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Music Games

The Design Failures That Led To Rock Band 177

Posted by Soulskill
from the still-waiting-on-bagpipe-hero dept.
CNN is running an interview with Eran Egozy and Alex Rigopulos, founders of Harmonix, about the long road that eventually led them to the creation of Guitar Hero and Rock Band . It wasn't an quick or easy process, and the two worked on a number of unsuccessful concepts before arriving at the games that redefined a genre. Quoting: "I was watching people interact with our product, and the realization came crashing down on me — we had spent 18 months on a music system that was fundamentally flawed. Karaoke isn't about personal expression. It's about people reproducing the songs they know as accurately as they can. The whole notion of adding improvisation elements just wasn't connecting. So I retreated to my hotel room and was depressed for the next two days. The company was on the rocks. We had zero revenue. We had been trying for four years to make something work. We were out of ideas. Those first four years had been a graveyard of mis-starts and product concepts that never made it anywhere. Worse, there was adequate information about two years into those four years to realize that our big concept was fatally flawed."
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The Design Failures That Led To Rock Band

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  • Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @12:31AM (#29308049)

    CNN is running an interview with Eran Egozy and Alex Rigopulos, founders of Harmonix, about the long load that eventually led them to the creation of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

    What, were they making C64 games?

    • I hear ya... Four years to stinkin' rich... Wish my road was that long... :(
    • You obviously never played Amplitude or Frequency on the PS2.

      Personally, they were much better games than their later Guitar Hero cousins, especially featuring online competition modes.

      Unfortunately, they didn't have the gimmick controllers to sell them to the masses.

  • by rubies (962985) on Friday September 04, 2009 @12:44AM (#29308087)

    ...thinking that other people are creative too.

    Most people aren't (or at least, not in that artistic sense). Adding elements that require improvisation or creativity just makes the game like work for those who aren't inclined that way. There's nothing necessarily wrong in pandering to an audience that would prefer to be entertained rather than try to entertain themselves. That's why rail shooters are popular and Deus Ex was a flop.

    • Indeed. There's a market for making stuff for creative people, but don't expect to make a blockbuster when you're targeting the creative crowd. The crowd is not huge.

      BTW - they made a Deux Ex sequel.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ephemeriis (315124)

        BTW - they made a Deux Ex sequel.

        Yes, they did. And they made every effort to correct the flaws in the original game and increase its appeal to a wider audience.

        This means it had simpler controls, only one type of ammunition, shinier graphics, more linear gameplay, and a less confusing storyline. In short, they made it more like a rail shooter.

    • by mblase (200735)

      ...thinking that other people are creative too.

      Makes sense. Logical, analytical computer people often make the mistake of thinking that other people will be logical and analytical, which is why (apologies, Slashdotter cattle) diehard Linux fans keep thinking their OS is just a couple of years away from becoming mainstream.

      It's also why focus groups exist; because almost every corporation recognizes that when you've been developing something for years, you become blind to the flaws that will jump out to some

  • Sold to MTV (Score:5, Insightful)

    by piltdownman84 (853358) <piltdownman84&mac,com> on Friday September 04, 2009 @01:23AM (#29308209)
    They claim they sold to MTV because :"Harmonix has always been about music first -- games are a means to an end for us"

    I wish MTV was about music. For at least the last decade its been all trash reality tv and teen celeb gossip.
    • Re:Sold to MTV (Score:4, Informative)

      by devonbowen (231626) on Friday September 04, 2009 @06:01AM (#29309295) Homepage

      I wish MTV was about music.

      It was really great when it started. Just one video after the next with a VJ coming on at the top of the hour to tell you what was coming up. The concept was new and the only bands that made videos were the lesser-knowns. So you were exposed to a lot of new stuff. Best of all there were no commercials back then. I was too young then to know that stuff like that is always ruined with time.

      • by mqduck (232646)

        Every time there's some special on the history of MTV, they talk about it being this crazy idea that no one thought would work, but they proved them all wrong, etc.. And yet MTV itself abandoned the concept they supposedly "proved" was a great idea.

        • by tholomyes (610627)
          And then they tried it all over again with M2, which revitalized the awesome, but it took them all of a year or two to ruin that with reality shows, too.
          • by teg (97890)

            And then they tried it all over again with M2, which revitalized the awesome, but it took them all of a year or two to ruin that with reality shows, too.

