Intervallic is a rhythm game that helps you to practice any instrument as you play — including your voice. The project is coming out of The Garage by Overture Games, co-founded by fourth-year Steven Jiang and alumnus Aspen Buckingham (McCormick '23). The game is in early access, but its online presence is making itself known.

[Audio of Aspen Buckingham playing Intervallic with his voice]

Olivia Abeyta: That was Aspen Buckingham, demonstrating in a video how to play rhythm game Intervallic with your voice. The clip now has over 13 million views and 20,000 shares, showing the world how video games and music education can come together. The game is in early access, meaning people can download its current version as it’s being developed.

[Audio of Steven Jiang playing the game]

Olivia: The game uses pitch detection to move the cat character Mews along their journey. When a note is played and timed correctly, Mews avoids obstacles.

Olivia: Intervallic is the brainchild of co-founders Northwestern alum Aspen Buckingham and fourth-year Steven Jiang. Aspen recounts their meeting.

Aspen Buckingham: Steven and I met at The Garage when I overheard Steven talking about wanting to make a practicing app that makes playing music more fun, and I had been working on an idea for a couple of months at that point of, you know, what if we could make practicing more fun with games? So as soon as I overheard that I’m like, “Oh my gosh, we gotta work together. We’re trying to solve the same problem here.”

[Audio of Funkalaxy.mp3 - song from the Intervallic’s OST]

Olivia: What distinguishes Intervallic from other rhythm games or educational music programs are the characters and story. The game takes place on the vibrant planet of Audius where players travel as they complete levels. According to Aspen, the world in Intervallic is a big part of why players come back.

Aspen: So we interviewed hundreds of music students and then we took all the sticky notes from the interviews, put them on a wall and organized them based on the different challenges that they faced.

Olivia: The main character is a blue and pink haired girl named Starburst, to whom Mews the cat belongs to. Starburst helps other characters overcome personal challenges taken from the interviews Aspen and Steven conducted, such as perfectionism or procrastination.

[Audio of Aspen playing the game on a keyboard]

Olivia: Aspen and Steven are already seeing Intervallic’s impact. The two invited kids and parents to come up to The Garage to test a version of the game. One kid was a trumpet player.

Aspen: This kid does not practice at home. His parents were like, “He does not practice. He practices for maybe five minutes. He'll play through the song once and then, you know, he's done.” He played our game for an hour and when he got to the end, I was like, “Dude, do your lips hurt, like you've been playing trumpet for a while.” He’s like, “Yeah,” like do you wanna play another level? He’s like, “Yeah!”

Olivia: Steven also has a story. He and Aspen are currently showing the game at Chicago Youth Centers in the south and west sides of Chicago.

Steven Jiang: They don't offer, you know, programs at school, they don't have the financial capacity to buy instruments. So we're kind of the only resources they have to get access to study any music education just to see that. And then sometimes, you know, they're super into the game, they get super engaged. That just, I think, makes me really happy to see.

Olivia: Speaking of accessibility, the duo are working on developing Intervallic’s mobile version.

Steven: So, we first launched on Steam, which is on laptop, then we quickly realized there's a huge accessibility issue. A lot of kids don’t have, you know, laptop on their own. They have to play the game through their parents' laptop. Every single kid now has a phone, right? Has phones or iPad at least. So, pouring over to mobile right now is the top priority.

[Audio of Funkalaxy.mp3 - song from the Intervallic’s OST]

Olivia: Overture Games have other projects on the back burner, but for now, all their energy is toward making Intervallic sing. For North by Northwestern, I’m Olivia Abeyta.

Ambient audio recordings and original soundtrack courtesy of Overture Games.