Harmonix Vets: DropMix Was a Hard Sell for Game Publishers

About two weeks ago I went to see Eric Brosius and Buzz Burrowes of Harmonix talk about how the studio’s electronic card rhythm game DropMix got made — which was really interesting considering that the game uses physical cards to let you change the composition of any song. The talk was part of the monthly Game Audio Boston meetup.

A few takeaways from the DropMix talk:

  • DropMix originally came out of a Harmonix Game Jam in 2014. The prototype consisted of paper cards and Ableton Live.
  • The technology that supported DropMix was first made for Harmonix’s Xbox Kinect game Fantasia: Music Evolved out of a desire to prototype and produce music-driven games more easily. The underlying tech allows Harmonix to take disparate streams of audio and synchronize them with a master beat, making different parts of a song interchangeable. This tech also served as the foundation for Rock Band VR and Super Beat Sports.
  • A digital-only prototype of DropMix was released to a closed beta group on Steam.
  • One of the key challenges the developers faced was figuring out how to make songs sound good when the key and tempo can be changed at any time, a core feature of DropMix.
  • The first digital/physical prototype used a camera and software to read the cards (the final version uses wireless sensors in the cards, which are read by the game’s base). “This is when it got super interesting,” Burrowes said of the tactile nature of creating beats. DOoiTUfXUAA_3Pq
  • Harmonix first pitched DropMix to game publishers, but it was a hard sell because of the game’s unique nature. They realized that DropMix wasn’t really a video game, at least in the traditional way, which eventually led to the company’s partnership with Hasbro.
  • Unlike Rock Band and Guitar Hero, licensing music for DropMix was super difficult because of the nature of how parts of different songs could be mixed together.

Here’s a video of Brosius and Burrowes showing off DropMix at the meetup (you can’t hear Brosius too well, but it’s fun watching how he changes the music with the cards):


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