Harmonix, the studio behind many rhythm game hits like Guitar Hero (2005) and Rock Band (2007), today announced what they’re calling a “VR rhythm shooter” that looks—to be frank—pretty freaking awesome.
I guess there’s just something about combining body movements with music that is naturally appealing (who would have guessed?); as someone who has said on more than one occasion that a VR gun game featuring ‘instructed gameplay’ (in the vein of Beat Saber) could be tons of fun, I was thrilled to see today’s announcement of Audica, which looks to skillfully tie together gun mechanics with some audio-visual instructions to create a game which looks to only really make sense in VR.
The game is slated to launch in Early Access on March 7th, and is set to come to the Oculus Rift and SteamVR (ostensibly supporting Vive, Windows VR, and Rift). Harmonix hasn’t yet mentioned support for the upcoming Oculus Quest, but they’d be missing a huge potential opportunity if they aren’t already designing Audica to land there eventually (my guess is that they are).
As for the game’s mechanics: from the trailer we can see a variety of distinct ‘shot’ types that players will need to manage: there’s a ‘hold’ shot (which looks like electricity), ‘straight’ (circular target), ‘sideways’ (horizontal target), ‘rapid fire’ (strings of diamond targets), and ‘hit’ notes where the player has to smack a sphere with their gun.
While the type and timing of each shot is clearly visible, I’m very interested to see how (of even if) the game helps players understand how to move from one note to the next. One reason why Beat Saber feels so good is that notes are confined to a small area in front of the player and they also explicitly indicate the swing direction; it becomes intuitive over time how one would move from one block to the next (given the note position and swing direction), even when playing tracks you’ve never played before. With Audica’s notes seemingly covering a much larger potential area, it may be challenging to help the player understand which movements between notes will be best, short of raw practice and memorization.
Something else I’m curious about about is the frequency with which users will need to pull the triggers. I’ve played a handful of (bad) VR games that basically ask the player to continuously pull the trigger to shoot a pistol for the entire duration of gameplay, which can very quickly lead to finger strain. Harmonix will need to be careful not to directly tie track difficulty to trigger frequency, and to smartly rely on a mix of mechanics to avoid finger fatigue (as they appear to be doing so far in the trailer).
In an announcement post on Reddit, the team behind the game said, “Audica has been a passion project for a small team here at the studio and we’re thrilled to finally share it with the world.”
The team answered an impromptu Q&A offering up some additional details on the game:
- “The soundtrack will be a mix of licensed music (the majority) and tracks from Harmonix friends & family. The core soundtrack is expected to be electronic but if the game does well and there is demand for DLC I think we would experiment with some different genres.”
- “When you buy Audica in Early Access you get access to the full soundtrack. On March 7 that will be 10 songs but we’re targeting a 25+ song soundtrack for full release later this year. As we add songs to the soundtrack you’ll get them for free. We may do DLC down the road but it’s a bit too early to say how or what it would look like.”
- “It’s definitely a challenge on Expert but each song has 4 difficulties so there’s something for everyone.”
The team has notably avoided answering questions about the potential for modding and custom music in Audica, which is understandable considering issues with music licensing. Those capabilities are an essential reason why Beat Saber has formed a strong and active community.
Audica isn’t Harmonix’s first foray into VR, but it does look to be their most inventive—and dare I say, promising—yet. The studio actually has a significant track record across major VR platforms, having previously released Harmonix Music VR (2016) on PSVR, Rock Band VR (2017) on Oculus Rift, and SingSpace (2017) on Gear VR.