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Dance Central


Dance Central character sketchbook: A robot, a ninja

Mar 30
// Nick Chester
[Recently, Dance Central developer Harmonix Music Systems was cool enough to give us a sneak peek behind the curtain of its artist’s workshop. Over the course of the past few weeks, we've been taking a closer look at th...

Dance Central character sketchbook: Oblio and Dare

Mar 16
// Nick Chester
[Recently, Dance Central developer Harmonix Music Systems was cool enough to give us a sneak peek behind the curtain of its artist’s workshop. In the coming weeks, we’ll be getting a closer look at the game&r...

Dance Central DLC: Fatboy Slim, Paula Abdul, more

Mar 14
// Nick Chester
If you're lost in a dream and don't know which way to go, a good start might be downloading tomorrow's new Dance Central downloadable content. Fatboy Slim - "Weapon of Choice" Gwen Stefani - "Hollaback Girl" Keri Hilson - "T...

Dance Central character sketchbook: MacCoy and Taye

Mar 02 // Nick Chester
MacCoy’s slightly odd look falls right in with the design team’s notion of there not being one "look" for dancers; diversity in aesthetic is as important as the moves and dance moves found in the game. The clean, almost preppy outfits of MacCoy drive home that there’s not one style that defines dance or hip-hop. While not as creepy as Perlot may have originally visualized, there’s still something completely unique about MacCoy’s design: “He’s got a strangeness to his style, for sure,” the lead character designer adds. Taye -- Dance Central’s resident homegirl, with her name emblazoned on her golden earrings and belt buckle -- in tap shoes? It almost happened. Early on, the designers considered putting tap shoes on her feet, “as if her mom made her take lessons.” Another early option: a bulky letterman’s jacket. “I had envisioned her as like a very early high school-aged girl,” explains Perlot. “I drew her with an oversized letterman’s jacket, as if she had borrowed it from her boyfriend.” But as the team polished Taye’s design, the tap shoes were replaced with more urban kicks, and the letterman’s jacket tossed for a tighter garment that seemed to better fit the character’s personality. “She’s got her own style, and is very much her own person,” says Perlot, although when it came to her sound, Senior Writer Hellen McWilliams heard a familiar voice: Missy Elliot. “I actually really wanted her to have this smooth, laid-back voice,” recalls McWilliams. But when the team started mingling with one of the game’s choreographers, Chanel Thompson, her big personality seemed like a more appropriate for the evolving Taye. When it came to casting, the directive was clear: find an actor that reminded them of the spirited choreographer. [For even more details on MacCoy and Taye, be sure to check out Harmonix’s official Dance Central blog later this week.] Previously: Dance Central character sketchbook: Mo and Amelia Dance Central character sketchbook: Angel and Aubrey

[Recently, Dance Central developer Harmonix Music Systems was cool enough to give us a sneak peek behind the curtain of its artist’s workshop. In the coming weeks, we’ll be getting a closer look at the game&rsq...

