Interview: Schemata Theory

Interview: Schemata Theory

Myles Dyer of Schemata Theory chatted to our resident geek about VR gaming and their collaboration with the Beat Sabre modding community to bring one of their songs to the groundbreaking VR game by Beat Games.


I love the way you’ve got the PlayStation sign behind you.

“Definitely man. So I have a podcast show. I used to do it at a studio nearby, and then when the pandemic happened, I just kept waiting. And it was never getting any better. So I thought, right, I’ll build something at home. And yeah, to start with, you need some kind of light. So I thought PlayStation lights? Yeah, that would be a win.”

What do you use at the moment?

“Which console am I on? Yeah, I’m on the PS5.”

Oh, you lucky sod.

“Yeah, I feel I feel incredibly lucky. But what I would say though, is I think anyone that’s, you know, finally able to get one now, I think it’s a perfect time to jump in, the last year. There have been a few good games, but it faded.”

I’ve seen five for sale in a shop. £700.

“Yeah, not! The best thing you can do is go through Sony’s own program where you drop them an email, and then they’ll notify you, I hear that’s like, because you’ll get it at their price. But they reckon it’s still going to be another year of difficulty getting it. But yeah, I mean, it’s been great. I’m not gonna lie, like I’ve really enjoyed it. And it’s made a lot of ps4 games perform a lot better. But I’ve been playing a lot of my PlayStation VR a lot still, which is a ps4 thing. So you get the adapter for the PS five with it as well.”

Yeah, exactly. I actually have the VR here, myself.

“Do you have PlayStation VR?”

Yeah, it’s great. I’m really just using it for No Man’s Sky.

“Oh, dude. That is the most mind-blowing experience ever.”

I know we’re talking here about Beat Sabre, but what do you normally enjoy playing then?

“So beat Sabre is a part of my daily workout routine. I love it. And now they’ve got the multiplayer, it’s great. The irony with this band project is the custom mapping community actually isn’t accessible by PSVR. Because Sony doesn’t allow modding. So I’ve created this campaign for the band, and I haven’t even been able to play our own bands, in Beat Sabre. So actually watching people play online, it has been quite a great experience. But in terms of other VR games, I just got After The Fall, that’s just come out. I don’t know if you heard of it. It’s like Left For Dead in VR. So, it’s four player Co Op. It had a lot of issues with the launch of the PlayStation a lot of weird mapping issues that they’re fixing. But it is it’s really good fun.”

Common thing with a lot of PS games, it’s the reason I have PlayStation and Xbox. When Skyrim came out, they had so many issues on the PlayStation. I had to buy the Xbox to play the game.

“Right? Well, funnily enough about Skyrim. I had never played Skyrim before. And when I got my PSVR, the VR version came with it. And I started playing it maybe like 30 minutes, an hour. And then I went on to other stuff, because I know it’s such a big game. And so I’ve actually never fully played Skyrim before, so I do need to jump back into it. But unfortunately, we live in a world now where it’s no longer a question of what is the good game to play. It’s like which good game do I want to spend time playing? Because I’ve missed out on so many games this year.”

Playing on a normal TV, the graphics, obviously, are absolutely phenomenal. How do you find the VR graphics compared to that? It’s very grainy.

“Yeah, I mean, there’s blur. It’s kind of what you get used to, isn’t it? Because my first VR experience was on the HTC Vive, which my brother bought. So I played Job Simulator on that. He showed me this, it was kind of like Beat Sabre, but it was where you got like balls of paint, and you hit it with a shield as it comes towards you to the music. And that was great. And then I find PSVR is just a great entry point console for VR for people if you have a PlayStation already. But Sony is releasing a new VR headset probably next year, and it’s going to be absolutely phenomenal. It’s going to have even more tech in it, like from what the specification is in the leaks, but it’s going to have eye retina detection. So what it means is wherever you are looking in the headset, that is where it will render in the highest fidelity. So you’ll have like blur in your peripheral vision, so it reduces motion sickness and stuff like that. It’s going to have haptic feedback in the headset. Probably not too much that gives you a concussion, it’s to like give the sensation of like If rain is hitting the helmet and stuff like that.”

Imagine playing a boxing game with haptic feedback.

