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Amplitude's team multiplayer mode could be the life of the party

I am very good at Rock Band. I am not very good at Amplitude, I discovered at PAX East 2015.

There once was a time when I played most Rock Band songs on expert difficulty for vocals, guitar and bass, and hard difficulty on drums. So the first time I tried a song in the Kickstarter-funded Amplitude, I figured I'd be fine on medium.

I failed when I was 25 percent of the way through.

It turned out that my timing was off — it's been a long while since I tried to sight-read gems flying down a screen toward me — but I also wasn't used to moving around note highways with a D-pad and hitting gems with face or shoulder buttons. And with Harmonix set to launch its Amplitude reboot this summer, more than 12 years after the original game, I'm guessing I'm not alone in being unfamiliar with the PlayStation 2 cult favorite.

Until recently, Amplitude contained two modes of play: solo and free-for-all multiplayer, both of which were available in the 2003 game. But the standard competitive multiplayer mode is at its best when the participants are equally as good at the game.

"We wanted to make the game more fun for people of different skill levels," said Ryan Lesser, creative lead on Amplitude, in an interview with Polygon at PAX East.

Harmonix was trying to figure out a way to start playing with difficulty, and audio lead Pete Maguire suggested cooperative play, which had never existed in the old Amplitude. While the team was wary of adding superfluous pieces to the game, especially since Harmonix had already had to delay the game to summer, it quickly became clear that team multiplayer was working so well that it had to make it in for launch.

Team Play, which Harmonix implemented in Amplitude within the past month, can work in two-on-two or three-on-one configurations. There's no way to fail in this mode: You'll always make it through the song, and all that matters is which side has the higher score at the end.

Lesser told Polygon that the 2v2 option will work well for groups where each team has one skilled player and one casual player, while in 3v1, three lesser players can hold their own against one expert. The combatants use power-ups offensively, trying to throw off their opponents with Disruptor and Eject. Team play brings some strategic elements to Amplitude. Lesser gave the example of two-person squads setting up one player as the gem collector and keeping the other on power-up duty.

Now that team play is in, the development team has a lot of tweaking and playtesting to do. Right now, for instance, players can get a note streak all the way up to 9x; it was 4x in the original Amplitude.

"I can imagine that we're going to be massaging that a little bit," said Lesser.

Of course, Amplitude's public showing at PAX East provided plenty of playtesting, and served as a reassuring reception for team play. Lesser said the developers were nervous about adding the mode to the game, but got a lot of positive feedback about it during the show. Safe in the knowledge that team play works, they can get back to brass tacks over the next few months.

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