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Interview: Harmonix on Fantasia: Music Evolved

Recently, I had the chance to speak to PR and Communications Lead at Harmonix, Nick Chester, about the developer’s extremely unique title, Disney Fantasia, Music Evolved. After spending a couple of weeks with the title, we asked some of the questions we most wanted the answers to, and Nick was kind enough to humor us. Check out the interview below!

Q: What went into the song selection for Fantasia? What were the most important factors?

A: We knew pretty early on that we wanted to focus on having a really broad variety of music and genres represented in Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved. Obviously, we wanted to feature classical music – this was a no brainer. So we have tracks by Vivaldi, Mozart, Mussorgsky, and more. But beyond that it was important for us to choose music that was recognizable, iconic, and would simply be fun to play. There’s really something for everyone here, and when you factor in the ability to completely change how these songs sounds and feels, you might be surprised when you find a new respect for a song you might not have already love.

Q: Fantasia is a property synonymous with Disney, but there are not any Disney songs in the game. Was this an intentional decision, or something that happened naturally?

A: This actually comes up a lot, which I think is interesting. Because while Fantasia and Disney are connected, there’s actually no “Disney” music in either Fantasia (1940) or Fantasia 2000. I won’t say it wasn’t considered, but that’s not the direction we chose to take with the title. We do have “Let It Go” available as pre-order DLC, however!

Q: With Kinect no longer a guaranteed pack in with Xbox One, has there been any changes to plans for a sequel? And do you guys have more Kinect games in the works?

A: Microsoft’s decision doesn’t really change how we look at titles we create – if there’s a great motion game concept that we feel has a market, deserves to be made, and we’re excited about it, we’ll absolutely pursue it. We’re a busy studio, we’ve got a lot of ideas kicking around, so we’ll see what happens next. In other words, we’ve not averse to creating games for any platform!

As for a sequel, let’s get this game out the door first, and see what people think!

Q: Are there any DLC plans for the game? New tracks, mixes, or worlds?

A: Yup, absolutely! As I mentioned earlier, we’ve already teased some DLC with the pre-order bonuses, and we’ve confirmed that we’ll be introducing new mixes for existing disc tracks down the line. Harmonix has a long history of supporting our music games with post-release content, so this seemed like a no-brainer.

No plans for new worlds, although that would be a lot of fun. You’ll see that when you play the game, the worlds and the music are linked one-to-one and have a pretty big impact on one another. Building and adding new Discovery realms for the game would be quite a task!

Q: The core mechanics of the game are very unique. How did those mechanics come about, and how did they change over time?

A: Because Disney’s “assignment,” if you will, was to create a motion music game with no other real guidance, we had a lot of directions we could have taken. And we did. So many prototypes were created and ultimately thrown away, but we connected with Sorcerer Mickey and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice pretty early on – those big, conductor-like gestures that Mickey performs on The Cliff in the original 1940s short was a huge inspiration. Letting players feel powerful, like they are in control of the music, was very important.

There was certainly a fair amount of iteration, and we didn’t end up using everything in the final design. For a while, with the introduction of precise hand-tracking with the Xbox One camera, there was some consideration of doing a “jazz hands” style movement, but I don’t think it was ever actively pursued. There’s still a bunch of movements in the game that lend itself to doing jazz hands on your own, just for fun, which I’d recommend doing… because JAZZ HANDS. People will think you’re totally awesome, but you won’t get any in-game credit for it.

Q: How do you handle the balance between players feeling like they’re playing a game, and creating music? Was there an iteration of the game with a different balance?

A: Fantasia is a series of abstract musical pieces that evoke emotion and connection to compositions, so there were actually a bunch of early prototypes that leaned more heavily on this idea of discovery and musical puzzles. And other prototypes that leaned more heavily on telling a story, but were more abstract and less puzzle-y. There’s merits to doing both of those things, and I personally love experiential games like Proteus. But at some point, we had to come to terms with the fact that you’re making a game for a mass market, and find a middle ground. So in the final game, you’re going to find a balance between both of those aspects, guided with a bit of progression. I think we still maintain some of that emotion, some of that puzzle-y surprise, though, and it was important for us to experiment with both in order to find that middle ground.

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved releases worldwide on October 21, 2014 for Xbox One and Xbox 360, and makes great use of that Kinect that might be collecting dust below your television. Make sure and check back with us at midnight on launch day for our full review of the game!

About Trey Elliott

Trey Elliott
Trey is a video game enthusiast, movie junkie, and cultivator of one fantastic beard. He loves to write original Gregorian chants, play the spoon harp, and speak of whatever comes to mind on the Free For All podcast.