The last game I worked on that saw commercial release was Rock Band 3, which came out in November 2010. We’d announced the game at E3 the summer prior, and I had immediately and proudly shared a link to the trailer and press coverage with my friends and family. Yesterday we announced my new game, and I haven’t felt like just sharing a link could do it justice. I thought I’d try to explain here.
A few months after finishing Rock Band 3—almost two and a half years ago—a small group of us were tasked with figuring out what Harmonix’s next great music game would be. How could we use the new game technology available to us to interact with music in crazy, fun, and empowering new ways? Where would the music game genre be going? Where should we be making it go? We starting building things. Lots of things. Strange things. Fun things. But mostly lots of things.1
One day in the office I heard a bit of news; Disney had been talking with our management, and they were interested in working with us on one of their properties. It was called “Fantasia”—maybe we’d heard of it? It was immediately obvious how perfect of a fit it was for our project.
Fantasia was released in 1940, and it was Walt Disney’s attempt at—amongst other things—legitimizing the animation medium in a way he hadn’t yet been able to. They paired classical and avant-garde music with carefully choreographed animated pieces in their first feature film after releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was the first commercial film shown with stereo sound, and the Fantasound audio system developed to show it was the precursor to modern surround sound. It was so difficult and expensive to set up that a roadshow traveled around the country to show the film upon its initial release. Fantasia was serious animation in a time when most animation was slapstick comedy. For a while they were trying to make segments of it available to view in 3‑D. In 1940!2
You may have some memory of watching Fantasia as a kid, or as a young adult. You likely remember Mickey in a sorcerer’s hat, maybe something about brooms, and maybe a hippo in a tutu. You probably don’t remember the mushroom men, or Chernabog, or meeting the soundtrack. To this day I see new things each time I watch it. There was a lot of stuff going on in that film. But it was great stuff. Ambitious stuff. It was a grand attempt at synaesthesia, executed on a massive scale. What better to bring to life as a video game?
With this new—admittedly abstract—rallying point, we had a foundation for our nascent title. Our team grew. We expanded our goals. We focused them. Our team grew more. We got more ambitious, then turned the whole game on its head. Our team grew even more. We figured out what we wanted to make, and then we figured out that we could make something even better. Then our team grew more. We have nearly one hundred people at Harmonix pouring their combined creative efforts into a title defined by its compounded creativity. It’s been a fascinating couple of years for me, and for everyone on the project. We’ve made so many games in the process, and the one we’ve got here now is something amazing.
There’s a quote that sums up Fantasia pretty well:
“In a profession that has been an unending voyage of discovery in the realms of color, sound, and motion, Fantasia represents our most exciting adventure.” - Walt Disney
In many ways, this quote has been a bit of a touchstone for our team over the course of development. For Walt Disney, “color, sound, and motion” was a combination of brilliant illustration and beautiful animation techniques, brought together in the service of immersing audiences in musical pieces they’d hopefully be hearing in a whole new way. For us, it’s beautiful, evocative worlds put together by our concept artists, modelers, animators, and effects artists. It’s lush, reactive soundtracks and inventive remixes developed by our audio designers. It’s immersive gameplay slowly and carefully built up and iterated upon by our talented design team. And of course, behind it all is a fantastic team of programmers making every bit of it possible.
It’s been an incredible opportunity to be the lead programmer on this project, and it’s been a gift to be given the chance to create something so different, so “out there,” so original, and so exciting. There’s a reason that I haven’t attempted to describe the game here, and it’s because I don’t think we’ve yet figured out the right words with which to do so. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece. It feels like it could be important.
I can’t wait to show people more of what we’ve created over the coming months. I believe we’ve taken the spirit of Walt Disney’s vision for the original Fantasia and extended it to apply to today’s visual, auditory, and interactive landscape. In an unnervingly appropriate way, I don’t think I can describe my time at Harmonix as anything other than “an unending voyage of discovery in the realms of color, sound, and motion,” and I am quite certain that Fantasia: Music Evolved represents my most exciting adventure here thus far.3
It’s pretty cool.
Lead Programmer, Fantasia: Music Evolved
Offhand, these things included such disparate elements as: dancing cowboy boots, flux capacitors, airhorns, an original song called “Miami Child,” and one particular fun thing that became our iOS title, VidRhythm. ↩
Incidentally, my parents’ first date was going to see the 1977 re‑release of Fantasia in theaters. My dad thought it would be fun; he was a big Grateful Dead fan. My mom was not into it. It wasn’t the best first date. ↩