Harmonix has made a name for itself through rhythm games like Rock Band VR, Amplitude, and Dance Central. It’s trying something fresh with Audica, a game that blends electronic music with a new style of rhythm-powered gunplay. You get twin “rhythm blasters” to shoot at targets as they dart around the playfield, with extra points going to players with gunslinger-like timing and accuracy. Certain targets fly directly toward you, requiring a well-timed backhand or punch to clear, so there’s more involved than just slick shooting.
We caught up with Harmonix designer Ryan Challinor to ask him what makes Audica a new kind of rhythm-based VR experience.
What’s the elevator pitch for Audica? How is it a different than other rhythm games in VR?
Ryan Challinor: Most VR rhythm games I’ve seen are mostly gestural, which makes it tough to evaluate timing accuracy. We use the more discrete action of firing a gun to provide a stronger connection to a song’s unique rhythm. Our Oculus store page refers to it as a “choreographed ballet of beat-blasting brilliance” which I think is pretty good.
What was your inspiration for Audica’s core mechanics and gameplay systems?
My primary inspiration was the over-the-top action you see in movies like Equilibrium and John Wick. I’d ask myself questions like ‘Why are they crossing their arms to shoot?’ and ‘Why are they holding their gun sideways?’ I thought it’d be fun to create a game that explicitly asked you to do those things. Rhythm-action in VR felt like a perfect fit.
What are some specific challenges in creating a rhythm-based shooter specifically VR?
Actually, working in VR has made it a lot easier to make a rhythm game. Since both the headset display and controllers are low latency, it cuts out a lot of the A/V offset and calibration setup users have had to deal with in our previous console games. Having such low latency allows for a much tighter musical experience.
Can you tell us about the music creation process and how it differs from 2D rhythm experiences?
We author tracks with our custom MIDI authoring tools, similar to the authoring process we use for Rock Band. One great thing about expanding from a Rock Band-style lane to an Audica-style target field is that it allows our authors to be visually creative in addition to being rhythmically creative.
How did previous Harmonix titles (Rock Band VR, Dance Central) help inform Audica’s design?
We learned a lot about rhythm action from Rock Band, Frequency, Amplitude, but the most direct gameplay comparison is in Fantasia: Music Evolved. It had similar “target field” gameplay with cueing systems that have targets moving on a parabolic arc and intercepting in time with the music. Audica works similarly, but with aim-and-shoot gameplay instead of gesture-swipe gameplay.
Which programs were used create Audica’s mechanics and systems?
We developed Audica in Unity, using the Oculus SDK. It’s powerful setup: it allowed to us to get a prototype up and running rapidly to see if the concept was fun and is capable enough to let us polish the experience and release a high-quality game.
How did you go about designing and iterating Audica’s ‘Rhythm Blasters’ and ammunition systems?
Unity is incredibly quick to work in, so our primary philosophy on design was to experiment and iterate. If there was any debate about the best direction to take an idea, I’d implement both ways, add a checkbox to let us switch between them, and have the team evaluate which option felt better. Over time, this process let us to play different versions of Audica and pick the best one.
Did Audica’s new gameplay hook lead you to specific music partnerships?
We have existing relationships with music labels from our work on Rock Band, Dance Central, and DropMix, which gave us a great starting point for getting great music licenses for Audica. We found certain musical styles paired well with Audica’s gameplay better than others. It’s hard for me to put a finger on why, but the team can tell which tracks will work well in Audica in about fifteen seconds. The process involved building a wish list of tracks we thought would be amazing and having our licensing team pursue them.
Beyond pure immersion, what makes Audica an experience tailored-made for VR?
One thing that makes Audica such a fun and physical experience is the wide field of targets. Instead of being confined to a screen that takes up a few degrees of your viewing angle, VR essentially allows us to make those targets appear on a giant 180-degree wraparound screen. Combine this with high-quality hand tracking and controllers with built-in triggers, and you’ve got an ideal setup for Audica.
Audica is available now on Rift, so head over to the Oculus Store to check it out and claim your spot on the leaderboard.
— The Oculus Team