Releasing in 2015, coming to PS4 and Xbox One
Five years after the latest installment in the seminal music/rhythm franchise, Harmonix is going on a proverbial reunion tour. Rock Band 4 is in development for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and it’s currently scheduled for a 2015 release. But, Harmonix doesn’t want to put out Rock Band 3.5; the Boston-area developer acknowledges that it can absolutely improve upon past iterations.
In a conversation at GDC in San Francisco, project manager Daniel Sussman told Destructoid that Harmonix revisited Rock Band 1, 2, and 3 while brain-storming for the direction of the next game. Sussman readily admitted that Rock Band 3 was too much of a sprawl — a bit unfocused to the point that it clouded the game’s identity. In hindsight, it was somewhat off-putting to fans that couldn’t get a definite feel for how seriously it took itself.
That’s what Harmonix wants to change with Rock Band 4. The focus is purely on creating an accessible, social experience. There’s a certain harmony that comes from playing and listening to your bandmates, a bonding sense that shines simply because of the format. Harmonix just wants to get back to that and make another title that people enjoy playing in the company of others.
Granted, we have to take Harmonix at its word for now. There’s no playable build of Rock Band 4, and the team isn’t even ready to talk about a lot of the features. That’s all coming later, likely sometime around E3. But, it’s worth noting that the word “evolution” kept coming up to describe the next steps in the series, a sign that Harmonix plans for Rock Band 4 to be a platform with a long-term vision, not just a precursor to sequel after sequel.
While it’s important to look forward, fans also can’t help but look back. After all, there are some pretty hefty investments there — both with regard to instrument peripherals and downloadable tracks. Harmonix acknowledges this and is doing its best to make sure that there’s continuity across the Rock Band brand, even if it has jumped to new consoles.
With regard to instruments, Sussman says that the team’s doing its best to ensure that legacy peripherals will be compatible with Rock Band 4. He couldn’t definitively say that it’d happen, but Harmonix is working with Sony and Microsoft to try to work something out. Sussman said that he was confident in the chances those conversations would yield positive results.
The other big concern, previously purchased downloadable songs, has an even better outlook. Harmonix is tackling the engineering issue, something that Sony and Microsoft are fully supporting. The only problem is that it’ll require a lot of man-hours to essentially recreate every song in the library. It’s going to eventually happen, but Harmonix can’t say how long it’ll take to get there. But, players definitely aren’t going to be required to buy tracks a second time or anything in that vein.
Of course, alongside Rock Band 4‘s release will be a set of brand new instruments manufactured by Mad Catz. However, that’s not the extent of its involvement. Mad Catz is cooperatively publishing the game with Harmonix. This’ll likely mark the largest software publishing deal in Mad Catz’s history.
Despite Mad Catz’s involvement, Rock Band 4 won’t release with a flurry of optional equipment like Rock Band 3 did. Because Harmonix is putting focus on the social aspect, it’s mostly doing away with Pro mode. Drums will still be supported because the base instrument is all that’s needed. Gone are Pro Guitar and Pro Bass. Also nixed are all forms of keyboard. Sussman said that through data collection, Harmonix saw that keys were played a very small percentage of the time relative to other instruments.
Although this is the first time in a half-decade that Rock Band‘s making a return, there’s also the well-founded rumor that Guitar Hero will throw its hat back into the ring this year. When asked if the studio was at all disappointed that it’d face immediate competition, Sussman seemed upbeat about Rock Band 4‘s chances against Activision’s property. “We’re focused on things we can control. However, I think our pedigree speaks for itself,” he said.
He’s right; Harmonix has a history that’s rooted in quality. However, maybe none of that really matters if the general audience just isn’t ready to go back to Rock Band. When we pressed Sussman about the idea that most people from his audience seven years ago are likely in very different places in life now, he was unflinching. “While I realize that people move on, a love for music is all that’s needed for Rock Band to be appealing to you. That’s something that no one grows out of,” he commented. Again, Sussman’s right.
Even if Harmonix stayed mum on a lot about Rock Band 4, it tipped its hand on what might be the most important facet: the game’s tone. Rock Band 4 is all about the unique social experience that comes from playing music together. It wants to be a party, a constant source of good times. Basically, Harmonix is doing everything it can to make sure you want to get the band back together.