Disney Interactive and Harmonix have announced the upcoming release of “Fantasia: Music Evolved,” a new motion-responsive video game for Xbox One that reinvents the historic Fantasia brand. Developed by Harmonix, the gaming studio behind the "Rock Band," "Guitar Hero" and "Dance Central" franchises, "Fantasia: Music Evolved" allows players to physically interact with components of individual songs represented by graphics, turning the player into a conductor or remixer during the course of play. Slated for early 2014 release, the game will be fully previewed next week at E3.
Released in 1940, the original "Fantasia" was part of Walt Disney’s personal vision to change the way people experienced classical music. In that vein, "Fantasia: Music Evolved," seeks to change the way people relate to contemporary music by allowing for a new level of engagement. The first release of the game will feature about 30 different songs, including Avicii’s “Levels,” Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” Kimbra’s “Settle Down,” fun.’s “Some Nights” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” More tracks are to be revealed during E3, including some classical orchestral pieces, harkening to the origins of the Fantasia brand.
While the concept of a pop music video game might seem antithetical to an animated film scored by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the game’s creators have incorporated a few elements of the original Fantasia into the new one. In addition to some visual graphics allusions to the original, in the game’s narrative the player becomes Yen Sid, the sorcerer to whom Mickey was the apprentice in the iconic Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from the original film. Standing in front of the screen, the player physically gestures to move through various worlds and activate assorted sounds while a song is playing. Those sounds are incorporated into a new version of the song, creating a remix that can be saved or re-remixed again.
To offer this particular level of interaction with existing recordings, Disney needed to secure multi-track licensing agreements for each property included in the game, which while expensive, proved to be an easier task than anticipated.
“The labels and artists that we’re working with have been fantastic in terms of their understanding of what we’re trying to do,” explains Chris Nicholls, executive producer for Disney Interactive. “Very simply, [we want] to be able to put music directly into people’s hands, so they can explore it, shape it and control it and be able to share that with their friends.”
Nicholls describes the game’s target demographic broadly, including the existing music gaming audience, families, and the Disney fanatics who have a relationship with the "Fantasia" property. As general as those categories seem, Nicholls sees them being reached through the content of the game -- the music.
“We’re making sure we have a really broad and diverse set of music so it does appeal to different ages,” Nicholls says. “We wanted to give a diverse soundtrack because it’s faithful to what the property aspires to, but also because we want a very diverse set of people to be able to come to the experience.”
Whereas previous Harmonix games allowed for a continual updating with new songs, and thus new licensing opportunities and revenue streams, the song list for "Fantasia" is more stable. While Nicholls promises there will be future updates of the game that will allow for the inclusion of new material, it won’t be on the frequency of "Rock Band" or "Dance Central" where players can build massive track libraries. While perhaps a limitation for rights holders, this was choice on the part of the game’s creators to deepen the relationship between the player and the music.
Matt Boch, creative director at Harmonix, says he approached the game’s creation from the perspective of both a musician and a fan. “Philosophically speaking I had to think about how I consume music,” he explains. “What type of interaction would be interesting to give players? In early conversations there were some more formal notions being considered. Let’s think about tempo, timbre; let’s introduce people to all these theoretical concepts in all these things that they listen to, trying to react to the parts of the original film that are somewhat educational.”
Eventually, Boch says, the decision to make the game about remixing was not only relevant to today’s tastes but also to the core principles of the original Fantasia.
“Walt’s vision was to take animation and gorgeous visual storytelling and tie that to this classical music that will bridge [people’s] perception of the music as lofty, erudite, inaccessible and make it more accessible,” Boch says. “He thought this was a great way to listen to classical music. When it came time for us to do the same thing, it was about letting people play with the component parts. To give people an opportunity to do so is a way to increase the connection people have with music, which resonates with the original vision of Fantasia.”
“It really allows artists to put their music in a very different relationship with fans,” Nicholls adds. “It goes from being a passive or listening-based relationship to something that’s very active. When a fan can explore an artist’s work in a way they don’t get to in linear media. It becomes inherently more interesting.”
Nicholls cites the bevy of user-generated content on YouTube and other platforms -- where people upload their own versions of pop songs -- as an example of how fans are looking to modify original works to make them their own. He sees this new Fantasia as another opportunity to build on that appetite while deepening the connection between fans and artists.
For the games creators, "Fantasia: Music Evolved" is about another way to engage with an artform.
“Music is this really fundamental part of being human,” Boch says. “If we can create more people who want to write songs or more people who want to download some programs and start making their own remixes and adding stuff to SoundCloud or what have you -- any of those personal types of impact are a lot of what keeps me going.”