Alex Rigopulos talks Harmonix's past, present, and future

Feb 28 // Nick Chester
Destructoid: So there have been some pretty big changes at Harmonix -- not just over the past month, but I think over the past year -- the most recent being the split from Viacom and the eventual closure of MTV Games. Had you seen this coming? This wasn’t a shock, was it? Alex Rigopulos, CEO of Harmonix Music Systems: It was not a shock. I think that Viacom had been weighing [options] in the videogame space for some time in dialogue with Harmonix and whatnot. So this was a conclusion that I think they came to after some analysis and contemplation. No, it was not a shock. Had you been doing anything to sort of prepare for that split? Well... I’m not really sure how to answer that question. I mean, Harmonix as a studio has been for the most part, I mean, making the games. So we’ve been hard at work building the games for the holiday season and as soon as we were done with our games for the holiday season we rolled immediately onto the next set of projects. So, you know, for us there were a lot of almost back-office considerations in terms of, like, management and [things] which had to be attended to, which are a challenge in any transition. But in terms of most of the studio operations of making games, a big part of my job is in trying to keep those [operations] largely intact and unaffected by the transition. Back in 2006, when Harmonix was purchased by MTV Networks, what were you hoping to gain from that partnership, both business-wise and creatively? And looking back on it, now that it's over, did that go how you expected it to? Well, yeah, I think that one of the things that lured us to Viacom and MTV Networks in the first place -- as opposed to, say, a traditional game publisher -- is that they seemed to get what we were trying to do from the point of view of not just videogames, but for music entertainment. And our hope was that they could bring a lot of resources and relationships to bear, particularly in the domain of the music industry and those relationships, to help us accomplish what it was that we wanted to. I think in that regard, the relationship absolutely was what I hoped it would be, in that MTV was instrumental in laying the foundation for Harmonix's partnerships in the music industry that I think were critical for what we were trying to accomplish with Rock Band in the last several years. You know, a great example, The Beatles: Rock Band, which was an amazing project that I think would have been impossible -- it never would have happened -- if Harmonix would have tried to make that happen as an independent studio. It was really in large part the MTV relationship that brought that together. So looking forward, now that you don't have that relationship with MTV, are you concerned with those sort of partnerships and licensing concerns with musicians going forward?I'm not, actually. Because if you rewind the clock four or five years to the time when they acquired us, at that point, the music game phenomenon had not yet happened in the [United States]. So back at that point, 2005, it was actually hard to get record labels or music publishers to even return our phone calls. So MTV was hugely helpful in building those bridges over the subsequent couple of years. But at this point, videogames have blossomed into a significant new profit center for our music partners -- for record labels and music publishers -- and so now, after what's transpired over the past several years, Harmonix does have the relationships and the standing with these parties to continue to conduct our business. Do you find it's almost sort of like when artists launch their career or even a new album, it's just something they do, trying to get their music into the game? They want to be on iTunes, they want to get radio play, they want their shirts in Hot Topic, they want their tracks in Rock Band. Yup. Yeah, certainly yeah. We're at the point now where we get constant interest in recording artists who either want to be in one of our games, either Rock Band or Dance Central, or they have ideas about collaborations. I mean, now it's as much an inbound dialogue with the recording artists. You don't see that cooling off at all, especially considering the "gloom and doom" surrounding the music or band game genre? People aren't wary about partnerships now? No, not in the least. I think there's as much enthusiasm as there ever has been from the artists community to get in games. Because I think, as you pointed out earlier, most artists recognize that videogames are a vitally important medium in which they can reach their fans and get their music to their fans in new ways. And it's also not just about reaching their fans, it's also an important business opportunity. So Harmonix has "owners," but is considered independent now. Is that the best way to look at it? Yeah, we're an independent studio again, yup. What does that mean for you creatively, in terms of studio growth, now that you're on your own? Well, first of all, it feels great. It's a really exciting time at Harmonix; it's a new beginning for us, and people are very excited about the opportunities that that affords. Creatively, actually there's not much that much of a difference versus where we were previously with MTV and Viacom. You know, Viacom's an actually incredibly supportive parent company and gave us the creative freedom to pursue more or less whatever it was that we wanted to pursue. So there aren't creative constraints that have now been lifted. There are other kinds of factors. As with, not Viacom in particular, with any large company there were all of these other considerations. You know, bureaucratic