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Harmonix works musical magic with Fantasia: Music Evolved at E3 2013

Harmonix works musical magic with Fantasia: Music Evolved at E3 2013

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Cambridge, MA-based company Harmonix is trying to capture the spirit of Walt Disney's 1940 masterpiece, "Fantasia " by inserting the gamer into the story of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Harmonix, whose past hits include Rock Band and Guitar Hero , spent over two-and-a-half years developing this game. Which will launch exclusively on the XBOX 360 and the XBOX One next year. Fantasia: Music Evolved is not completely finished, so we saw an advanced, but not complete, build of the game. There were some problems with the XBOX One hardware, but the game itself ran beautifully.

What the developers, who attended in Fantasia T-shirts, intended was not to create Fantasia: The Game, but rather to capture Walt's vision of adventure, color, sound and motion. To create something with the spirit of the original, but not a carbon copy of it.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

So far, they've done a capital job.

They've had some help though, from Walt Disney himself, thanks to Becky Cline and her team at the Walt Disney Archives. Flush with Snow White money, Walt hired transcriptionists to literally follow him around every day and write down ideas for Fantasia as he brainstormed. Those notes are in the Archives, which were generously opened to the Harmonix developers as they researched concepts for the game.


(L to R) George Balanchine, T. Hee and Walt Disney during the production of "Fantasia."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Walt tried to forge a connection between the viewer and the music via the nascent art form of animation. Harmonix is trying to forge that connection via the nascent art form of motion-based gaming.

They decided to focus on The Sorcerer's Apprentice for the root of the story, as it is arguably the most iconic imagery from the film. Your home world is the Sorcerer's Workshop, and you are the Sorcerer's Apprentice. You are not puppeteering a Mickey Mouse avatar as in Epic Mickey . Yen Sid addresses you directly; this is a completely first-person game. The only time you "see yourself" is in shadow, like Stokowski, when you are working with songs. The iconic podium is even there.  Will Mickey show up? They are not telling.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

Annette Gonzales, from Harmonix previewed part of the game called The Shoal. The Shoal is the more creative, freeform-style Discovery Mode of play, while the other choice given to gamers, The Press (as in Gutenberg) uses problem-solving and puzzle-driven, logical-based play.

You also get to change up the songs if you feel like it. For example, with Bohemian Rhapsody, you can choose from Original, Orchestral or Power Ballad. For Locked Out of Heaven, the choices are Original, String quartet and...ska!


Harmonix community manager Eric Pope. Photo by Shelly Valladolid

This is a great game for all ages, explains Harmonix developer Eric Pope. "Fun and joy are universal. Tapping into the joy of music, it doesn't feel like a kiddie game, and it doesn't feel like a first-person shooter. Manipulating songs creates energy that transforms the world. It's not simulation-driven like our past games, expression and creativity are in your hands."

"Hey, Eric, will Chernabog be in the game?" See answer for the same question about Mickey Mouse above. There will be multiple homages to Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 is also on the table for the game; it's part of canon.


Photo by Shelly Valladolid

He also added that the game will be multiplayer, for two players, and that his wish list for the game includes the ability to record performances. If it's on the release next year, then you'll know he wished on the right star.

A few of the 25 or so songs that will be shipped with the game include:

  • A Night on Bald Mountain
  • Bruno Mars - Locked out of Heaven
  • DJ Avicci - Levels
  • Fun Some Nights
  • Queen B. Rhapsody
  • Kimbra - Settle Down


Shelly will be back with even more stories from this year's E3 just as soon as
she finds a place to park her new Disney Infinity-inspired ride.
Photo by Noe Valladolid

They'll be revealing more of the artists and songs as the release nears next year.

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  • This song list is just awful. I try not to be a purist about these things, but it's not worthy of the name.

  • Play the game first, then decide.  Walt actually did want to change out some of the numbers in Fantasia and have it eternally evolving. Some of the songs he considered were, indeed, popular songs (for the time). Could you imagine "All the Cats Join In" in Fantasia? It almost happened!

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