Amplitude Interview—Kickstarting a New Generation of Music Gaming

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Now that Harmonix has their ambitious revival of Amplitude up on Kickstarter, I just had to snag one of their staff and badger them with some questions regarding the project, and how it’s coming along.

Despite how busy the guys at their independent studio are these days, Nick Chester, the publicist on their team, thankfully obliged and gave me some time to throw some questions at him.

Niche Gamer: First of all, I’d like to thank you guys so much for giving us the time to ask you a bunch of questions regarding your Kickstarter for Amplitude. I’m a huge fan of the original on PlayStation 2, it easily set the groundwork for my love of music/rhythm games that continues today.

For our readers and for your fans that might not of heard about or played Amplitude back in the PlayStation 2 era, can you briefly describe what the game was about, and what made it so special?

nick chester 05-18-14-1Nick Chester: This predates our work on the title, but imagine Rock Band style beatmatch lanes, but you’re hitting the notes using a controller. As a player, your goal is to build the music, starting from nothing, and “locking in” tracks by hitting notes. Gameplay at its highest level is super frenetic, and at its best it puts you in this sort of trance-like  flow mode where you’re one with the music and the game. There’s really nothing else like it, before or since.

So why attempt to revive the series on Kickstarter? You guys talked a bit about it in your pitch video, but I’m curious if you could elaborate a bit further.

Amplitude was a bit of a cult classic, really well-received by fans and reviewers. But those who actually played it weren’t huge in numbers. It’s certainly a bit of a niche title, or at least it was at the time. But we’ve been hearing from folks for years that they’ve wanted a follow up or a new version, and it’s certainly something we’ve wanted to revisit for a long, long time. Kickstarter seemed like a great way to not only gauge interest in a revival, but to minimize risk on what is—let’s be frank—a bit of a risky game to make, despite there being a vocal, passionate fan base.

What made you guys make the decision to publish both FreQuency and Amplitude under Sony? Was it an internal decision or was it a project commissioned by Sony?

The original games were concepts we had and pitched to Sony, who were nice enough to take meetings from a completely unknown developer at the time. In fact, studio co-founder Alex Rigopulos tells a story of him cold-calling Sony Computer Entertainment, and (accidentally?) getting patched through to Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida, who was nice enough to hear him out, take a meeting, and then actually give FreQuency—a pretty wild idea at the time—a chance.

How much demand has there been from your fans for a reboot or sequel to Amplitude

Hard to put a number on this, but it comes up a lot. Over the past few years, it’s been put in the “DO THIS PLEASE! I know it’s never going to happen, but OH MAN!” category for a lot of our fans. I think we shocked a lot of folks when we announced the Kickstarter.

Do you guys feel like there’s a risk in trying to revive what was essentially a cult classic, let alone a PlayStation exclusive (as far as funding goes)?

Absolutely. We didn’t think it was going to be easy, and didn’t think it was a sure thing by any stretch. But we’re so passionate about making this a reality that we just had to try.

Coming from this, are you worried that your other current projects will overshadow the Amplitude project?

I don’t think so. I think there’s still a big audience for music games of all types, and Amplitude is really nothing like Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved or Record Run. Anyone can play and have fun with Amplitude, we think, but it’s really more of a core rhythm-gaming experience than either of those other games.

How many staff will be working on Amplitude?

Somewhere between 25-30 folks.

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Being that Niche Gamer is based out of Philly, I have to ask—is it challenging being an east coast studio? Is most of the work done in house, or do you guys hire some outsource/contract folk?

We’ve been doing it for years, so we’ve gotten used to it! But we have worked with folks on the other coast, most recently SuperVillain on Record Run, and before that Backbone on Dance Central 3. We do, however, do the bulk of the work in-house and rely on great outsource partners to pull help us round out the production.

How robust will the soundtrack be in the new iteration of Amplitude? Will there be a pretty wide range of songs to blast through?

For the core game, we’re looking at around 20 or so tracks. This is not the full-priced disc title the original game was; we’re looking at $20 for a digital version on PlayStation Network, cross-buy for PS4 and PS3. But we now have this opportunity to add tracks post release and via download, so that’s really exciting for us.

You mentioned that the backers/fans will have some input on the soundtrack if they pledge to the appropriate reward tier. Is there a possibility that you might do something similar for the core lineup further into development?

