It seems silly to describe the “new features” that have been added to Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock without acknowledging the basic stuff the franchise still doesn’t get right. For example, do you want to see the difficulty of a song before jumping into it in campaign mode? Nope, you can’t do that. Want to filter and sort songs by multiple criteria? Forget about it. Compared to Rock Band 3’s feature set — keyboard, vocal harmonies…….
Rock Band 3 and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock are going to be very different games. While over the years, it’s felt like the two major American music franchises were growing increasingly similar, this year Harmonix and Neversoft have previewed wildly divergent takes on how to make a rock and roll game. Rock Band 3 is continuing their oft-repeated mission statement of providing a “platform for music,” and they’re throwing a new instrument (keyboards) into the band mix. Guitar Hero, meanwhile, is attempting a more story-focused adventure with a heavy emphasis on the “guitar” in Guitar Hero.
There are two paths a developer can take when making a music game. One, it can inch ever closer to recreating the music experience as closely as possible, sacrificing potential traditional videogame fun at the expense of realism. The new Rock Band 3 is inching ever closer to this. On the other end of the spectrum is Guitar Hero.Not bundled with a keyboard, lacking any sort of realistic professional mode, and even ditching some of the hardware features of previous titles (say goodbye to the slider bar), there is a lot that is missing. But the popularity of the franchise is undeniable. With a new plot-focus, heavy metal inspired aesthetic, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is a return to the game-centric nature of the original. Is it a return to form for Activision and Guitar Hero, or is it a continuation downward?
Unfortunately, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock represents an end of an era. RedOctane, instrumental in creating Guitar Hero, was dissolved earlier this year, and the music game division of Neversoft was equally eradicated earlier this year. Not a good sign, but despite it all, there is some good promise with Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.
To find out what really separates the two companies, though, we decided to ask seven core questions of each developer and find out how their views differ. From Harmonix, we talked with frontman John Drake at an EA press event, and last night during an Activision event, we posed those same questions to Randy Guillote, producer at Neversoft. Here are their responses:
John Drake (Rock Band): I don’t want to say this as a shill-y thing, but I think [Rock Band 3] is a good game for the hardcore and casual audiences. For the casual, and/or music-gamer, who are a separate group from the hardcore gaming audience, the backwards compatibility and the number of songs we have present a game that, I think, that speaks to them; it’s a continuation of the franchise that’s grown into being themusic franchise. But then for the hardcore, the introduction of Pro [mode], that top-tier, and the grinding campaign that we’ve added, which is a little more in-depth, a little more persistent for individual players — there’s a lot of meat there for hardcore players.
For us, we’re interested to see, how people play the game after they buy it. We’ve basically made all the avenues open, and hopefully we can speak to all those audiences. But it’ll be interesting to see who really digs into the hardcore, who just wants to play more good songs, who just wants to play f***ing “Power of Love.” That’s the real question. I’ll answer your question with a question, who doesn’t want to play ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Power of Love’? No one does not want to. Science
Randy Guillote (Guitar Hero): The major route for [Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock] was bringing it back to its roots. It’s called Guitar Hero, and I think we may have deviated from that a little bit over the last couple years, trying to reach new audiences with different types of music: some country, pop, nu-metal, alternative music. I think you try to get new people who might not have known about it by introducing their favorite bands in the game. We shied away from that this year. This year, we’re going to make the Guitar Hero game. Solos, chord changes. Songs that would be perfect for Guitar Hero, those are the songs that are in this game. It’s for people that know Guitar Hero and want to play Guitar Hero and want a challenge. If you’ve never heard of it and you pick it up, it’s going to be like the first time you played the Guitar Hero that youremember. When you picked up that first game and you said, “This is magical.” It’s going to be like that.
An interesting turn of form is the return to classic rock ‘n’ roll. No longer is Guitar Hero going to be appealing to everyone, Warriors of Rock is a plot-driven music game in which the musicians must save rock from The Beast…through the power of rock.Yeah, it’s the same plot device we’ve seen in loads of other films and games (Heavy Metal comes to mind), and the game feels a bit like a Guitar Hero version of Brutal Legend. I like this return to a specialized genre of rock. Working through a rocker universe is different from the traditional venue transition, but these insane levels almost feel truer to the Guitar Hero license than going through realistic venues. Some people will hate it, and the focus on harder music may turn people off. However, the specialized approach could benefit in that it can appeal to a much more specific audience.
A new development in the franchise is the addition of power ups. Each of the eight characters (six returning such as Lars, Casey, and the always popular Judy Nails, as well as two new rockers) will have power ups that will do things like add a shield to your meter so you can make a mistake without losing a multiplier. Other abilities can be an instant revival, and there are even more. With a team full of these heroes, you can have a multitude of power ups going off all at once, so in the end game it can be quite chaotic. In addition, each version of the rocker has a brutal monster version, like a snaky Casey Lynch, or a mummy Axel Steel, or a warrior pig for Lars Umlaut. It’s all over-the-top, borderline campy rock. Considering the heroes are journeying through a rock world narrated by Gene Simmons, it’s all good.