“Yeah, actually, one of the VR games I played a lot was Creed Rise To Glory, which was Rocky and my favorite part of that is playing online. Given that you’re normally playing it against 10 year olds, but punching the hell out of them, while the parents are behind him, screaming ‘kill him, kill him’ is quite a surreal experience. And you know that’s the wonder of VR, all the shared spaces and rec room. Which reminds me of Habbo Hotel when I was a kid sort of. People can create their own rooms and experiences and you can play basketball, rock climbing, Battle Royale, all of it in a shared space with other people. You know, we are in the very early stages of VR. And we’re going to look back at how we are today in 10 years.”

You say that, but feel has been around since the early 90s.

“Oh, it has, I remember. Did you ever go to Sega world?”

No, I used to go to the Trocadero.

“Okay, so when it was Sega, well, they did have a few VR experiences. Now I bet you if I put that headset on now, it would make me feel sick. But at the time, it was totally life changing. But yeah, no, you’re right. It has been around for a long time. But in terms of like the domestication of it, it’s made quite a resurgence in the last, you know, five years. And I think in the next 10 years, the headsets are going to get smaller. I read in an article about five years ago, when it was all about Pokemon Go in augmented reality that, you know, Google Glasses was attempted. It obviously flopped. But that has to happen for innovation to take place. But they have actually been able to do it with contact lenses. But the problem is, how do you power the contact lenses because they found the batteries in the contact lens actually irritated and burn your eyes? So they’re having to go back to the drawing board.”

Yeah, that might be a problem.

“You can wear these but over time, they will burn into your eyeball. What is the whole thing as a kid, you know, not sitting too close to the TV, it’ll give you square eyes and don’t’ look at a screen before you go to bed. And then what do I do? Just go to bed just to put a screen there. No Man’s Sky as you say, I’ve not actually been on No Man’s Sky for about a year because the updates keep coming. And I have to keep relearning the game every time I joined it again. But it’s amazing.”

The one I’m playing at the moment, Elite. And unfortunately that one, they don’t have a PSVR version. Elite Dangerous.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.”

My own background Elite was probably one of the first proper games that came out when I was a child. I grew up playing that back in the 1980s. So with playing that now and seeing how it’s progressed and different versions over time. And especially when you consider the entire map of however many billion planets right back in the 80s was on one floppy disk, right? It was all algorithmically generated. It was phenomenal. It was beyond anything at the time. And even now it still is. The map is an entire galaxy.

“Wow. Yeah, that is phenomenal. The only other game I would definitely recommend on PSVR. Is Walking Dead Saints and Sinners, if you’ve not played it already. Oh, I mean, there’s two Walking Dead games. Funnily enough, there’s one that was using cast from the TV shows you think, and it’s by Survios, that have made a lot of great VR games. And it wasn’t good at all. But Walking Dead Saints and Sinners was made by an indie developer based on sort of the comic aspect, which I was less familiar with. But it is brilliant. Like that’s a game I want to get back into. So yeah, I think that’s probably one of the top five games on PSVR.”