Anything is possible, but the most powerful voices will obviously be those who funded that tier. There are cool ways we can get the community involved outside of the backers, but we gotta show them some love first for their support in the project!

Are you guys planning on adding new gameplay elements into the reboot?

Not at the time, no. The idea has always been to maintain the same great core experience as the original. We think that turned out really well and that’s what people want, so there’s no need to really muck with that formula.

Can you talk about any added extras within the game that might be planned, like unlockable artwork, dev diaries, and so on?

No plans right now. Most of that stuff will likely live outside the game. I actually think that stuff is a nice extra for the disc and have always been one of those folks who tried to unlock everything back in the day. But to be frank, it can be costly to get that stuff in the game (in terms of budget and download size!), and with so many online resources, it’s actually easier to deliver it directly to folks online. But we’ll see!

A word on the difficulty—you mention that it will be “Dark Souls hard,” that’s a pretty tall order. How are you guys working to pursue that level of difficulty?

The focus to start is on building original music that matches great gameplay. And by doing that, we can make sure that our musicians and music collaborators are creating awesome tunes that lend itself to awesome moment-to-moment gameplay that will work for not only new or casual players, but the hardest of hardcore. We have some tricks up our sleeves!

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I know it may be too soon to ask, but how far along is production for Amplitude? Are you guys in pre-production, pending the Kickstarter’s funding?

Yeah, we’ve been in pre-production for a few months, building a production plan so we’re confident we can pull the game off at our expected budget, and then building out art assets and other things like that. We’ve also been doing work on our engine to make sure we’re ready to bring the game to current-gen platforms. If funded, we’ll launch right into full production of Amplitude without missing a beat.

We’re huge fans of the Vita here at Niche Gamer—I know you guys have a stretch goal planned for a Vita version, should the game be funded but it falls short of the Vita goal, is there a possibility it could still happen later?

I commute on public transportation into the studio and I travel a lot, so I love the Vita. A lot. We’d love to see Amplitude on the Vita, but it’s not currently in our core plans for the title. Of course, that could change, but let’s just say it’s not an inexpensive proposition porting a game like Amplitude to the portable. Never say never, though, of course!

I see that you guys are planning to offer the game up as a cross-buy title, are you also looking into other PlayStation savvy features, like the touchpad on the Dualshock 4? The lightbar? Remote play on Vita? A platinum trophy?

Oh yeah, absolutely. We’re not committing to all of that stuff, but I know we’ve been kicking around some cool ideas to utilize PS4 specific features like the ones you’ve mentioned, in addition to things like the DualShock4  speaker and stuff. Nothing set in stone, but we’re into all of that stuff.

If the game is funded and proves to be a success, is there a chance that you guys would be looking towards supporting the game later with DLC, or even a true sequel?

Yes! Of course, if the Kickstarter is successful and we launch to even great success, we’d be thrilled. We don’t have any expectations that that will happen, though—we just want to make an awesome game first, then we’ll see what happens.

This may be a bit random but is there any possibility you may bundle the original with the new game, or look into releasing the original as a PS2 classic?

No plans, unfortunately. There are a whole slew of reasons why that might not work, the most obvious one coming to mind is that playing  the original Amplitude on anything but a CRT television can be … challenging. Syncing sound and visuals is essential to the gameplay, and the game was not tuned to work with HDTVs.

Try plugging in a PS2 into your television and playing Amplitude and you’re going to notice some lag, and we don’t offer any sort of in-game calibration. When we launched pre-production on the new game, the first thing we did was get a CRTV off of Craiglists so we could bone-up on our Amplitude. The thing weighs like 4000-pounds!

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Lastly, do you guys have anything to say to your potential backers, your fans, and those who have already pledged?

Well, to those who have backed us, this is obvious: THANK YOU. We’re excited and committed to delivering a killer version of Amplitude for current generation consoles. We won’t let you down.

Again thank you guys so much for giving us this time, and this opportunity to cover your excellent looking Kickstarter even further. We sincerely hope it succeeds, and we’ll be covering it every step of the way!

If you want to pledge to Amplitude, head on over to their Kickstarter campaign. They only have four days left, and they’re almost 50% percent of the way to their goal of $775,000 dollars.

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Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. Pronouns: Patriarch, Guido, Olive, Catholic