E3 is distinctly NOT rock and roll. Some of you might have visions of us running around a room packed with game developers, swigging Martinis and shooting the breeze about our Geometry Wars score, pausing to pose with totty and then sprinkling a few hundred inebriated words into a document. Which - well, to be fair, I am drunk - but the point is that the reality is different. Really we all just stand around moaning, play some games while being jostled by thousands of people, who inexplicably paid $200 to wander around the same room as us collecting brochures and then pass out with six bags on each trunklike arm, before slugging our way crosstown to hammer two thousand words into a vaguely coherent, you know, thing. Me-do.
Perhaps the most evocative example is our adventure to find the "bus" for Guitar Hero II - the most rockstarish way we could have picked to be a rockstar games journalist at E3. Having asked a security man where Pico Street was, we walked outside, walked around in a circle for ten minutes, consulted a laptop, tried to call the UK, walked up to the other end of the Convention Centre, found a bus with "Gibson" written on it, wiped the sweat from our - well, tried to group it together into clots, anyway - stumbled onboard and asked for some water please. Yes I'd love a biscuit.
Yet, even from this position of absolute ignominy - and to complete the picture, I almost fell on top of the driver when I climbed in - within a few seconds of strumming the string-bar and clutching the frets of KISS, Primus and Van Halen, I was back in my mode. When I got back to the hotel, I wiped out the mini-bar. For Kettle Chips anyway. Sorry boss.
In the confines of the Harmonix bus, we got to check out the game's multiplayer mode - and, inevitably, it rocks. Splitting the action between a lead and rhythm or bass-playing second guitarist, it reaches an excellent balance that doesn't leave one side feeling under-used or musically inferior. Playing rhythm to Van Halen's screeching is still a subtle dance - and activating Star Power by swinging both guitars skywards at the same time is a nice trick, too. Since it's co-op, you share that meter, along with the combo - which has the potential not only to let one player prop up the other during tough bits, but also for you to share triumphs and failures properly.
As with the original game, it just works. Primus thinks so too - even recording the music for its track specially. Anyway - performance over, we had the chance to ask Harmonix producer Daniel Sussman and senior designer Rob Kay a few questions, with US PR Tracie Snitker on-hand to stop us throwing TVs out of the window. Rock on.
Eurogamer: You guys are obviously pushing the rock thing pretty hard with Guitar Hero. Do you think you limit yourselves with that at all? Are you tempted to move into other genres?
Daniel Sussman: I actually think that we want to stay rock, and I think rock as we've got it has enough support for multiple titles - for years of Guitar Hero development. I think that there's space for other games that do what Guitar Hero does, but do it in other genres, but I don't...
Eurogamer: You don't want to make them?
Daniel Sussman: Nah it's not that I don't want to make them; I just don't want to lump it in with what we've done with Guitar Hero. I feel it's a different kind of thing. We get all these emails from people who want Christmas Guitar Hero or festive Guitar Hero and it's...
Eurogamer: Kelly Sumner mentioned a country version in a UK trade magazine.
Daniel Sussman: I think that's all maybe stuff that's been proposed, but that's about it. We're certainly not making a country Guitar Hero. Personally I'd work on the game and I think there are lots of awesome country musicians and guitar players.
Rob Kay: Really the great thing about Guitar Hero is that feeling of rocking; the whole thing is to feel like a rockstar. And of course people are going to ask about other genres, or even a whole range of genres, but I think more than anything it talks to the potential of music games - and there should be more of them.
Eurogamer: Speaking of which, I've still got a soft spot for Amplitude - are you primarily going to do peripheral based games now, or will you look to doing the sorts of things you were doing with Amplitude again?
Daniel Sussman: I think the future is totally unwritten. Going into this project I had no idea people would be so happy playing with this dorky looking plastic guitar, and they are, and it makes the game. The game's not as good without the peripheral. We have to emphasis that - it changes the way that we as developers think about music games. It changes the landscape for us. That's not to say anything's set in stone, but right now this is what we do. Guitar Hero II will be a peripheral based game and I think there's a big market for that.
Eurogamer: You must be tempted to move into next-gen and look at other platforms give your success on PS2?
Daniel Sussman: There's a lot of speculation about what we're going to do, and we're not really talking about the future.
Eurogamer: You're not closed off to looking at other platforms though?
Daniel Sussman: Oh I don't think anybody's closed off to thinking about it.
Tracie Snitker: No absolutely not, we're definitely thinking about it, but right now we've got this huge installed base of controllers and we want to give people something else. The PS2's being supported until - well, two or three years. They shipped the PlayStation One for ages.
Eurogamer: I think there are still games for that too. We had a look at UK game sales for 2005 recently and there was, I think, one for the whole of 2005.
Daniel Sussman: That's going to be Guitar Hero in five years! [Laughs]
Guitar Hero II is due out on the PS2 this November in the US - and it will follow in the UK, but they're not saying when yet.