            Even Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and National Geographic have gone down that route... I remember when Discovery channel actually was interesting: History (ancient battles), dinosaurs, a new discovery of some sort every Sunday ("Raising the mammoth" and its ilk), space and cool new technology. Now it's just junk: LA Ink, Miami Ink, paranormal junk,

    • by kriston (7886)

      Ten years? Try since 1985.

  • by Gandalf_Greyhame (44144) on Friday September 04, 2009 @03:10AM (#29308619) Journal

    Seriously guys, who in their right mind honestly believes that there is any correlation between Rock Band/Guitar Hero and learning to play a guitar. The two have absolutely nothing in common. People play guitar hero or rock band for a bit of fun, they have no interest in learning how to play a guitar.

    Just like most people would rather play Halo than to build a FPS.

    Actually that is a lot closer a correlation:

    Guitar Hero/Rock Band = Playing Halo
    Learning to play a guitar = Writing and designing a game.

    So get off of your bloody high horses and realise that this is all about ENTERTAINMENT, not CREATIVITY.

    • by spire3661 (1038968) on Friday September 04, 2009 @03:49AM (#29308781) Journal
      KAraoke is a much closer correlation When people go out for Karaoke no one calls it a waste of time and that they should get REAL singing lessons. I will never understand how people fail to make this connection regarding rythm games
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Abcd1234 (188840)

        Well, there's one *very* fundamental difference, here: when people sing at a Karaoke bar, they're still *singing*. ie, they're playing their instrument, even if it's not very well. But Rock Band? Guitar Hero? Like you say, they're simply rhythm games. Just tapping keys to a beat. That's it.

        As such, the OP is absolutely right. There's nothing remotely creative at all about playing Rock Band. Of course, there's nothing at all wrong with that.

        • by tholomyes (610627)

          Well, there's one *very* fundamental difference, here: when people sing at a Karaoke bar, they're still *singing*. ie, they're playing their instrument, even if it's not very well. But Rock Band? Guitar Hero? Like you say, they're simply rhythm games. Just tapping keys to a beat. That's it.

          Rock Band has a vocal part, too, you know. (And The Beatles: RB will have three!) Also, the drum fills are insanely fun.

      • by Hatta (162192) *

        When people go out for Karaoke no one calls it a waste of time and that they should get REAL singing lessons.

        But most people who do Karaoke do need singing lessons.

        • When people go out for Karaoke no one calls it a waste of time and that they should get REAL singing lessons.

          But most people who do Karaoke do need singing lessons.

          Well, no. Even if they're not good at singing, they don't need singing lessons... And depending on what kind of venue this karaoke is happening in, poor singing can be entirely acceptable, because it's about letting the singer have a good time.

    • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Friday September 04, 2009 @07:34AM (#29309737)

      So get off of your bloody high horses and realise that this is all about ENTERTAINMENT, not CREATIVITY.

      The two are not mutually exclusive.

      Halo is a fairly predictable game. It is fun, it is entertaining, but it is predictable. The single-player is very linear. There's generally only one way to complete a level. If there's an obstacle in front of you, there's generally only one way to deal with it. There really isn't any creativity involved in playing Halo.

      Deus Ex, on the other game, encourages creativity. There will typically be multiple ways around the obstacle... And if you really want to be creative, you can do all sorts of bizarre things the developers hadn't planned on. But Deus Ex is also entertaining.

      The summary doesn't really say anything about people learning to play guitar, so I'm not sure where your comments come from... But if you read the summary you'll see that originally they were trying to build a game that wanted you to improvise. And people didn't want to improvise, they just wanted to play their favorite songs. This is where creativity comes into the discussion. Folks didn't want to create new music, they just wanted to replicate the music they knew.

      • So get off of your bloody high horses and realise that this is all about ENTERTAINMENT, not CREATIVITY.

        The summary doesn't really say anything about people learning to play guitar, so I'm not sure where your comments come from... But if you read the summary you'll see that originally they were trying to build a game that wanted you to improvise. And people didn't want to improvise, they just wanted to play their favorite songs. This is where creativity comes into the discussion. Folks didn't want to create new music, they just wanted to replicate the music they knew.

