Between 2000 and 2002 Intelligent Games developed a few games such as Tweenies: Game Time, LEGO Stunt Rally and 2002 FIFA World Cup for Playstation 2, GameCube and Xbox. Before to close down in December 2002 they were working on “BPM: Ministry of Sound” for PS2, a music-tool to be published under Ministry of Sound brand.
Using the same 3D engine the team also worked for just a few days on an prototype for an action platformer inspired by Jak and Daxter. It was just a way to test their engine to see if it could have been used to create another kind of game other than a music-tool.
In this action-platformer prototype there was a bunny-alike character which could run around the small world and a few NPCs to look at. Not much more was ever done on the prototype and was soon put away before the closure of the company.
If we reminisce about the popularity musical games enjoyed roughly ten years ago, we cannot stress enough the role of Massachusets-based developer Harmonix Music Systems, creators of the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. Of course, for those who have been in the videogame scene for some time, it is well known that other studios had delved in the music genre long before them. However, we cannot deny that Harmonix and by extension their distributors, first Red Octane and shortly afterwards Activision, were the first ones to appeal the interest of the US and European mass markets by filling up their titles with a wide selection of mainstream rock and pop music tracks. Where Konami’s Guitar Freaks had always remained a niche title, Harmonix established a new franchise that attracted both seasoned and casual players alike with its simple, yet progressively deep and challenging gameplay, greatly cementing videogames as a social experience to be enjoyed with groups of friends.
Harmonix’s existence has been closely tied to music and rhythm games and even after the hype surrounding Guitar Hero – not anymore in Harmonix’s hands after three titles – and Rock Band faded away, the developer kept experimenting with the concept of music applied to other genres. Given the massive popularity of the first person shooting genre, it must have been a quite logical leap to combine both concepts, giving birth to the initial idea of Chroma.
First announced on the seventeenth of February 2014, Chroma constituted a collaboration between two developer teams: Harmonix itself, bringing their expertise in musical games and Hidden Path Entertainment, known for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Defense Grid: The Awakening among others. Chroma was simply put, an on-line Arena FPS that heavily relied on music and rhythm as an integral part of the experience. Harmonix co-founder and CEO Alex Rigopulos declared upon Chroma’s announcement that it had been “a dream project (…) for some time”.
The game was first launched at the end of February of the same year on PC via Valve’s Steam platform as a closed Alpha available on a limited basis to those who had requested an access code. This early Alpha included a two-part tutorial and an on-line Deathmatch, with the latter not playable anymore as its servers have been taken off-line. The game’s aesthetics evoke a futuristic virtual world, with vivid plain colors, neon lights and techno music, which easily remind of either Tron or SEGA’s Rez, another title that, while being a one-player on-rails experience, also fused shooting and music.
A newbie in Chroma would probably jump straight into the training mode upon launching the game for the first time. This tutorial covers the somehow familiar but also unusual gameplay and it immediately introduces the concept of the metronome, represented as an on-screen bar that signals the music beats. The metronome offers an essential help to the player, since most of Chroma’s controls are influenced by the music beats. A robotic narrator simulating an AI guides the player through all the available actions, which include jumping, fast traveling between portals, shooting and reloading. All those revolve around the concept of rhythm and reward the player for triggering the actions in sync with the music.
The second part of the training introduces the different classes and their weapons. Chroma has five classes with different gameplay possibilities:
Assault. Equipped with a submachine gun and a grenade launcher, the Assault class provides good offensive capabilities, specially with delayed grenade detonation by using the music beats to its own advantage.
Engineer. Relies on a set dual pistols (which display an additional HUD that will be familiar to Guitar Hero players and indicates whether to shoot the left or the right hand pistol) and a shotgun. The Engineer also offers some additional strategical possibilities by deployment of sentinel turrets.
Sneak. Combines the stealth granted by a sniper rifle with the power of the “Streak Pistol”, whose damage multiplier gets increased by successfully syncing the shoots with the beats.
Support. As its name implies, this class has limited damaging abilities but it can heal other players and deploy “healing stations”, that can also be targeted and destroyed if considered a menace.
Tank. The heavy hitter of the bunch. It uses a rocket launcher, whose projectiles can become heat-seeking at any time after firing by mouse-clicking on the beat, and a shotgun that can be used as a melee weapon as well.
Chroma offered an innovative approach to a genre that has dominated the videogame scene for some years and while many players appreciated Harmonix’s ambition of expanding music games into new horizons, the general consensus regarding the closed Alpha was quite mixed. Some players described the connection between music and shooting as clunky and uninteresting, adding little to none to the overall enjoyment of the game and even making it a tad frustrating, as for instance some weapons could only be shot at a very specific instant marked by the musical beats.
