Games of 2020: Fuser

In a year where live music fell silent, a game that kept the beat going.

BeatMania 6th Mix + Core Remix (Japan) PSX ISO - CDRomance
(This is not Fuser.)

If I were to rewind back to early 2002, there’s a scene I’d be able to point out where my outlook on music games was planted.

I would’ve been in front of my Playstation 1, trying out five key Beatmania for the first time. Already deeply familiar with DDR, the gameplay mechanics of doing something to the beat were not new. But pushing a button to trigger a “keysound” – some small sample, sequenced into the notechart – was very different. Properly following the game’s instructions got you better sounding music, rather than solely higher score. That clicked something inside my head.

I am the first to admit that, on average, I am not good at music games. Even though much of my “gaming legacy” is around being a “Bemani veteran”, I grew tired of the grind long ago. I am not going to regain whatever marginal skill I previously had in beatmania IIDX, or start a quest to grind out the hardest DDR songs. Yet I still love the games where I can fumble my way through “playing” a track.

This outlook change happened again when Harmonix’s Rock Band first hit the market. Now, it wasn’t merely making music play, but doing it together. Playing at a part was a thousand times more interesting than chasing gold stars on Expert.

Fuser’s primary game screen.

Harmonix’s Fuser, released this November, has pushed my music game views forward once more. Here, we’ve moved past keysounds entirely, and in a world where stems – the individual instrumentation or vocals – from any song can be stacked on top of each other. The work that Harmonix did to automate beat-matching, pitch, and tempo in Dropmix migrates to Fuser and integrates so well it feels magical. Almost any combination of tracks can sound good.

The gameplay elements of Fuser are effectively secondary. Sure, you can quest through some sort of music festival narrative fulfilling requests from the producers and fans in the crowds. But it is less interesting and more tutorial-ish than the two modes I have spent the most time in: social mix making, and co-op freestyle.

Social mix making happens weekly, where based on some given criteria, you can put together a mix and unleash it into a queue-based voting system. The game’s traditional scoring mechanics go out the window. Here, you’re only going to place well for the week if you put together something that sounds good.

Here was my submission for a competition around building an “entrance theme”:

Separately, co-op freestyle has you and up to three people switching off at the virtual turntables, putting down what you think sounds good. You can cheer for each other, and there’s some algorithmic determination of the “hottest moment”. Those elements are ignorable; just getting to noodle around with friends trying to re-assemble old songs in new ways is a blast.

Harmonix has already built a pipeline of DLC releases and is making changes in light of community feedback, so there’s no doubt I’ll be coming back to Fuser again and again in 2021. Music gamers looking for thrills beyond AAA hunting should check it out.

Fuser is available on Steam, PS4, Switch, and Xbox. I’ve spent 17 hours in it as of writing this.


By Popular Request, Nine Years Late: Why I Hate Midnite Blaze

3,295 days ago, I penned a blog post reviewing a newly released Bemani remix CD, “V-Rare 5”. Within the context of that review, I wrote the following to open my discussion of track 6, “Midnite Blaze (SySF Mix)”:

And this will be a really tough sell because I HATE Midnite Blaze.

This may seem to casual observers like an awfully specific and odd sentence in the over 1,500 blog posts to point out. I would agree. Which is why I was left dumbstruck by a tweet I received this evening from @Tim_at_where:

"@Remy Please don't block me for this, but care to give me a history lesson on your #haterade toward Midnite Blaze by @U1_ASAMi?"

Well, Tim, since you asked…well, wait, I haven’t listened to that particular DDR standard since probably around 2005. For the sake of remembering it, here it is on YouTube:

Ah. Right.

I hate Midnite Blaze mostly because of the vocals. Scott Dolph‘s rapping was always way down my list of favorite things, and it’s pretty laughable here (“Step by step as I approach / I say to myself I need a coach”). The delivery is way too fast and comes in at really weird pitches. Listen to the second section of his rap – it’s all over the place, like he’s reading the words from the page for the first time and not sure which way his voice should go. And he wrote the lyrics himself, if his RemyWiki page is to be believed. For the record, I never liked Drop The Bomb either.

The refrain comes in at such a high register it gives me a headache, and just as lyrically bizarre. And for what it’s worth, the synth line also feels derivative – it’s a touch too close to Naoki’s Broken My Heart.

For whatever it’s worth: in the 9 years since I wrote that review, the only DDR music that remains in my iTunes library are the 2nd Mix and DDRMAX soundtracks, as well as the BEMANI BEST FOR 10TH ANNIVERSARY compilation and various Diverse System remixes. All the Dancemania albums and V-Rares EPs are gone.

And hey: anyone else has random questions about what I meant a decade ago, don’t be shy! I’m more than happy to elaborate – if I can remember what I was talking about!

Debated Reflected

Going Beyond

On May 3rd of last year, I made a critical decision that I never spoke about here: I began a shutdown of VJ Army and Pop’n Navy, the two Bemani community sites that had been the lifeblood of my web presence since 2004. (No, my blog is not called VJ Army.)

The decision was not a hard one: a lack of time/resources for programming had left both sites in a code stasis for over a year. Bugs weren’t getting fixed, and no relief was in sight. Complicating things was a forum community that was mostly interested in sniping and trolling each other. I no longer felt like a member in my own forums, and that weighed heavily on my conscious. It was a deeply painful failure to keep what had once been a civil, “good” corner of the gaming community from turning toxic.
While the sites officially shut down a month later on my birthday (a perverse birthday gift for myself), users were able to export their personal data into a portable XML format until what was supposed to be December 31st, 2009.

IIDX Hardcore For Life

As it turned out, that day I was in Akihabara, playing the very games that I had fallen in love with back in 2003. As my interest in Bemani has waned dramatically over the last few years, it’s not lost on me that as I clicked away and slapped the plastic turntable back and forth, no thoughts passed through my head about recording scores or checking where I was ranked.

The data survived into 2010 until tonight, when I finally pulled the trigger and expunged all the data from my database. So if you hadn’t exported your data yet – I apologize, but you’re too late. I don’t have a copy anymore.

There were countless things I learned from the five years the sites ran: nerdy things about database optimization and PHP’s image libraries; hard fought struggles with moderating communities and building good controls for data review; pointers on staffing a no-profit web site and balancing life versus your projects. Maybe these lessons will surface in other posts over the coming year – maybe they won’t. There is just one on my mind tonight:

The best schools and books and teachers in the world are no comparison to going out and building something that people want to use. Go: dig your hands into the soil (as it were), and create something. Be the president, the support technician, the artist, the lead programmer, the project manager. Take all of the credit and accept all of the blame.
I’ve quoted this before, but I can think of nothing more fitting:

> Don’t be afraid. If you want to do something, just go ahead and do it, but be prepared to take the blame, to feel the fall. Don’t sit around waiting to be asked, to be given permission. Just get out there and do it.

As I said in the original shutdown notice – it was a great five years, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.