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The making of Dance Central

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The making of Dance Central
02-06-2011, 02:25 AM
Post: #1
The making of Dance Central
Did you ever wonder how was Dance Central made? How did the developers come up with the moves for easy, medium and hard levels?  What difficulties appeared during development? If yes, then this article is what you're looking for.
Dance Central is one of the most popular Kinect games, which makes it more interesting as to how this game came into existance. In the latest issue of Game Developer magazine, an article written by Harmonix's Kasson Crooker, Marc Flury, Matt Boch, Dean Tate, and Ryan Challinor has been published about the making of Dance Central. Here we'll present the most interesting points.

The idea
Dance Central's design started with a lofty aim: to create a game that will teach players real dance moves. This goal served as a compass during early prototyping, leading the team toward designs that gave prominence to dancing above all else.
The first step
We utilized the instantly recognizable choreography from Soulja Boy's 'Crank Dat' as a litmus test for potential mechanics, throwing out a number of pose matching and gem hitting prototypes when they didn't stand up to the challenge of communicating moves like the 'Lean n' Rock' or the 'Supaman'. After a few months and several iterations, we settled on our move names and flashcards approach, which handily communicated the entirety of 'Crank Dat'.
The making of development team
We held company-wide tryouts to determine who would mocap the first prototype routine. We asked each prospective choreographer to both dance the routine to 'Crank Dat' and develop a routine of his or her own design. [...] A handful of Harmonix artists proved to be outstanding dancers and were promptly sent to mocap the first routines.

This choreography proved essential during prototyping, but we quickly realized it would be critical to add professional dancers to the staff, both to create original professional-level choreography for the game and to teach the rest of the team how to dance.

Our strike teams consisted of a designer, coder, artists, sound designer, QA tester, and a producer, each empowered to scope, design, and prototype the main gameplay modes.
The focus
We spent most of our time perfecting the dance gameplay, learning how to best handle difficulty, building a teaching mode, and making sure our flashcard and spotlight HUD were conveying the right information at the right time, all in the service of keeping the dancing as fun and entertaining as possible.
The difficulty levels - first try
We knew that having a broad range of choreography was necessary for the game to appeal to both novices and experts, but as the project unfolded we were unsure about the qualities that define the difficulty of a given move.

Our first attempt began with our choreographers developing a few complex routines and presenting them to the design team. The design team, a group with a range of dance skills, tried out each move and discussed which were easy, medium, and hard. Using those ratings, we derived easy and medium combinations and videotaped the choreographers performing them.

We presented these videos to various play-testers and had each try to dance along, rating the difficulty of the moves and the routines. Unfortunately, our playtesters weren't good judges of their own skill level or performance.
The difficulty levels - second try
We tried again, this time encouraging our choreographers to come up with a few very simple routines. This time, our easy and medium levels turned out much easier.

We thought we had reached an acceptable easy, but then tried presenting these levels to some key high-level staff who struggled, unable to perform the majority of the moves.
The difficulty levels - third and last try
With a few months to go, we finally figured out how to use staff members with minimal dance skills to our advantage. We asked our choreographers to generate a number of very easy moves and set up a dance class to teach these moves to the self-described 'bad dancers' at Harmonix.

The choreographers went through each move, asking the novices to follow along as the designers watched and noted which moves they picked up quickly. Using this information, we crafted four new easy songs, which make up the first tier of Dance Central. Although we succeeded in making these first songs very approachable, the difficulty ramp across all songs is not as smooth as we would have liked.
Hope you enjoyed finding out about the making of Dance Central! If you're a Dance Central fan then you can read more news on the game here.
Source: Gamasutra.

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