considerations or political considerations or systemic considerations that tend to slow down action and decision-making, again by the nature of large companies. Again, a lot of those factors really just disappear when you're a small studio that can make decisions; you can act very quickly and nimbly. That freedom of action and that feeling of being in command of one's own destiny again is actually a very exhilarating feeling for the staff here at Harmonix. Talking to folks at Harmonix over the years, I've always gotten the sense that you've been an indie spirit anyhow, even with Viacom. The way you put it, that kind of spirit never went anywhere. But there has to be a great feeling, sort of like the corporate-overlord pressure has been lifted off your shoulders. Does that change the culture at all? Was there a big celebration? [Laughs] I wouldn't say that exactly. Certainly, I mean, for 95% of the staff at the studio, their connection to the mothership was actually minimal. They were actually focused on making games all day, every day. But for those people at the studio who were involved with interfacing with the mothership, [they were] sort of dealing with the aspects that all big companies have. So I think that for some of those folks, definitely there's a great feeling of relief at being able to make decisions and being able to have that freedom, as I said. But for the most part, I think we did a great job over the last four years of preserving that, as you said, "indie spirit" while being a division of a really large company. So are gamers going to notice any change? Well I guess what I will say -- and this is something that really has nothing to do with the split from Viacom and MTV, and everything to do with this moment in time at Harmonix -- right now, the environment here at Harmonix is really a kind of cauldron of creativity. There's a ton of creative engagement and creative excitement around a number of things. First of all, I'd like to talk a little bit about Rock Band. You know, we continue to be fully supportive of Rock Band 3; we think there's a ton of potential left in the title. It's a gigantic title with a lot of opportunity. There are tons of people still playing Rock Band 2 that haven't tried Rock Band 3 yet, and we're excited about that opportunity. Following the news of the future of Guitar Hero recently, we think there are also a lot of devoted Guitar Hero fans -- who have probably never given Rock Band a try -- who actually have a delight coming [to them] when they try Rock Band 3 for the first time. We think that the [potential of] Pro functionality in Rock Band 3 has not yet been fully tapped. And you know, the Squier Stratocaster Pro from Fender is actually shipping [this] week, which we're incredibly excited about. There's also a ton of amazing music content that still has not yet made its way onto the platform that we're still actively pursuing and continuing to bring on to the platform. So as a first point, we continue to be very much devoted to Rock Band 3 as a platform and continuing to nurture and cultivate that over the course of the year. As a second point, and of greater creative interest, I think that the contraction that's taken place in the band game category -- and people often equate music games with band games, which is something I'll come back to -- the contraction that has taken place, in our point of view, really provoked us to think about how to reinvent this category, in particular the Rock Band franchise. And you know, the marketplace is clearly demanding something very new. It's clearly demanding a dramatic evolution of the Rock Band franchise, I think, and I think that's actually exciting for us. That's a demand we welcome with great enthusiasm, and there's a lot of creativity here at Harmonix being devoted to a reinvention and refactoring of the Rock Band franchise for the future, beyond Rock Band 3. So that's one big bucket worth touching on. The third, of course, is Dance Central, which has been tremendously successful for us out of the gate at retail. We're very excited about Dance Central, and the creative opportunity that that franchise affords. The idea of millions of people dancing with our game [who] otherwise wouldn't be dancing is incredibly gratifying for us. So obviously, a lot of our creative attention is being devoted to the future of Dance Central as well. And then finally, it's just worth pointing out that we have a ton of new game concepts in development, as well. Our new owners are actually being incredibly supportive in that regard, in terms of of new creative development and new IP cultivation, and we have a lot of very cool new ideas in the works right now, looking out beyond both Rock Band and Dance Central. Going back to the whole sort of death of Guitar Hero, at least for the foreseeable future: You talked a little bit about reaching out to Guitar Hero fans this year. How do you plan on doing something like that, pulling in these new untapped users this year? Well, a number of different ways. Ultimately, it's a communications burden. Particularly if you're dealing with users who have been kind of habituated into another product franchise over a number of years, you know it's incumbent upon us to reach them through various communication channels and let them know that Rock Band 3 is worth giving a try to. I think we have such a compelling offering -- and not just in terms of functionality, but this insanely diverse library of content -- that I think we have something quite strong to offer that audience. I'm hopeful that some of them will give us a try. Certainly, Rock Band 3 was a strong offering when you guys released it last year. So