In addition, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock has seen a major graphical overhaul. The characters move with much more fluidity, and with the heavy metal aesthetic, the over-the-top rock of the game fits. It’s not subtle like Rock Band, but it doesn’t look like it needs to be.Gameplay, it’s the Guitar Hero you’ve played for years now. Personally, I think it’s good to have a franchise return to its more traditional rock roots, but it’s a bummer that fans of other genres of rock will have to make do with DLC. There will be a way to play all of your previous DLC music in the game, but it seems like only the new DLC will be brought into the story mode. Making a return is the party mode, where players can just jump in and play at any time.
JD: I think we have set ourselves apart pretty clearly as the most innovative company. We’re real musicians who dig into this stuff. This is a two-year product, this isn’t something we just rushed out the door. The Beatles [Rock Band] was an aesthetic accomplishment with great music and visuals, but this takes the game to a whole new level. The introduction of an actual guitar? We have a Squire Stratocaster you can play our game with! We have a keyboard that’s a real keyboard you can plug into a MIDI out and use as a MIDI controller! We give you that real experience at the top, but we want to make sure we maintain that core consumer that we helped grow from Guitar Hero 1, when we were the developer on that, all the way to now with Rock Band 3.
We have the longest path, I think, straight through this franchise, and the most history and experience. I think that’s clear in the number of features, the amount of stuff we’ve been able to pack into this game. It’s not one flash-in-the-pan thing, or a weird-character-turning-into-another-thing, or whatever nonsense you cram in. We have a substantial game that people will be able to dig into this holiday and have a great time with.
RG: I think it’s a powerful thing, music, and you can make a lot out of it. Games have certainly made a lot out of it the last couple years. Competition is always healthy; it’s good for the consumer, it’s good for us, to push ourselves to do something different, and this year we did. I think when we started this game, we were going to make just another Guitar Hero game, but somewhere along the early lines of development, we gut-checked ourselves and we said, “We need to make the Guitar Hero game.” We threw out almost everything we had — the art direction changed, the art style changed, the music direction changed. We wanted to make a game that was ridiculously full of awesome guitar music and the art represents that as well. All the characters are over-the-top. And that stems from there being so many music games on the market.
We thought that if we did something we enjoyed, and people would enjoy, that’s a good step in the right direction. The other stuff came with that: guitar-focused music, new powers that enhance the gameplay. We ended up going towards that, and I don’t think we would’ve done that if there was no one else around. I’m sure the other guys are thinking the same thing when they make their game, “These guys did that, that was really cool, what can we do that’s cool?” There’s a certain ebb-and-flow even though there’s no direct contact.
Hardware-wise, the most radical changes have been made to the guitar. Coming with a generic “battle ax” design, this guitar can be broken down so that different designs can be placed into it. Called “wings,” the external plastic outside of the neck will have some different options for people to buy. The start and select buttons are now a part of the fret board in a much more accessible way. Interestingly, gone is the slider bar, and the strum bar is much thinner and less clicky. It seems like good and bad things have happened to the design, but if you are looking for a new guitar, this should be serviceable.
I think, in the future, that stuff might start to blend together a little bit more, as the music industry changes and the game industry grows; I totally think that’s what could happen, and it should happen, but right now we’re all going through growing pains together.
In terms of what’s next, it would have to be something like a Rock Band to Rock Band 2 jump. If we do another title in the Rock Band series that’s a full update, it would probably be along the lines of metagame stuff, or changes like that. We’ve added real guitar, real keyboard, Pro drums, harmony vocals, and we did it pretty f***ing well. We’re cool right now to rock out this game and see how people like it. We’ll see where people go based on what they enjoy from Rock Band 3.
We don’t think too far ahead, because if we tried to do that, it would take away from what you can actually make for your current game. If you ever make something and you think, ‘We’ll just save this for the next one,’ I don’t think that’s the way to go. If you do that, you’re going to end up making the current game not as good as it can be. What we try to do at Neversoft is finish the game, make it as good as it can be, get it out to people, see what the think, then start on whatever the next game’s going to be. It’s hard to project out where all of our games are going to go, for us or the other guys. The music genre in general is just so new, you know? No one knows if it’s going to get bigger or turn into something different. It’s just too hard to tell right now.
It seems like Activision has a decent approach to the title. It is an attempt to be a return to the themes of the original Guitar Hero, and the currently announced set-list should fit that pretty well. The new plot elements are a little weird, but it doesn’t look like it’s anything that will get in the way of the game. Honestly, I feel that if you want a game that recreates being a rock star, with a variety of musical choices or a realistic approach, you’re not going to find that here. Instead, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock will scratch the itch for a very game-centric rock experience. It’s almost a music game for gamers, compared to Harmonix’s music game for wannabe musicians. It’s a big difference, and if there ever was a time for these two separate titles, this is it.