        My comments aren't directed at the article nor the summary, they are directed at every person here who instantly goes "pfft, Guitar Hero? That's not playing a guitar. Go learn to play one." If you read through the comments you will see this sentiment repeated over and over again.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by mdwh2 (535323)

      Learning to play a guitar = Writing and designing a game.

      Which has given me a brilliant idea for a new game: Programmer Hero.

      You play a geek programming a computer. Using a specially designed custom "keyboard" that plugs into the console, you have to press differently coloured buttons in sequence at the correct moment, in order for the computer computer programmer to complete the game he is writing.

      Choose from endless classic games just waiting to be programmed by you: Quake, Doom, Halo.

      Everyone wants to pl

    • by sorak (246725)

      I think a better analogy would be:

      Guitar Hero/Rock Band = Playing Halo
      Learning to play a guitar = Putting on a space suit and shooting everything you see

    • Yes the silly guitar is not like learning to play guitar, however in Rock Band 2 (not Rock Band) you can actually learn the drums by playing the game and practicing in practice mode. You can even hook up real electronic drums sets instead of using the cheap set.

      I got hooked on playing drums because of this game. I practice on it because its more fun then playing on a set by myself with no accompanying music. I'm thinking about buying an acoustic set because of it too. So I'd say mission accomplished t
    • Wait a minute - who said anything about Rock Band or Guitar Hero being about learning to play the guitar? It's not mentioned at all in either the slashdot summary, or the article itself.
  • Good article. Interesting read. But fuck the premise. Frequency was awesome!
    • Yeah.. I just read that. "Frequency" and "Amplitude" are two of my favorite PS2 games of all time and I still pulling for them to make a third in the series (though it's obviously not going to happen). The music licenses weren't were probably the best they could get at the time but saying that they still got same great names like Garbage and David Bowie to participate. Plus I don't think that the gameplay is as obscure as they make out in the article.

      • by Tetsujin (103070)

        Yeah.. I just read that. "Frequency" and "Amplitude" are two of my favorite PS2 games of all time and I still pulling for them to make a third in the series (though it's obviously not going to happen). The music licenses weren't were probably the best they could get at the time but saying that they still got same great names like Garbage and David Bowie to participate. Plus I don't think that the gameplay is as obscure as they make out in the article.

        Well, I've been following various articles and such by HMX on the matter of FreQ and Amp for some time... After FreQ they were very self-critical, trying to find out what went wrong and why, and how their game design could be made better (i.e. producing a game people would more readily buy and enjoy) - they seemed very pragmatic about it... It really is possible to stand firmly behind what you've created, but at the same time examine it critically, and ask "what went wrong?" They were fortunate to have a

    • Re:Failures? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MtHuurne (602934) on Friday September 04, 2009 @08:03AM (#29309989) Homepage

      From the article:

      We naively believed that if we, backed by a big publisher, created a game that was fun, it would be successful. What we failed to recognize was that you have to make games that are easily marketable.

      They are saying Frequency and Amplitude were not the commercial successes they had hoped for. I can understand that: the two games have a rather abstract look and the music selection will not suit everyone's taste. However, I love the games because of the look and music selection. And because the different instruments are on separate tracks, which makes for more interesting game play than for example DDR.

  • "long load that eventually led them to the creation of Guitar Hero and Rock Band."

    Heh. At first I thought that said "bong load."

  • by juures (1631099) on Friday September 04, 2009 @05:51AM (#29309245)
    I just developed an algorithmic composition applet [www.uta.fi], very similar to the first application by Harmonix. The users can control the music dynamically with the mouse. I thought it was unique idea, but these guys did it already 15 years ago!

    I think their earlier ideas were much cooler than the Rock Band franchise, too bad they couldn't sell them.
  • I thought the most interesting part of the article was the bit about the Beatles and the way they're accidentally debunking Beatles urban legends in their trivia. I'm not much into gaming but I almost want to get it just for that. :)

  • "The Design Failures That Led To Rock Band": everything they tried before they said "fuck it" and made a Guitar Hero ripoff with more instruments?

  • Seriously, you should expect these things to happen when you sell out to EA. Sucks to be you.

"'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true." -- Poloniouius, in Willie the Shake's _Hamlet, Prince of Darkness_

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