We tested Fuser, new from the makers of Guitar Hero
Harmonix has developed a few games about recreating and performing music. However, this time the studio responsible for Guitar Hero and Dance Central wants players to be creative. In Fuser everything is based on creating remixes of popular songs, whether in campaign mode, in freestyle mode or in multiplayer.
After the launch event earlier this year, we have now finally been able to play Fuser for a long time. Specifically, I’ve been playing for four days with thirty-one songs, two campaign missions, and freestyle mode.
You control four channels, and each song is divided into drums, bassline, a melody instrument (like synths or strings), and vocals. Each of these categories is assigned to a button, so you always press a button with the right hand for the vocal track, the left hand for the drums, and so on. Although the controls are very intuitive, at first Fuser seems complex. Unlike previous Harmonix games, where you focused on the instrument and the audience and your avatar was relegated to the background, here is a whole music festival virtually between you and the mixing board. At first I laughed thinking at the image of a huge festival crowd yelling “we want country!”, But it’s just one of the playable details that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of Fuser’s ideas. The game asks you to divide your attention between the requests of the public, the tasks of the game itself and, of course, making music. Fuser is different for Harmonix not only because it leaves behind the challenge inherent in classic rhythm games, but because the developers are trying to reach an audience that is not interested in musical games as a test of skill, or who does not want to invest in peripherals. by basing all their control on the command they already have.
“The way things have happened, Fuser comes at the right time,” Marketing Director Dan Walsh tells me of the coronavirus pandemic, which has made it much more difficult to produce and distribute physical peripherals. “But overall accessibility was our main concern from the beginning. Fuser works the same regardless of what platform or controller you use, and there is no wrong way to play it.”
Walsh also mentions Fantasia: Music Evolved and DropMix. The latter is perhaps the closest thing to Fuser, although it was unsuccessful as it required a large board and was prohibitively high at launch. “DropMix used the mechanics of a board game, and asked the players to make strategic decisions that were not related to music,” he explains. “With DropMix and Fantasia we took the direction of introducing a greater agency in the player, something that for example Guitar Hero did not have. With a game like Guitar Hero your experience and mine with a song will be practically indistinguishable, because we will both get the five stars in the same way. In Fuser the ability has a completely different meaning. “
Product manager Daniel Sussman adds that “we are never going to tell you that your mix is bad. Taste is subjective. What we ask is that you let yourself go and we are not going to penalize you for it.”
There are a few categories in which you get scored, and you can’t lose points, but I soon discover that what gives you points is not necessarily interesting on a musical level. This usually causes my musical and player instincts to clash with each other. Let’s say you’ve discovered a set of clues that you want to entertain for a bit, but a request interrupts you. What festival goers ask of you can be a fatal fit with the mix you are making, which will not change one thing, but everything. Yes, this keeps you going, but it gives very little time to simply enjoy the music for a moment or wait for the song to reach a good point for change. You have the option to ignore the request, but complying with them and changing quickly on the fly is, in the end, the way to get points. There is also a crowd satisfaction meter, in which the software interprets how well the songs you’ve chosen fit together. To satisfy the requirements as a Fuser video game, I sometimes end up making mixes that I don’t like, even when the assignments are open to your interpretation, like “put on a 2010 song” or “use just three discs.”
Everything is automatically mapped to the same beat and key, but I assume that songs where the vowels have to be sped up a lot to match the beat will be less successful with audiences than those that fit more naturally. I am concerned that when a player is looking for a high score they sometimes don’t know exactly what they are scoring for. The fact that scoring points and doing something that sounds good is sometimes exclusive is what disappoints Fuser the most. Sometimes the software also works against you, forcing you to do things it considers acceptable: I tried in every possible way to break it, but when something doesn’t fit with the rest, Fuser simply mutes those parts or uses them to replace the track with the one that doesn’t fit. . Things may sound strange – my personal little win was finding room for clues that didn’t fit with anything at first – but usually Fuser takes over the reins before you can create something that will bleed your ears.
With Fuser Harmonix he insists on diversity and an open mind. Your avatar does not have a certain gender, and there is a generous variety of body type and skin tones. Similarly, Fuser pushes you out of your musical comfort zone by familiarizing yourself with songs you may not know or like. The demo is quite focused on rap and pop songs, but there is also a country song, which encourages me to mix it up with other songs that couldn’t be more different. This led me to ask Walsh and Sussman if these musical differences have caused problems when licensing music.
“We’ve definitely had artists say no to us because they don’t feel comfortable being remixed this way,” explains Walsh. “Artists of the 2010s are much more familiar with the culture of mashup and remixes, so they were generally more open to the idea when we explained what Fuser was.”
The first screen that you play in the demo is the first screen of the final game, which includes a small tutorial. The second screen I had at my disposal was already more advanced, and there was a sample pad on it. At a certain point you should create a short loop with the pad, record it, and then use it in your mix. This means you have to navigate to a menu, choose a sample pad, find out a bit what you want and how it sounds, and record it, all with a time limit. It is enough. It’s not something you can be good at with the skills that games normally demand of you, and it certainly has made me more respectful of real DJs. You should also be intimately familiar with the (up to) sixteen songs that you use at the same time. When I wasn’t playing the wind section of Lizzo’s Good as H**l would whistle, because thanks to Fuser I now know what it sounds like. I also know that it goes really well with the Rock the Casbah bass line. Discovering these things is exciting for me. I love being able to chop up the songs, hear what makes them recognizable and use all of that in a different context, but knowing something so well takes time, time that the campaign doesn’t give you. I’ve spent most of my time in freestyle mode because that’s where I think everything fits together and sounds good, and that means more to me than a high score. But at Fuser, the pursuit of a high score and freedom of speech are often the only two things that don’t mix, even when everything else does.