Rock Band 2: The Opening Act
We blow the lid off one of the biggest sequels of 2008.
by Hilary Goldstein
June 30, 2008 - Rock Band is ready for a comeback tour. Today, Harmonix announced Rock Band 2 is set to ship for Xbox 360 this September and PS3 later in the year. However, the official announcement of Rock Band 2 is sparse on details, so we went straight to Harmonix to learn more. We spoke with Lead Designer Dan Teasdale to get the full scoop on the mega-sequel. Teasdale gave us his thoughts on user-created content, improving accessibility, upgrading last year's model and more.
IGN: The most important question. Will Rock Band 1 DLC be playable in Rock Band 2?
Dan Teasdale: Yes. We've been developing Rock Band as a music platform from the start. All of the songs that you've purchased so far (and will be able to purchase in the future) are instantly playable and fully supported in Rock Band 2. We've even added some cool new features that let you play your DLC in different ways, which I think people will be very excited to get their hands on.
IGN: Once RB2 is out, can you still download and play new tracks on RB1?
Teasdale: Absolutely! We've been working hard with Microsoft and Sony to develop a way to share content between games, and we're really happy that we'll be the first game to support fully functional cross-title DLC.
As far as Harmonix is concerned, there's no difference between "Rock Band 1 DLC" and "Rock Band 2 DLC" – we're just releasing awesome songs every week onto the Rock Band platform, all of which are playable by the Rock Band titles that support DLC.
IGN: Some people are going to ask, why even buy RB2 if you can keep enjoying DLC on RB1? I'm one of those people. So, what's the hook that will make me want to spend $60 on a new game disc?
Teasdale: At Harmonix, we have a very clear method for making games – we innovate, then we perfect. With Rock Band, we innovated by being the first full band game that you can play in your living room or online.
Rock Band 2 takes all the lessons we've learned from making a multi-instrument music game, addresses them, then adds some amazing new ways for you to experience your music library that have never been seen in a music game before. We've been scouring forums and parties everywhere for what people liked and didn't like, and I'm pretty confident we've addressed everything I've heard people ask for.
On that note, we've also secured what I can easily say is the best setlist I've ever seen in a music game. The PR team would kill me if I revealed some early, but it reads like a who's who list of rock music. We have a couple of surprises that we'll be announcing soon regarding this.
Rock Band 2 really is the ultimate rock experience, and I think people will find it hard going back to the original Rock Band after playing Rock Band 2 for a few minutes.
IGN: As someone who has played a lot of RB with three friends at a party, it's a real pain to get everyone into a band and ready to play. Are you streamlining the plug-and-play aspects?
Teasdale: One of our biggest focuses of the design team has been to make the game "party safe." We've made navigation improvements to Rock Band 2 across the board based on the feedback we've been getting both from fans on forums as well as from our own personal experiences at Rock Band nights.
IGN: Will we get Band World Tour online right out of the box?
Teasdale: I'm pretty sure John Drake (Harmonix PR Coordinator) will hit me if I confirm or deny anything, but I can say this: We've taken almost everything people have asked for in Rock Band and added it to Rock Band 2, as well as including some "first time ever" features. Our World Tour campaign mode is no exception to this.
IGN: I don't know if you're aware, but recently an Activision executive revealed that Guitar Hero World Tour is going to be the first game to allow you to play guitar, drums, and vocals. What are your plans to counter this amazing advancement in music games?
Teasdale: Yeah, the clip of the Activision executive making that statement is floating around on the internet. I think the follow-up question he got was priceless: "Isn't that called Rock Band?" We released Rock Band back in November 2007, almost 10 months before GHWT will even make its debut. I think looking at a calendar settles when the "amazing advancement" in music games actually took place.
The reality is that a full band experience is a new genre of game and, of course, there are going to a lot of products out there for the consumer to choose from. We believe the music games category will only continue to grow, which showcases the strength and popularity of what we've already accomplished with Rock Band. With Rock Band 2, we're going to continue to push the boundaries of old and introduce new music, features and hardware that will elevate the entire genre and set a new standard of excellence once again. We look forward to delivering the ultimate in authentic music and gaming experiences, something no other company has come close to replicating.
IGN: GHWT has a studio where you can make your own songs. What do you think about user-created content in music games?
