.

Interface Aspects

Unless used to avoid actual Obstacles or Enemies in a Game World, players need some way of knowing what Rhythm-Based Actions they need to do in the immediate future. This is most often done through Progress Indicators which at the same time provide Hovering Closures.


Rhythm-Based Actions are Extended Actions performed with the intentions of achieving temporal Configuration goals in Real-Time Games. As such they can create Performance Uncertainty and are also examples of Combos which may be important to gain Gameplay Mastery of a game. The motivation for the Rhythm-Based Actions often comes from games where The Show Must Go On, and the players are either supposed to follow the rhythm of an Agent giving mentorship or to avoid dangers in the world - typically Obstacles or Traps.

Rhythm-Based Actions provide Anticipation and Hovering Closures since players need to be aware of what they should do next. This, and that they create Repetitive Gameplay, either in tempo or in type of action, make it possible for players performing Rhythm-Based Actions to have Sensory-Motoric Engrossment.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Combos, Complex Gameplay, Configuration, Extended Actions, Gameplay Mastery, Hovering Closures, Mini Games, Movement, Overcome, Performance Uncertainty, Sensory-Motoric Engrossment, Repetitive Gameplay

Can Modulate

Real-Time Games, Traps

Can Be Instantiated By

Clickability, Quick Time Events, The Show Must Go On, Timing,

Enemies together with Reconnaissance

Moveable Tiles together with Ultra-Powerful Events

Can Be Modulated By

Challenging Gameplay, Obstacles, Progress Indicators, Traps, Mimetic Interfaces

Possible Closure Effects

Potentially Conflicting With


A rewrite of the pattern Rhythm-Based Actions that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.