Like the piece I put up a few moments back, I recently asked you all to come up with some questions I could send to Harmonix regarding their upcoming title Rock Band. The questions just came back to me courtesy of Harmonix’s VP of Product Development Greg LoPiccolo, and everything the man said just makes me want the title even more.
Did I mention I’m utterly in love with the game? If sex came with a drum peripheral, I might start paying for it again.
Hit the jump for the full interview.
Nex: RedOctane promised tons of DLC on Guitar Hero 2, and obviously failed to follow through. Now, Harmonix has made some pretty big claims of DLC every week for Rock Band. How do we know you’re not going to go the way of GH2 and deliver very little if any DLC?
Greg LoPiccolo: Trust me, we’ve got this nailed. It was a priority from very early in development, and MTV has been actively securing the licenses we need to keep a steady stream of songs flowing. Our audio team is fully staffed and ready to go, and we’ve already got plenty of songs licensed and authored. I can’t talk specifics yet, but we are really excited about what we’ve got.
N: What songs did you want to include but couldn’t get the rights for?
GL: I’d rather not answer directly, because we haven’t given up on anyone, and have a good shot at landing some more choice bands in the coming months. This is a pretty easy question for you to figure out though. If you can think of an enormous band that really belongs in Rock Band, but they’re not in there, it means we couldn’t get the license.
N: Did you guys ever consider making keyboards part of the game? If so, what ultimately led you to abandon that idea?
GL: We’ve talked about keyboards a lot. I’m not going to rule it out, but there are some problems:
Almost all bands (except for, say, Emerson Lake and Palmer or White Stripes) have the 4 core roles: guitar/bass/drums/vox. Even 3-piece bands like The Police or Rush still cover all 4 roles. But with keyboards, only some bands have them, and to be honest, not all keyboard parts are that exciting to play. So then we have to figure out: should we support 5 peripherals simultaneously? The consoles are generally only set up for 4 controllers, so 5 is pretty much out of the question. So do we bounce one of the other instruments in keyboard songs? That’s not very satisfying, and suddenly people have to buy yet another controller just to play all the songs we have available. Bottom line is: it’s pretty hard to figure out how to get it to work, and it frankly doesn’t seem that crucial. Engineering 4-player game play was hard enough; we’ll stick with that for now.
N: How are you going to handle setting up an online session? Can you for example start the game at home by yourself, go online, and decide you want to just connect with a drummer and leave the rest as computer? Is there some kind of lobby system?
GL: We have really good flexibility in choosing who is local and who is online. Any role can be filled by either local or online players, and you can choose between 2 and 4 players in a band game, with the empty roles being covered by the computer. The matchmaking is hard to describe in an email interview, but is pretty smooth and intuitive
N: What’s going on with the Wii version of the game?
GL: We’d love to do a Wii version of Rock Band. We think the Rock Band vibe and experience is a great fit for the Wii console. No Wii version has been announced. Stay tuned.
N: How much attention are you paying to Guitar Hero 3 as a competitor, will their pricing and offerings on DLC affect the way you’ll handle your own?
GL: We are certainly curious to check out GH3 when it comes out. We have a lot of respect for Neversoft as a developer and we trust they’ll do it justice. Beyond that, Rock Band is really a different game. It’s hard to appreciate just how different it is until you get a chance to experience it. With respect to DLC, we know we want to provide a big library of songs, because the play experience is ultimately about the songs. We are thinking hard about pricing. One aspect of pricing that isn’t necessarily obvious to the audience is that a huge amount of work goes into making a song into a playable level; we have to get the multitrack masters remixed into stems, author all the parts at all difficulties, do all the lipsynch and animation cues, author the cameras and lighting, etc. It takes a whole team of people to get it done. So we want make the songs as inexpensive as possible, but it’s not like we just get to license them and throw them online like iTunes; they are actually pretty labor-intensive and therefore expensive to produce.
N: You guys became intensely famous thanks to the Guitar Hero series, but prior to that you created Frequency and Amplitude; two games that were sorely overlooked by a lot of people but are still two of my favorite rhythm games of all time. Please tell me you have plans to resurrect that series at some point! Also, I realize this isn’t a question, but if I add an unnecessary question mark at the end of this sentence, can you forgive me?
GL: You are forgiven. We loved working on those games and remain very proud of them. We’d like to revisit that territory in the future, but nothing is currently announced.
N: How does your song selection process work?
GL: It’s pretty simple. Everyone in the company can make suggestions for songs to consider, and since they have all been posting suggestions like crazy for the past two years, we have a huge list of possible songs. Then a small committee of us meet and debate what should go in. We choose more songs than we have room for, since we know we won’t be able to get everything we want. Then the licensing team goes to work, and as we start to get licenses, we tune the list.
N: People must constantly ask you why X song isn’t in the game or how much cash would they have to offer you to put Y band in the game. How do you respond to these constant requests, and why haven’t we seen Sponge’s Plowed in any of your games yet?
GL: If we get a lot of requests for something specific, we consider it. Once Rock Band ships and we are doing regular releases of DLC, it will be easier to consider fan requests, since we don’t just have the 40-50 disc slots to fill. Are you requesting that we put Sponge’s Plowed into Rock Band? If so, we’ll consider it. I’m considering it right now.
N: A while back you guys were purchased by MTV — a company once known for its countercultural standards who has fallen from grace and is now seen as the corporate prototype for how to take money from stupid children — for an insane amount of money. Obviously you all now drive cars made of gold and swim in giant Scrooge-McDuck-ian money vaults, so what do you say to those who claim you have sold out?
GL: First of all, you haven’t lived until you’ve driven a gold car. It’s better than you can possibly imagine. Seriously, our team has spent an insane amount of time, energy and passion to build the absolute best rock game that we can, and MTV has been completely supportive of what we are trying to do. We’re making the game we want to make, and no one at MTV has tried to interfere with us in any way. We certainly hope a lot of people buy it, but I’m guessing that is true of any game development team. Does that constitute selling out?
N: What’s your favorite rhythm game you didn’t work on?
I have to confess, I’m looking forward to some GH3.
N: Favorite non-rhythm game?
GL: Right now: BioShock. Next month: who knows? There’s a lot of cool games coming out this year!
N: Given hardware potential, online capabilities and userbase, which platform was the easiest to develop Rock Band for: the Xbox 360 or the PS3?
GL: PS3 was more difficult because it was new to us. Xbox 360 was an easier ride for us since we already had some experience with it. They are both coming out great, though.
I want to thank Greg for taking the time out of his busy schedule to virtually talk to us, those of you who contributed questions to the interview and Leonard Nimoy for being such a cool guy even after all these years of having to deal with insane fans. Sure, it has nothing to do with Rock Band, but I think Mr. Nimoy could totally get down with some RB.