A Pioneer Flight Into The Souls of Sound: Celebrating Amplitude
These days, when we look at industry of music and rhythm games, it’s hard not to think of Harmonix. The development studio has been a master force and pioneer of the genre for over a decade with its work on the Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Dance Central franchises. However, there was time when Harmonix was still figuring it out and had a long ways to go. This initially led to the creation of a game called FreQuency and when the game garnered positive attention, but not commercial success, they attempted to fine tune it with better gameplay mechanics and a better soundtrack. The result would be Amplitude, and it hit shelves on this day back in 2003.
Harmonix’s greatest challenge during its formative years had always been creating a musical experience that combined a simple and enjoyable interface with a mainstream appeal. With funding from Sony, Harmonix released FreQuency in 2001 as its first attempt at that idea. Players took control of a ship that would run on a board of several tracks, each controlling a part of the song, such as synth, drums, or guitar. Running the ship along a track allowed that part of the song to play and after running long enough, that part of the song would continue as the player continued to another part of the track to build the full complement of sounds in the song. Critics generally praised FreQuency and it found a cult following, but these creative ideas did not translate to strong sales in the mainstream.
When Harmonix began development for a sequel, it took a look at what worked with FreQuency and what didn’t. While a ship running along tracks stayed in, FreQuency’s tracks were aligned on a tunnel which was somewhat ugly to look at. Amplitude’s tracks were flattened into a landscape which made for a much more visually appealing format. This format would eventually inspire the track system in Guitar Hero and other projects that followed. In addition, Amplitude made use of a much more mainstream list of songs in hopes of capturing the interests of a wider audience. Names like Run-DMC, Weezer and even the likes of David Bowie made it onto the track list.
Unfortunately, much like FreQuency, while Amplitude received critical praise and the affection of fans new and old, it didn’t sell incredibly well and became another cult classic in Harmonix’s back catalogue. It didn’t end there though. In 2014, Harmonix launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a remake of Amplitude in order to gauge player interest in the game for a possible future sequel. The Kickstarter met its goal within 24 hours of close and collected over $800,000 from over 14,000 contributors. The remake would launch in January of 2016 on PS4.
Ultimately, Amplitude will never have the accolades that Harmonix would enjoy on many of its flagship series in the years following Amplitude’s original release, but Amplitude and FreQuency do serve a very important purpose for what they are. It was with these games that Harmonix began to establish itself as an authority in the field of musical game development. They were testing grounds for what worked and what didn’t as Harmonix built its experience in the music gaming industry and would directly inspire many of the tools and mechanics that Harmonix would apply to much more successful endeavors immediately following.