The Average Gamer

Breaking Down Dance Central 2 with Harmonix’s Matt Boch

Matt Boch, Lead Designer for Dance Central

Late one night in June we were escorted through the darkened booths of the E3 Expo for a special evening session with Microsoft’s Kinect stand. I got my groove on with Dance Central 2’s drop-in, drop-out multiplayer mode (squee!) and met Harmonix’s Lead Designer for Dance Central, Matt Boch. I’ve long maintained that Dance Central has the best Kinect implementation and no other games, released or previewed, have come close yet. With Boch’s background in Arts and Human Computer Interaction at Harvard and MIT, I can understand why. Incredibly, there’s more to come with Dance Central 2.

Over the musical delights of B.O.B’s Nothin’ on You Baby, I spoke with Boch about the philosophy for Break It Down, reinventing Dance Battle and just what the deal was with Emelia’s voicemail messages.

What can you tell me about the differences between Dance Central 2 and 1?

Matt Boch: The big primary difference that we’re showing off here is drop-in drop-out simultaneous multiplayer. That’s one of the most requested features for Dance Central and we think it really brings the experience to a whole new level, getting to both cooperate and compete with your friend at the same time through all the choreography. That multiplayer’s compatible with all the DC 1 songs that you can import into DC2 in addition to all the downloadable songs that we’ve released for Dance Central 1. All the multiplayer features work seamlessly with all that content.

The Rip Tide Crew

When it comes to the difficulty: Easy, Medium and Hard, from what I could see in Dance Central 1 it’s basically the same dance but with fewer steps. You take out some of the more complex moves. Is that how it works with this one as well?

MB: Yeah, so… one of the things that we decided on pretty early on in designing Dance Central 1 was that if we could introduce people to a set of moves in Easy and add a few additional moves in Medium and then put it all together in Hard then people had a means of learning the full routine without necessarily having to go in to break it down mode. There’s this natural transition as you master easy – there’s some moves in Medium that are now pretty easy for you because you know them from Easy. You learn those moves you move up to Hard and that’s what you see in a lot of our players – our very dedicated players too.

This time with Dance Central 2 we’ve had a lot of experience building choreography for the game and there’s a lot of work had to be done between the design staff and the development team and the choreographers because, while we have almost any type of dance available in Dance Central there’s still a certain style that works better and a certain set of requirements that make for great Dance Central dances. One of those requirements is having a fair number of really accessible moves for every single song so as we’ve refined our process we’ve been able to make easy moves in the hard routines that are really great, really accessible. We think that, from a difficulty perspective, Easy is a lot more approachable this time around.

Break It Down you mentioned when we talked earlier. They said in the conference that that’s actually being changed a bit for Dance Central 2. Can you tell me why and what it is that you’ve done?

MB: I can tell you a little bit of information about it. We are not speaking about the full range of Break It Down features but I can let you know the design philosophy and where we’re headed. Dance Central 1’s Break It Down mode we tried to give you this sense of breadth so that you could see all the moves that were in the song, have a chance to do them a few times in a row, really get them into your body before you decide to perform the song. Now, there are some dancers that are really talented. They can just jump in on easy, jump in on medium, jump in even on hard, but we knew that if were gonna make a game that had to appeal to a broad audience we had to have a great tutorial experience and that breadth was really the focus of Dance Central 1’s BID mode.

In Dance Central 2 we aren’t getting rid of that breadth. We’re also adding depth. So if you’re having trouble with a particular move there’s a means to select just that one niggling move and just practice that. You have a lot of control over the experience – it’s not as scripted but if you want that scripted breadth experience, that’s still available to you. That’s the core of what makes the BID mode, in addition to voice commands to be able to move around that mode.

Later on this summer we’ll be showing more of those features – I’m not sure quite at which events.

Emelia in multiplayer mode

The other major feature that has been completely reinvented is our Dance Battle mode. We have taken the lessons learned from fun simultaneous dancing and the Switch-Off dancing that was a big part of the Dance Central 1 battle mode and created a great amalgam of the two. In addition there’s a whole new game mechanic unique to Dance Battle that we’ll be introducing again later this summer. So yeah there’s your time to shine, your time to dance with someone else and this highly competitive new modality that’s all part of that dance battle.

While in the standard Perform It! mode we do give you a little crown, tell you who scored better, tell you who got more Flawlesses or more Nices, the Dance Battle is a little more explicitly competitive and we really tried to create a “scramble” kind of competition experience that one-upped what we’ve already created with our Perform It! multiplayer. Other than that we have a voice commander to allow you to select songs in the shell and select your mode and your difficulty and go right into the songs directly using your voice. That’s a pretty awesome feature. It feels very futuristic when you’re interacting with it and it’s really low friction to get into the game.

Other improvements – we’re shipping with more than forty songs which is a significant upgrade from Dance Central 1 and, as I said before, importing all the DLC. By launch we’ll have a catalogue of over a hundred songs available for Dance Central with something like seventeen hundred moves in the game. A very, very deep amount of content that people can interact with and really wide variety of songs available for the franchise at this point.

The characters – what are you doing with them? Is it gonna be the same cast, you’ve got Emelia and Angel and everybody else. Do you have new ones?

MB: [pauses] I’m, I’m… I’m just reeling because you’re the first person to call the characters by name to me today. I love it.

Hi Def crew - Moe and his protégé, Glitch

We’ve actually done something really great with our characters this time. We’ve taken a bunch of characters, added some new ones and we’ve created crews that our characters are in. Moe has a new protégé named Glitch and there’s in a crew called Hi Def. They dress as sort of an NTSC test pattern and style, the crew look. Emelia has a new partner. His name is Bodie. They have a sort of sporty beach look to them and their crew is named RipTide. They hang out at the beach. Every crew has their own turf, their own look and their own sort of style reflected in the songs that are associated with those crews. We have a story mode this time around that will introduce you to the characters in a little more of a detailed way than we did with the voicemail messages in Dance Central 1, so a fully-fledged story mode that will take you through and introduce you to those characters.

The keep fit mode – are you doing anything around that? Is it staying, is it going? I never use it, I have to admit. I keep meaning to but I forget.

MB: A lot of people have really latched onto that mode and they see it as a great motivator. We have no intention of removing fitness features but we’re not really speaking about any other programme for that at this point.

You talked about the crews’ styles. Avatar outfits – is there any link there?

MB: For DC1 launch we did some avatar outfits – I have no idea exactly if we’re doing avatar outfits again. I hope so – I love having my little boom box and my Moe hoodie so I’m hoping that we get to do that again.

Thank you very much.

There you have it – for those of you who (like me) love the Break It Down tutorials, they’re fixing that annoying “feature” where you have to play through five other moves to practice that one that you just can’t master. Fitness features are staying in some form, the dancers are getting crews and a full story mode and, of course, they’re finally bringing in side-by-side Dance Battle. I’m planning my house party already.