This was the last interview I did before life in the United States became plagued by so much anxiety, stress, danger, and human casualties than 2020. Everyone knows and feels this. I recall this being the last time I was able to enjoy a big gaming convention, -- PAX East 2020.
It was an extremely cold day at the Boston Convention center. So cold I had to dress very differently than my usual Los Angeles clothes. I was still so cold and it was a biting wind I had never felt before. Maybe only once when I was first in China back in 2015 for some esports thing.
I miss traveling, and 2020 has taught me to appreciate that. So, I hope you can appreciate this really cool talk I had with the creators of Fuser, the new musical mashup game by Harmonix.
After enjoying over a decade of success from the 'Rock Band' franchise, independent game developer Harmonix Music Systems revealed a new game at PAX East 2020. Fuser, a music-mixer game in which players will combine elements from multiple songs, will be published by NCSOFT for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.
The Creative Approach
Harmonix's approach aims for players to be able to understand and comprehend the basic fundamentals of Fuser after their first time playing to immediately access the limitless creativity at their fingertips. Fuser forgoes plopping in disks for a simple mix and gives the player all of the music-mixing tools to make the most unique sonic blend they can create. As the player continues to improve at the game, they are becoming better creators in terms of self-expression.
This is a game you can get really good at, it has a very high skill ceiling," said Harmonix Music Systems' Daniel Sussman, Project Manager of Fuser. "When you watch players who are good at this game, we want you to say, ' Wow. How did they even do that?'"
Harmonix's flagship titles, 'Guitar Hero' and the aforementioned Rock Band, were deeply immersive experiences. However, outside of the occasional drum fill opportunity or vocal flexibility, they were 100% simulation-based. Fuser focuses on allowing the player to play how they want with true creative expression.
Fuser will feature a campaign mode similar to previous Harmonix titles, and while there will be no co-op mode, online multiplayer will be available. Harmonix decided to forego the competitive aspect of multiplayer and doubled down on the creative and connective aspects of Fuser. "We don't want the player motivation to be to go in macho," said Sussman. "We want to create a community of people playing together."
A Deeper Music Experience
The technical aspect of Fuser comes from the Crowd Bar on the left side of the screen. A lowering bar will tell the player if their current beat is going stale, and dropping perfectly on-time with the beat will reward the player with a rising bar. The stages are nuanced both in terms of audience as well as the environment of the venue to emulate the external factors of a live performance.
"Space, lighting, and environment affect your play," explained Sussman. "We don’t want to be as punishing as much as making the player vulnerable. We want them to be aware of that and sensitive to it." Once a player grows past a certain level, the social aspect of the game kicks in in the form of streaming original mixes and broadcasting their creativity to the world.
Fuser is not created to teach someone how to play and perform music, but Sussman is aware of the potential of the game as an avenue to musicianship. "We are not in the business of education we are making entertainment...At the same time, all our staff went to music school, and you can't help but incorporate these musical elements. The underlying musicality of the game's music...It’s a gateway drug to a deeper musical experience.
Because the experience is so creative, people are gonna be like 'Holy ****, I made that.' It's a very empowering aspect of the game," Sussman continued. "It's not just headshots and combos, it's a sandbox music game...It’s a super accessible fresh new thing that I think is a very accurate representation of what’s happening on the music space now."
Addressing The Community
Prior to speaking with Daniel Sussman, Inven Global's Nick D'Orazio reached out to the music gaming community for questions that Fuser's Project Manager could provide answers to ahead of the game's release. The questions and answers below have been formatted for clarity.
Does Harmonix have any plans to take advantage of any of the various platforms' unique features? Mostly thinking of Nintendo Switch and PC, but maybe there's something on Xbox One and PlayStation is possible that I'm not considering.
We’re working to make FUSER the best we possibly can for each platform, but we’re not at the point where we can talk about any platform-specific features.
One of the big concerns for Rock Band on PC was piracy. How will they protect the integrity of the assets in Fuser?
We take security very seriously across all platforms and have protections and encryption in place.
Any plans for VR?
That’s not something we’re focused on right now. The only platforms we’ve confirmed are PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC.
Is Harmonix even considering DLC? I read they "declined to state post-launch plans" but, like... is it even a possibility?
Definitely a possibility. While we’re really excited by FUSER’s 100+ song core soundtrack, DLC gives us the ability to keep up with new song releases and introduce additional content that plays well.
Editors Note: There is now DLC in Fuser due to demand. The latest has been available since December 3rd here.
Can/will Harmonix give any kind of info/sneak-peek about the competitive multiplayer mode?
We won't have anything on multiplayer at PAX East 2020, but we’ll have a lot more to say about multiplayer later this year.
Editor's Note: Battle mode is now available. Invenglobal has written an extensive guide on how to win.
Any plans to integrate any of DropMix's cards into it at all?
No. One of the things that excites us most about FUSER is how accessible it is to everyone – no need for any peripheral or legacy hardware. There may be some easter eggs in there for DropMix players, but cards won’t be a part of it.
One of the great things about DropMix was it had some amazing original tracks. Might we see any of those in Fuser?
Possibly! We like those tracks, too, but there is nothing to announce at this time.
Do you know if the all the songs that were in DropMix will be in Fuser?
We’ve only announced 16 songs for FUSER so far but DropMix is a completely different game with its own music licenses. There’s no guarantee that the songs that appeared in DropMix will be released in FUSER.
I heard in the live stream that when you go into a show you bring x amount of songs to the show. Do you know an estimate of how many songs you're allowed to bring into a show?
We’re still experimenting but this will vary depending on what mode you’re in and what campaign level you’re playing.
Do you know if the DLC will be like DropMix? With DropMix, you'd buy packs in which you'd get x amount of cards containing x amount of songs and different parts of the songs. Like, if you buy this pack you'd get Fall Out Boy drums and if you wanted the vocals or the guitar you'd have to buy this pack or that pack. Or will it be like you buy a Post Malone, Green Day, or Bruno Mars song and you'd get all the parts?
We don’t expect to use the DropMix model for DLC – we currently expect it will be more like our approach to Rock Band and Dance Central DLC.
Besides the campaign and freestyle mode, is there different modes like DropMix had? Such as a puzzle mode, party mode so on and so forth?
The only modes we’ve announced so far are campaign, freestyle and multiplayer.
What instruments are available for custom loops? I suspect 808s are a given, what else?
We’ll have more to share about gear available to players later this year.
Will licensing necessitate that they block gameplay recording like in RB4 and Audica?
This is a complex issue that is constantly evolving. We’re working to allow players to share gameplay in a variety of ways and we’ll have more to say as we get closer to release.
Will there ever be any songs that have less than 4 parts?
Possibly! There are a ton of instrumental tracks, for example, that don’t have any vocals but the other parts would be tons of fun to play with in FUSER.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.