Harmonix 'Rock Band' Interview


Posted October 18, 2007 - By Mike D'Alonzo

As promised, TheFeed sat down with John Drake, one of the men of Harmonix, makers of Rock Band, and asked him the questions that you most wanted the answers to. John was really cool, really open, and really excited about his game. So, here are some things you should know about Rock Band.

"The game is available on November 20th, 2007," John wanted us to know, right off the bat, "and the game will come with a special band bundle for the holidays, which is the drum set, one guitar, the microphone, and the disc. And that bundle costs $169.99. And we're also releasing the disc, so if you have a GHII controller and you want to play guitar and start that way until other things come out, or just use the USB mic and do just the singing for a while, you can also do that." The control system is completely open.

John did say, however, that it doesn't mean that every controller will work for every system, but "if it upscales to your system, it should work with our game. It's an open controller. We want people to play whatever guitar they want. As for specific guitars that aren't from Harmonix, you'll have to ask that hardware developer specifically, but we think all controllers should work. So, if they work with XBox, they should work with us. If they work with PS3, they should work with us."

As for the idea of wireless, he acknowledged that the PS3 was shipping wireless to debut, but "we'll be shipping with a wireless guitar very soon for the 360. Like, as soon as possible."

They are very excited about other things that they are exploring coming down the pike (in response to the idea of wireless for the 360/piano/turntable peripherals and such) but wanted to make sure that they got the core game out there first, so that people could begin enjoying it right away. "That is a question that we are super psyched about at Harmonix, and that we're definitely exploring right now. With the scope of the game, and making an entirely new controller that is nothing like a controller than we've made before."

John was quick to point out that both Rock Band and Guitar Hero III are "both great games, they're fun," but that Rock Band was not only focused a little more on collaboration. "Just from the game, I think that we are a lot more focused on collaboration, and sort of playing with people in the room, versus against people. There's a little less kind of a competitive edge to it.

He went on to point out that the Rock Band setlist "is a little more mainstream. It's a little more classic rock, they're a little more metal." There are some differences in the look of the game, as well, "we sort of go for a little more music video...it is a little bit more sort of realistic looking, while they're staying with sort of cartoon-based. Not cartoony, per se, but it's a little bit more exaggerated."

There will also be other styles of music in the upcoming, according to John. "That's something that we're really psyched about, especially for downloadable content. Some of the ones that are a little more tangential to rock, like indie, or unsigned artists. That can go really quickly and easily into the game. It will certainly work with anything downloadable content allows us to do, any song that works with these instruments."

John was intrigued at the idea of a spectator mode. "That's a great question, and a great thing for us to maybe look into doing. Like crash the venue and go watch a band play? That's a great idea. What's the likelihood? I don't know. We'll ask them and see if they can go design something for us," he laughed. He also was quick to point out that the idea of doing such a thing in a cross-platform fashion was certainly up to the people who made the gaming systems, but that he didn't think they'd be too quick to cooperate with each other. "I don't think so," he said, "there's no other games where that's a real sturdy feature. And I don't think we've been able to broach that. If we had, there would have been a huge announcement we would have made already. 'And, we've made every system talk to each other, it's the best thing ever!'"

As rumored, the co-op system will allow people to form bands and play online with each other, so you might have a guitarist in San Francisco playing with a drummer in Belgium, a singer in Sri Lanka, and a bassist next door. There's also a decent matching system that will find people of your level to play with, but you can also just find people and play with them. "It works shockingly well," he says, though he prefers to play the game in a group. "Everybody at the company is a big proponent of playing in a space with somebody else. It's a little bit more fun to play music with somebody else rockin' out."

How many songs will there be? "We're announcing that as we go. Can't really say. Um, over 40?" And that's with more to come via download. "So, a ton. It's a decent value." All of 'Who's Next' will be available at launch, but there will be many more songs to download after that. "We've announced that we're doing stuff from Grateful Dead and Metallica, and for some other bands coming down the line. We haven't announced what the songs will be, but that will come soon." But, in addition to the huge bands with huge catalogs, there will be niche content from many other bands, as well. The goal is to make it an ongoing platform game, as opposed to having to re-buy the game each year.

John also confirmed that a setlist mode was among the current thinking in the game. "There is the possibility for a setlist mode, and that's something we're focusing on in the coming weeks, as far as how that will work and game functionality." We also spoke about encores, which will be a little different than in Guitar Hero, in that there's a sort of 'jam out' at the end of a song, which will allow the band to totally rock out for a period of time, and freeform to get extra points, which acts as an encore within the song, so to speak.

Crowd involvement in Rock Band is crucial, as well, with an amped-up audience that responds to the band in ways we've never seen before. They cheer, they boo, and they sing along with popular moments in songs. This is one of the things, John says, that he is most impressed with in the game. "That is the most fun s**t in the game," John says, "the crowd is one of the most exciting things about playing live. Our audio team is so good at getting the right thing to make you feel like there's a crazy, rowdy crowd."

As for the singing portion of the game, John promises that the singing, especially on expert, is really rough. "We came up with Karaoke Revolution, we know the engine. And it allows you to kind of take karaoke to the next level." It's fun, but it's hard, and you have to sing well and at the right time to make the song work. Trust us when we tell you that it's a very robust karaoke experience. It measures words and timing, "so you can't just sing passages of The Bible to 'Celebrity Skin,' by Hole.'

Harmonix are big fans of the Wii. "We love the Wii in our office, and we're really looking forward to being on all relevant consoles at some point in the future." However, he says that for now, it's only going to be available on the PS3 and the 360.

Oh, and John couldn't say how many Papa Roach albums would be on the game when it comes to the Wii, but he is very, very interested in releasing a Papa Roach-only expansion pack."I think we should release just a Papa Roach game," he laughs.

Then we got to play...

Seriously, this game kicks the most ass. If you're one of those people who's into the rock gaming experience, you're going to lose your mind on this one, that we can guarantee. It's burly...really burly.

Thanks to John Drake for answering all of our questions, and thanks to you for asking. See you soon!


Harmonix 'Rock Band' Interview


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