Dance Central 3 isn't just the superior choreography experience gamers can get this year. It's also a video game that embeds homages to arcade classics and pop cultural ephemera deep inside super-clever, split-second easter eggs.
Harmonix uses its time travel plot device to nod its own predecessors like Computer Space and make roundabout nods to movies like Back to the Future. Of course, when you're obsessed with nailing Dance Central 3's steps during a play session, it can be hard to catch any of that stuff. Luckily, Harmonix is letting Kotaku show off the neat details lurking in the game's backgrounds — lead producer Matt Boch offering up commentary with each image — via concept art for Dance Central 3's different decades.
For each "venue", we start out with a concept sketch of the venue in its normal state, and a second in "peak state", the transformed neon state that venues transition to when you're dancing well.
'70s Venue Concept. Our boy, "DJ MacCoy" is holding down the decks in this concept drawing.
'70s Peak Concept. Peak states always try to take the shape and form of the venue, and then abstract it with neon ribbons and fields reminiscent of our distinctive UI. When we went into full production with the '70s venue, we added reactive equaliser bars around the DJ booth to make it pop that much more.
When we actually start building out the venues, we review tons of reference so we can ensure that all the details match the time period and aesthetic of the venue. This is where we start getting to have some fun, adding character elements that make the venues more than just backdrops. Some very classic looking arcades and pinball machines, like a Computer Space coin-op.
'80s Venue Concept. We wanted to go for a b-boy street-side feel for this era, as that fit with the choreographic style we were going for in this decade.
'80s Peak Concept. We went with a much more aggressive geometry change here than we usually do, wiping away most of the buildings and leaving a huge, arcing set of ribbons in their place. It's a fantastic moment when you're dancing well and then the buildings sink right into the ground.
The back wall is emblazoned with Hi Def crew graffiti, and they're dancing on the corner of "Central Alley" and "Toprock Ave". Toprocking is the primary style of breakdancing we use in Dance Central, as it gets difficult to see the screen when you're threading or doing a 6-step.
'90s Venue Concept. We wanted to go with a house party vibe, as that fit with early '90s aesthetic of Taye & Lil' T's looks. In the campaign, you learn this is actually Taye & Lil' T's childhood home. Lil' T wasn't even alive to see it in this state, more on that later…
'90s Peak Concept. Again, a pretty aggressive geometric simplification here, with the staircase upstairs becoming a stairway to neon heaven.
This is the scene that generated the absolute best bug of the project:
"Bug 60817: Anachronistic photos in 90s venue in Story Mode"
1) Launch DC3
2) Select Main Menu >Story
3) Choose any difficulty
4) Play until the 90s
Photographs of Taye and Li'l T are visible on a shelf in their childhood home, despite Li'l T not being born in the 90s (as Taye herself points out once they return to the present), and Taye being at least 20 years younger at the time.
Venues contain no anachronisms.
Given the perfectionist streak at Harmonix, and the obvious dangers of messing with the time-space continuum, this could not stand, so we made 2 new photos of Taye as a kid: one with the classic laser background that made us super jealous of kids whose parents let them pick that on school photo day, another showcasing Taye's classic hat from DC1, which she gave to Lil' T in DC2.
'00s Venue Concept. The idea here was to recreate a Times Square style reality dance show. Bodie & Emelia of the Riptide Crew have been sent back to the 00s, but rather than keep a low profile, as they'd been instructed to do, they've started a dance show, using the art and style of Dance Central.
'00s Peak Concept. Again, riffing on the geometry of the stage and the window to create a compelling night-club feel.
DCI Venue Concept. We wanted DCI to feel equal parts secret headquarters and swanky nightclub. We modelled the command centre to split the difference between a bar and a futuristic spy console.
DCI Peak Concept. Given that the space already had a club vibe, we maintain a bit more of the key elements of the scene, while augmenting it with DC's trademark neon ribbons.
Time Machine Concept. Going back to the ribbon motif here. We made every effort to integrate DC's distinct visual elements as we built out the narrative world. The ribbon UI that we debuted in DC1 has a futuristic, magical feel that makes perfect sense for a time machine...
Tan's Throne Room Concept. The team loves Skyrim & Game of Thrones. This is our homage to that visual style, with a bird theme, given that Dr. Tan's menacing crew is called "Murder of Crows."
Tan's Throne Room in Peak. WE CAN TURN LITERALLY ANYTHING INTO A NIGHT CLUB.