Epic Games just bought Rock Band developer Harmonix

Epic is expanding its portfolio once more, announcing today that it has purchased Harmonix. While Harmonix has been a little quiet in recent years, the company was a household name not too long ago, developing some of the early Guitar Hero titles before eventually moving on and creating the Rock Band and Dance Central franchises. Now it will be joining Epic Games, and while it’ll still be working with music, it sounds like a Rock Band revival isn’t in the cards at the moment.

Epic buys Harmonix in a play for the Metaverse

While Harmonix and Epic are keeping some details close to the chest for now, there were some important details revealed today. In a blog post on its website, Harmonix says that it will be “working with Epic to once again challenge expectations as we bring our unique brand of musical gaming experiences to the Metaverse, and we couldn’t be more excited.”

That’s slightly vague, but Harmonix gets a bit clearer later in a brief FAQ about the acquisition. The company says that it will be working to “create musical journeys and gameplay for Fortnite.” That, again, doesn’t give a whole lot away, but it sounds like we can look forward to Harmonix’s musical touch in Fortnite at some point in the future.

It does seem like buying an entire development studio just to have it contribute to Fortnite is an exercise in excess, so Epic may have more extensive plans for Harmonix later on down the road. For now, however, it seems like the company will be tasked with making Fortnite a little more musical, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing given Harmonix’s history.

What this means for Steam, Rock Band, and Fuser

An Epic acquisition like this always comes with a bunch of questions given Epic’s ongoing battle for market share against Steam, and thankfully, we have some answers on that front. In that same FAQ, Harmonix says that it will continue with its existing plans for Rock Band DLC, Rock Band Rivals seasons, and Fuser events, so nothing is changing in regards to those.

The studio also says that its games will remain on Steam following the acquisition, which is good news indeed. Epic isn’t above acquiring studios and removing their games from Steam in a play to grow the Epic Games Store’s userbase – in fact, it did just that when it acquired Rocket League developer Psyonix. Once that acquisition was complete, Rocket League disappeared from Steam and was listed on the Epic Games Store as a free-to-play title, though everyone who already owned the game through Steam could continue playing through that platform.

If you were hoping that the financial backing of Epic could potentially mean that Harmonix would send Rock Band instruments back into production, unfortunately, it seems that won’t be the case. Harmonix says there’s no current plan to make more Rock Band instruments, which have shot up in price in recent months. If you’re looking to pick up Rock Band again, it sounds like you’ll just have to keep an eye out for a deal on second-hand instruments or shell out for the expensive ones listed on eBay.

So, for now, we don’t know what Epic has in mind for Harmonix, but hopefully, more specifics will be coming around the bend shortly. We’ll let you know when the two companies share more about this acquisition, so stay tuned.

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The Artful Escape Is a Psychedelic, Cosmic Rock Opera

Even the smallest video game can take a long time to produce. Games are complex beasts at every level and developers can spend years toiling away bringing an artistic vision to life. Just look at The Artful Escape.

First debuted at E3 2017, The Artful Escape felt like it was poised to be the next major release for publisher Annapurna Interactive. The musical indie got a full demo and a colorful trailer at the show, though no release date. In fact, the teaser ended with a message that makes more sense four years later: “Coming when it’s damn ready.”

Well, it’s damn ready. The Artful Escape is finally hitting Xbox consoles and PC on September 9. At a preview event prior to Annapurna’s digital showcase, designer Johnny Galvatron reintroduced the long-awaited game and gave a close look at how the cosmic rockstar adventure works.

Rock on

The Artful Escape is a narrative adventure about an aspiring rockstar named Francis Vendetti. The demo begins with the game’s hero sitting on a bench with an acoustic-electric guitar. A button prompt asks players to start plucking out a folk tune, but Francis’ heart isn’t in it. Instead, he walks up to the edge of a cliff, cranks the volume, and starts shredding out a hair metal solo.

That kicks off a self-discovery story as Francis tries to discover his own rock-and-roll identity, rather than following in someone else’s footsteps.