there's still a lot there. Does this mean we're not going to see another Rock Band this year, [and that] you're just going to focus on supporting the Rock Band 3 product? In the short term this year, I think we're going to be focusing on cultivating Rock Band 3, which means reaching out to new audiences, [and] bringing some really compelling new content onto the platform. Running with the Rock Band Pro functionality, which can really start to be fully realized now that the Squier is coming to market. There's a lot of development to be done over the course of this year, with new content for Rock Band 3. So that's what we're focusing on in terms of what's in the marketplace this year. And then beyond this year, as I touched on, there's some far more fundamental reimaginings of the Rock Band franchise that we're thinking about right now. When Activision recently put the Guitar Hero franchise to bed -- you guys were doing stuff prior to Guitar Hero [and] you were very successful, but that was kind of a turning point -- what was your gut reaction to hearing that news? Honestly, the very first reaction was that of, you know, feeling sympathetic for the folks that were being put out of work that day. We went through a reduction of force ourselves. It's a very painful thing to let people go, and it's a painful thing to see people lose their jobs. So that was kind of the first reaction. You know, the second reaction, of course, was that I think it's further evidence that [this] game category is in need of evolution and reinvention, and as I said previously, we take that at Harmonix as a rallying call, and I think we're excited to rise to it. And of course, on some other level, it's an invitation for us to reach out to those Guitar Hero fans and give them an opportunity to try something new. With that in mind, it's obvious that the band category is certainly cooling off, at least as far as consumers are concerned. Have you looked at other avenues and opportunities, especially for those Pro modes, like educational opportunities? We have very much thought about that. There's not so much I can say about it today, but suffice it to say we think there's a ton of untapped opportunity along that [route]. Right, I've recently been playing with the Squier Fender Pro guitar. As a guitarist myself, a self-taught one when I was in my teens, that kind of stuff would have been a blessing. I know, I agree. I'm picturing that being in schools or universities, so it'll be interesting to see where you go with that. Agreed. So Dance Central... that was more commercially successful than Rock Band 3, right? Yeah, to date it has outperformed Rock Band 3 at retail. It's one of the top-selling titles for the Kinect, and the Kinect is one of the most successful products in the entire videogame industry right now. So we're thrilled with how Dance Central has performed out of the gate. It's a pretty big risk when you think about it, going back to last year. It was a new IP on new, unproven hardware. Did you feel that was a big gamble? It was a gamble. There was a moment where we had to take a big leap of faith as a company to devote ourselves to Kinect, which was an unproven peripheral. That said, you know, we had actually been doing [research and development] on a dance game before we even knew about Kinect. We had been using a variety of different [motion] sensing technologies out there to prototype this dance game. At some point early on, Microsoft showed us the Kinect, and at that moment we realized that it was the perfect technology for this application, and we felt very, very strongly about the potential for dance games. And when we saw the perfect technology for the app that we wanted to make, yes it was a leap of faith, and yes we also felt that it was the right technology coming at the right time for the game that we wanted to create. Suffice it to say, we're really happy that we made that decision. Considering that success, is Dance Central the main focus of the studio right now? Well, I wouldn't say -- I mean, look: it's our top-selling product right now, and I would say the largest single development team at the studio is hard at work on Dance Central, without being able to be too much more specific than that. But, we do continue to have significant resources devoted to Rock Band -- both in near term and far term of Rock Band -- and we also have significant resources devoted to a number of new IPs and new game concepts in development as well. So there's actually quite a lot of work underway here on a diverse variety of projects. You are working on a 3DS project, right? Is that correct?[Laughs] I can neither confirm nor deny!You mentioned something earlier about how you don't feel that music games are the same things as music band games. There aren't many music games out there right now. Do you think it's time for a resurgence? Well, so I guess the point that I was trying to make was, very generally speaking, I take the term "music game" to refer very broadly to any kind of game that depends the player's connection with music, where the gameplay is connected to the music in some meaningful way -- not just from an atmospheric standpoint, but from a functional standpoint to what's going on in the game. And from an emotional standpoint. You know, of course, the first music game that became a commercial force in the United States were these band games -- Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But rock music performance simulation is one take on what music games can be. The one interpretation of that that is now on the ascent is dance games, which I also lump into the category of music games, because those games are entirely connecting