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Music Games

The Design Failures That Led To Rock Band 177

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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  • Rail games (Score:1, Interesting)

    by jimmydevice ( 699057 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @01:56AM (#29308131)
    Rock band and guitar hero are just piss poor rail games with better music.
  • by rubies ( 962985 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @02:13AM (#29308191)

    How many at retail prices? I got my copy free with a video card, otherwise it was almost impossible to find in local shops.

  • Anonymous Coward (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @02:48AM (#29308291)

    They ripped off Konami.

  • Re:Rail games (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @02:59AM (#29308329)

    If I have to listen to any more GH1 and GH2 I'll climb a clock tower.

    I'm assuming you are referring to the music for GH1/2, not the game itself. I can't speak for Guitar Hero, but for Rock Band the game never seems to get old because of the new music I am able to download. Sure, if you have to keep playing or hearing the same songs over and over it can get old, but every Friday I check on Wikipedia to see what songs are being released the following Tuesday. I'm not a big fan of purchasing music (I will admit it - I downloaded most of my MP3 collection) but I think that the Rock Band songs are well worth the money. The amount of entertainment they can provide, when I have a bunch of friends over on a Friday night playing RB until the early morning hours, is well worth it to me. I also pre-ordered Beatles RB and will hopefully be playing it on September 10th and most likely well into the morning hours on the 11th.

  • by EvanED ( 569694 ) <[evaned] [at] []> on Friday September 04, 2009 @03:05AM (#29308347)

    Having to pay $100> for a new controller+game for each release borders on extortion

    What? At least for the 360 version, the same Guitar Hero controllers work for GH2, GH3, GH4, Rock Band, and RB2. Also the PC version of GH3 (& I presume 4).

    The Rock Band controllers don't work for the GH games, but they are at least portable from RB to RB2. My understanding is that on the PS3 the GH->RB transition doesn't work either. But even these are still a far cry from having to buy new controllers each release...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @03:30AM (#29308463)

    Yes and no. I find it completely insane that they don't mention guitar freaks in the article, when they mention karaoke revolution and say that Konami talked to them about it.

    The article is about how they were doing something weird, that couldn't be explained to people who didn't play it, and it didn't sell. Then they sold some games, that also didn't sell well. Then Konami gave them a shitload of cash and credibility, they did something else that sucked, then Red Octane was like "Well fuck, we already rip off DDR and have a deal to rip it off even more with ITG let's get these guys to rip off another popular bemani game Konami hasn't brought over to America yet". And bam, two extra buttons and a whammy bar on a piece of plastic later, we have America's guitar hero. Then they were like "But wait, in Japan they can play keyboard, guitar and drums together. (maybe karaoke and ddr, though I don't think DDR was in there.. it's not in rock band so I'm assuming it didn't interface with konami's instrument games either ;)) So how about we do that?"

    And then we ended up with a shitty ripoff of drum mania and a combination with karaoke revolution. It's annoying, because the guitar controller for rock band is far superior to the official konami home drum mania controller that I used. But the game is just .. inferior. In pretty much all possible software-related ways. Oh well. I still play it since it's about the songs, and none of my friends know any of the songs I'd play given the chance.

    Though just be glad they didn't make ITG, can you imagine what they'd have us dancing to?

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

  • Re:Yep (Score:3, Interesting)

    by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <slashdot.davidgerard@co@uk> on Friday September 04, 2009 @04:15AM (#29308639) Homepage
    They have of course gone the other way. Kids now think controllers make music. []
  • by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @04:42AM (#29308753)

    What's funny is that the people who say "learn to play a real guitar" usually don't actually know how to play a real guitar. I play a real guitar. I've spent a considerable amount of money on guitars and stacks and pedals over the years. I even did my part for aspiring guitarists by putting a bunch of tabs up on OLGA back in the mid 90s.

    I still love playing Rock Band with my wife.

    GH/RB are extremely popular with real musicians. You always hear about them playing on their tour bus.

    Hell, did you even read the article? Dhani Harrison is a real musician, plays a real guitar, and "was up all night playing guitar hero".

