It's been an interesting few weeks for RedOctane. Guitar Hero II has finally launched on Xbox 360, but the publisher - now part of Activision - has finally caught sight of what the game's developer, Harmonix, has gone off to make with Electronic Arts and MTV. Rock Band might well be described as a spiritual successor to Guitar Hero, and the decision to introduce other instruments, and vocals, arguably raises doubts about the real Guitar Hero III, in development at Neversoft, and due out on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and PS2 later this year.
So you might be surprised to learn that Kai Huang, co-founder and president of RedOctane, claims to be quite excited about what his old pals are working on. Presumably it's just bluster, but he cut a happy figure on his recent trip to the UK, where he - and the mighty Guitar Hero bus - were stopping off to promote the Xbox 360 release of the second game in the series. "The more products there are out there, the better it is for overall space," he told us, before questioning whether it's necessary to complicate a formula to that degree.
RedOctane certainly doesn't think so for now, with Guitar Hero III well within the mould you'd expect. But what are they planning to do with the guitar peripherals? What sort of new modes and online features will be there? What sort of downloadable content can we expect for Guitar Hero III, and for that matter Guitar Hero II? Are we going to see something like Sony's "SingStore"? And are they ever going to get those PS2 guitars working on PS3? We asked, and he mostly told. Read on for all of that, and look out for more on Guitar Hero III in the near future.
Eurogamer: RedOctane began as a small company importing third party dance mats. Why did you do Guitar Hero?
Kai Huang: Well, we'd been in the music games space for six years as a peripherals maker and so when we decided we wanted to do music games, we decided that there were a lot of great games in Japan that were in this space - music games - but none of them were really going to work well in North America. DDR - Dance Dance Revolution - was really the only big game that had made it from Japan over to the western world so we just really felt like something was missing there and that "something" was the music, and so we decided that in order for a music game to be successful here it had to be based on rock-and-roll, and if there was going to be a rock-and-roll-based game it had to be guitar, and really that's how we got started with Guitar Hero.
Eurogamer: How much of a blow was it to lose Harmonix? It's almost like the Foo Fighters losing Dave Grohl.
Kai Huang: Harmonix is a fantastic developer. We have a great working relationship and we've been working with them for several years now and they've done just an amazing job with the Guitar Hero franchise, but now that we've decided to move the project internally to Neversoft, it's going to be absolutely incredible. You know, they're really taking it to the next level. All of the things we really wanted to do with Guitar Hero in the past that we've not been able to do, now Neversoft is going to be able to do for us, so we're just really excited to be working with Neversoft.
Eurogamer: How are you planning to improve it? It's hard to see what you still have to do...
Kai Huang: Yeah, and that's the great part of Guitar Hero. I always say it's a very, very simple game; it's simple to pick up, but difficult to master, and so when you look at the basic gameplay mechanics, not a whole lot is going to change because the formula is really there and it works. What we're going to be able to add to Guitar Hero III and to future versions of the game is really a lot around the areas of online - people are really asking about online, online co-operative play, online competitive play. There's going to be a lot of content we're going to offer through the next version of Guitar Hero, so people can download songs and play all the songs that they hoped to play in the past, and there will be some really cool things with the features that we're doing for the game, including different modes of play that'll make the experience in the living room where you're playing with other friends and other people a lot more fun. We haven't made any announcements on that side yet, but we will soon and you guys will see that soon.
Eurogamer: There have been reports in the press that you're looking at other versions of the game, with drums and the like. Is that the plan?
Kai Huang: We're definitely looking and evaluating and have been evaluating all types of different instrument-based games, and drum is certainly one of the ones that we've been looking at. We haven't made any announcements yet about what we're going to do and when we're going to release a game, but fans can rest assured we're definitely looking at all of those types of games.
Eurogamer: Harmonix has obviously gone to work with EA on Rock Band incorporating all these different kinds of instrument. Has that stolen a march on you?
Kai Huang: I think what Harmonix and what EA are doing is great. Harmonix again is a fantastic developer and we're actually really excited about what they're doing as well, because what they're going to do is really to help us grow this really small, but fast-growing genre of games - the music rhythm games - so the more exposure that's out there, the more products there are out there, the better it is for overall space. So we're really actually excited about what they're doing as well. I can't comment about the Rock Band product because that's theirs, but I can comment about Guitar Hero and what we're doing, and I would say that the beauty of Guitar Hero is its simplicity and its elegance, and when we think about adding other musical instruments in there, that's going to make the experience a lot of fun, but it can also make the game a little bit more complex, and so what we want to focus on is all the great features of Guitar Hero, what makes it really fun and simple for everybody to pick up, and we think we've got some great things that we're working on in that respect.
Eurogamer: One thing you might be able to clear up is comments from Harmonix to the effect that you might be able to play Rock Band using Guitar Hero controllers. Is that something you're happy to allow?
Kai Huang: That's something we've heard as well - that they will be making their game compatible with our guitars - and unfortunately that's not something that I can comment on right now, because I don't know how they're designing the software and how it's going to work, but there's no question that the guitars will be designed to work ideally with Guitar Hero franchise and that's what we're going to be focused on.