Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy were not the first to combine music and videogames, but they were central to the global success of the rhythm genre.
Since the release of Masaya Matsuura’s PaRappa the Rapper (1996), rhythm and play has become increasingly popular. Rigopulos and Egozy’s studio Harmonix’s first two rhythm games, the cult classics Frequency (2001) and Amplitude (2003), were abstract games with trance-like visuals matched to a gameplay of tight precision. Rhythmic button taps activate different instruments in pop songs, giving the player the feeling of being both performer and producer.
Despite critical acclaim, both titles failed to perform commercially. Initially, when Rigopulos had pitched Frequency to Microsoft, vice-president of game publishing Ed Fries had told him that no rhythm game would succeed without a peripheral. A subsequent and fortuitous meeting with the founders of Red Octane, Kai and Charles Huang, who were designing plastic guitar controllers, brought Harmonix the chance to put their experience with compelling beat-match gameplay to work and led to the release of Guitar Hero (2005), a peripheral-based rhythm game.
Unable to license original recordings, Harmonix initially used cover versions of popular rock songs for their soundtrack. But any limit to Harmonix’s access soon faded as the game generated US$45m in the two months following its release, bringing music games into the mainstream. Rock Band (2007) expanded the concept into a full band set up, introducing drums, vocals and, eventually, keyboards to the mix. The game surpassed US$1 billion in sales in its first 15 months.
Harmonix has found more recent success by removing physical controllers entirely. The Dance Central (2010) series makes use of Microsoft’s Kinect camera technology. As a dance party game, Dance Central allows players to learn a series of dance routines and scores their performance ability and accuracy. Dance Central 2 (2011) enhances the social aspect of the game by introducing 2-player multiplayer and an improved dance battle mode.