Harmonix’s Nick Chester talks about the beat-matching shooter’s HD resurgence.
Harmonix is better known for the Rock Band franchise and it was intriguing to see it enter the crowd-funding domain with a new HD version for Amplitude, a PS2-era beat-matching shooter wherein players pilot a ship that must shoot note gems in time with the music. Amplitude HD has been considered a reboot of sorts by the developer, containing the same style of gameplay while modernizing the graphics, bringing new songs to the foray and even adding co-op. That being said, significant changes have happened since the last game’s release. How will Harmonix bring the magic from two generations ago into the modern age?
GamingBolt spoke to Nick Chester, PR and Communications Lead at Harmonix, on the game’s new songs, the commercial viability of the project and the current status of development.
Rashid K. Sayed: I understand that the original was a PlayStation game but since then a lot has changed in the industry. Is there a reason why you guys crowd funded the reboot only for the PlayStation platform?
Nick Chester: The simple answer here is that Sony is the owner of the IP. Amplitude and its predecessor FreQuency are, in the minds of so many fans, linked to this amazing bubble in time and is really inseparable from the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation brand. They’re associated so strongly with memories of that time period, so it really makes sense to bring it back to the PlayStation family. When we were at the PlayStation Experience in Vegas in December, we got such positive feedback from that core Sony community – it was really encouraging.
"You always have to balance the likelihood of financial success with the costs of creating a project, and in this case, doing a Kickstarter was certainly part of that. It proved that, yes, there’s a core audience ready to show up for this type of game."
Rashid K. Sayed: Having said that, will we see a Xbox One version in the future?
Nick Chester: Amplitude is a PlayStation exclusive, so you won’t be seeing it on other platforms.
Rashid K. Sayed: It’s been several months since the game was a Kickstarter success, where is the team at in regards to the development stage and how soon are we going to receive a release date?
Nick Chester: We’re making awesome progress on the game and have it up and running on the PlayStation 4 hardware already. We were able to have an early, although very playable, version of the game at Sony’s PlayStation Experience, which was really exciting. We still have a lot of work to do and we’re closing in on a firm release date, but for now we can say it’ll be available Summer 2015.
Rashid K. Sayed: What can you tell us about the new soundtracks in the game?
Nick Chester: The original version of Amplitude was a bit of a mash-up of musical styles, with a heavy focus on licensed music. The new Amplitude has a much more focused soundtrack, one that the team hopes to tell a story with, almost like a concept record. You’re going to be hearing a lot of original music that the team is creating, with a focus on more electronic sounds. There’s going to be a variety of music created by non-Harmonix artists, as well, that you’ll be able to hear and play, but it just won’t be along the critical “story” path. We’ve only announced some of the artists and songs so far, but we have surprises in store, so stay tuned!
Rashid K. Sayed: So there is a concern regarding the commercial success of the reboot. As you must be aware the original game was garnered with critical acclaim but the game was not a commercial success. How do you feel about it as you develop the reboot?
Nick Chester: You always have to balance the likelihood of financial success with the costs of creating a project, and in this case, doing a Kickstarter was certainly part of that. It proved that, yes, there’s a core audience ready to show up for this type of game.
So many things have changed since the original Amplitude shipped. For example, what once looked weird or confusing in a screenshot – the gems and the lanes – are now something that’s familiar to more players because of the success of games like Rock Band. For players maybe not familiar with Amplitude, they see those gems and the lanes and they understand “Oh, this is a music game.” The other thing is that we now have more means to actually get a demo into the hands of people who might be potentially interested in it.
Anyone with an Internet connection should be able to download a demo now, whereas in the past we had to rely on them getting a physical disc that was bundled with hardware or a magazine, or maybe play it at a store kiosk. So there are certainly some advantages in 2015 that we didn’t have in 2003!
"The look of the original Amplitude was informed a bit by the hardware limitations of the PlayStation 2, whereas now we’re creating a game that’s much closer to the vision our artists have in their head."
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there a Vita version in the works? It seems like a game that could do well on the platform.
Nick Chester: No plans right now to port the game to Vita. Let’s see how it does on the home platforms first!
Since this a reboot, can players expect the game to run in full glory at 1080p and 60 fps?
Nick Chester: That’s the plan, absolutely! A steady frame rate is really important when it come to this style of beat-match gameplay. We had that up and running already in the build we brought to the PlayStation Experience and it looks and feels great.
Rashid K. Sayed: As someone who has worked on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, what are your thoughts on the processing power of the PS4?
Nick Chester: One of the key things is obviously we’re able to push the visuals way further than we’d been able to in the past. The look of the original Amplitude was informed a bit by the hardware limitations of the PlayStation 2, whereas now we’re creating a game that’s much closer to the vision our artists have in their head. The concept art we’d released during the Kickstarter, for example, is already coming to life on the hardware and we’re not even done polishing it up yet!
Rashid K. Sayed: With Kickstarter comes massive responsibility and fan expectations that you need to deliver on the promise. Given that Amplitude has massive expectations how are you making sure that you deliver the goods?
Nick Chester: With the Kickstarter, fans have given us the opportunity to make the game that we want, and more importantly, the game they want. This games means a lot to us and we know it means a lot to the fans, so we’re taking our time and making sure we do it right. By developing this game more publicly and not under the eye of publisher or retail delivery demands, we can really take our time to assure that the experience lives up to everyone’s expectations.
Rashid K. Sayed: I am aware that the game will become difficult as you play but will the game be accessible to newcomers?
Nick Chester: Absolutely! Early on we knew that we’d have to make sure the game was significantly brutal enough to challenge our biggest fans, but understood that the original Amplitude may have been scary for newcomers. We’ve been addressing that by doing internal playtests with new and veteran players, and combining that knowledge with the years of experience we’d had tuning beat-match games since 2003.
"The game is actually being built on the code of the original game we shipped, so the core of that experience remains largely intact."
Rashid K. Sayed: I am wondering about the retail cost of the game and whether you plan to do digital as well as a boxed release.
Nick Chester: You can expect Amplitude to be available digitally only and it will cost $19.99. That’s cross buy at once, so you’ll get it for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 at that price.
Rashid K. Sayed: How has beat-matching improved in the remake?
Nick Chester: Fun fact: the game is actually being built on the code of the original game we shipped, so the core of that experience remains largely intact. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it and all of that. With that said, we have learned some things about beat-match gameplay over the year, and newer television introduce latency issues we have to account for, but the core beatmatch gameplay is mostly as it. We know we’re on the right track, too, because everyone who has played the game has said “Yup, this feels exactly like Amplitude!”
Rashid K. Sayed: What changes have you implemented in your engine to support the new visual effects of the reboot?
Nick Chester: Higher resolution textures, more detailed models, we have some insane lighting effects that we’ll be adding that will really enhance the experience, as well. Furthermore, and this is just a result of how television aspect ratios have changed, we have a lot more room with widescreen displays now, which really helps in terms of playability.
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us before we let you go?
Nick Chester: The entire studio is really excited to be able to build and deliver a new Amplitude to fans. For years, we’ve always kicked around the idea to bring it back somehow, so we’re honored that we were given the opportunity by our fans. We can’t thank them enough for their support.