Games and Interaction design

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Josh Randall Keynote @ Cybersonica

On Friday I was fortunate enough to have the apparently to meet Josh Randall, the creative director of Harmonix, as we were doing an interview for PlayStation.com as well as covering the keynote he gave for the first day of the Cybersonica festival.

In both the interview and keynote (entitled "Interactive Music for the Masses"), Josh detailed the background of Harmonix from its inception in the 90s - a venture from two graduates of MIT Media Lab - right up to the forthcoming release of Guitar Hero 2 . Its fascinating to see how the original vision - to develop ways for people with no musical training to create and interact with music - has been fulfilled and how the methods implemented to facilitate this vision have been refined over time. The first product that Harmonix created was "The Axe", a piece of software for the PC that allowed the user to create and improvise music using the mouse or joystick. This was followed by a modified version of the same software, combined with infra-red motion detection, for an installation based at Disney's retro-modern (and butt of several Simpsons jokes) Epcot Centre. Upon realising the potential for the widespread and familiar console controller to become a musical instrument, Harmonix's exposure really grew after SCEA saw an early prototype and snapped up what became Frequency, published in 2001. By scaling down the freeform nature of The Axe, and giving people a more directed sonic playpen, it made the software more accessible and suitable for mass market. While Frequency and its sequel Amplitude (I remember doing an online promotional sound sequencer toy for this while at randommedia a couple of years ago) were critically praised, they didn't sell in huge numbers, and it wasn't until they worked on Karaoke Revolution for Konami that their real break came in terms of sales. Karaoke Revolution's development and subsequent success demonstrated to the team the significance of the player's performance as an essential piece of the interactive music experience, and this is something that they have capitalised on, combining with their previous experience on Frequency/Amplitude to create the much adored Guitar Hero. Just check out some of the links on youtube to see how people have adopted the performance aspect of the game.

Its great to see people like Josh in the industry as the enthusiasm he has for his work (and for the culture surrounding interactive music) is infectious and the perfect antidote for the cynicism that can cloud the interactive entertainment industry at times.

The interview with Josh should be online on PlayStation.com over the next few days. In the meantime you can read an online feature on Harmonix here or more on the festival here.

Thanks to Chris for hooking us up with the interview and press passes - congrats on such an interesting conference.


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