Interview with Harmonix

May 22nd, 2014 -


As you’ve no doubt noticed these past few days, we’re really pulling for Harmonix’s new game Amplitude on Kickstarter. Nick Chester of Harmonix graciously took time from his campaigning of the Kickstarter to answer a few questions we had. Hopefully they help you to understand more about the project, and you learn a bit about the series.

A big thank you to Nick and the team at Harmonix for taking the time to help us promote them!

Sony obviously still owns publishing rights for Amplitude. What role does that play in bringing back this classic music game? What are the pros and cons?

That’s correct. The original FreQuency and Amplitude were both published and funded by Sony, and they continue to hold the rights to the games. Before being able to move forward with the Kickstarter, we absolutely needed Sony’s blessing, and they’ve been great to work with on that front. While they aren’t funding the game (that will come from backers, in addition to some internal funding), they’ve been really supportive in terms of helping us promote the Kickstarter.

It’s also pretty exciting for us to be back on the PlayStation platform like this – given it’s where the games originated, we think this it’s really fitting.

Did you have any planned stretch goals for the Kickstarter? If so, what is the possibility that some of those features get added into the game?

Yeah, we have some stretch goals in mind, and have from the start. As we near the end of the Kickstarter, depending on if we get funded and where it goes beyond that, we may start talking about some of that. But we don’t want to over-promise anything right now. We’re just focused on making the core game super solid.

Sony is always trying to fill its back catalog of digital PS2 titles; however, we’ve yet to see Amplitude or Frequency. Do you know what the process of getting the original game released as a PS2 classic is, and is it something we could see in the future?

Because FreQuency and Amplitude require really precise sync of audio and visuals, the games were actually designed with CRT television sets in mind and tuned accordingly. And without any sort of built-in calibration to account for latency, playing those games on modern HD sets can be… troubling. With all of that in mind, I’d say “never say never,” but I wouldn’t count on it.

Do you think releasing the original would help raise awareness of the new project?

Of course! But again, I’m not sure that’s something we could easily do, if at all.

Remix mode was a huge driver for replay value – is that something we could see reprised in this version of the game?

The focus right now is on the core single-player beatmatch experience and 2-4 player multiplayer.

What are your thoughts on adding a music analyzer (similar to Audiosurf or KickBeat) into Amplitude?

That sort of music analysis is something we’re really interested in and have been exploring – we use our version of that tech in Record Run, which we recently released for iOS and Android. When you can design gameplay around that, it can be a really great experience. But the Amplitude experience requires a few things that audio analysis can’t provide, including being able to play with individual tracks. It’s also really important for us to be able to play with and control moment-to-moment beatmatch gameplay based on those individual instruments. You can’t really do that without hand authoring them; it’s a totally different sort of experience.

When Amplitude first launched, the music gaming space was completely different than it is now. How do you market a game like Amplitude in a post Guitar Hero/Rock Band world?

Marketing Amplitude was definitely a challenge, because there was nothing like it available at the time and you can’t easily explain it in a few images or short video. We have a few things working in our favor now, I think.

First, being able to offer up a playable demo of the game to consumers – getting it into their hands so they can understand how fun the game is – will help tremendously. Second, the way the games become a cult hit is word of mouth, and that’s easier than ever with social media. It’s still going to be a challenge, we’re not blind to that, but we’re up for it.

Not only has the music game genre changed, but music itself is radically different from 2003. How has that affected your approach to deciding the music direction for Amplitude?

This new Amplitude is going to have a really cohesive soundtrack, one that we hope will be able to tell a story. Almost like a concept record of sort. Because we’re working with tracks we’re creating in house or working closely with artists to create music for the game, we have finer control over what those sounds are.

You can actually check out a “mood” play list that our audio team and Creative Lead Ryan Lesser cooked up on Spotify!

Everyone has a perfect playlist for Amplitude. What’s one song that you wish you could get for the game?

We’re not looking to license music or anything, and this isn’t an aspiration for the project, but I’d sort of be psyched if El-P would remix any track or produce something for the game. I sort of want him to do the soundtrack for my life, so I’m biased.

Both Amplitude and Frequency offered the player the ability to customize a “Freq” which would be their avatar while playing a song. Is this a feature you plan to bring back to Amplitude?

We’re looking at how we can incorporate the FreQs, but the level of customization is to be determined. It’s expensive to get something like that into a game, although it’s certainly not off the table.

Frequency was followed by Amplitude, why not a new name?

So to be totally clear, this isn’t the sequel to Amplitude, but sort of a re-imagining. At least that’s how we see it. It falls into the weird area of not being an HD remake or a port, as we’re building it from the ground up with a new engine, new art, new songs. But we’re also not mucking with any great gameplay that made the original awesome, so we can’t really call it a full-fledged sequel, either. Hey, if this new Amplitude does really well on PS3 and PS4, maybe we can revisit that.

Where did the name Amplitude come from and why was it chosen?

For FreQuency, there wasn’t much argument over the name, although I think it was between “FreQ” and “FreQuency” at some point, and there was some discussion about whether or not the “Q” should be capitalized. When it came to Amplitude, it just sort of made sense as a natural progression for naming, although at some point, the game was being called “FreQuency 2,” which even made it into early builds of the game. (You can see an image of that title screen on the PlayStation Blog.)

Why the decision for a dark tone in the art direction opposed to the vibrantly colorful visuals in the original?

The original art direction was a product of a few things, including the era and technical limitations of hardware. The direction you’re seeing now is sort of what the team would have liked it to be, or what they had in their head. The game is going to have plenty of color, though, don’t worry about that!

$775,000 seems like a lot of money for a PSN style game. You mentioned in the live streams that you could put that into perspective with the development of other titles. How does this compare to other Harmonix titles?

Certainly in the world of Kickstarter, that cost seems high compared to other projects, many developed by much, much smaller teams. In reality, the $775,000 we’re asking for doesn’t even cover full cost of the development. We’re funding it at equal or more to what we’re asking backers to support, if the Kickstarter is successful. I can’t get into specific numbers, unfortunately, but funding a team of experience designers, coders, artists, and publishing folks probably costs more than you’d imagine.

Do you like sandwiches? If so, with or without bacon?

Huge sandwich fan. Most things are better with bacon, so… with bacon. Unless it’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in which case… fine, I’ll also take the bacon.

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