INTERVIEW: Dance Central

What made you want to develop Dance Central?

Kasson Crooker, project director: We’ve wanted to do it for a long time. Over five years ago a bunch of us into hip-hop and dance music said someday we need to make a dance game, because it’s perfectly aligned with music.

We looked around to see if there was any technology that would allow us to do it. Back then there were only dance mats. So we said we’ll just sit on the idea until the right technology comes along that allows us to create the most authentic dance experience.

When Microsoft showed us Kinect over a year and a half ago, we realised it was the right time for us to do that.

Dance Central is seen as the key Kinect launch title. Are you excited or do you feel pressure?

Dean Tate, lead designer: A little bit of both. I think there are other games out there that are pretty amazing and make great use of the technology, but I think we’re being pigeonholed into that role almost because the technology fits this game concept absolutely perfectly.

There are a few competitors in the dancing game market. What sets Dance Central apart?

Crooker: The quality of choreography. We have a huge range of dances – from basic moves to actual choreography that you’d see in a music video. I just don’t see that range in other games.

We also need to help people learn those moves. And so we’ve made a game that makes sure users are learning them, rather than dropping into the game and trying to repeat something a million times.

What makes Dance Central better than using a plastic guitar?

Crooker: With a guitar controller or drums, you wouldn’t feel like you’re actually taking part in the dance experience. This is why air guitar is never going to feel like a real guitar.

Dancing doesn’t really involve peripherals – although it can, your partner can be your peripheral. It’s all about the consumer using their body and feeling the beat.

Who is your target audience for the game?

Marcos Aguirre, choreographer: From my perspective it changed over time. When we were testing Dance Central, all we cared about was what teenage girls would think of it. Then we got more people playing it and realised the game would appeal to a much broader audience than before.

It now has extremely broad appeal, from teenage girls to 20-something hipsters and middle-aged scientists.

Crooker: It feels a lot like when we made Guitar Hero – we thought it’d be a game for 13 and 14-year-old boys who love metal – and they did love it, but a lot of other people loved it too.

It caught us off guard and the same thing is true here. It appeals to a wide audience.

Will Dance Central have DLC from day one?

Crooker:Yes. However the price and schedule of DLC is yet to be announced. It’s not going to be like Rock Band where there’s a huge, constant, weekly volume. This is different because we have to come up with sophisticated dance routines – with motion capture – for every song.
It won’t matter that there’s less songs because I think there’s more fun within each song.

Will you introduce rock songs and allow users to play guitar?

Crooker: There are tons of great electronic rock bands out there like Electric Six which would be really fun to dance to, so I think we’ll see some rock music at some point. It also allows us to do some different kinds of choreography that you wouldn’t usually see in the game.
In terms of using a guitar, it’s interesting but to me it’s distracting. I just want to focus on the dancing.

Do you think we’ll see artist-specific Dance Central games, like Lady Gaga Dance Central?

Crooker: We never say never. I think the number of artists that qualify for something like that are significantly lower than Rock Band. It’s not just about the dance moves – it’s the whole package.

Artists like Britney Spears or Lady Gaga are interesting but they’re a little one dimensional for me. Plus, I think people will like a lot more variety in general.

Can people upload their own dance moves online?

It could be a great feature for when we’ve taught the world to dance. Maybe this would be a pretty cool feature for Dance Central 4, but for the time being that’s a little too advanced.

Do you think the music game genre is in a bit of a slump?

Crooker: Yeah – can all other music games go away? I do think that the music game market is a little oversaturated and I think it’s good that everybody has sort of dialled back into focusing on core games. I view this as a transition period. Harmonix is resetting the whole industry. It’s not about fake experiences – it’s about delivering real experiences.

What are the advantages of being owned by MTV?

Crooker:The music in Dance Central is MTV’s absolute sweet spot. They also bring resources that we didn’t have before, so we have access to more music and artists, which is key.

On the marketing side of things, MTV is also working closely with Microsoft to get the word out about how good the game is.

How important is the UK and European markets to Harmonix? Did you localise Dance Central to specific territories?

Crooker:This was a huge discussion at the beginning of the game. For me, I wanted to find artists for the game that are huge everywhere.

We received input from MTV UK and Europe about which artists are up and coming, and went after those, too. I think the average consumer will probably see the track list as a little North US-focused, but through DLC we can offer more region-specific artists and songs.

I also think the potential for success overseas is huge. Dance games from our competitors have been successful in the UK, so we’re super excited about that.

What’s next for Dance Central and Harmonix?

Crooker:We’re looking at some basic pre-production for Dance Central 2 but mostly we’re working on DLC right now. I want to make sure people like Dance Central and it does well first. If that happens, then we can look at what people enjoyed about the experience and decide if we want to offer an addition to it.

As for anything else we’re working on, it’s all secret.

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