Dance Central 3 “raises the bar for dance gaming”
Harmonix’s Matt Boch on the moves that will make Dance Central 3 the best Kinect game yet
How are you able to get the best out of Kinect when so many other developers seem to struggle with it?
When you’re inventing brand new ways to interact, there’s a delicate balance between meeting users’ expectations and creating the best interaction possible. We get the best out of Kinect by walking that line: meeting expectations with features like voice commands in Rehearse mode, while refusing to ‘avateer’ or marionette our characters, despite expectations, because it made for a worse gameplay experience. We always address the device on its own terms and refuse to resign ourselves to mediocrity.
Of course, a dance game is a natural fit for body-tracking like Kinect, but there are plenty of other dance games without the rigor behind their detection that Dance Central is known for. That doesn’t come for free; we’ve spent years perfecting our technology and we scrapped countless solutions before we arrived at something we were satisfied with. I think that’s key: we have an open-minded team that is willing to consistently revise our designs and detection based on testing and feedback. We watch people play our game, and ask ourselves, ‘How can we make this more fun?’ and ‘What’s preventing the player from enjoying the game?’
During the development of Dance Central 3, we put our new mini-modes through tons of testing and iteration before we were satisfied with how they played. ‘Make Your Move’ and ‘Keep the Beat’ both feature brand new types of detection: detection built on the fly and rhythm detection. These new technologies were stress-tested by our Playtest and User Experience teams, in addition to our design and QA teams. Everyone working on these modes consistently watched videos of play sessions, developed opinions on what was working, and then made appropriate changes to the modes, taking them from ‘just OK’ to ‘ridiculously fun’.
What kind of considerations have you had to take with the learning curve and complexity of dance moves in the Dance Central series?
When we began development on Dance Central, we definitely started with a high bar. The first couple routines we developed were among the hardest on disc, so much of our early process was scaling back difficulty to find a solid starting point. Through various attempts at easy routines, we learned a lot about what novice dancers are comfortable with, and how best to introduce new types of moves. For example, the first song in Dance Central, Poker Face, starts with a side-to-side step, then after four repetitions of that move, adds arms. This type of escalating complexity, with a specific number of repetitions, made the choreography immediately more accessible.
Will the moves in Dance Central 3 be more complex than what we’ve seen before?
We had the incredible opportunity to work with Usher on exclusive choreography that raises the bar for dance gaming; they’re among the hardest levels in any video game! That said, Easy is still easy, and our new Beginner difficulty ensures inexperienced dancers can play every song ever released for Dance Central, not just the first tier routines like Poker Face or Sandstorm.
Are players becoming better dancers?
Definitely! We see more and more players moving from Easy to Medium or from Medium to Hard every day. Our YouTube fans’ videos are also amazing demonstrations of how much Dance Central fans are levelling up their skills. It’s inspiring to compare videos from two years ago to the most recent uploads, and see how much our daily players have improved.
Why did you decide to explore older songs and dance moves?
We wanted to draw from the rich history of dance culture, and show some of the roots of Dance Central’s contemporary choreography. We also knew that these classic routines like the Hustle or the Electric Slide, are still alive and well and being performed and weddings, school dances, etc., and we wanted to give players a way to learn those dances in their living rooms, then bring them to the dance floor.
How are you realising each unique decade in-game?
Each decade has a location that reflects the dance culture of that era. In the 70s, we have a Roller Rink for a classic disco feel, while in the 00s we have a Dance TV show set. We also reflect the fashions of the era in the dancers’ outfits. Our art team did a huge amount of research, looking through old catalogues, photographs, etc., to ensure that every element of the locales and outfits feels authentically rooted in a particular decade.
How are you ensuring Dance Central 3 feels like a sequel and not just an additional track list on a disc?
Dance Central 3 is far from an expansion pack; if that’s all we wanted to do, we could just release DLC. We’ve been working like crazy over the past year to make sure Dance Central 3 brings many new experiences to the table. There’s a crazy and amazing campaign about time travel and dance crimes that brings players back (or introduces them to) authentic, classic choreography from the 70s through the 00s, including dance crazes like The Hustle, The Dougie, and The Electric Slide. There’s a renewed focus on accessibility: from a new difficulty, Beginner, that allows less experienced dancers jump in an play any song, to brand-new party modes that can be started with a gesture as simple as a high-five. Party modes with brand-new gameplay, including modes where you can challenge friends to dance your moves!
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