Killing ghouls with guitars: Epicenter's Rock of the Dead


And you thought killing zombies with a Dreamcast keyboard was ridiculous.

This summer, Epicenter Games will release Rock of the Dead for the Wii, a title admittedly influenced by Sega's Typing of the Dead. Originally released for Japanese arcades in the late 90s, Sega's title had players using a QWERTY keyboard to type out words to kill hordes of shambling zombies and other abominations. It's an idea so crazy that it worked; the game was not only educational, but completely ridiculous and a hell of a lot of fun.

"It's a lot like Typing of the Dead," Epicenter's Bryan Jury tells me of their own Rock of the Dead, "but we're using guitars rather than keyboards."

With so many guitars already in homes, thanks to the success of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the idea is just so off-the-wall batsh*t crazy, it might work.

"We're not trying to sell hardware," Jury explains, telling me they have no intention of trying to sell new Rock of the Dead peripherals, "we're just trying to make a fun kind of bite-sized gameplay experience in a new kind of genre."

Strap on your Wii guitars, folks -- you've got some monsters to kill. Read on for details on Epicenter's Rock of the Dead.

The gameplay concept for Rock of the Dead is simple. Players work their way through on-rail levels (think a traditional light gun shooter), taking out enemies -- which range from zombies to other horror genre staples -- using your guitar peripheral. (Epicenter says currently available guitars should work, be it Rock Band or Guitar Hero.) All enemies will have a measure on them, a set of notes -- could be two, three, four, or more. By playing the notes in order, you'll be able to neutralize the on-screen enemies with your faux-musical prowess. The game's lead designer, John Sahas explains the different types of enemy killing segments, broken up into "timed" and "untimed."

"So the enemies who have just a bunch of notes attached to them, you can take out any enemy you see on the screen that you want, in any order you want," he says. "You just play the notes; they're not timed, they're not moving across the screen. So those are more kind of action oriented segments."

He likens the guitar to being "sort of like a machine gun," with rapid button presses and strumming lending itself to faster paced gameplay. The other segments, where you might be faced with a boss enemy or a more complex area, work in the way a more traditional music game would. The music changes, drops to a background beat, and you're faced with having to play a riff that scrolls across the screen. Play those riffs in time with the song, best the beast with your powers of rock n' roll.

Fans of Guitar Hero and Rock Band might note that the game's notes scroll horizontally, versus the expected "note highway." According to Jury, this horizontal gameplay fits, which was their number one priority. He admits that it's a legit concern -- that it might be difficult to get used to -- for players to have. Having ten enemies on the screen at once, he explains, it would be difficult to present it any other way, though. It might look strange in screenshots, he tells me, but it's really a case gamers having to get their hands on the game before writing it off. But more important are the legal reasons; Jury calls the scrolling note highway gameplay a "patent minefield."

"The vertical note highway is actually a patent that is owned by another company," he reveals, "and so while we're kind of frustrated as creators and developers that we have to kind of work around a legal system in order to make a game, it worked out for us since we wanted to horizontal."

Rock of the Dead can also be played with a friend (offline only) in what Epicenter is calling "competitive co-op." While players can work together to rock the crap out of baddies, the game will also keep track of each player's score and kill count. Players can both work on taking out a single enemy, too -- if one player starts working on an enemy, another player can start hitting the notes faster, stealing the points. In other areas, you might want to coordinate, with one player working on a main boss and the other focusing entirely on its minions.

"So it's definitely an interesting dynamic," says Sahas, "You can be as co-op as you want to be, or you can kind of be as cut-throat as you want to be."

The game takes an interesting approach to rock music, as well. Epicenter decided to commission bands to create "rocked out" versions of classical pieces, stuff from legendary composers such as Brahms, Bizet, and Bach. It's stuff you'll recognize, too, popular classical pieces that -- even if you couldn't name them -- you've heard before in other mainstream sources. Only this time, they've got a rock twist.

"We know these rocked out versions of these classical pieces are kind of goofy," Jury confesses, saying it lends to the game's deliberately campy feel, "but it works at the same time, so it works on a couple of different levels."

Outside of the public domain re-worked classical arrangements, there's a chance you'll hear some rock or metal music from your favorite artists, but Epicenter doesn't have anything to announce right now. Jury tells me they're "moving forward" and "working with a couple of licensees," and that cost could ultimately the issue. But more importantly, the music has to fit the game, to "serve the experience" as Sahas puts it.

"We explored a bunch of options," he says. "we didn't want to just have 'Oh, I'm killing zombies and there's this rock track playing in the background because it's a popular song on the radio' or something like that. So it was more something that just comes together as a whole experience. There are a couple of artists out there that are actually completely suited that, so we're working on it."

So Rock of the Dead has you killing ghouls with guitars, and that's great. But why are you doing this again? Yes, there's a plot, and it aims to be as campy and tongue-in-cheek as you'd expect a game about slaughtering monsters with music should be.

"Essentially, it's a made for TV movie [that you might see] on the SyFy channel," Jury says, "except it doesn't take itself so seriously, and those movies always do."

You play as a rocker kid who lives in a trailer park, just jamming on your guitar when meteors start falling from the sky. The mysterious fallen stars brings crystals with strange properties to Earth, turning animals into blood thirsty monsters, bringing the dead back to life, and more. As it so happens, you're just rocking on your guitar at the time of the attacks, and for whatever reason, it's this rock music that can be used to exterminate these fiends.

Joss Whedon fans take note: Rock of the Dead is somewhat of a Dr. Horrible reunion. Neil Patrick Harris lends his voice as the rocker kid, who moves through the story trying to get to his girlfriend (voiced by Felicia Day) who works at a local news station. Even though both Patrick Harris and Day regularly get gaming voice over pitches that they end up turning down (their nerd cred is through the roof), Jury tells me that the Rock of the Dead project seemed to appeal to the actors.

"I asked them what made them interested in this," he explains, "[and] they were actually interested in the game themselves. They are as nerdy as their personas are; it was really kind of cool to hear them ask me about the game, instead of just showing up to do some work."

Rock of the Dead is scheduled to ship for Wii early this summer; I hope to get my hands on the game next week at GDC, so keep your eyes open for a hands on report. The dead are so gonna get rocked.

You are logged out. Login | Sign up


Click to open photo gallery:


Nick Chester
Nick ChesterFormer Editor-in-Chief (2011)   gamer profile

Editor-in-Chief @ Destructoid.com nick at destructoid.com  more + disclosures



Filed under... #Music #Music games #Previews #Wii #Zombie



You're not expected to always agree, but do please keep cool and never make it personal. Report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community team. Also, on the right side of a comment you can flag nasty comments anonymously (we ban users dishing bad karma). For everything else, contact us!