Beat Saber, the virtual reality rhythm game phenomenon that has players slashing blocks to the beat of their favorite songs, recently became the first VR title to sell over 1 million copies. While the game comes with a kickass set of songs, this popularity is no doubt helped by the modders who implement their own tunes on Beat Saber’s PC version.
Thanks to these modders, or “mappers,” as they’re known within the community, new songs are implemented all the time. Users can search for these songs and download them to play for free on PC. However, building a song is no easy feat.
To make a track that works, creators must ensure each block note lands perfectly within the beat of a track. These blocks have to flow together, matching the beats per minute of each song for maximum effect.
Mappers spend months honing their craft, mastering audio timing, creating engaging patterns, and comprehending what makes each stage “click” with the user base. The process is much harder than it seems, and I wanted to learn more about it, so in an attempt to gain some insight, I spoke to an expert creator who goes by “Scrappy” on his methods of mastery.
At the start of the mapping process, Scrappy listens to the song and lays out what he calls “placeholder notes” or “placing dots just to represent where I'm going to make the patterns”. Having this baseline helps him learn the “ins & outs” of a song at first. From here, the creator starts doing whatever he can to accurately portray the song of choice. This could mean emphasizing the bass with two notes instead of one or altering a pattern to perfectly match the melody. Another creator, a Reddit user by the name of “depito2”, echoes these sentiments. Depito2 claims they “don’t plan anything when mapping, simply because when I listen to the song I can’t imagine patterns quickly enough to keep up with it, but an experienced mapper might be able to do it.”
What’s most important at the beginning is knowing a song’s beats per minute or BPM. That way, a mapper can get a feel for how many blocks they may need. This number is often found via Osu, a free rhythm game with that information included.
Interestingly, a creator doesn’t necessarily need a music background to get started mapping, states Scrappy. Instead, those who put in the time and effort (read: months), will eventually become decent mappers. That time is used to overcome the big learning curve. In fact, Scrappy says that when the game first started, most maps were bad because nobody knew what they were doing. Our creator claims it took him around 3 to 4 months to be proud of his timing abilities. At that time, he even went back to his old maps and found some timing issues, proving that his skills improved.
Depito2 also believes anyone with a sense of rhythm can learn how to map. Of course, some genres are easier than others, like EDM with a pronounced bass line. But, this creator states that newer mappers can learn quickly by paying attention to other created maps while testing their own a ton during the building process.
Aside from the placeholder notes, Scrappy points out that he doesn’t really have a strict creation process. Alternatively, the mapper just jumps into the song and produces as he goes. He does have a few policies he follows, however, that could only have been learned after hours of creating. For example, when there’s a long pause in the song, “I would allow myself to reset the player's hands,” Scrappy says. On top of this, if the section is a shorter pause, he places bombs that players must dodge to throw them off. Yes, Beat Saber has bombs in it, and they’re great at messing one up if they’re unprepared.
There’s also the question of difficulty. Songs in Beat Saber can fall into multiple categories: easy, medium, hard, expert, and the newly introduced expert+. I’ve noticed that most created songs play on the expert or expert+ level, probably because mappers love to challenge themselves. However, the quality of each song greatly varies, which I now understand thanks to Scrappy’s insights.
Some stages feel the slightest bit off, with notes appearing where they shouldn’t or patterns not lining up with the melody. These mappers are probably still learning what works and what doesn’t and will be creating expert level songs in a few months. Like with any skill, it’s all a matter of time and dedication.
But, no matter their skill level, it’s mappers like these that keep Beat Saber alive. It’s because of them that players like you or I can jump in and always find a new song to play. Player created content has long been the future of gaming and with Beat Saber, that truth has never been more apparent. Who knows, maybe this game will form a whole new niche of VR content creators and influencers, each of them keeping the Beat Saber phenomenon alive.