At the Game Developers Conference today, Harmonix Senior Designer Dan Teasdale gave a talk to the gathered gamererati about what went on behind-the-scenes during the development of Rock Band. Teasdale discussed Rock Band's title as well as Harmonix' laser-like focus on the user experience.
First the name. "Rock Band," as a game title, is perfect. It's as simple as possible, and an exact description of every aspect of what playing the game is like. But there were other names considered. Here's a list of crap-canned concepts, along with my commentary on why they are bad:
- Power Chords : To non-musician (and Attack of the Show web genius) Eugene Morton, this name sounds like a "racing game or a kids game." To musician (and MMO Report producer) Patrick Roche-Sowa, this sounds like a "music game with a lot of AC-DC and only three buttons." It reminds me of plugging in a vacuum.
- Big Band Blowout: This would work if the game featured Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown exploding. I do consider Big Blow Bandout a great name. I'm not sure what the game would be about, but use your imagination.
- Metal Lords: "Metal Lords" is a bad name because it's not 1986. If this were an arcade game from back then, it might work. But only if it was a side-scrolling beat 'em up where you whacked people on the head with neon colored Gibson Flying V.
- I Want To Be A Rockstar! First off, Rock Band is not about wanting to be a rock star. It's about being a rock star. Secondly, this sounds like a Fox Reality show.
- Rock Band: World Tour: Ummm... no comment on this one. Although Harmonix supposedly felt that this title would "never sell." Ouch.
As far as the nitty-gritty of development, Teasdale's remarks are more than just a look into Rock Band's design, they're an object lesson on how to make art correctly. Like all great lessons, it's a simple one: Don't include anything that shouldn't be included.
Teasdale said Harmonix tried to only include things in Rock Back that make playing the game "feel like an authentic rock band experience." So mini-games, flaming guitars and Nickleback are not included, but the "big rock endings" and being pulled "back from the brink" by bandmates are.
Every game designer should heed Teasdale's advice. Don't just throw in whatever game-thing is hip at the moment. If you're making a one-player game, don't include multiplayer just because every other game does. If motion controls don't help players become more immersed in your game, don't include them. Don't include DLC unless you're making the kind of game that should have DLC. You see where I'm going with this.