Beyond personal tastes, the concept behind Chroma seemed to need much more than debugging and rather was relying on core mechanics that were not working that well. Probably aware of this, Harmonix shut down the closed Alpha just a few months after its initial launch, in June 2014. The developer sent a communication to all players appreciating the extensive feedback received and announcing that the title would, in their own words “need some substantial retooling to be the game we want it to be”. They even claimed that “the team has, in fact, already started prototyping new directions for the game based on those successful mechanics.” Promising as this might have sounded, this was the last time players heard of the ill-fated Arena FPS and the lack of subsequent information could only point out to a permanent cancellation.
Involved with different publishers and franchises after their time with Activision had come to an end, it is not like Harmonix put all its eggs in one basket, so even with Chroma canned, they still released other entries of their Dance Central series and one year later players would see another landmark release: the fourth entry in the Rock Band series, attempting a comeback of the music genre and ultimately underperforming in terms of sales. This hinted a general decline of interest in what once was a beloved genre that provided huge amounts of revenue to those who had bet on it at the right time.
Mega Star is a cancelled music game that was being developed by EA Montreal in late 2009 with a release being targeted for the following year exclusively on Nintendo Wii. It was in the works for approximately two months, never advancing past the pre-production phase of development.
The logo and mock-up for MegaStar’s title screen.
According to an artist who worked on the game, it was being prepared as EA’s response to Just Dance, which launched in November, 2009. The Montreal team had previously worked on other music titles, such the Boogie games, but Mega Star was being pitched as a much more direct competitor. It was planned to have had similar Wii motion dancing mechanics to Ubisoft’s game, but would have added its own twist in the form of a singing component via a USB microphone, similar to that of Boogie.
Up to 4 people would have been able to play together locally with any combination of the two gameplay types (karaoke and dancing) simultaneously. Its setlist would have been mostly comprised of rock/pop music. Some of the examples given in EA’s user interface mock-ups include artists, Fergie and Avril Lavigne. Although these were merely for conceptual purposes, these were selected purposefully to convey the theme of the game to EA’s management. There was also plans to feature customisable avatars for players, similar to Miis.
User interface concept art/mock-ups:
MegaStar had a brief life span in development and was ultimately cancelled in mid November, 2009. After the success of EA’s Wii titles began to dwindle, EA Montreal was subject to a complete studio refocus. Games that the developers at Montreal had worked on included Spore Hero and Skate It; both of which received a lukewarm to negative critical reception and failed to meet sales projections. The company’s general manager, Alain Tuscan blamed the “unpredictable” climate of the Wii’s market and shifted the company into focusing solely on HD platforms.
DJ Hero: After Party is a cancelled spin-off to the original DJ Hero game, which was briefly being worked on by Zoë Mode, the UK based subsidiary of Kuju Entertainment, for Activision in 2009. It was proposed as a game for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii.
Another Spin On DJ Hero
As FreeStyleGames was in the final stages of developing the first DJ Hero, Zoë Mode set a team of artists on formulating ideas for a spin-off game to it in July 2009. The developer had, in the recent past, created other such music games as Rock Revolution and Disney: Sing It! when the project began.
Leading Light, the design studio of Christian Bravery, was contracted to help make concept art for the company, as the vision behind game was steadily being realised. Together, they imagined an alternative approach to the formula of DJ Hero, one developer explained.
“It would have had a very different vibe to it than the other games. We wanted it to have its own personality and feel. More relaxed and laid back.”
DJ: After Party would have made for a more casual-friendly approach to the series. Another developer described the possibility of it being made up of “slower, more up beat” tracks, although work on the title never got as far as assembling a set list.
The general idea behind it was that most of the show venues, as you might imagine, were after parties. Leading Light and the developers put together images of some of the events, which included celebrity wedding receptions, boat parties and a private luxury island.
Activision allowed the developer to use the DJ Hero license in developing conceptual documents and a prototype demo for their potential spin-off, as well as the opportunity to present a proposal to their management. Zoë Mode ended up working on the concept for a few months before Activision ultimately decided against pursuing the project, rejecting the pitch in October 2009; the month of DJ Hero’s first release.
According to one artist, the concepts were, however, retained by Activision and some of their ideas were later used in DJ Hero 2.
When Sega presented their quirky Activator add-on controller, they shown two games meant to be pack-in for the peripheral. One was Bounty Hunter while the other was an air drum simulation called, guess what, Air Drums. Both games however were cancelled.