In mid-late 2012, Korean pop singer Psy was all over everything. His catchy dance tune “Gangnam Style” was unavoidable. So the song was a perfect fit for Harmonix Music Systems’s game Dance Central 3.
Harmonix is a strange, little game company. It got its start making quirky, music-driven games like Amplitude, which not very many people paid attention to. But those who did pay attention were huge fans.
Then Guitar Hero happened. Lots of people were involved in that game, but Harmonix’s music-based game technology was the heart of it. With Guitar Hero, and then Rock Band, Harmonix rapidly became one of the biggest game industry success stories in history.
In 2012, Harmonix’s star was already in decline, but it had found modest success with Dance Central. Dance games were popular, and Harmonix’s method of taking popular music and passionately and laboriously turning it into exciting gameplay was winning over dance fans the same way it had won over guitar fans.
I wanted to go inside the studio and find out how it did what it did. They invited me in as they were wrapping up work on the “Gangnam Style” downloadable content for Dance Central 3. I spent a whole day there with the Polygon video crew, and then we turned the story and documentary video around in less than four days.