Can Rock Band Save Music Games? • Page 2

Harmonix on making keyboards sexy and crafting its defining statement.

Eurogamer: Is that why there are no studio features that allow you to record and edit your own songs?

Daniel Sussman: Absolutely. That's difficult. There are games out there that have put their toe into the water with respect to that. It's difficult to get it right and it's the kind of thing that would require a lot of focus from a very talented team.

If it was to come from Harmonix we'd want to make sure it was done the right way and we didn't have time to do that with Rock Band 3.

Eurogamer: The 102-button Mustang guitar is available from launch and then you're coming out with the stringed Squire later on. Why not settle on just one or the other?

Daniel Sussman: We did a lot of testing and we found that there were a lot of players that were intimidated by the Squire design and the maintenance that comes with owning a guitar.

We see the Mustang as this really great introduction to the world of the guitar for a gamer. It's for someone who doesn't want to worry about callouses, or breaking strings or being out of tune - all that stuff which is very real for anybody who buys a guitar.

That said, the Squire is absolutely the flagship of the Pro Guitar experience. There's something incredibly powerful about being able to play a game and then being able to take the gameplay that you've developed and apply that to an actual guitar.


Eurogamer: If you're starting a band for real, who wants to play keyboard? It's just not that sexy, right? What inspired you to include it in the game?

Daniel Sussman: You think about that a lot. Like, who has a fantasy to be a bass player? Who has a fantasy to be a drummer? I think the guitar game is really successful because people do have that fantasy. For us though, it really comes down to gameplay. The fun thing about the keyboard is that it's new.

From a song selection standpoint, it opens things up a lot. I don't think we would have done "Bohemian Rhapsody" without the keyboard as part of the experience, or The Doors or Elton John. It complements the Rock Band library really well. There's a lot of stuff in the back catalogue that we'll be able to go back and apply keyboard parts to that will be really fun to play.

Eurogamer: Was it tough to design? Was there a lot of prototyping?

Daniel Sussman: We understood pretty early on that we wanted as many keys on there as possible and a good entry level keyboard size and shape. The hardware design went pretty smoothly. We spent a lot of time trying to get the software design right.

We were helped by the fact that the interface didn't need to be that abstract. We were very careful about how many lanes we could show at a time and at what point we introduced the rotating track mechanic and how to ramp from easy all the way up to expert. That took some time.


Eurogamer: What's your response to the viewpoint that there's too much plastic cluttering up the living room these days. Are you worried about peripheral overkill?

Daniel Sussman: A lot of that comes down to the quality of the peripheral and respect for the fact that people don't have a lot of space. We put a lot of thought into how we could be compatible with what people already have.

We're pretty conscientious about supporting all controllers, whether they're from Rock Band 1, or Band Hero, or whatever. We really focused on a software sale that works with what you already have. If you want to augment that with some of the new things then that's great.

We also put a lot of effort into making sure our controllers look good. They're very close to full scale and they're pretty realistic. I think the Mustang looks really cool. We want to make stuff that people aren't ashamed to have in the living room. We're proud of the way they look, and of course for the first time they're actually real, usable musical instruments too.

Eurogamer: Is this the 'end game' as far as peripherals are concerned? Will any future Rock Band sequel be focused on expanding the gameplay and adding content rather than introducing new instruments?

Daniel Sussman: I don't know. We have very creative people on staff and we have a great relationship with MadCatz and with Fender. Again, we want to be particular when we build in a dependency for players. We don't want anybody to have to buy a new big box and we want to make sure people are getting a return on their investment. If you buy the keyboard we want to make sure that you have a lot of gameplay to access.

I don't want to speak to the future because we are creative people and we are working on very interesting things, I want to leave the door open.


Eurogamer: Do you have plans to retro-fit Pro instrument compatibility to old Rock Band tracks?

Daniel Sussman: Yes. What we're messaging is for Rock Band fans to post on and tells us what songs they'd like to see. We're in a position where we can be pretty reactive to that. We can't afford to do everything so we want to see what the community at large wants most.

Eurogamer: Rock Band 3 is obviously a really ambitious title and Harmonix also has Dance Central coming out any day now for Kinect. What's left to achieve in the music genre?

Daniel Sussman: The important thing is just because there's been a game that has worked over the past couple of years doesn't mean that there isn't some mind-blowing new idea out there. I may not have thought of that idea yet but the music game category is not just about a particular game or brand of gameplay.

There are ways to interact with music through videogames that have not been realised yet. Harmonix is pleased to be on the bleeding edge on innovation in that regard – there's all kinds of opportunities out there, and not just for Harmonix but other studios too.

Daniel Sussman is project director for Rock Band at Harmonix. Rock Band 3 is out now on DS, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.

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Fred Dutton

Fred Dutton

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Fred Dutton is Eurogamer's US news editor, based in Washington DC.


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