you with the music in a new way. And I guess my general point there is that label, "music games," I think that encompasses an extremely broad set of additional experiences that still remain largely untapped, and of course that's a very intriguing new frontier of creative [research and development] for Harmonix as well. Are there any developers out there that are sort of doing those music games that are intriguing to you? Because I don't see that many right now. There are not that many on the horizon right now, which, frankly, I consider an opportunity for us. It's also worth pointing out that for the first time, I see Harmonix potentially evolving past exclusively focusing on music games. That's been -- for our entire history -- our reason for being, basically. We've been focused on interactive music since the company started; we've been focused on music games for over 10 years now. But I have to say, we're incredibly creatively motivated by motion gaming. Of course, dance games are a special intersection of music games with motion gaming. Harmonix has developed a competency and quite a passion and interest, generally speaking, in the area of motion gaming. So I think one of the things that you may see coming out of Harmonix in the future is more activity in the area of motion games. But we're not going to see Harmonix's Gears of War, right? [Laughs] [Laughs] Unlikely. There are plenty of companies in the world making excellent [first-person shooters]; the world doesn't need Harmonix to be in [that genre]. That kind of leads into my next question. I mean, you guys have been making music games for 10 years. The original vision was sort of always to get non-musicians the chance to experience, play, and connect with music in new ways. I feel like you've accomplished that. Obviously, you feel there's more work to do in that space. But what? I mean, where do we go from here? We do feel that there's more to do in that space, and that doing more involves reconception of what music games mean, and what other ways there are to connect people with music -- and to connect with other people through music -- that haven't really been explored yet. So it's an important frontier of creative [research and development] for us. You said that now is a good time to reinvent Rock Band, but I think that was a big message with Rock Band 3 last year, especially with the Pro modes. You tried to shake things up a little bit. Do you feel that you were successful in that? I feel like [we were] creatively successful. I feel that paradigm for merging instrument learning with gameplay was successful from a design standpoint. I don't think that we have yet achieved the full potential of that in terms of its distribution into the world. And I think as I said earlier, we expect that's something we'll cultivate over a long period of time through multiple different channels, including alternative channels, like you touched on. I think we'll continue to build on that in [a] kind of slow-burn and slow-growth way for quite some time. When Viacom announced publicly its intentions to sell Harmonix, there was a lot of speculation as to where you would go. Was the independent route always your goal? Did you even consider any of the big players? I would say that we were considering all options. We were certainly considering that as a possibility. You know, we had some opportunities along those lines, but I think our preferred outcome was exactly the one we were fortunate enough to achieve, which was finding a financial partner who could bring us back independent again. So if Activision came to you in three years and said, "We need you to revive the Guitar Hero franchise," would that be something that you'd be interested in doing?"Well, I mean, you'd have to ask me again in a few years, depending on the way the world looks at that point. I mean, I will say the fact that we have been competitors with Activision in the band game genre in the past would not close our minds about the opportunity to work with them on the right project in the future. Do you think maybe you could have "saved" Guitar Hero, had you continued to work with Activision? Do you think maybe they handled that series wrong, or that Harmonix could have done better to help nurture that series over the years?Well, I don't know about that. I'm not inclined to critique Activision's management of the Guitar Hero franchise. I think that Harmonix had its own opportunity to manage a rock performance simulation franchise, and we're for the most part happy with what we were able to accomplish creatively over the last couple of years. We'll leave it at that. In hindsight, has what they [have] done with the Guitar Hero series had any impact on sales or the perception of the Rock Band product? Yeah, it's possible that it did. But as I said again, I'm not inclined to go there in terms of, kind of, critiquing the competitive dynamics between the franchises over the last few years. What can you say definitively about what we can expect from Harmonix over the next 12 months? I think, yeah, definitively, there's not too much I can say. What I can say is that we absolutely remain committed to the Rock Band franchise, and in the short term that definitely means remaining committed to Rock Band Pro and to bringing really compelling new content to the platform. Without being able to be specific, I'll say that we of course remain very much committed to the Dance Central franchise. And there's a hell of a lot of new creative work being done on new IPs that we're pretty fired up about. [Photos of Alex Rigopulos courtesy of Harmonix] [Special thanks to Andrew "power-glove" Benton for his input for this interview!]

