Pew! Pew! Preview!: Guitar Hero: World Tour (Part 2)

Guitar Hero has never been so much about personal expression as it’s been about pressing some buttons and having a pre-determined avatar rock along with some pre-recorded tracks. With Guitar Hero: World Tour, Neversoft aims to change that.

In addition to the full “We’re like that other game you really like, but we fixed everything you whined about” feature set, World Tour also includes a dizzying array of character, instrument, and song creation options. Put it this way: During an hour-and-a-half-long demonstration of the game, Neversoft’s Brian Bright and Alan Flores spent somewhere close to 60 minutes yapping about these new options. As one unnamed journalist whispered during the presentation, “I’m going to spend so much time just f**king with this stuff.” Indeed.

Hit the jump for details on World Tour‘s character and instrument creation, in addition to the game’s music creation tools and its YouTube-like sharing service, GH Tunes.

YOUR CHARACTER

All of the characters from Guitar Hero III will be returning this Fall, in addition to some older characters that went missing, including Eddie Knox, Clive Winston, and Pandora. We were also teased with the idea of “top-secret” celebrity musicians, but Activision and Neversoft weren’t ready to give details. But if you don’t feel comfortable stepping into someone else’s shoes, you’ve got plenty of options.

Neversoft are no strangers to character customization, having given people the option since its Tony Hawk games. With nearly a decade of player-controlled avatar creation under its belt, Neversoft felt that bringing it to the Guitar Hero franchise was a perfect fit. Enter World Tour’s Rock Star Creator, a detailed create-a-character mode that borrows heavily from deep models such as Electronic Art’s Tiger Woods series of games and THQ’s WWE wrestling titles.

Everything you’d expect from a basic character creator is here — you can pick its name, sex, height, body type, etc. You can slap on some clothing and pick a fancy rock star hairdo. There are a few options to pick your rocker’s style as well (rock, punk, metal, goth, etc.), which will change how the character acts on stage. But it doesn’t end there, because getting deeper into the character creation you’ll find sliders to tweak just about everything. Nose width, chin length, eye shape, mouth position … it’s slider city. It’s not an exaggeration to think that someone might spend an hour making their rocker’s face look just right.

Then there’s the color options you’re given with the game’s detailed color wheel. For your skin, there are plenty of natural tones to choose from, but if you want to make a purple Martian man guitar god, be Neversoft’s guest. Each individual piece of clothing or hairstyle could have multiple layers of colors depending on the style as well. There’s also the option to add hats, piercings, and other accessories to make your dream rocker as fierce as possible.

Neversoft has also included a system for making custom graphics, which includes roughly 20 different layers of primitive shapes, fronts, graphics, and symbols that can be manipulated by the artist. Think something like Forza Motorsport 2’s decal options and you get the idea. These graphics can be used for just about everything in the game — tattoos, logos on t-shirts, pants … whatever.

Like they gave players the option to customize their boards to the finest details in its Tony Hawk games, Neversoft are bringing something similar to World Tour in the form of the game’s instrument creator mode. Like the character creation, the list of things you can do is exhaustive. You’re able to choose the basics like body shape and color, and get more in-depth by changing everything from the type of fretboard, and the pick guard style. And the fretboard inlays. And the headstock finish. And the knobs. And — wait for it — the type of freakin’ Ernie Ball strings you’ll use on the guitar.

Vocalists, drummers, and bassists aren’t left out. Vocalists can choose and customize their own microphone and mic stand; drummers can pick different kits, ranging from a simple set to a Tommy Lee-like arena monstrosity; bassists have similar options to those that guitarists have. As the game’s lead designer, Alan Flores, put it, they want to give every type of player something to aspire to. With the cash you can make in the game by playing gigs and nailing Call of Duty 4-inspired milestones (a hot song start or finish, for example), it should keep players interesting in working towards upgrades to their look and instruments.

MUSIC STUDIO

In what seems like an effort to shut up the “play a real instrument” crowd, World Tour has a built-in, full-featured music studio. Inspired by programs like Apple’s GarageBand and deeper editors like ProTools, Neversoft are giving gamers (now musicians?) an unprecedented amount of control and tools to create their own music. Believe us when we tell you … it’s ridiculous.

First, we should say that if you’re not musically inclined and just want to jump into the studio, World Tour offers plenty of options for you. We were first shown a song wizard, which will set you up with a series of pre-made drum loops and bass loops that you can piece together. At its core, this is the most basic way to use the Music Studio, and it should be great for people looking for a quick, quasi-creative fix.
But if you want to pull back some of the layers and get deeper, you most certainly can.

Within the span of about 20 minutes, Neversoft’s Brian Bright created a rough song before our eyes. First, from a selection of pre-made bass lines, he chose a loop to play over. Then he fired up the game’s drum machine, which gave him a variety of kits and loops to choose from; we saw everything from a heavy acoustic rock kit to something called “Computight,” a bank of Commodore 64-esque samples.

Inspired by a lot of the unique guitar controller mods created in the community, what Bright showed us next was some more interesting uses of the game’s new guitar controller. By assigning different drum loops to each button, he was able to manipulate and change them in real time (over the looping bass line he chose) by using the guitar controller. After choosing an alternative-style drum loop set, Bright switched between loops on the fly by pressing different fret buttons, and was even able to change the beat or kill certain parts of the loop by tapping the guitar’s slider pad.