So back to Beat Sabre

“So all the all the band are gamers in one way or another. I am the virtual reality gamer in particular. And I’ve played beat Sabre for about three or four years now. I’ll just say I know you know this, but for the sake of the interview, I’m happy to explain what beat Sabre is, it’s kind of like the new age of Guitar Heroes so you have blocks coming towards you that you slice with lightsabers, to the music. And it’s taken the VR world by storm. And I just had this idea a few years ago because for PC VR, there is this massive modding community where people create custom maps for their favorite songs. And then on Twitch streams, people get recommended songs to play and they do it. And Beat Games who owns Beat Sabre clearly love it. But they can’t explicitly endorse it, because it’s a black market in many ways, like, people are sharing maps and downloading songs onto their computer that they haven’t bought, so technically don’t own the rights to without the permission of the artist or the distributor. So when we got to this album, I said to the band look, we got to think of some quirky ideas for this launch. And New Vision, which is like the perfect beat Sabre track, because it’s vicious, it’s got so much driving energy, it has so many sections, including like a solo, and a breakdown, has a great chorus. And so instead of just getting some automated mapping, I reached out to Narwhal, who was this quite well known custom mapper in the Beat Sabre community. And we commissioned him, we paid him to make the map. And so he made it on hard expert and expert plus mode, we wanted an expert plus difficulty, because for the top tier players, we don’t want them to play it with ease, and then go right, bored of it. We wanted there to be a challenge. And then we released it. And at first, the first couple of days, it was quite a slow burn, because a lot of our followers aren’t necessarily VR gamers. But then I started engaging with the VR community. And it was when I become ill after our tour, so I was stuck in and it was the perfect situation, because every day I’d be stuck in, see myself back to health, while on Twitch, going into all these live streams. Some of them had two viewers, some of them had 50. And I would request our song. And just before it played, I said, just by the way, I want to be as a disclaimer, I’m the Screamer in this band. I can’t take credit for Luke’s lovely singing. I hope you’re okay with playing our song. And they’re like, Wow, you made this like, like, did you get it custom made? I was like, Yeah, we paid someone in the community. And the response, it blew my mind, is blown. The band’s mind and the Beat Sabre community have been over this because I said, Look, my hope is a few things. One, I would love it if Beat Game said, actually, this is pretty good. Let’s put it in our extras playlist on Beat Sabre. Because at the moment, they’re doing pacts with Lady Gaga and Billy Eilish. Yeah, we’re kind of that’s a bit out of our league. But I thought we might, you know, get put in extra stuff. Like that’s the ultimate dream. I know that the devs are very much aware of the project. And one of the founders who I follow on Instagram, I tagged him in and he’s seen it, so they’re aware, but they’re very busy. So that’s the number one dream. The second one was, we wanted, just, you know, for people to enjoy the track. And you know, what’s quite popular in the digital age is watching all these reaction channels of people watching music videos of new bands. And it’s amazing to see that sort of goggle box, suffocation of music videos, and to see like real time response, and we’ve had some of that. It’s been amazing. But on Beat Sabre in real time, we watch people who are not just reacting to the song. They’re physically pushing through it and on expert plus it is knackering. And so then I explained what the song New Vision is about. About six years ago, I had a head injury, and I recovered the physical parts pretty quickly. But the mental health aspects, I had to rebuild my life in many ways for about five years. And so that was what inspired the song, New Vision, it’s about the courage of self compassion, but of like, having to really push through it. And even in the darkest days, you know, to come out the other side feels like such a relief. So I was explaining in the chat for anyone interested in this Beat Sabre track. You know, this is what the song is about. It’s about perseverance, and mental and physical tenacity. And so we wanted a map that reflected it, and I recommend people just go on Twitch recommended or check some of the videos, lots of people been doing YouTube playthroughs. And to see these players get to the end and exhausted and it’s like, that feeling of relief at the end. That is literally what the song is about, is getting out the other side. And so it’s this weird digital connection with the song of not just hearing it, but like physically being a part of it. And so just the last thing I mentioned on it is because of the amazing response, I mean over hundreds of players have played it. And we’ve had like, the top five, well, people from the top five best Beat Sabre players ranked in the world have played it. One of them, I recommended it not knowing who he was, he played the song perfect combo. He wasn’t breathing heavy at the end, and he went out was pretty good, and then went on to another song. And it was just amazing to see. We’ve got a music video for New Vision, though actually filmed here against that, well, it’s a very simple video. It’s of Beat Sabre players from around the world slicing along to it as a show of solidarity and connection. And the people in the Beat Sabre community have been sending in their clips, and everyone’s so, so excited about it because they feel listened to. And I hope that this idea will encourage other artists to not just for the hype of Beat Sabre, but do what we do, invest in the community, pay the mappers, to create maps. And then we got permission from our distributor for people to, you know, download the tracks and play it and make videos of it without fear of having copyright strikes and stuff like that. And everyone’s really embraced it.

What a lot of people don’t realize, they think music is this just singular, creative medium, but it feeds into so many other things. And myself as a photographer, I always look at music as a synology between, like, sound and vision. So, for me, it’s capturing that one moment, whether it’s someone jumping up in the air in the middle of the guitar solo, or the peak of that scream into the microphone. Actually, just captured up on film with the lighting, just perfect. In with your vision, you’ve got that synology there between gaming and music. But with a lot of gaming it’s very one sided, it’s to a beat, I suppose, in a way for your timing things all the time. It’s getting the timing between what you’re doing in the game, to matching what you’re doing with the music. Like OSU.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of it. I’ve not played it, though.”

Yeah, it’s one of my daughter’s favorite games. She plays it all the time. incredibly good. She was almost good enough for the national team that does the international gaming tournaments. But again, there is a similar sort of thing where you have people creating these maps to music, and then competing against them, the gamers themselves are creating the maps to the music they’re playing.

