Remix it up!
Harmonix's Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved for Xbox One and Xbox 360 is an odd duck. It's one part dance game, simplifying the mechanics of Dance Central; one part adventure game, as you explore and fill out individual "Realms"; and another part DJ, using the dance elements to remix the songs with different instruments and styles. At a preview event that took place during Game Developers Conference 2014, Nick Tan, Alex Martinet, and I got the chance to look at Fantasia's multiplayer.
The developers started off with a demo of their new realm called "The Hollow," a forested pixie den they used with one of their new songs to familiarize the group with the realm controls (the Xbox One Kinect allows the player to control with depth as well as lateral motion) to look for areas of interactivity to flesh out the world and beautify the realms. Having located one song, Dvorjak's "Symphony No. 9 from the New World", two players can start a multiplayer game by shaking hands, an action the Kinect uses so that it can tell which players are active in the game and which are are just in the background (it's also a nice way to integrate positive sportsmanship into a competitive game).
Gameplay is all gestural—broad directional swipes with the arms, held positions and slow sinuous motions with strong active guides. The head-to-head mode diversifies by assigning different sections of the song to different players, sometimes on the opposite side of the screen from where they are located, with broad themes shared by both players. The player with the greatest accuracy gets to decide whether or not to change elements of the song—like whether an instrument track will come from a different style, like a techno remix, big band jazz, or a Caribbean jam—with many different chances throughout a song.
Several times during the song, a cube can appear on screen that must be filled out with gestures from both players. When successfully filled out, it allows the player to modify a drum fill, vocal track, or changes in pitch and tone to a section of music with dynamic motion that is then inserted into the track. The two women performing the demo told me that playing the game hasn't gotten stale because every remix is different.
That completed, they showed us how the unlocked melody helped fill out the realm. They skipped ahead to show us the completed realm, which featured an elk with a pair of antlers strung together to make a candelabra harp, that the player could play by strumming their hands over the area between each antler.
With a chance to jump into free play, Alex and I played a round of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust". At the opening, the game gives you the individual stems to choose from, allowing you to pick different genres and styles. At first it was a little challenging, I wasn't using both arms, and the motions needed to be more pronounced than I started out making. After a while I got the hang of it.
A big part of the competitive nature of the multiplayer is getting to choose how the music changes. A sudden change in the percussion track from the original scoring to a techno-backed beat really makes a huge difference. In multiplayer, the incentive to play better than your opponent is more to see who gets to control the music of the next section than for the sake of just winning. Alternatively, it's a great surprise when your partner makes a choice you wouldn't that changes the song in a way you would never expect.
A second playthough, this time with Nick Tan and me, of Nicki Manaj's "Super Bass" highlighted just how dynamically Harmonix was playing with the tracks. Having completed one of the cooperative challenges in the middle, it allowed each of us to chop up half of Minaj's vocals into a staccato repetition of elements that you could preview as long as you wanted before committing it into the track. The levels also build naturally in a nice difficulty curve that becomes successively more active throughout.
All in all, Harmonix's Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved due in 2014 for Xbox 360 and Xbox One, is an amazing experiment in allowing the user to play and explore with music in a way that most people outside of a music production or remixing environment probably ever think about. That it does so as a game that's fun, gorgeously visualized, and a reworking of a Disney animation classic adds to the charm. In addition to multiplayer, Harmonix announced the addition of the songs mentioned above, as well as Lorde's "Royals" and White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" to their growing roster of dynamically remixable tracks.