After Bright laid the beat down, he then moved to the guitar by first showing us the game’s built-in guitar effects. Neversoft has partnered with guitar effects manufacturer Line 6 to brings its POD technology — which essentially can emulate different guitar sounds and cabinets digitally — to World Tour. What that means to you is that you’ll have a variety of different-sounding guitars to choose from and play around with. Bright demonstrated by tweaking the on-screen POD effects unit and strumming the guitar, letting us hear everything from crunchy metal to more flanged-out sounds.

For those of you who don’t know what an arpeggiator does, you should, because it’s in the damned game. From Wikipedia: “It allows the player to automatically step through a sequence of notes based on the player’s input, most often from a keyboard MIDI controller, thus creating an arpeggio.” The user can do a lot of manipulation with the arpeggiator in World Tour, everything from making it jump back and forth between two notes to syncopating the guitar sound with the beat. If you’re overwhelmed, the only thing it really means to you is that it’ll help create some cool sounds and funky rhythms even if you’re not the next Prince. Again, the guitar controller will allow you to manipulate all of this stuff in real time — you tap the strip to tweak sustain or staccato of a note, hold down multiple buttons to make different sounds, or tilt the controller to change the octave.

Rhythm guitar sounds can be laid down as well, and the game features a pretty hardcore method of choosing route notes and scales to get the sound you want. Bright showed us ways to change assignments for each note, add power chords, blues scales, and more. It should be noted right here that you can’t add vocals to your tracks in the game’s studio; it appears there are just far too many legal issues involved with doing so. Considering some of the noises I’ve heard people make on the microphone playing other games, we should all be grateful. You can, however, lay down a “melody” track that acts as a vocal guide, so feel free to tap out the vocal line to Cannibal Corpse’s “Hammer Smashed Face” if you can. We dare you.

Let us get back to the drums for a second, because I’m sure all of you are wondering — can you play the kit live like an electric drum set and record your own beats? The answer is, quite simply, yes. We didn’t see it in action, but World Tour will allow you to record any of your instruments “live,” including the drums. Different kit types can be assigned and played, which, as far as we’re concerned, may be worth the price of admission alone. Drummers can also play live along with other players in the studio, creating tracks on the fly. While this will likely result in a lot of noise, it might be a good way for a group of players to “jam out” song ideas, or just blow off some steam.

The game also features a deep mixing program, which is essentially a “hardcore MIDI editor.” While Bright didn’t go too deeply into demonstrating what it could do, he did tell us that anything you could expect in a professional editor could be found here. That means looping sections, copying and/or pasting notes and whole sections, etc. We said it earlier, and we hope you believed us … it’s ridiculous.

Once a song is completed and published, it can be played locally (you can store up to 100 original creations on one system) just like any other Guitar Hero track. The game has already generated the proper note charts and will tweak the difficulty accordingly. It’ll never make the note chart more difficult than you played it; how it was performed is going to be Expert, and the game will remove notes for easier difficulties. Flores and Bright played the song that had just been created live, and we have to admit, it was a bit of a mess. We’ll give them a free pass since it was created quickly and under pressure. But we get the idea — users are going to have quite a bit of freedom with the studio, and it should be possible to create some clever gems with a little bit (or hours and days worth) of effort.

That effort may be rewarded by thousands of other World Tour players downloading your song from the game’s built-in song sharing service, GH Tunes. Once a song is created, it’s possible to upload and publish your song online. It’ll be possible to have quite a bit of freedom over how the song is published — you can choose the song’s name; design “album art” to be attached to the song; and choose which parts are played back by the end user. To begin with, you’ll be able to upload up to five songs to the server (to upload more, you’ll have to delete one to “make room”).

After playing a song for the first time, other users will be forced to rate it, and if your song becomes particularly popular, you’ve proven you’re not a hack, and you’ll then become a “Super User.” You’re then given the ability to upload more tracks, bringing you one step closer to producing Kelly Clarkson’s next album. GH Tunes will also track song popularity using a similar system to Amazon.com or YouTube — it’ll track weekly popularity, hot chart movers, etc. Up to 200 songs can be downloaded from the GH Tunes service and stored locally.

Let’s repeat it again — ridiculous. There’s a lot going on here, for sure. There have been standalone games that have tried to do what the World Tour music studio does and have failed. Still, with the unique controller inputs and flexibility, there has been nothing on consoles that has taken it to this level. The studio looks to cater to both casual users who just want to press a bunch of buttons and make “crazy” sounds, and to the knob-tweakers and musicians who might want to spend a bit more time playing around. With that in mind, it’s possible we’re going to see some amazingly impressive stuff on GH Tunes — let’s hope it’s actually fun to play, too. On the other end of the spectrum, they’re also opening Pandora’s Box by handing every 10-year-old on the planet these kinds of tools.

In case you missed it, check out the first part of our Guitar Hero: World Tour preview, where we covered the game’s new instruments, gameplay, and career modes. There’s a lot to this game — don’t blink or you might miss it.

Nick Chester