“Yes, that’s exactly right. And the great thing about the mapping on this track was it’s very well synced up with the drumming, like when people are playing it, they look like animal from the Muppets, and watching the pros play it, a lot of them because they play a lot of maps, and what happens is, when you go, I was blown away by this, but on Twitch, you have this website called Beat Saver. And so it’s a profile for every track that is made, and it will have like a four letter digit code. So when people have requests open, you go into Twitch, and you do like exclamation mark BSR, and then the code, and then it will add it to the queue. But next to the title, it will say what the rating is in percentage. And I think a lot of them, if it’s under 60, 70%, then they won’t use it because it’s probably either something someone’s intentionally done that’s offensive, or it’s just a poorly made map. I think ours is in the mid 80s at the moment. It’s done very, very well. And yes, like within the opening bit people always like oh, wow, this is really good. And people talk about the quality of the music as well. And it means the world to us because we’ve not done an album in eight years, we’ve gone through a lot of changes. And I think just the general anxiety that happens when you give things time and space. We recorded in February (2021) and we’re sort of waiting to get it out there. And you know, we’re proud of it. We think it’s great.”

Genuinely from the heart, because I listen to so much music, and so much of it sounds generic. But here’s something that, even though it may be something similar to something else I might have listened to, but to actually have the quality behind it as well, it really, really does make a difference. And you’ve definitely got the quality in the music as well as the sound. It definitely is not a generic album.

“That means the world to us. And so yeah, we were anxiously waiting for the launch on February 25. And they were really proud and excited of it. And yeah, what you mentioned that generic because as a band, we all have so many influences. I mean, all bands do, but we’re not confined to a specific genre. Like, we generally call ourselves like, you know, metal or post hardcore, but then there’ll be people that sort of disagree with it, depending on what song they hear. But when I think of some of my favorite artists, there are bands that have quite a unique sound. And what I find is, it means that, you know, when we play shows with other bands, if we don’t fit tightly with an established genre, like we don’t have just breakdowns and hardcore music, it means we might stick out and going to get a lot of fans jump over, because they just go ‘Oh, there’s another hardcore band that I like’, and that’s great. But it does mean that if people do like us and join us, they’re more likely to stick around because we do offer that kind of that unique flair. So I’d like to think we’re playing the long game here.”

There’s that thing that with 1000 bands that sound like Bring Me The Horizon and Funeral For A Friend. So having something that actually sticks out from that 1000 album, it does make a big difference.

“And that’s the challenge for bands these days that are just starting out that you know, before the internet, you just had to be a good local band and you get to the next stage. If you are a band starting out now you have to create a social media page and your music has to compete against the Metallica’s the Killswitch Engages the Lady Gagas of the world, whatever genre that you’re in, because people are only one click away from consuming whatever content they want. So I really feel for people that are just starting out. I mean, I see us in some ways is just starting out because of this being our first, you know, first album, in eight years, and our debut album was actually done when we announced ourselves as a band. So it felt, looking back, you know, I’m proud of the album, but it did very much feel like just a really long demo of like, what we’re going to go for, and we’ve evolved a lot since then. So this does feel like a really fully visualized and consolidated album of themes and, sounds. So yeah, we’re really excited to get out there.”

Something tells me I need to get myself some VR gear for the PC.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m a Mac user, so that I can’t even do, I’ve been told the Oculus Quest 2 is good, but I’m just gonna have to buy a PC at some point when I have the money because I do want to do live streaming. Because with Beat Sabre, they do the mixed reality where they are actually in the game. And it just, it looks great. Because again, when I want to live stream on my PlayStation, I have to wear headphones for the game. And then underneath it, I’d wear these cheap like air pods. I’ve got Bluetooth in my ears, which connects to my laptop that reads the text in the chat. So I’ve got the game sound on the headphones. And then the text speak. Whereas on PC VR, they can edit Beat Sabre so in the level is the chat. So it just looks so much easier.”

That’s great. I’m going to look forward to seeing that thing played at some point, I think I’ll do I might be on Twitch and request it a few times.

“Do it. And if you actually search you might have New Vision on YouTube. There’s a few videos there, a few by some of the top players and the content and some people have even dressed themselves as other characters. There was one guy that played it as Shrek. And because it’s modeled on his body, his arms are obviously out here, but Shrek is a big character so Shrek looks like he’s doing this, and it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Yeah, T Rex arms. That was exactly it. So yeah, definitely check out the beat saber Twitch community. They’re amazing.”

Interview: Mark Bestford