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It’s been just over three months since Dance Central launched on Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform with a 32-song soundtrack to get you up and moving on the dance floor. Since then, Harmonix has added new paid DLC tracks from John Legend, Ellie Goulding, and more, letting players build out their dream playlists. And today, they’re adding two exciting new features to make the VR version of the game better than ever before: an in-game fitness app and NPC challenges!
The Dance Central fitness app lets you track your calories burned while busting a move. You can turn it on or off by selecting the fitness app from the Home screen on your in-game phone. Once the app is turned on, you can adjust your height, weight, and energy units. You can view your song-related and fitness stats in the app, while a real-time fitness tracker in the game world remains only visible to you—even during a lounge session.
Also new today are NPC challenges, which show up on the Challenges screen along with challenges from your human friends. You can either accept the challenge and dance to try to beat the NPC’s score and earn respect with that character or decline and, much like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect.
We sat down with Creative Lead Arthur “M-Cue” Inasi to learn more.
Why did you decide to incorporate a fitness app? What went into the design process?
Arthur Inasi: As we worked on Dance Central, we started to realize that this game is perfect for fitness gaming enthusiasts. People who would playtest for us would always comment, “Whew! That’s actually a pretty good workout!” or, “Wow, I got more of a workout than I thought I would!” At the same time, there was more and more interest from the VR community for games that would provide light to moderate workouts. We’ve had fitness modes in our other DC games, so we had the tools and experience to make fitness a part of the Quest and Rift Platform version of Dance Central.
When designing the feature, we wanted the app to feel a lot like a fitness app that we all have on our phones, complete with tracked stats over time, gains/losses, and the ability to turn it off completely for players who felt that they didn’t want a constant reminder of how many calories they’re burning. One of our team’s coders, Jake Burga, figured out the math on how to judge calorie/joule burn, and we spent the time testing it to make sure our burn numbers weren’t wildly inaccurate. I think he pretty much nailed it the first time, so we didn’t need to iterate all that much on his calculations.
Is the fitness app on or off by default?
AI: It’s off by default, but it’s very easy to turn on from the in-game phone’s home screen.
Does a player’s adjustment of their height / weight in the fitness app have any impact on their in-game avatar à la Wii Fit? Does the app or game deliver any kind of visual feedback over time in addition to tracked data?
AI: Well, we calculate (or attempt to anyway) what your height is from your calibration at the start of the game. Using how high off the ground the headset is, we can get a pretty good idea of how tall you are and we adjust the character’s height accordingly. Plus, we need to know height so we can score you accurately. Weight is impossible to know, so we give players a default number that’s kind of in the middle of people’s average weights, and we ask the player to make the adjustment if that number isn’t correct. We don’t change the avatar’s appearance based on weight.
In terms of visual feedback, we show you the fitness tracker in-world on the in-game screens, so that you can keep track at a quick glance. We also let you know through sound and VO when you crush yesterday’s calorie burn—just a little motivation to keep grinding!
How did the team come up with the idea for NPC challenges?
AI: We made asynchronous challenges between players, but we quickly came to the realization that not everyone has a billion friends who own VR headsets, so you may not be getting a ton of challenges unless you’re taking on strangers as well as friends. That means that most people may not be exposed to this feature, which is a bummer. We figured, why not have NPCs challenge you? It’s a great way to up your respect levels and drive the story and progression forward, and it also served as a great way to push novice players into Pro difficulty when they start hitting the upper range of Standard difficulty scores.
Which of the NPCs is your favorite to battle against?
AI: I don’t really have a favorite, but it always cracks me up when Oblio challenges me because he never hangs out at the club unless I invite him. I feel like my skills bring him out of his hidey hole in the Studio.
Tell me about your most epic win in an NPC challenge... and then tell me about your most epic fail.
AI: I mean, I know most of these routines by heart since I was heavily involved in the choreography and creation of these songs, so I almost always win. But I have blown a potential win when someone comes to talk to me while I’m playing. If that happens while I’m doing a Fave challenge, I get really steamed because those parts of choreo are tougher to nail and only show up once during a Fave song! Quit buggin’ me!
How did you first get started in your career in the games industry? What brought you to Harmonix and the Dance Central franchise?
AI: Lol, well this is a long story that I’ll try to edit down. Basically, I applied several times to Harmonix for a sound designer/composer position. No one ever really wrote back to me or returned my emails. I got the cold shoulder. So I decided to just show up one day at the office with my resume and reel in hand, and was like, “Listen, I’ll do any job you got, I just need to get into the industry—even if it’s not in the position that I really want.” This was the early 2000s though, so it probably wouldn’t work nowadays, but “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”
Luckily Kris Fell, basically the mom at HMX back in the day, heard me out and gave my resume to our QA Lead at the time, Sean Baptiste. If she hadn’t done that for me, I’d probably be still working in recording studios, or broke or something. Thanks, Kris!
I worked my way up, from QA to QA Lead to Sound Designer to Audio Lead and now to Creative Lead. I grind y’all, for real.
I’ve worked on every single Dance Central game except Spotlight. I’ve always been the voice of Boomy/Rasa, I’ve done mocap for multiple characters including Mo, and I was Audio Lead on DC3. So you could say I’ve been entrenched in Dance Central since the beginning. It’s kinda hard to make a DC game without me now. ;P
What is it about VR that makes games like Dance Central so compelling?
AI: It’s all about the club. When I first started creative ideation for this game, I had two main ideas that I felt had to be a big part of this game: the phone and the club. VR is perfect for transporting players completely out of reality. I loved that idea of people who don’t usually go, or for some reason don’t like going to the club, to have this club experience in the comfort of their own home. I would say it’s like going to the club without all the crappy parts about going to a club (waiting in lines, bouncers who judge you at face value, people spilling drinks on you, or stepping on your toes, fights, etc).
The phone helps ground you in some semblance of reality, and it’s perfect for interacting with these awesome characters and songs, easily and quickly. Plus, everyone knows how to use a phone, so it was a great way to introduce players to the world of Dance Central through a familiar touch interface.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
AI: Sure! You can check out my music at m-cue.bandcamp.com, or my totally NSFW podcast album on soundcloud “This Is Good For Me,” or follow my very infrequent updates on Twitter @m_cue. I’m not on Instagram because I’m stubborn and crusty, but you can check out my website at mcuemusic.com, too.
Thanks for the low-down, Arthur—and congratulations on shipping another great entry in the Dance Central franchise!