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    Guitar Hero Is Back On The Road

    Eight years ago, Guitar Hero ruled the world.

    The series was a runaway success, dominating both the game space and pop culture at large.

    But after Guitar Hero and competitor Rock Band flooded the market with products, gamers soon lost interest and the franchise collapsed.

    Now in what has to be the industry’s worst-kept secret Activision is bringing back Guitar Hero. Developed by UK studio FreeStyle Games best known for the DJ Hero series this new entry is called Guitar Hero Live. And it’s headed to PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U this autumn.

    Yet considering the franchise died five years ago, what makes Activision think there’s suddenly an audience again?

    “We weren’t going to bring the game back until we’d made enough of a leap forward over the previous generation of games,” project director John Napier tells MCV.
    “You can go and have a look on Facebook or the forums and there’s still a very active Guitar Hero community out there. There remains a large base of fans that are still playing it. They’re asking for a new game, asking when Guitar Hero is returning. We’re sure there’s demand there and we’ve made enough of a leap in order for people to want to get stuck in.”

    Live isn’t the exact same game consumers were playing in their droves all those years ago. Yes, players will still be using a plastic guitar peripheral and yes they will still be pressing buttons in-time with the music. But the feel of the game is very different gone is the ‘80s classic rock branding of the original games, replaced with a cleaner, more modern aesthetic. 

    And where the original Guitar Hero titles were Rock God power fantasies, Napier says Freestyle was hoping to induce stage fright in players this time. The computer animated characters and stages of the classic games are gone, too. Now the title consists of live footage, with real crowds and bandmates reacting to your playing. And it’s from a first-person perspective, too.

    “It’s a question of immersion,” Napier explains. “There’s no substitute for seeing another human actually reacting to you. Stage fright was a core phrase for us that we used very early on in the project might we be able to trigger that anticipation and sensation of knowing there’s a massive crowd out there going crazy and gamers going to have to go out there and perform? Will we be able to re-create that experience for the player?

    “The best way to do this was to go out and film real humans doing that. When you are looking at someone and seeing their reaction, and the crowd when they’re cheering at you, and especially when they are mouthing the lyrics back to you, that sort of thing is fantastically cool and very hard to do in computer animation. When we saw the first tests, you could see audience reactions and tell how good an experience that was and we decided this was the way to go.”
    Stage fright was a core phrase for us during development. Could we trigger that sense of anticipation?
    This isn’t the only change, either. The guitar peripheral controller has been redesigned, replacing the original four coloured buttons with two rows of three inputs one set black; the other white.

    The idea is that players are able to form different chord shapes with their left hand,” Napier says. “The right hand hasn’t changed a great deal but that worked well the first time. Now your left hand is making different chord shapes and it’s an experience very close to being a real musician.”

    Of course, the Guitar Hero series isn’t the only music IP making a return this year. Rival IP Rock Band is making a comeback. That series promises to be backwards compatible with peripherals from previous games something that Guitar Hero doesn’t do with this new controller layout. Is this higher barrier to entry something that Freestyle is worried about?

    “We hope that the players are going to want a new game play experience, and that’s what we’ve really tried to do here,” he says. “By having a new button layout and therefore new gameplay that comes with it, it’s a very good gameplay experience. Hopefully players will recognise the gameplay in the new title is fantastic and will get it.”

    One of the big issues around Guitar Hero last time was the sheer number of games that were released. Fans could simply download new tracks to play, but downloading was a nascent concept back then, and consoles like Wii and PS2 only had basic digital networks. So Activision released a deluge of discs to satisfy the demand for more music. Freestyle doesn’t believe such a thing will happen this time, and the firm says it will release regular new music via the Guitar Hero TV (GHTV) mode.

    This is a music network, where consumers will be able to play along with popular music videos. There will be a number of different themed channels that are broadcasting content 24/7
    “GHTV will hopefully be a wonderful way for people to discover new music with the un-ending stream of new videos that’s going to come,” Napier says.
    “GHTV will be the area of the game where we can very quickly and responsibly add new music into the network over time. We’re going to have multiple different channels and they will be branded in different ways so what we are doing is having programming within there. It’s like a TV show, so it’s a curated experience with different music videos in there and then these different shows are going to run back-to-back. It’s easy for us to add in new content.”
    GHTV will be the area of the game we can quickly and responsibly add music to over time.
    And following the apparent success of last year’s Skylanders Trap Team on mobile devices, Guitar Hero Live will also be coming to these platforms.

    “We wanted to be able to reach as many people as possible to be able to experience the game we are making,” Napier says. “The full experience will be playable on mobile. It will be a product in its own right.”

    But what about the business model? “You would be buying the mobile version of the game, but I can’t say much more than that.”

    Since Guitar Hero’s glory years, the popularity of rock music has waned somewhat. This could be an issue for Guitar Hero a title for which rock music is pretty key. But Project director John Napier doesn’t agree.

    “We’ve done an enormous amount of research in order to make this game, and we’ve attended a lot of festivals and we go to a lot of gigs,” he says. “Having a guitar is part of musical performance it’s right there. So many bands and so many different acts have a guitar as part of the music that they perform. I’m not necessarily sure I’d agree that rock music is waning in popularity. The guitar is out there. And perhaps, the breadth of genres has expanded, and perhaps guitar has proliferated into wider styles of music than before.

    “In the game we have a variety of different genres. We have traditional rock, we have indie rock, folk rock, dance rock and pop rock. There are other sub-genres that have a great deal of guitar music in them that are extremely popular.”

    In Guitar Hero Live, players are on-stage with bands of real people, including the dark and brooding Broken Tide. These are not real groups, though, and instead have been created by the developers at Freestyle.

    “We have created these bands. It’s been a fascinating process for us,” project director John Napier says. “Our artists started the process by concepting a group, and coming up with different types of band for different genres of music, as well as the stages and performance venues. That’s how things started.

    “When we had our image of what we wanted the band to look like, we went out and cast real musicians to be your band mates. This was so that we could get people that look right alongside one another and have a chemistry on stage that we were able to insert you into. They are a product of our imagination, but it’s been a very fun thing to do.”

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