Guitar Hero has been in the headlines recently, but not just because of the PS2 sequel's success - or even because it's due out on Xbox 360 in the near future. No, these particular headlines focused on news that original developer Harmonix would no longer be working on the series, which would instead continue on at Tony Hawk developer Neversoft.
In light of this, we tracked down RedOctane head of publishing Dusty Welch to find out what's going on with Harmonix and Neversoft, and also took the time to ask about future PS2 support, the possibility of introducing karaoke to the guitar-driven series, and whether Xbox 360 fans can expect some form of playable demo over the Internet.
Eurogamer: You said recently: "What we've seen thus far regarding Neversoft's capabilities for the franchise is extremely compelling." Can you tell us what you've seen?
Dusty Welch: It's really not about what we've seen thus far, though rather what we've played, and from our experience, it's given us a tremendous amount of confidence in Neversoft's abilities for the next instalment of the Guitar Hero franchise. Without giving away any of our secrets or exclusive details, we can honestly say it's truly going to blow people away. Much has already been improved in regards to the feature set, graphics, audio, and most importantly, game play experience. If only Nigel Tufnel knew what we were up to, he'd definitely be proud!
Eurogamer: You also said that Guitar Hero "will always be about fulfilling the fantasy of becoming a rock god!" Does that mean we're unlikely to see other genres of music, like pop?
Dusty Welch: It certainly does not. There are numerous genres of rock music, including pop, and we're certainly looking into exploring all of our options to continue bringing what our fans want, and their demand will ultimately determine what direction the franchise will take. It has always been a top priority for us to keep the content fresh and exciting, and our fans should expect nothing less from Guitar Hero every time they pick up the guitar to rock out.
Eurogamer: Nobody can argue that you haven't shown Harmonix huge respect during the course of your relationship, but the question on a lot of people's lips is: are you going to continue working with them?
Dusty Welch: At the moment, we're still working with Harmonix on certain projects until completion, though moving forward, Neversoft will be taking over the development duties for the Guitar Hero franchise. We wish Harmonix the best on their next project, and we look forward to continuing our long tradition of producing blockbuster titles.
Eurogamer: Are they involved at all in Guitar Hero related development now?
Dusty Welch: Yes, Harmonix is continuing to develop Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360, though any projects beyond that, we currently are not at liberty to discuss.
Eurogamer: Activision, like many top tier publishers, is shifting its focus towards next-gen consoles. Obviously you can't talk about specific products, but can you say whether you will continue to support PlayStation 2 in future?
Dusty Welch: The PS2 was one of the top selling platforms in 2006, and every indication from Sony is that they will continue to manufacture and market the platform aggressively in 2007 and 2008. Our plan is to be a multi-platform publisher, meaning viable platforms will be supported.
Eurogamer: Activision doesn't currently have its own karaoke series, like Sony's SingStar or Konami's Karaoke Revolution, but it's tempting to imagine a game that would allow players to play the guitar AND sing. Is that something you can rule out in future?
Dusty Welch: We would never rule out any opportunity that we feel fans might want to see in the future. Are they in our current plans? We can't say, though it's certainly an intriguing option that we're interested in, as we are with many other ideas. Guitar Hero has levitated the music rhythm-action genre to a whole other level, and there is no reason to think we can't take it even further with other genres.
Eurogamer: The fact that Guitar Hero II on Xbox 360 will require a peripheral to play properly suggests that a downloadable demo is very unlikely. Presumably there isn't going to be one?
Dusty Welch: A large degree of success for the sales of Guitar Hero II is attributable to the global in-store demo program we developed, so it's fair to say this will be an ongoing focus. We wouldn't rule out a downloadable demo on any platform, though yes, you would need the RedOctane guitar to play it.
Eurogamer: Finally, which is your favourite song from Guitar Hero 1 and 2, and why?
Dusty Welch: Tom Bramwell, I am pleased you asked that question...my older brother Duke grew up listening to Journey, Rush and Def Leppard, so naturally, as younger siblings do, I liberated his music for my bike ride to school. Rush's epic YYZ is one of my favourite songs and a masterpiece in Guitar Hero II. You can be assured I would like to see the other two bands worked into future Guitar Hero offerings.
So you can see where my tastes in music are, though what is so enriching about Guitar Hero is the introduction and connection that is made between new music tastes and consumers... how many of us really ever listened to Free Bird? In Guitar Hero II, it's one of the most popular tracks, and certainly one of the most challenging on expert to master!