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Phase for iPod screen shot

Developer Harmonix has specialized in interactive musical game creations, most recently the hit games Guitar Hero and (forthcoming) Rock Band. But developing for console platforms is one thing. What about an iPod?

In a small miracle, a team at Harmonix has managed to successfully create a surprisingly rich game experience for iPod owners. Called Phase, the new game manages to recreate the signature “falling gems” music game design on Apple’s micro-platform. It manages to somehow cram slick visuals and gameplay onto the music player, and by working with your music, it could change how you listen to music — playing with it instead of just playing it.

And, hey, even if you’re not into that idea, it still looks insanely cool and costs only slightly more than a pumpkin latte.

You can buy Phase now for US$4.99 from the iTunes Music Store, with a playlist of music included. You need specific iPods to play it, since iPod generations tend to be incompatible with one another. 5th-generation iPods, the cute new Nano, and iPod Classic all work; earlier iPods and the touchscreen iPhone and iPod Touch don’t. But for those who love iPods with tactile control, you’re in luck.

Phase Game Product Page

Visual Tour

The game is the work of a team at Harmonix, under the creative direction of our friend Josh Randall. Strangely, every time I see noted Boston VJ RobotKid, the visualist companion of dj rndm, Josh mysteriously disappears, a la Clark Kent and Superman. I’ll let you figure that out.

Art is by Aaron Stewart, who has also created the cutest dog and cat pillows in the universe.

Here’s a look at the game’s lovely visual style:

Phase for iPod screen shot

Phase for iPod screen shot

Phase for iPod screen shot

Phase for iPod screen shot

Phase iPod game from Harmonix logo

Interactive iPod

What’s remarkable about Phase is first, that it works at all — sharp art direction and creative leadership has made what must be the first iPod game stylish enough to make you want to play it. But second, while Phase comes with an included library of songs — making it part album, part game — it also works with music from your library. Any MP3’s, M4A’s, and M4P’s will work. (No audiobooks, in case you were planning on jamming with Stephen Colbert.) That makes Phase not simply a game, but a way of cleverly transforming the iPod from passive playback device to interactive music device. Now, whether you really want to interact with music in this way is another question; my favorite form of interaction usually involves the technologies of “singing” and “tapping a steering wheel.”

But it does open a door a lot of people have been talking about for some time, when we rethink what playing an album really is. The Harmonix team are fond of talking about musical “platforms” and not just “games.” The developer, now with added industry clout as a part of MTV/Viacom, has even gone so far as forming a Rock Band Music Advisory Board with the likes of Steven Van Zandt providing input. They’ve expressed seriousness about making the game a serious way of getting non-musicians interactively playing music — and the game isn’t even out yet. At the very least, we’ve seen readers here on CDM making music on the go and even performing with mobile game systems and PDAs, so I suspect Phase could continue to inspire mobile music inventions.