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> Rock Band Vs. Guitar Hero
post Feb 10 2009, 10:56 AM
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In a Boston office with a Fender Strat leaning against the wall, Eric Brosius, a sound designer for video-game developer Harmonix, is staring at clusters of tiny blue bars on his computer screen: Keith Moon's madman drum part from "Won't Get Fooled Again," as mapped out note for note by an on-staff musician. The company that developed Guitar Hero has spent the past year transforming that song and dozens of others -- from the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" -- into playable pieces of its new music game, Rock Band. Soon, players will be furiously banging electronic drum pads to replicate Moon's stickwork, mashing buttons on guitar-shaped controllers to match Pete Townshend's and John Entwistle's parts, and even trying to scream "Yeeeah!" at the right moment into a microphone. "You get to experience what it's like to play every single part of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' and to see how the parts interact," says Eran Egozy, who co-founded Harmonix as a graduate student at MIT.

Guitar Hero may well be this decade's biggest rock & roll phenomenon. Guitar Hero I and II have grossed $360 million since the first game came out in 2005 -- vastly more than any album released in the same period. And the games -- in which players re-create songs' guitar parts by pushing buttons that correspond to notes and chords while hitting a "strum bar" in rhythm -- have inspired kids by the millions to memorize the intricacies of "Free Bird" and "War Pigs." One measure of the games' clout: MTV purchased Harmonix for $175 million last year, and video-game giant Activision paid $99.9 million to acquire RedOctane, the company that owns the Guitar Hero name and manufactured the game's guitar- shaped controllers.

With MTV and Activision unwilling or unable to collaborate, the franchise's future has split in two: Activision's Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock -- a straightforward sequel with a few twists, including a new "battle mode" -- hits stores October 28th, while Harmonix's Rock Band -- which adds drums and vocals to the formula -- comes out November 23rd. Analysts say that the market is big enough for both games to succeed (music games represent about eight percent of the U.S. video-game market, according to the research group NPD) -- so their near-simultaneous releases could become the music event of the year.

While the first two Guitar Hero titles used mostly cover versions, Rock Band and Guitar Hero III each include dozens of original recordings by rock's biggest names, from Nirvana to Guns n' Roses. "For most of our history, it was very difficult to get the labels' attention and to be taken seriously by them," says Harmonix co-founder Alex Rigopulos. "Now, everything is completely different." Labels are actively pitching their music for inclusion in both games. "It's a revenue source and a way of turning people on to music," says Rhino Records senior VP Mark Pinkus. "My kids are constantly learning new songs from these games and asking me about artists." And both titles will offer online stores with ever-multiplying libraries of additional tunes -- a strategy that's already shown promise, with fans buying more than 2 million tracks at about two dollars each for the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero II. "We're an entirely different revenue stream that the music business didn't have at their disposal five months ago," says Activision music executive Tim Riley. Rock Band will offer entire albums for download, including Who's Next, as well as eighteen songs by the Grateful Dead.

When Harmonix was developing the first Guitar Hero in 2005, it worried that a product based around guitars and rock-star dreams might appeal to only a small niche audience. "We all loved rock, but it seemed like pop, R&B and hip-hop were dominating the charts," says Rigopulos. "We were wondering: Has there been such a substantial cultural shift that the experience we're trying to conjure in this game isn't relevant anymore to the mainstream audience?"

But the game connected with the masses, including many kids too young to remember when music superstars were likely to be actual guitar heroes. And real-life rock stars love the game, which has become a tour-bus staple. "It's fucking brilliant," says Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash, who found himself "addicted" to Guitar Hero II after trying it on a tour -- and now appears in GH III as a playable character. "It's actually harder to play for guitar players, because it doesn't really react like a guitar. You'd think you'd be better at it, but you're not."

Putting original music into the games required getting hold of the multitrack masters -- which in some cases proved impossible. With the masters to Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols lost, Riley managed to persuade the Pistols to return to the studio for the first time in decades to re-record classics, including "Anarchy in the U.K.," for GH III. "It was a crazy idea that worked," he says. GH III relies more on celebrity firepower than Rock Band: Riley recruited Slash and Tom Morello to appear in the game and to record new playable pieces of music.

Harmonix's founders, meanwhile, see Rock Band as the culmination of their original mission, which they began pursuing in the computer-music group at the MIT Media Lab: using technology to help nonmusicians experience the pleasures of making music. And they imagine a future where fans will expect new music to be released in playable form. "The way you listen and interact with music has evolved over time," says Egozy. "It was LPs, then CDs, then music videos, then the iPod and iTunes. The next wave of that is a platform like Rock Band. It's a launching point for how we see the future of music evolving."

Source : rollingstone.com


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post Feb 26 2009, 04:20 PM
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