Friday, January 29, 2021

Just Play That Music

For reasons that escape me, probably something to do with having once played Final Fantasy XIV, I get a never-ending stream of emails from Square Enix. They send me promos and special offers for everything in their seemingly bottomless slush-pile. It seems like I get something from them just about every day. How many games do they have, anyway? It seems like a lot.

Almost all of them are of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever. Usually I don't even open the email and when I do I wish I hadn't bothered. Case in point, today's grab-bag of "Tips and tricks for the BALANWONDERWORLD DEMO" (Square Enix's caps). I opened that because... actually, I have no idea why I opened it. Probably because I saw the word "demo".  

Grey. Hmm. I see why you went there.
It came with a bunch of shills for Kingdom Hearts, Marvel Avengers and "5 of the best Square Enix Co-op games". Those turned out to be two of the same games they were already trying to sell me on plus three more at least as not interesting.

To be fair to SE, there was an outside chance I might have been interested in the Avengers game, if it hadn't been that every review and blog post I've read about it at very best damns it with faint praise. Most of them tear it to shreds. I wouldn't mind a good RPG based on the Avengers IP. Or any of the Marvel superheroes. Just doesn't seem like that'd be it.

The reason they caught me with the "demo" hook was that yesterday I did download and play a demo and it wasn't a total waste of my time. And although I downloaded it via Steam, it was for a game I'd first heard about when it was being pushed at me via email. Not by Squenix, for once. By NCSoft, who rarely bother me over anything other than Guild Wars 2.

The game in question is FUSER. I mentioned it in passing back in November, when I was talking about wishlists. It was on my Steam wishlist for a while, even though I had no intention of buying it at the eye-watering £55 full-price. Even at half-price it would be about twice what I'd pay, and since it wasn't likely to drop anything like that far in any sale this year, I took it off.

FUSER describes itself as "a nonstop digital music festival where you and your friends control the music". It has some kind of multiplayer option where you can "partner with friends on epic collaborations, then share your mixes and headlining performances with the world". That makes it sounds like its some kind of cyberspace/social media platform centered on music and performance, which would be cool. When you read deeper, sadly, you discover it very much sells itself on being a game.

Please tell me you're not a real DJ.
Yeah, not interested in that, so much.

There's nothing about FUSER as a game that appeals to me. I don't want to "Complete challenges to unlock new skills and content in Campaign play" and I really don't want to "Collaborate or Compete in Multiplayer with players from around the world". I don't even want characters I can customize so I can see them dance on a festival stage or  DJ in front of an audience of NPCs as I play my mixes.

I just want to make those mixes. 

When I got the first email about FUSER last year it came with a link to a video (which I now can't find on YouTube so maybe that wasn't where I saw it). I watched it and thought "that looks like fun". Also "I could do that.

The video was all about mixing songs. It had absolutely nothing to do with playing a game. I knew there was some attempt to sell it using game trappings and jargon but I thought that was just a way to market it to NCSoft's captive gamer audience. Under the hood I assumed FUSER would be a utility just pretending to be a game.

Having played the demo and read a bunch of highly enthusiastic reviews of the full game on Steam I'm fairly sure it's the other way around. The demo is highly focused on the game aspects. It starts with character creation. Only premade characters, sadly. They range the full gamut from incredibly bland and generic to seriously, you expect me to play that?

Once you've picked your look there's an excruciating conversation with a festival organizer that would patronize the audience of a kids' TV show. Or maybe that really is how kids talk these days. Yeah, no it's not.

I almost gave up at that point but somehow I managed to grit my teeth and carry on. And it was worth it. Well, in a way. 

It's worse when you can hear him say it. I know, hard to imagine, right?


The demo is really nothing more than a very basic tutorial. It runs you painstakingly through the basics of selecting and dropping the various tracks into the mix. You only have a choice of eight songs to dismember, each with four components, drums, bass, a lead instrument and vocals. 

The full product has a hundred songs with more coming on stream all the time, plus bells and whistles like audio filters and loops (and quite possibly actual bells and whistles, for all I know) but even with the extremely limited choices available in the demo I could feel the possibilities.

The demo handholds you through the mechanics adequately but it's equally interested in introducing  you to the game part, which mostly involves matching your actions to on-screen instructions to earn expreience points.

No part of that Rage Against The Machine track mixes well with anything else. Just sayin'.


I found the gamification irritating in the extreme. Not only did I not care about it in the first place, it also led nowhere. In the full game, as in any rpg, there's the prospect of levelling up and opening new content and abilities, in this case more songs and new ways to mix them, but in the demo all you get for following the instructions is distracted. It makes it all but impossible to concentrate on trying to create something that sounds good, which I naively thought would be the main reason for buying FUSER.

If the purpose of a demo is to let potential players decide whether to buy the game then, ironically, from my perspective I think I'd have to say it worked.  FUSER's demo successfully proved to me that I'd been right all along not to spend money on the full game. I'm not sure that's what NCSoft were hoping for, but if you show someone something and ask if they like it, you have to accept there's a chance they're going to say no, they don't.

That's what I've been saying all along!

What I did learn, though, was that I do still very much want what I thought FUSER was going to be, namely an extremely simple, dumbed-down, near-toy-level utility that will let me pretend I'm a DJ without having to go through the long and difficult process of learning how to do it properly. Preferably one which comes with a whole library of songs, a reasonable percentage of which I know and like. 

That's something I might even pay good money for. I just don't want to have jump through a whole load of gameplay hoops to get there.


  1. You might be amused by DropMix, but that still might be too formalized and gamelike for you. It was essentially Fuser but physical, so you can deliberately ignore the rules and just play with it.
    Aside from that this isn't my field at all, but good luck.

    1. Wow! Thanks! I was hoping someone would pop into the comments and suggest something but I wasn't expecting anything like this. Not least because I had no idea anything as bizarre and wonderful could exist. I watched some videos of it in action on YouTube and it's just... too weird for words.

      And it's cheap, too! Or it is now, although from some of the comments in the four-year old reviews I think it might have been pricier when it first appeared. I bought one on Amazon with two expansion packs for £25 which seemed like a steal. Not sure how many times I'll use it but it's worth that much just to try it out.

      Thanks again!


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