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Valiant Hearts director designs indie game to help teach music history

Valiant Hearts co-director turned indie developer Joan Fanise talks briefly about the design goals and development process of emotive rhythm game Lost In Harmony, his studio's debut game.

In the wake of co-directing development on Valiant Hearts, Ubisoft Montpellier veteran Yoan Fanise went indie and co-founded Digixart earlier this year to try and make games "with deeper meaning" faster than he could at a big triple-A studio.

The emphasis on speed appears to be no joke, as Fanise is in Tokyo this week to debut Digixart's first game at the Tokyo Game Show: Lost In Harmonya rhythm game with Miyazaki-inspired art design and musical contributions from Wyclef Jean. Incidentally, Digixart is reportedly the only French indie exhibiting at TGS, and though the demo is running on iPads the team is hoping to bring the game to consoles as well.

More interesting, from a developer's perspective, is the fact that Yanise is aiming to design a rhythm game with a meaningful narrative and a strong historical element, a la Valiant HeartsBut whereas that game sought to help educate players about the first World War, Lost In Harmony is being designed, in part, to help educate curious players about the history of Classical music. 

"I wanted to stimulate curiosity, [so] we added a historical layer like in Valiant Hearts about those Classical composers for the younger generation," Yanise recently told me via email. "The challenge is to tell something by music; this is what symphonic music was composed to do, and that's why I chose to incorporate many pieces of Classical music that fit with the story we're telling."

Fanise says he learned some useful lessons about how music and rhythm games can elicity empathy while working on games like Just Dance, and he believes developers can still find new ways of storytelling through music game design.

"I think there is an association between [rhythm] gameplay and storytelling that has never been done," he tells me. "I learned [while making Just Dance] how to interpret music into movements, a bit like a choreographer, but in a very humble and simple way," and he suggests that designing a narrative game around music and rhythm mechanics empowers game makers to evoke empathy more effectively than, say, quick-time events.

"Video games have this superpower to make you live something deeply engaging," opines Fanise. "Why not use it then, by adding cultural elements to your game?"

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