Post Script

EDGE - - PLAY -

“The thing I per­son­ally think helped the most is that we reg­u­larly showed peo­ple what we were up to”

Ryan Lesser, cre­ative lead on Am­pli­tude, has been at Har­monix for 16 years, and has been a part of ev­ery game it’s ever made. He was lead artist and art di­rec­tor on Fre­quency and the orig­i­nal Am­pli­tude.

Has an Am­pli­tude re­make been some­thing that Har­monix was think­ing about do­ing since 2003, or has it only re­cently be­come re­al­is­tic? Pretty much ev­ery year, some sub­set of us would talk about it be­ing a game we could bring back, but for a lot of rea­sons it was never the right time for it. But then over the past couple of years, as we started think­ing about build­ing games in dif­fer­ent ways and util­is­ing some of the new plat­forms, it started look­ing like a good fit. We wanted to try out crowdfunding, and on Kick­starter specif­i­cally. At the time, a few of us were sit­ting around talk­ing about what kind of games we could do, and we thought maybe we should bring back a game we’ve wanted to make for a while, so that it’s some­thing peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with in­stead of some­thing brand-new. That was funny be­cause at the same time you saw one or two other com­pa­nies come to the same re­al­i­sa­tion about Kick­starter. I cham­pi­oned Am­pli­tude, it took off, and the rest is history.

What is it that changed that’s al­lowed Am­pli­tude to come back now? A couple of things: the crowdfunding as­pect was a big part of it, but also, when Am­pli­tude orig­i­nally came out, the land­scape for mu­sic games was so dif­fer­ent. It was so early. Peo­ple hadn’t seen our in­ter­face – the three­beat in­ter­face with mu­sic rep­re­sented vis­ually, com­ing to­wards you. So when peo­ple were buy­ing the orig­i­nal game, or just look­ing at the box in game stores, it seemed pretty for­eign. A decade passes and peo­ple have be­come pretty ac­cus­tomed to our style of mu­sic game, through Gui­tar Hero, Rock Band and so on. We thought it was a good time to bring Am­pli­tude back, be­cause while it got really good re­views, it didn’t sell like hot­cakes. It be­came a cult hit, but it never really hit mass ap­peal. And a lot of us thought that it could, and it’s a shame that it never had the op­por­tu­nity.

So hav­ing trained the world in this sort of mu­sic in­ter­face, and now hav­ing a plat­form like Kick­starter where we could ba­si­cally see if peo­ple wanted to have this game be­fore we put any in­vest­ment into it, it just seemed like a smart time to bring it back. Its track record of not be­ing a mega suc­cess doesn’t really point to it as a game that the com­pany should re­make. What we wanted was the play­ers to tell us whether they wanted it or not. Kick­starter is a great way of do­ing that: if you don’t hit your fund­ing thresh­old, then peo­ple don’t want it. But luck­ily they did! Was it a chal­lenge to be ac­count­able to back­ers? Was it dif­fi­cult to keep them happy through the var­i­ous de­lays, or were they un­der­stand­ing? If it were just me, if I were a in­di­vid­ual, it would have been bru­tally dif­fi­cult, be­cause there was a lot of back and forth with the back­ers. But luck­ily, at the com­pany we have a sup­port func­tion, so we had peo­ple who were able to really cater to and take care of the back­ers. We re­ceived very lit­tle dis­sat­is­fac­tion for things like de­lays – I think peo­ple know we do our best to make great games and that it some­times takes longer than you orig­i­nally thought.

The thing I per­son­ally think helped the most, based on back­ers’ re­ac­tions, is that we reg­u­larly showed peo­ple what we were up to. It wasn’t like we dis­ap­peared and peo­ple had no idea whether we were making progress or not, or how the game was turn­ing out. We posted to Kick­starter very of­ten, even show­ing the most bro­ken, hor­ri­ble ver­sions of the game, even all the way back to when it was just flat poly­gons. And we played it with peo­ple at con­ven­tions, again really early on. The whole time, back­ers had an op­por­tu­nity to ei­ther play it them­selves or wit­ness through videos and blog posts that other peo­ple were play­ing it, and were dig­ging it, and we were making for­ward progress.

It’s a lit­tle nerve-wrack­ing be­cause even though we put our all into it and we’re hop­ing that this will be a big hit, it’s quite small on the scale of games that we would typ­i­cally put out in the past few years, and it’s go­ing to rely a lot on word of mouth and fan sup­port. It doesn’t have a mas­sive mar­ket­ing bud­get or any­thing like that. But we’re hop­ing that the game still ap­peals in the cult way and that it will take off.

Har­monix has been through a lot since 2003 – do you think the re­turn of Am­pli­tude brought it full cir­cle? It’s pretty wild, step­ping back and think­ing about it. I think we really feel that sense of a cy­cle be­cause so many peo­ple from the orig­i­nal game are work­ing on this one. That’s in­ten­tional. We put a call out to see if any­one wanted to help make Am­pli­tude and a lot of peo­ple stepped for­ward who were ac­tu­ally on the orig­i­nal projects. That’s a cool thing about Har­monix – a lot of peo­ple have been here for five, ten, 15 years. It’s pretty un­usual to have so many peo­ple around for so long. It was very cool for Am­pli­tude: the au­dio lead was on the orig­i­nal one, I was on the orig­i­nal one, and so was the de­vel­op­ment lead. So we were able to re­boot this game with ac­tual ex­pe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge, in­stead of a brand-new team com­ing in and try­ing to make the game from scratch. We knew what was good and bad about the old one, so we could keep the good and shed the bad – which is, I think, ex­actly what we did.

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