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @06:11AM (#29309073)

    When you feel good and up to it, consider joining the Army so you can shoot real life people in the middle east.

    I've tried that way (not the middle east, but still). I'm still waiting for my friend to respawn...

  • by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @08:34AM (#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.

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

    by MtHuurne ( 602934 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:03AM (#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.

  • by goldmaneye ( 1374027 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @09:35AM (#29310273)
    I guess, in an incredibly over-simplified way, you're right. But of course, because it's oversimplified, it misses the entire point of the article (I'm guessing you haven't bothered to read it yet, and I would encourage you to do so, since it's very well written). Allow me to explain.

    1. Red Octane, creator of many (excellent) DDR peripherals, approached Harmonix about making a game wherein you used a guitar-like controller (manufactured by Red Octane, of course) to play music. Harmonix agreed, and Guitar Hero was the result. So I guess you're right, they "copied" DDR ... by relying on Red Octane's cumulative experience creating peripherals for DDR to create a similar, but nonetheless novel, gaming experience using a guitar.

    2. Harmonix developed Guitar Hero for Red Octane. Red Octane was acquired by Activision, who gained the rights to Guitar Hero through the acquisition. Harmonix was acquired by MTV, who wanted a game like Guitar Hero that they could sell themselves. The result was Rock Band, which is like Guitar Hero (it has guitars, and you play musical notes in a sequence displayed on the screen), but also includes a drum set and a microphone. So I guess you're right again, Harmonix "copied" Guitar Hero ... by using their cumulative experience developing Guitar Hero to create a new game that improved upon the experience of the old game.

    You may not have noticed, but the kind of copying you describe is rampant in other industries, too. A lot of computer hardware seems suspiciously similar to older hardware. Newer car models bear a striking resemblance to older car models. Modern operating systems look a lot like their predecessors, not to mention their counterparts.

    The point is, the "copying" you are so ready to dismiss is kind of an important way in which innovation proceeds. In fact, if you substitute the word "copying" with the words "building upon," you're much closer to the truth. A lot of innovation proceeds by incrementally improving upon what's already there. So your comment should have read:

    "Guitar Hero built upon DDR and Rock Band built upon Guitar Hero."

    There, fixed that for you.
  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @10:12AM (#29310709) Homepage

    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.

  • Re:Rail games (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Second_Derivative ( 257815 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @10:18AM (#29310781)

    Someone did think of it first: Konami. Notice that they mention Beatmania and DDR as inspirations, but curiously omit Guitar Freaks and Drum Mania...

    GFDM are on something like their eighteenth release in Japan at the moment. Konami has been pumping out all manner of wonderful music games for over a decade now, they just really suck at publishing their shit abroad, much to the chargrin of the Western Bemani fanbase (which exists despite their best efforts, and believe me the use of 'despite' in that sentence was intentional).

  • 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. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @12:39PM (#29312685)

    a. two super smart kids got into MIT

    b. how much does it cost to goto MIT?

    c. both have music training in specialized instruments

    d. how much does it cost to get lessons on those things?

    c. they spend a couple of years at MIT honing on business opportunities

    d. (and partying--hey it's college)

    e. with there MIT connection, both get hundred of thousands raised to start a business

    f. if anyone's been in a startup: the first 2 yrs is hard work at communication & team building, the 2nd 2 yrs is partying with the marketeers, and yrs 4&5 is the real hard technical work to get a good product out the door.

    g. almost "closing shop" they build Guitar Hero, a hit.

    h. Sell assets to MTV for big bucks.

    Design failures my a**. horrendous failure --what a JOKE. A long road? Ha! What 4 yrs?

    Product development is not a mental exercise, it's engineering, it's never going to be the same as design on paper... While I'm sitting here with a crappy 8-6 desk job, with a MS EE, no career path, and office politics, and when I struggled paying for my no name state university degree and no business network to get new ideas invested. And living in a small place with ok salary...

    Folks, get real. Harmonix had everything going for them. This failure story, though a good read, is hype to make them the 'good guys'. Brillant marketing strategy: now that you guys are hooked, please got buy The Beatles: Rock Band...
    It's Friday and it's a rant...

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!