Having sat through a press presentation of the game in action earlier that day, I was given the opportunity to have a chat with John Drake, director of communications at Harmonix, to learn a little more about the upcoming music game tie-in to one of Disney's most iconic feature length animations. If you haven't read our preview of the presentation, you can catch up on it all here.
When asked about platform exclusivity, Drake was quick to point out that while Fantasia is coming out to Xbox One and Xbox 360, the game isn’t contract exclusive so it may end up coming out for other consoles with a camera peripheral in the future (but Harmonix aren’t ready to talk about that just yet.) Drake admitted that Fantasia was Harmonix’s most ambitious game to date, with 120 people working on the game currently in an effort to get to fill the game with new characters and even greater potential for crazy remixes.
On the topic of remixes, I asked Drake whether Fantasia would include some sort of community hub that will allow players an one-stop place to hear remixes or vote for which ones are the best, but he explained that, at least for the moment, there wasn’t a plan to include one. “I’m not sure if we’re going to do that in-game or not. Right now, a lot of that super-server depends on Disney to be all like “Oh hey, what’s your back-end technology going to be?” Disney’s work with Infinity, and the idea of players being able to share their creations online, is something the developers are watching to “see what [they] could apply from that,” but while Harmonix are working with Disney to include things like YouTube uploading (and ensuring artists get paid for their original work) the developers were waiting for all of the main work to be finished first before looking into the server-side features. Drake did finish by stating “I would like to see something like that. I think it’d be really cool.”
Earlier on in the conversation, it had been mentioned that Usher had perhaps been a little too “sexy” to include in Fantasia’s line-up, and so I asked Drake if there had been any challenges in finding the right balance of tracks for the game, specifically contemporary music, to fit in the game. “Yeah, I think that both the IP and tone of the brand, but also with the idea of what we have to do with these songs, like we have to make these songs really malleable.” He compared the work to being a DJ as the developers had to hunt down songs that, when broken down, worked with different styles and tones. There was also another key point Harmonix had to consider – “Who’s cool to let us mess with their music? Like it’s unlikely we’ll get Guns N’ Roses who won’t let us do anything!”
Drake continued by admitting that the response from the reveal trailer, which showed how Bruno Mars’ music would feature in the game, was met with some resistance by fans. “It’s a hard question to answer because we want the game to legitimately appeal to a younger audience that also doesn’t know Vivaldi and wouldn’t buy a Vivaldi game off the shelf, but also Walt’s vision didn’t seem to be classical music – it was important music at the time – and I think a lot of the music we’ve picked is going to be around for a while. We’re not picking one-hit-wonders, and if we do pick flashier bands that are a bit more of the moment, then maybe we’ll do them as DLC so you don’t have to incorporate them into your tracks list.
With Harmonix being the developer who brought us great music-based gaming experiences over the last ten years, I asked Drake if there had been any lessons they had learnt from their previous releases that they had applied to the development of Fantasia. “I think for Dance Central it’s mostly the motion input of it all. We have a really good skeleton detection system that’s probably better than anyone else, including some first-party games, which we’re really proud of, and on Xbox One that’s been awesome, but we learned a lot about how people want to feel like they’re connected to the game and what makes them feel awesome. We’ve talked a lot about the illusion of awesome at Harmonix, where you’re not actually a rock star but you feel like a rock star. Like, if you saw a video of yourself you might not be the best dancer in the world, but when you’re playing Dance Central and getting Flawless you feel awesome!”
He’s not wrong about that. The best dancer part, I mean.
“And that’s really important in a game where you’re meant to feel like a powerful sorcerer, that you feel like you’re in control and feel amazing all the time. So there’s a lot of things about the connection of your body to what you see on screen, sort of how it’s addressing what you do through the camera, and I think we do motion games better than anyone else because we think a lot about designing from the input to the game, not about designing from the game backward to the input. So it’s like we’re thinking about what works with the camera, like this parallax idea, moving around this three-dimensional cursor, not “we want to make a fighting game or racing game – how do I make that with a camera?” It’s like “we’re making a motion game, so what does that mean?” and so we start from there.”
“For Rock Band, I think a lot [of what we learned] was from the interface and how much information people can you process at once, and still understand what they are doing. So for us it’s like, it’s not a linear note line anymore – we’re taking a break from that and letting our authors get a little bit more expressive in where cues are and how big they are. It’s not a direct transcription but the idea of what you can see down the chart, like if you’re a really good musician you read a couple of bars ahead of where you are, and it takes time in Rock Band to teach people to look [at what’s coming next.] So with Fantasia I think it’s that pacing and that tuning that’s sort of the Harmonix special sauce. We know how much information we can throw at a player, and get them excited about playing and to feel like they’re in the middle of the music without overwhelming them and making them feel like you’re playing on expert for “Through The Fire And The Flames” on day one.”
As we always do with our interviews on Dealspwn, we had to finish off by asking that golden question (and, of course, Drake had our very own mascot Toby The Dealspwny in his hands as he answered) which is simply this – what is the most badass thing about Disney Fantasia? “I’m tempted to say word “Jazz-Clams” and not explain it all, but I feel that would be out of context for anyone who has read [the preview]”!
Great, now I need to know what the hell is was talking about. Thanks, Mr Drake.
“I think the ability to literally - and I say literally meaning the word literally – to literally grab onto the music and shape it in your hands is incredibly badass” Drake continued. “It’s when we think about a DJ or remix artist being like, “Oh I’m in my apartment listening to a dance track” and I’m making movements with my hands, and I’m like “what the **** am I doing? Like, what is this hand gesture thing?! I don’t know how to do that! But in Fantasia you actually step up to the camera and by doing what feels natural you’re shaping music in real time. It feels incredibly powerful, and as someone who makes music for a living as a DJ and things like that, it’s a really intuitive, cool way of being awesome. Like I can just step up and be like “Oh, Bruno Mars? Now your vocals sound like you’re an alien from outer space, and then I can clap my hands one time and screw you up!” and that’s pretty cool!”
A huge thanks to John Drake for taking the time out to talk to us. Disney Fantasia currently has a rather vague "2014" release date, but we'll be sure to keep you informed on any updates as we get them.