Ben Buchwald's Portfolio

Harmonix Music Systems

April 2009 - May 2014
November 2014 - October 2015

Company Description

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved
Harmonix is one of the world's leading independent AAA console game development studios, particularly focusing on music games. They are most well known for the popular series Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central. During my five years there, Harmonix published at least eight titles on multiple platforms including Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Xbox One, and iOS. Some of the games include The Beatles: Rock Band, LEGO Rock Band, Green Day: Rock Band, Rock Band 3, Dance Central, Dance Central 2, Dance Central 3, Rock Band Blitz, and Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved.

One thing that sets Harmonix apart from many other game studios is largest library of downloadable content (DLC) that can be added to their games, and platform support for exporting disc and DLC content from one game to be playable in the sequels. Even beyond this constant release of add-on game content from Harmonix itself, the Rock Band Network was a Harmonix-supported initiative to allow users to add additional songs to the games on their own.

Fantasia performance gameplay
The other area where Harmonix excels is as one of the leading motion gaming developers, particularly for Microsoft's Kinect camera for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The Dance Central series is one of the best selling franchises on the platform, and Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved takes motion-based music games to a new level by incorporating the player's ability to create and remix the music themselves.

My Role

At first I was hired to be the network live support engineer. Rock Band 2, the most recent release at that time, had many networked features and was supported by the weekly release of new downloadable songs. While there was an IT staff for maintaining the servers, I was responsible for supporting them, keeping the server code up-to-date, and investigating any technical issues that players reported that couldn't be handled by the normal front lines of customer support. However my main focus in this role was the creation of better tools for the producers who published our weekly DLC. Based on a close relationship with these producers,
Rock Band 3
I built a web database application called SongsDB which managed our catalog of thousands of songs. This tool simplified and sped up the process of creating gameplay for new songs, packaging it for submission to the console first-parties, and updating the in-game store with album art and audio previews of the new songs for purchase. More importantly, over the years it evolved to help catch and prevent common mistakes and pitfalls with the process which reduced their need for my in-person support.

Through this support work I became the in-house expert on the Nintendo Wii and DLC packaging, submission, and in-game e-commerce on all platforms. So as I moved into a more primary development role, I was responsible for the in-game store for the Wii version of Rock Band 3 and the Xbox versions of Dance Central 2 and 3. For Dance Central 2, I also built a tool to add video previews of the choreography in addition to the audio preview of the song.

Even though I left the company in June of 2014, they asked me to come back as a contractor for the development of Rock Band 4, because of my intimate knowledge of their legacy Rock Band content catalog, the internal tools and formats, and the various first-party publishing systems. In addition to being tasked with updating our content formats and internal tools, I was responsible for building a pipeline to convert the library of over 2000 legacy songs to the new game engine and to get them published on the new generation of consoles.

Dance Central 2 choreography
Additionally, due to the success of my publishing tools, I was tasked with improving the choreography authoring tools for Dance Central. After examining their current process, I was able to automate a significant number of the steps. This experience and good working relationship with the choreographers led to me building the performance gameplay authoring tools for
Fantisia remix choice
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved. With Fantasia, since the core gameplay was itself still in development, this meant constantly adapting the authoring to new features, and in many cases developing a lot of those features myself. Eventually I took over as the main performance gameplay programmer on that project.

Property animation editor
Finally, I spent a few years working on tools and systems as part of the company's in-house engine team. My biggest responsibility on the engine team was for the property animation editor, one of the main tools that artists would use to animate non-character parts of our games. I also became the expert in our font and localization system, after being the one to extend it to support Asian character sets. And although I was never directly tasked with it, I ended up taking it upon myself to clean up big portions of our audio engine, even having to go as far as extending the audio middleware we used, to support more accurate timing, looping, and mixing necessary for Fantasia.

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