Harmonix Music VR is Like a Pulse Pounding Tour of the Insides of a Jukebox
Harmonix has always been one of my favorite companies. Since the original Rock Band, I have been a strong believer in what Harmonix was, and what they did. I have since kept up playing the majority of their library. With that in mind, I had Harmonix on my list of “must see” booths while at PAX East 2016 once I found out Harmonix Music VR, the latest music game coming exclusively to the PSVR, would be playable.
The established connection between music and games was breathtaking. One one side they had Amplitude set up on PlayStation kiosks, a huge stage dedicated to Rock Band 4 players, and then Music VR in the back on a PS4 and PSVR. I got set up on Music VR in their dedicated press room by Darren Williams, Harmonix’ Vice President of Marketing.
I slipped the PSVR headset on, adjusted the straps, was handed my controllers, and then was talked through the basic set up of the headset. I noticed it was definitely comfortable and didn’t feel too heavy that I had to hold it up. I immediately was used to the controllers being in my hands. Soon I noticed that I was immersed into the Music VR home demo screen. I was handed headphones so I could hear the game and that was when I really felt like I was “jacked-in”. I could hear the bass beating in my ears from Survivor’s Eye of The Tiger behind me, but in front of me was this world of dancing music. There were lines approaching me, but in the pattern of each note. My eyes darted up and it felt like I was in a tunnel of music.
One of the developers who was working on the booth tapped me on the shoulder and explained how the game worked. The trigger allowed me to draw while the middle button was my pallet. It ranged from different shapes, colors, and density. Everything was different from each other, everything was unique. I picked my song, and I decided to go with Eye of the Tiger since it felt right.
I then started flicking my wrists around and soon saw the world explode around me. Out flew a blue, spiked pattern but moved to the beat. I soon had a big smile on my face and let out a giggle. Williams laughed behind me and gave me a few tips. If I picked certain different patterns at the same time, then they would interact together, or if I drew a circle then something else would happen. The way I moved and interacted with the music impacted how the music interacted with me, creating a symbiotic relationship with the visuals and the sound all at once. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen in VR to date. The world was literally my music canvas. Everything around me looked like the scariest roller coaster design, but hearing it made everything different.
My time was soon up as the song closed and I had a huge smile on my face. Not only was my time with the PSVR itself fun, but Music VR absolutely blew my expectations out of the water. I immediately asked Williams where the idea for the game came from and he explained that, “Harmonix was created on the simple concept of ‘music’.” That one sentence pieced it together in my head. Virtual reality can bring simple concepts to life, so starting with something as basic as “music” for a game idea makes sense. VR is new ground for a lot of developers, but that also leaves a lot of open ground to discover.
Williams explained that a small team was created at Harmonix, fluctuating in size depending on tasks, for about “nine to ten months, give or take” to create Music VR. For as young as VR is, and how small of a team it took, I was impressed. Along with everything that I was shown, Williams also explained that there was still much to come as Music VR in this current state is far from a finished product.
I would not categorize Music VR as a game, but more as an interactive experience. Since Harmonix would be releasing Music VR as an ‘app’, which allows them to bring their work to any virtual reality hardware later down the line, it really defies a lot of expectations. Music VR joins The Wave in the recent onslaught of breathtaking VR music games.
Article contributed by Amanda Zelauskas. Amanda is a freelance writer covering video games for various publications. You can follow her on Twitter: @Pandaax92.