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Fuser Is All About the Downbeat, but Won’t Beat You Down

fuser preview

“This is not a hard game, but there are a lot of buttons.”

This comment from Daniel Sussman, project director at Harmonix, sums up Fuser fairly succinctly. It offers a lot of tools. It shows you lots of ways you can have fun with them. Eventually it leaves it up to you to decide what you enjoy most. Sussman, along with marketing director Dan Walsh and community manager Zoe Schneider, gave us an early tour of the game’s launch build, set for release on November 10, 2020.

Fuser tries to walk a fine line: giving players all the tools they need to make intricate, personalized mixes while not overwhelming early players. Sussman says that’s the driving force behind the game’s campaign. The “promoter” characters hosting each stage introduce both new mechanics and ways of exploring existing ones, helping players get used to making mixes and also giving them a window into ways they could enjoy taking their efforts. But it takes the time to ramp things up.

“I think the skill is ‘can you do it at all,’ and then ‘can you do it on the beat,'” Sussman said.

Sussman describes Fuser as “a game about collection.” The hook of the game is unlocking items and earning in-game currency through your mixes, then spending them to grab your favorite songs and accessories in the shop. Both through finding more and more songs and effects to use in mixing and through customizing your avatar, the team at Harmonix hopes you’ll have lots of tools for self-expression. You can mix and match these however you want, too — there’s nothing gender-locked — and Walsh says the team focused on being “out there, artistic, and expressive,” not sticking to realistic options.

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Timing isn’t everything in Fuser, but it’s close. Matching your mix changes to the downbeat is a large part of your score, as is catering to crowd requests. The campaign can get hard — seriously hard — in the later sections, as it adds more for you to do and expects more mastery.

But the game will never judge you. Right?

“Well, it’ll judge you by telling you how great you are all the time,” Sussman corrected.

You see, while it wants to be a game with challenge and effort, it also wants to be a creative playground that reinforces your attempts at creativity. (And it’s also fully aware that “good” mixes are subjective.) Outside of the campaign-specific unlocks, being bad at the game only means you’ll accrue the in-game currency a bit more slowly and it’ll take you a little longer to get songs and outfits and such. There’s also “no-fail mode,” a Harmonix staple.

Outside of the campaign, it offers collaborative multiplayer that Walsh says “isn’t really scored at all.” It’s a welcoming, safe space to enjoy music with friends, and it really stretches that plural. Up to four players can mix together in this mode, and eight more can spectate while they do. It also features a full Freestyle sandbox mode, complete with a function to capture mixes and export them to share on social media. If you’re looking for a mode with clear winners and losers, though, that’s Battles. Here, players mix head-to-head, and it’s all about learning and adapting to maximize your scores with your tunes. But all of it is made to make you feel in control of your mixes.

“Our focus was how do we make it feel as though your music choices are intentional, no matter what you’re doing?,” Walsh said.

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If you want to use Fuser to make masterpieces, though, you can truly take advantage of its depth. There are lots of little menus for effects, really letting you manipulate songs to make something truly different. Sure, you can adjust key and tempo like in Harmonix’s previous music-mixing game, DropMix. But Fuser goes way beyond that, presenting a series of matrices you can explore.

Community manager Schneider is confident that players can reach that high level of play with time.

“I remember demoing the first demo and sweating, making sure to hit the downbeat so people got to see the positive reinforcement,” Schneider said.

Now, she says, you could hand her a controller in her sleep and she’d probably play just fine.

Fuser‘s social functions allow you to explore what other players are doing, follow them and like their mixes. With such complex tools in the game, this could mean a lot more than just listening to what your friend made in a few minutes. There are also in-game mixing events, rewarding top mixers with exclusive cosmetic gear.

fuser preview

Fuser‘s track list is “about three-quarters licensed music, give or take,” says Walsh, and the remaining fourth is made up of internal tracks. Walsh said the goal for these in-house songs was to provide different textures and sounds that would be difficult to get from licensed tracks, like peculiar instruments or subtler, mix-friendly add-ins. Of course, some inclusions are more for meme-heavy fun and challenge than pure listening merit.

“You’ve gotta give the people what they want,” Walsh said.

Deciding what songs would make the cut for Fuser‘s launch slate was particularly challenging for its 2020 selections. You see, the game divides songs by decade, and also genre, for challenges. This includes “the 2020s,” which as of right now is less than one year.

“And during most of development, we weren’t in the 2020s yet,” Sussman added.

The team at Harmonix delayed until the last possible moment to finalize its 2020 tracks, waiting to see which were the defining hits of the year. And, of course, the team expects this category to grow in the future through DLC.

And about that DLC: how did they decide which songs were on the disc and which were add-ons? Throughout development, Harmonix had quotas for genre and decade. This was both to make sure those campaign challenges were functional and interesting and, as Sussman says, because that variety is the point of the game. But past that?

“The dialogue about which songs would go into these categories was wildly debated,” Sussman said.

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Thanks to Dan, Daniel and Zoe for taking the time to show us the game! Fuser, developed by Harmonix and published by NCSoft, is slated for release November 10, 2020 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. For more information, check out our interview from earlier this year. Stay tuned for our review!

Graham Russell
Graham Russell, editor-at-large, has been writing about games for various sites and publications since 2007. He’s a fan of streamlined strategy games, local multiplayer and upbeat aesthetics. He joined Siliconera in February 2020, and served as its Managing Editor until July 2022. When he’s not writing about games, he’s a graphic designer, web developer, card/board game designer and editor.