E3 2010: Rock Band 3 PreviewBy Andrew Pfister - Posted Jun 10, 2010
What We Already Know:
Rock Band 3, we suspected, would have to change things dramatically. We had run out of things to do with a guitar/band-based music game, and all that was left was to complain about why our favorite songs still weren't in the setlist. Rock Band Network was an important step forward in addressing that area, but there needed to be something on the average consumer level that breathed new life into a mildly stagnant genre. The Beatles: Rock Band meant that we'd most likely see vocal harmonies, but there had to be something more with Rock Band 3…
What We're Seeing Now:
And there is quite a bit more. We're getting vocal harmonies, which we heard at a pre-E3 demonstration in the form of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Rock Band 3 supports up to three singers now, with each performance tracked and scored independently. So that's one thing.
The second thing is that finally, after years of semi-joking, semi-serious requests for a keyboard/keytar peripheral…we're getting a keyboard/keytar peripheral. Designed by the hardware gurus at Mad Catz, the Rock Band 3 keyboard is a 25-key instrument that actually doubles as a legitimate MIDI controller. Naturally, this will provide new possibilities for song, band, and even genre choices for disc- and download-based songs. And though they're not doing so immediately, Harmonix is considering exploring the back catalog and revamping Rock Band songs that already have keyboard parts to take advantage of the new instrument. ("Roll with the Changes", please.) So that's another big thing.
The third big thing, the biggest thing, to change in Rock Band 3 is something that directly addresses the bevy of complaints over the years from musicians who think that music games are doing nothing to teach you anything real about music theory and playing instruments. So Rock Band 3's "Pro" mode is going to teach you exactly that.
Rock Band "Pro" is something that's built entirely separately from the regular Rock Band experience we're all familiar with. Requiring the use of brand new hardware (again developed by Mad Catz), the Pro guitar is a six-"string," 17-fret axe that has sensors at every position. This means actual notes and chords show up on the expanded note highway that kind of looks like mobile guitar tablature. The idea isn't to be complex for the sake of complexity, but to actually teach players how to make proper chord shapes, how to do real hammer-ons and pull-offs, and the musical theory behind everything. Basically, skills that you can transfer directly from your Rock Band guitar to a real guitar.
The keyboard in Pro mode is also more complex. The note highway represents a full octave, and as you move up and down, the highway will slowly shift to the left or right depending on where the notes are headed. In our demo, there didn't seem to be an option to play with both left and right hands; if that turns out to be true, it's most likely a space limitation on the instrument and the note highway. The Pro drum set offers an additional three cymbals, but otherwise remains largely intact.
Harmonix isn't going to throw all of this at us at once; the Pro mode will still have difficulty options that range from easy to expert, slowly introducing chords and concepts in a way you'd expect a music teacher would start out a new student. Every presenter and speaker during the event was very earnest and heartfelt in wanting Pro mode to be something beneficial, and we got the impression that they're taking this very seriously.
That's not to say they're ignoring "regular" Rock Band 3…far from it. Catching up with the Guitar Hero series, Harmonix is introducing drop-in & drop-out play at any point in the game, in any mode. The user interface is getting some major overhauls, including player-personal menus that let everyone in the band to make simultaneous changes, as well as some very-appreciated filters for the song library. You'll be able to organize your songs by a host of specific criteria, including genre, personal rating, length of song, even the game it originated from. Songs can be rated from 1 to 5, which affect the frequency they show up in random setlists (rate a song 1 to doom it to obscurity). These can then be turned into custom setlists that you can save and share via rockband.com. Career mode is getting a bit of a story to it, with the goal being to accrue as many fans on tour as possible, and that incorporates a new feature called "Road Challenges," where you need to accomplish an assigned task, whether it's using overdrive to reignite a bored audience or playing perfectly to impress a judge.
Harmonix is taking a calculated risk with Rock Band 3. They're keeping the core concept of the band game with some much-needed housekeeping, but also sticking their necks way out there with the Pro mode, sensing that the much-needed change the music game genre needs…is actual music. The Pro guitars will be pricier for certain, and just like learning to play a real instrument, it will take an investment of time as well. But if it can get the likes of Jack White and Jimmy Page to reconsider their thoughts on the usefulness of video games, then it appears to be a risk worth taking.
Announced Tracks for Rock Band 3:
- Metric, "Combat Baby"
- Rilo Kiley, "Portions of Foxes"
- Them Crooked Vultures, "Dead End Friends"
- The Vines, "Get Free"
- The White Stripes, "The Hardest Button to Button"
- Phoenix, "Lasso"
- Ida Maria, "Oh My God"
- Juanes, "Me Enamora"
- Jane's Addiction, "Been Caught Stealing"
- Smash Mouth, "Walkin' on the Sun"
- Spacehog, "In the Meantime"
- Stone Temple Pilots, "Plush"
- Dio, "Rainbow in the Dark"
- Huey Lewis and the News, "The Power of Love"
- Joan Jett, "I Love Rock and Roll"
- Night Ranger, "Sister Christian"
- Whitesnake, "Here I Go Again"
- The Cure, "Just Like Heaven"
- Ozzy Osbourne, "Crazy Train"
- Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody"
- Jimi Hendrix, "Crosstown Traffic"
- The Doors, "Break On Through"