To say the least, the past few months have been a tumultuous time in the history of Boston-based Harmonix Music Systems. Despite releasing two critically acclaimed games, Rock Band 3 and Dance Central, its owner, Viacom, anno...

Dance Central character sketchbook: Angel and Aubrey

Feb 16 // Nick Chester
"Initially, she was very, very haughty," adds lead character artist Matt Perlot. "We had her wearing these almost outlandish couture pieces that were mixes of business and ballet attire. She was more extreme." Ultimately, Aubrey ended up being one of the most conventional looking characters in the game. And while many fought to keep her blonde locks, Perlot made the final call, "partly inspired" by a wide-eyed, ginger Blythe doll that sits on his desk. With Angel, on the other hand, the Dance Central team had a vision from the start and stuck through it. The smooth, Latin dancer was always thought of as the "V.I.P. type" from the start. "He's that guy you see at clubs who steps to the front of the line and goes inside to his reserved table," says Perlot. "You know, everyone knows him." Everyone loves him, too -- he's suave, handsome, and while he acts tough on the outside, he's all soft in the middle. "He's the guy who stays out all night at the club and then takes his grandmother to mass on Sunday," explains McWilliams. Nailing the look and the character wasn't an issue -- it was finding a voice actor that could bring the character to life that proved to the biggest concern. After auditioning dozens of actors, nothing felt right; it turned out their Angel was right in front of them the whole time. "Every audition we ran, we found people forcing or faking these really weird artificial accents," remembers McWilliams. "Marcos, our own [Dance Central] choreographer, ended up being the voice behind Angel." [For even more details on Angel and Aubrey, be sure to check out Harmonix’s official Dance Central blog later this week.] Previously: Dance Central character sketchbook: Mo and Amelia

[Recently, Dance Central developer Harmonix Music Systems was cool enough to give us a sneak peek behind the curtain of its artist’s workshop.In the coming weeks, we’ll be getting a closer look at the game’s...


Rick James 'Super Freak' in my Dance Central? Of course!

Feb 14
// Nick Chester
Valentine's Day is a great day to catch the attention of that special someone or fall in love all over again. Ruin all of today's hard, romantic work by throwing it all awhile while you dance along to Rick James' "Super Freak...

Survey suggests what Dance Central 2 could be like

Feb 09
// Jordan Devore
Many of us will agree, Dance Central was a good first effort for an emerging device. A sequel -- one presumably not so pressed for time -- could really take the Kinect dance series to new heights. Kotaku got a hold of a Micro...

Dance Central character sketchbook: Mo and Emilia

Feb 02 // Nick Chester
So maybe it’s appropriate that Harmonix’s internal profile of Mo, the first dancer we’ll look at, tells us that his favorite movie is the fictional fighting flick, Kung Fu Tales: Legend of the Ghost Warrior. Mo is the one-man street team of the “Dance Central” crew, a promotor of sorts who you can see plastering DC propaganda all over city streets in the game’s strunning animated opening cinematic. He’s also the first character the team designed for the game, in part because of Perlot’s long-standing obsessions with getting a hoodie in one of Harmonix’s games. “I love the silhouette that a hoodie creates,” he explains. “I have concepts through the years of trying to put hoodies on characters in our games.” “The decision to obscure his face [with the hoodie] was controversial at first… it gave him a quirkiness that made him feel real,” he continues. It also happens to fit the character’s b-boy personality, and the fact that he stands apart from the DC clique, with no established rivalries with other characters in the game. On the other end of the spectrum, however, sits the sporty and brazen Emilia. The raven-haired dancer with an athletic build and style makes no bones about her feelings for another of the game’s characters, the  “stuck-up” “know-it-all” ginger, Aubrey. Perlot says it was a kickboxing class that gave rise to Emilia’s sporty look, referring to the “all-around athletic girls” that he and other Harmonix’s staffers met at the local gym. “Emila’s not really a tomboy in the typical sense, although she’s not as done up as some of the other female characters,” he explains, “she’s just this really cool, all around athlete.” And just how cool is she, really? Emilia may have a reason to be a little arrogant, as she could very well be the most important character to the game’s development. As the first dancer implemented into an early prototype of Dance Central, she was the first character internal playtesters had the opportunity to dance along with. [For even more details on Mo and Emilia, be sure to check out Harmonix’s official Dance Central blog later this week.]

