Saturday, May 31, 2008

Guitar Hero Just Doesn't Understand

Activision simply doesn't get it. Since taking over Guitar Hero from original developer Harmonix, they have used the brand as a cash cow with celebrity endorsements, product placements, and sequels galore. While Harmonix has kept things simply about the music with Rock Band's gameplay, formula, and weekly song downloads, Activision is the exact opposite. Any company's bottom line is profit, but you don't see that passion and overall music knowledge Harmonix infused into Guitar Hero and now Rock Band. With most of their staff also acting as part-time musicians and apart of local bands in Boston, you could see why and how they made Guitar Hero so successful. From the atmosphere to the note charts, it just felt genuine.

Since Activision officially took over the series in 2007, they have been taking advantage of their new title with many sequels and spin-offs. After releasing Guitar Hero III, a portable DS version called Guitar Hero: On Tour and another guitar-based expansion for all major consoles entitled Guitar Hero: Aerosmith will see release this summer. Cheap cash-ins such as the small electronic key chain game Guitar Hero Carabiner have also taken advantage of the brand name. And to top it all off, they are basically borrowing Rock Band's proven success and current formula and incorporating the GH name in Guitar Hero World Tour. Don't get me wrong, GHWT looks like a good game in the increasingly crowded music/rhythm genre. But their lack of cooperation to allow instrument compatibility across rival games shows how greedy they are. With the slew of new drum sets on the way, they are determined to force consumers to choose where their loyalties and hard-earned cash lie.

Guitar Hero World Tour's current interface looks very similar to Rock Band.

And Activision is recruiting even more celebrities to their Guitar Hero PR bandwagon. This video from the All Things Digital 6 conference shows Activision CEO Robert Kotick bringing out American Idol judge Paula Abdul and Tony Hawk from their skateboarding franchise to judge and play the game live. The video does show some of the first in-game footage, which looks similar in layout to Rock Band. The host takes a jab at Kotick by mentioning Rock Band, but I can't help but feel like Activision is being disingenuous. With these music games following the same basic premise, you can't really help the similarities that will arise. But their attitude about the subject is what's bothersome. Rather than giving credit to their predecessors or even a sly reference to competition, they instead act like they created this revolutionary new idea to simulate a realistic band experience. While Konami's Rock Revolution looks weaker than Guitar Hero or Rock Band, I can at least respect what they're doing and their somewhat unique approach. It just seems like Guitar Hero is losing its integrity.

However, the bottom line is whether or not the games are fun. If they can make their many spin-offs into enjoyable, worthy experiences, then their business tactics shouldn't matter in the bigger picture. Their release of Call of Duty 4 has earned the game numerous awards and was the top-selling game worldwide in 2007. If all of these Guitar Hero sequels turn out to be great experiences, then that is all that should matter. But it looks like Activision wants gamers to either be broke, litter their living rooms with fake instruments, or choose sides & create divisions within the community much like the console wars.

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Bob,  November 28, 2008 at 11:15 PM  

And Rock Band's interface looks a lot like Guitar Hero's interface, just with more stuff. If you are going to say that GH stole it, remember that RB stole it first, and added a few instruments. If you where GH, you wouldn't just stay with plain guitar, because eventually people would be like, FUCK THIS, I CAN GET MORE WITH ROCKBAND. They have to keep up with the times. And RockBand didn't even take the time to develop out RB2, they just wanted to get it on the market before GHWT, which is why there are still similar hardware failures, little changes to the gameplay, just more songs. It's kinda like GH Rocks the 80s and Aerosmith. No changes, just new songs. If they actually gave a shit about people, then they would have take more time to develop RB2 >_>

Redskyy November 28, 2008 at 11:37 PM  

If you want to be technical about who is "stealing" the interface, Harmonix is the original developer behind Guitar Hero and the GUI/HUD. They actually first created the 'colored lanes' gameplay with the PS2 games, Frequency and Amplitude. Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero get points for doing good things with gameplay/presentation, but Harmonix/RB did do it first. Personal preference aside for round or rectangular notes, Rock Band has the superior presentation and overall look/feel. Guitar Hero gets points for new gameplay ideas such as Hammer On/Pull Off chords and open chord bass notes.

Harmonix didn't really change alot in Rock Band 2, but that is partly because not much was broken or needed fixing. The Tour mode was slightly improved, but they still could have done more to make it more immersive. The addition of Tour challenges and Battle of the Band challenges are a nice way to keep people playing and coming back. This is at least better than what GHWT has to offer, which is a very poor Band Tour experience that is mostly an excuse to unlock songs for Quickplay.

As for hardware failures, I have not heard about problems with any of the new RB2 instruments. The RB1 controllers were plagued with problems, but the new ones feel sturdy from my limited play time at demo stations. On the other hand, the Guitar Hero World Tour instruments, especially the drum set, have been plagued with problems and sensitivity issues. I have not played the new drum set, but I have heard first-hand of problems with the red drum pad and the cymbals.

Rock Band 2 isn't a major step forward for the series, but it is still the definitive experience with tons of songs and minor tweaks and improvements that make the experience better.

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