Preview: DROPMIX Could Be 'Rock Band' Developer's Comeback Game


For a few years, Harmonix had been one of the hottest developers on the planet. The team created "Guitar Hero" and after that explosive success, they moved on to "Rock Band."

But gamers' tastes are fickle. As music-rhythm games grew more popular, publishers saturated the market with them. There was title on every system and they all aped each other. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie, and in the end, music titles felt out of favor and gamers moved on. With the decline of the genre, Harmonix fortunes fell as well.

That could change with "DROPMIX." Harmonix has teamed up with Hasbro, owner of the "Magic: The Gathering" trading card game, for a new endeavour in the music space. It's an interesting collaboration that makes sense once you see the project in action. Players start off with a deck of cards, and they battle for five Mix Slots on this plastic play space. The magic comes when players put the card on the game board -- music starts playing.

A number of factors determines what kind of track players will hear. The cards that players put down represent bands or solo acts, and depending on their color, it adds a different part of a song to the mix. The blue introduces the beat while the red adds melody. Yellow introduces vocals and green pounds the bass. (Think of it as the four parts in a session of "Rock Band") The center acts almost as a wild card/remix section. With so many different types of music, players would expect cacophony, but Harmonix has developed a system that dynamically mixes the music. It matches rhythm to beat and the music that comes out blends convincingly.

"In 'Fantasia,' we preauthored mixes," says principal designer Jonathan Mintz of Harmonix. "This is a different level of technology. We have to dynamically transpose it. It opens up freedom and flexibility."

The magic comes from the NFC chips built inside the cards. The DROPMIX board is an NFC reader and that information is fed into a game app that players need to download on their Android or iOS device.

"I'm a music collector. Hasbro does 'Magic the Gathering,'" Mintz said. "What if these two inspiration come together? It's not only fun to listen to the music you love, but to be able to take them and transform them into new ways."

"DROPMIX" pits two sides against each other in Clash Mode. They battle over control of five Mix Slots. Each time, they take over a space they earn points. The rub is that cards are color coded and can only be placed on matching slots. In addition, the collectible pieces have special properties. Some let them remove rival cards while others are flexible enough that they can be placed on two different colors. The first side to earn a certain points wins the contest.

The game operates in turns, where players can perform two actions. They can place two cards on two slots if there is space available, or they can hit the equalizer button. It clears one mix from a slot.

Over the course the game, the music changes as players remove rivals' cards and add their own. "DROPMIX" integrates them seamlessly, and because of the different genres of cards such as latin, country, pop and rock, players can experience a unique amalgam aevery time. Mintz says there are tens of millions of mixes because the music changes with the combination of cards and the order in which they're played is a factor.

It's an intoxicating idea and makes players feel as if they're creating music together. What's great is that the game can record the mix and if players like it, they can download and share it.

"DROPMIX" is an intriguing idea and if it catches on, perhaps we can see another renaissance of the music genre. One that Harmonix has again started. The game is scheduled for release September 2017. The DROPMIX Music Gaming System, which includes an electronic DROPMIX Board and 60 DROPMIX Cards across multiple music genres, will sell for $99.99. Playlist Packs, which include 16 cards, costs $14.99. Five cards are priced at $4.99. The developer says 300 cards will be available this year. ___

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