That narrative arc appears to be at the heart of the game design itself, which goes in some truly unexpected directions. The game is best described as a 2D platformer where Francis runs and jumps around environments while riffing. The serene realism of the opening scene quickly takes a turn into the psychedelic, though. Later parts of the demo show Francis running through unearthly planets and interacting with alien NPCs.

The few gameplay snippets I saw were entirely unpredictable. One section has Francis interacting with a being named Lightman, the captain of an Austrian opera house that’s been turned into a ship that traverses the multiverse. It’s a Grateful Dead t-shirt come to life. While there’s clear visual inspiration here from rock legends like David Bowie, The Artful Escape charts its own course with creative visuals that aid Francis on his internal journey.

The gameplay itself is still a little hard to grasp as a viewer. Francis is shown running through a 2D environment while pressing X to riff. It’s not immediately clear if players have control over the music or if there’s a set soundtrack that plays when pressing a button. The interactions look like they’re more in line with story-driven games like Oxenfree, rather than a rhythm game like Guitar Hero.

Francis plays guitar on a cosmic stage in The Artful Escape.

As is becoming more customary for Annapurna games in recent years, the game has a stacked voice cast of A-list talent. The list includes Jason Schwartzman, Mark Strong, and Carl Weathers, just to name a few. That feels like the biggest thing that’s changed since we first saw the game in 2017. At the time, Annapurna was just spreading its wings into the video game space. Since then, it’s become an attractive publisher for celebrities. Actors like Queen Latifah and Bryce Dallas Howard appear in some of its most recently published titles. The Artful Escape is certainly getting the most out of the partnership in 2021.

One of the main focuses of the demo session was the game’s customization. Players can travel to a changing room later in the game, which allows them to fully customize their rockstar. It’s a surprisingly robust creator tool that allows players to tweak everything down to their guitar style. There’s even a practice stage where players can see their persona in action.

Considering how long it’s been since it was first announced, it’s great to see The Artful Escape so close to release. The snippet I saw promises a hypnotic rock opera filled with trippy visuals and monster riffs. It’s looking like a perfect rock-and-roll fantasy for players who don’t want to go through the hassle of, you know, becoming a rockstar.

The Artful Escape launches on September 9 for PC, Xbox, One, and Xbox Series X/S. It will be available on Xbox Game Pass.

Editors’ Choice

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Pokemon GO Fest 2021 with Pikachu Rock Star and Pop Star

This week we’re taking a peek at some new details released on Pokemon GO Fest 2021, specifically about the newest set of Pikachu monsters you’ll be able to get during this event. If you’re playing right now, you’ll likely see some flying Pikachu around town, complete with a 5-shaped balloon. This is just one of a wild collection coming to the festival over the next few weeks!

Tickets required

If you’re dropping in on Pokemon GO Fest 2021 on July 17th, you’ll want to buy a ticket. Ticket holders will gain access to Special Research that’ll allow you to pick Pikachu Rock Star with METEOR MASH (charged move.) You could also get a Pikachu Pop Star with DRAINING KISS (charged move.)

On July 17 you’ll find Rock Star and Pop Star Pikachu appear in Snapshot images and in the wild based on your choices. Special Research on July 18th will deliver Flygon with EARTH POWER, and Gardevoir with SYNCHRONOISE. Both of these advanced Pokemon will also appear more often if you drop Incense.

Avatar items in the in-game shop will appear with a ticket – shirts with Whismur, Exploud, and Loudred-inspired patterns, new “face stickers”, and a guitar case backpack. Those will still cost you extra – if you complete Special Research, you’ll get a Meloetta Shirt for “free.”

Tickets or no tickets

Pikachu will appear with a Meloetta-inspired hat! Event hours on Saturday and Sunday, the 17th and 18th of July, will deliver the Meloetta hat Pikachu to the public. This monster can be Shiny!

This event will also feature 1-star raids with potentially shiny Seino and fancy dress Galarian Ponyta and Galarian Zigzagoon. Both of these fancy dress Pokemon will also have the Meloetta hat! There’ll also be 3-star raids with Galarian Weezing, Hitmontop, and Cranidos.

Stick around as we learn more about this event series and keep your eyes peeled for Pikachu. There’ll be more fancy dress Pikachu out there with fancy hats and rock and pop and music outfits than you can shake a stick at!

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