[Recently, Dance Central developer Harmonix Music Systems was cool enough to give us a sneak peek behind the curtain of its artist’s workshop. In the coming weeks, we’ll be getting a closer look at the game&rsquo...


Dance Central 'I Gotta Feeling' DLC is 80 MS Points today

Dec 25
// Maurice Tan
Today's Xbox LIVE "Countdown to 2011" deal is Dance Central DLC "I Gotta Feeling" by the four guys from Black Eyed Peas. At 80 Microsoft points, down from 240, it's pretty reasonable if you didn't get sick of this song yet. I...

Review: Dance Central

Oct 31 // Nick Chester
Dance Central’s premise of getting people off of their asses and dancing to the beat isn’t a new one in the world of videogames. Konami’s had years of success with its Dance Dance Revolution series, but that only gets you moving your feet, and arguably not actual dancing at all. More recently, Ubisoft knocked it out of the park with the extraordinarily successful Just Dance for the Wii, but that only uses Nintendo’s console’s controllers to track arm movements.  By using Microsoft’s Kinect sensor, Harmonix is taking the genre to the next level, tracking arm and leg movements for a full body experience.  It’s a game that has players performing movements that more closely resemble actual dancing than its predecessors.  Shake off that bundle of nerves and the idea that you might somehow look silly playing it, because Dance Central is a ton of fun. Despite its relative on-the-surface simplicity (there’s actually some pretty sophisticated software behind the scenes here), it also happens to be one of Kinect’s most attractive launch titles. {{page_break}} Dance Central (Xbox 360) Developer: Harmonix Publisher: MTV Games Release date: November 4, 2010 Price: $49.99 Dance Central is incredibly easy to play, and therefore when described, it doesn’t really sound all that impressive. You stand in front of the Kinect sensor and you mirror the moves of an on-screen dancer; “flashcards” scroll down the right side of the screen, indicating the current move and what’s coming up. As moves are performed, the game is using the Kinect sensor to judge your limbs. Are you arms in the right places at the right time? Did you move the proper leg to the proper position with the beat of the song?  Nail any move and a spotlight below your dancer will fill to tell you how well you’re rocking the dance floor. Perform a move flawlessly, the spotlight fills in blue; get sloppy with it and it turns red. The game does a pretty great job of giving you feedback on your actions if you’re performing them wrong -- whatever limb you’re moving wrong, the on-screen dancer character’s corresponding appendage will flash red.  This brilliant, yet subtle, feedback is essential to success, and you’re going to need it to -- unless you’re both psychic and a professional dancer, many of these movements and dance routines will require practice. That’s where the game’s “Break It Down” mode, which teaches you each of the routine’s moves one at a time. The ability to slow down some of the moves, especially with some of the more complicated movements, is welcome. Walking you through the dance is a pretty helpful instructor, who will count off moves and give you valuable pointers.  Let me get this out of the way right now -- you’re going to feel like a complete tool playing this game. There’s beating around the bush, there are few games that will likely make you feel as self-conscious as Dance Central, especially when playing in front of a group. When you first start, it’s likely you’ll miss moves and fumble through routines like a fish out of water. But as you work through the various “Break It Down” trainings for each song, it starts to click. First with the simple moves, then with the trickier multi-limb actions. Maybe it’s cliche to say you’ll lose yourself in the music, but that’s what happens, and soon it’s just you and the game. It’s infectious, too; it’s likely you’ll find people around you wanting to try a dance next, either to just see if they can do it or prove to you how easy that step you keep missing actually is.  The game doesn’t allow for players to dance simultaneously and be scored, but there’s a “Dance Battle” mode that has players hopping in and out to take turns performing segments of a routine. While in many cases this gives the second player the upper hand by letting them see the routine ahead of time, this isn’t an issue when two experience players face off. For those not interested in competition, the Kinect camera is smart enough to distinguish between more than one body in the frame. Yes, this means you can have “back up dancers” dancing behind you or to your side, although they won’t be scored.  