You know what’s weird? Music visualizers. You know what’s even weirder? Virtual Reality. So if there’s one thing you can say about Harmonix Music VR – my company’s first foray into the medium, and an attempt to define the category of “VR music visualization” – it’s that it’s one wonderfully weird project. It takes any song you give it and generates a unique, musically-driven event sequence. The resulting experiences range from subtly magical to outright psychedelic, depending on the world you select. Sometimes fireflies show up to compliment a relaxing melody, and sometimes stars descend to engulf you in synesthetic spirals of color. It’s definitely weird. And as the title’s creative lead, I couldn’t be happier about that.
We set out to accomplish a lot with this software. For starters, we wanted to familiarize ourselves with VR as a medium. We have a long history of making music games, but how much would we have to relearn to make quality VR? Additionally, we recognized that with Morpheus, Sony was about to provide one of the most thoroughly immersive platforms in the history of technology, and we couldn’t wait to use that immersion as an aid for musical appreciation. I mean, when was the last time you sat down and just listened to a record? I’ve heard that people did that back in the 70’s, but if you’re like me and most people I know, you most often consume music as an activity enhancer – livening up your commute, making exercise less horrible, etc. Just sitting still and listening tends to make us 21st Century multitaskers kind of restless and distractible. But music provides so much worth focusing on and appreciating!
Now, a lot of people find that having a simple task to focus on helps them relax and appreciate what they’re hearing. So what if we could provide not just activities, but actual environments that were themselves an expression of your music? What if we could provide an escape where your favorite songs weren’t just the soundtrack, but the defining aspect of your surroundings, where your very sense of space complemented the sounds filling your ears? Wouldn’t that be a whole new kind of mind-blowing?
Of course, there are a lot of songs out there, and a lot of different types of music and music listeners, each with their own expectations and listening preferences. And there are countless potential ways of mapping musical qualities to spatial qualities. And that’s where things get weird.
Traditional, old-school music visualizers are many and varied, but all of them were limited to a 2D screen and the use of real-time audio spectrum analysis. With Harmonix Music VR, we have control over every aspect of your surroundings, using our internally-developed, amazingly effective song analysis voodoo. We still use real-time data, but we can also look at the entire song, break it into sections, identify specific drum hits, and even categorize the feel of song sections to drive the visual and environmental transformations.
So maybe you just want to relax, listen to some chill tunes, and vibe out on a beach where the weather patterns reflect the mood of your song’s sections. Or maybe you feel like having a more energetic trip through a variety of intensely reactive spaces. Maybe you like familiar environments with flourishes of musical reactivity, or maybe you just want to be somewhere impossible to really escape with your songs. We don’t want to make those decisions for you, so we’re building a bunch of different worlds, each with its own vibe and level of intensity. Within worlds, you can even interact with objects to trigger further experiential shifts. Two of our worlds will be available to try at E3 (and I hope to see you there if you’re able to swing by!), but believe me, they are just the tip of one big, trippy iceberg.