Jun 19, 2013

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E3 Hands-On Preview: Fantasia Music Evolved

E3 Hands-On Preview: Fantasia Music Evolved

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Fantasia Music Evolved, being developed by Harmonix, was one of the most interesting and entertaining games at E3. In fact, it was one of the best Xbox One games I saw at E3 and the only one running natively on the Xbox One using the Kinect. While it was a very early build, I was still very impressed by what Harmonix showed.

Fantasia Music Evolved isn’t like other Harmonix titles where it’s a simulation, an attempt at a 1-to-1 experience. This next title focuses on creativity, creation and becoming a composer (to an extent). Fantasia also isn’t solely a game based on the movie either. It’s a game that takes the essence of the movie franchise and brings it into the game. So you won’t be playing as Mickey, but you yourself will be playing as the sorcerer’s apprentice. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any call backs to the movie though; in fact, Mickey will make an appearance at some point.

The overall story revolves around master sorcerer Yen Sid who brings you into the world of Fantasia as a sorcerer’s apprentice. Everything in the world is a musical instrument but is dormant and your job is to bring the world to life by performing/creating music.

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The world they showed us was the Schoal, a coral reef level. They also showed a level called “the press” a printing press level. Each level is dormant and you must bring it to life by playing songs. To navigate each level, the Kinect sensor can track your movements left and right. So stepping to either side will move what’s on screen. It can also track not only X-Y movement but also Z movement as well.

Moving around the level seemed pretty limited, obviously, but by being able to track your actual movement instead of just your arm gestures, you no longer need a controller to help navigate. There are things to interact with in the world, but playing the songs is the only way to really bring it to life.

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Playing a song is a bit different than what we are used to from Harmonix, as I mentioned. You move your hands much like a composer would. Small flares appear on the screen and you move your arms in the direction that they are facing, timing your arm movements based on the beat of the song. For instance, you’ll be gesturing your arms (sometimes both arms) from right to left diagonally, up and down, left to right horizontally and occasionally you’ll have to reach towards the screen as well. Where the real fun comes in is being able to remix the song by selecting various remixes during the game.

For instance, while playing “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars, you can change it to a Ska remix. For “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you can change the drums to heavy metal drums in the middle of the song. It’s hard to imagine for sure, but it works. This is one of the creation parts of the game where you, as a composer, decide to either play the song as it was intended or remix it to your liking. There will also be sections where you control the solos as well. These remixes don’t just fade away either, they stay with you throughout the rest of the song and really make it your own.

This is a game that you really have to see in action in order to get a good feel for how the game plays, so we have a short video of the Harmonix devs playing “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The video shows exactly how you would play the game and the type of edits you can make to it, and how it sounds afterwards. It also shows what happens after you complete the song and how that changes the world around you. I apologize in advance for the shaky cam.

Fantasia Music Evolved Demo

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In the video above, the player is moving her arms very dramatically and you don’t need to do that. The only thing that changes is the particle effects on the screen. You can also see that she’s very good at the game, which I was not. I happened to pick a difficult song and pretty much failed at the song, but finished it. There will be different difficulties in the game and it is suggested to play through the story to learn how to play. The remixes will also vary in difficulty as some remixes make the song harder once they are activated.

My experience with Fantasia was more buggy than shown here, partly because there were too many people moving around me, which threw off the camera a few times. This is an early build, so they are working on ways to focus in on one player and ignoring surrounding objects. If they can’t get this down, it could lead to a lot of trolling and frustration. I had some timing issues as well, again because it was an early build andnot all songs played perfectly, but once I was able to compensate for that I did OK.

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It looks so awkward to play, but when I actually stood in front of the TV it felt almost natural. You almost get lost in the music and you forget what you look like doing it, which in my case was probably hilarious. This was why I was so pleased with how the game actually played even though I wasn’t making big gestures. I don’t want to look ridiculous all the time, so the fact that it still worked with small movements was a bit of a relief.

The demo they had available didn’t have multiplayer, so I’m curious as to what that will be. I’m hoping not just a score battle. So far, from what I’ve seen and played, this is one of the best uses of a Kinect that I’ve seen. It’s creative, imaginative and allows you do be creative yourself. The best part is, you don’t have to know music to create a unique sound, whether in the world you’re trying to bring to life or in the song.

Harmonix is planning a 2014 release for both Xbox One and 360. Fantasia Music Evolved, so far, is a very entertaining game and was one of the best Xbox One games at E3. If all goes to plan I wouldn’t be surprised if people bought an Xbox One just to play this game.