With dance routines designed by actual choreographers, the performances look authentic enough to appear in an actual music video. Whether or not Rihanna is going to call you up for back-up dancer support on her next tour is another story. As you’d expect, the routines vary in how complicated they, but even on the easiest difficulty level you might find that the game is kicking your ass into shape. The routines also look pretty good, too, a mixture of original dance steps and cribbed from the real world choreography for the track. It’s going to take a hell of a lot of dedication and practice to nail these routines on the most difficult levels, with some of them never repeating the same moves twice on one song.  From a software perspective, what really makes Dance Central work is that it doesn’t overextend itself, instead working comfortably within the limits of the Kinect hardware. While many of the other launch titles have you moving on-screen avatars one-to-one (or at least trying to), Harmonix decides to go the route of an on-screen avatar moving independently of the player. The avatar never fails a movement, even if you do. The on-screen feedback is really all you need to know that you are (or are not) performing moves correctly. By limiting it so that the game only really looks for arm and leg movements, the margin of error is decreased. Still, there’s a of variation in how it can track arms and legs -- left and right, forward and back, and all combinations -- so you’ll still have to be on point. While I didn’t notice it truly paying attention to minor things like hand position or head movement, I found myself trying to mirror those movements regardless, simply because it was more fun to do so.  Dance Central features 32 tracks on the disc, which by comparison to other music titles (Harmonix’s Rock Band 3, for instance, features 83) seems a bit weak. (Ubisoft’s original Wii-exclusive, Just Dance, also featured only 32 tracks and went on to be a mega-success.) But the lack of song could be chalked up to the fact that some of the routines are so complicated, with over 650 dance moves on the disc.  What’s here is pretty good, too, ranging from Lady Gaga hits to old school classics like Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” to Cascada’s “Evacuate The Dance Floor.” During my hours playing the game for review, I also barely scratched the surface of the routines, having not touched many of the more difficult numbers. Harmonix and MTV Games are also promising downloadable content for the title in the future; if they’re half as regular with it as they are Rock Band tracks, you’ll be dancing your ass off here for awhile.  Despite feeling and playing like a well-thought out, full-fledged retail game (i.e. it’s not a series of throwaway mini-games), Dance Central is a barebones affair. You’ve got your “Break It Down” practice mode, your performance, the dance battle, and a workout mode that counts calories, but that’s pretty much it. All of the songs and approaches to the songs are accessed via what’s essentially a “quickplay” option. You choose the song, you get scored, and then you can pretty much move on to whatever you’re interested in next. There’s no career-like progression here, although you can “rank up” and unlock content (new venues, new outfits for the dancers, by playing and mastering routines. It would have been nice to have the progression incentivized a bit beyond these basics, something I’m sure we’ll see in a sequel.  Of the Kinect-enabled titles available for launch, there’s been the most hype surrounding Dance Central. It’s buzz that’s hard to understand unless you’ve experienced the game, but it’s a buzz that turns out being completely justified. There’s room for improvement in terms of what the game offers, but Harmonix nailed the core experience, and that goes a long way towards making it one of the most compelling Kinect launch titles. 

Dance Central’s premise of getting people off of their asses and dancing to the beat isn’t a new one in the world of videogames. Konami’s had years of success with its ...

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