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The Making of Romance Central

Back in January, Harmonix employees were split into teams to create, well, anything. This was the studio’s very first game jam. Similar to other game jams that take place all over the world, teams had two days to prototype an interactive experience based around a common theme.

One team made up of three artists, a designer, and a communications nerd (yours truly) had a compelling idea. Why not combine our interest in creating a dating simulation with characters from the Dance Central universe?

We knew we had something special with this idea and immediately got to work on what would eventually become Romance Central.

Dating Inspiration (Simspiration?)

If there’s one thing Harmonix knows well is Dance Central fans love the characters we’ve created. A LOT. We’ve seen the fan art online and have read tons of fan fiction from our community. With that said, we figured an experience like Romance Central would go over exceedingly well.

While a dating simulation isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Harmonix, we drew a lot of our knowledge on games that we’ve played in the past, plus incorporated our knowledge of current dating sites to help drive the game’s progression.

Whiteboard Planning

It was really exciting for us to expand the Dance Central universe in such a unique way with existing characters that already had surprisingly deep backgrounds. Harmonix lighting artist Dawn Rivers and I looked at the dialogue scripts from past Dance Central games to make sure our tone for each character was authentic. We managed to write a couple hundred lines of dialogue in just two days!

Award-Winning Style

Part of the game jam at Harmonix included an award ceremony with honors across several categories. We won the award for best style!

Game Jam Award

Part of the benefit of having three artists on your team is having a final product with amazing art polish. Shout out to Kristin Palach and Shawn Witt for the amazing character portraits and backgrounds! We also had some help from Dance Central community member “Nokomento”, who quickly whipped together incredible “win” images for each of our featured characters (including a shirtless Bodie holding melting ice cream cones).

Sick [Heart] Beats

While we ran out of time during the game jam to create a full-fledged soundtrack, Harmonix designer Dan Bruno put an amazing mix together afterward to set the mood for each one of our featured backgrounds in Romance Central. This game jam title was a chance for him to also test out his talents using a development tool called Unity. In the first two days of our game jam, he managed to code two full character dating paths. Impressive!

In-progress gameplay

Fools Fall In Love

We had the amazing opportunity to present our work to Harmonix and had the game playable during our monthly Final Friday sessions (every last Friday of the month, we have drinks and snacks, and play in-progress games around the studio). This gave us a chance to test different paths and get playtest feedback. The reactions were overwhelmingly positive. So much so that we were encouraged to make the game available to the public.

Final Friday

The Romance Central team set out to create a production and publishing schedule with a goal to release the game in time for April Fool’s Day. This included a Harmonix website takeover - featuring Kristin's gorgeous character art - thanks to Abby, Miles, and Shiran from the web team. Plus we actually made the game available for fans to play in browser.

In case you missed it, you can play Romance Central here. Enjoy!