Teasdale: Harmonix believes that user creativity and user-generated content has an important role to play in music games especially since it is a company made of musicians – either in currently touring bands or in the past notable ones -- and we strongly believe in the possibility of giving every-day people the chance to create their own music. In fact we've been pioneering this since our earliest music games like Frequency and Amplitude – I recommend checking out YouTube for some of the crazy remixes people have done with our previous games.
The one thing we've learned from both doing this in previous games and seeing the efforts of homebrew composers at places like ScoreHero is that it takes time to develop tools if you're serious about building a platform for people to express themselves musically. We believe that a feature like this would have to be done in just the right way to hit the broadest demographic possible from professional music composers to the most casual gamer just trying something new so the result is a truly robust feature that educates the player and enhances the total music experience for the user. If we're going to do it, we want to do it right as our goal is to create a fully-realized, fully-integrated way for people to become real musicians and release quality music through Rock Band.
IGN: Are any improvements being made to the instruments? And will we get wireless guitars for 360?
Teasdale: Definitely. At Harmonix, we have a real benefit to having our hardware team in the same offices as our game team, since we can work together to create an authentic band experience.
Rock Band 2's instruments will not disappoint. Like I mentioned before, our philosophy here is to innovate, then perfect. Along those lines, we've been able to take all of the feedback we've received to make quieter, more realistic, and more reliable instruments. We've also added some features for players to customize the experience that they want to have, but we'll be talking more about this soon. And yes, all of your Rock Band instruments will still work with Rock Band 2.
We're also actively welcoming new peripheral makers to make instruments for our game. Just like real instruments, we want players to be able to choose what instruments they use, and we'll be expanding the choice of players alongside Rock Band 2.
IGN: What kind of improvements are being made to character and band customization?
Teasdale: We'll be letting you in on how we're improving the already deep character and band customization tools over the next few weeks, but it's safe to say that we'll be preserving and expanding the experience that we innovated with in the original Rock Band.
IGN: Is BWT more of the same or is it being completely redone?
Teasdale: We were really overwhelmed with all of the positive feedback we've been getting about our World Tour campaign mode. We're definitely enhancing the tour to provide an even deeper touring experience, but we're also excited about some of the new ways you can play your music library.
IGN: One thing that hurt BWT was that you couldn't select which DLC could be pulled for random tracks, which meant that you could get ruined on a 4-song set if Metallica showed up when you foolishly chose Expert. Is this being modified at all?
Teasdale: Yes! Nobody wants to play Green Grass and High Tides in their first random setlist, or Metallica when their parents are playing Easy Guitar. We've made some pretty cool changes here that both preserve the "risk-reward" nature of random setlists while also providing players with the option of avoiding specific types of music.
IGN: What are the chances of having multiple vocalists? Or at least a way that one character can be both a vocalist and play another instrument and have that properly represented in-game?
Teasdale: This is actually something that I have a vested interest in. I play bass in the band Speck, and one of our songs requires me to both sing and play bass at the same time. The problem, however, is that I have no coordination!
To train up for one of our shows, I played Rock Band's Endless Setlist on Expert Bass and Vocals at the same time. When it came around to playing in front of 600 people later that week, my Rock Band singer/bass skills totally carried across to live performance!
So, like I said before, I have a vested interest in getting this experience over to players who want to move to the next level of performance. One of our new ways of experiencing your music library has something targeted explicitly towards players that want to sing and play guitar.
IGN: We'd love to have a solo mode so people can just mess around with drums or guitar. Any hope on that front?
Teasdale: We have several new modes that not only provide new ways for you to experience your music library, but also new ways for you to transition from Expert to real instruments.
IGN: Will we see a similar spread of rock songs from across the '60s through modern day? Will we maybe more classic rock tracks on disc?
Teasdale: Rock Band 2 has the strongest playlist we've ever assembled, and I think fans will be blown away not just at the spread, but also at the caliber of acts we've attracted.
We also have over 200 songs available right now, between our on-disc content and DLC. If you want more classic rock, I highly recommend downloading the Boston and Grateful Dead six-packs that we released.
IGN: Are you broadening genres at all?
Teasdale: The Rock Band platform is all about the music, but we've always pushed to have our disc songs be both the best music and the best gameplay possible.
One of the great things about releasing multiple tracks, packs, and albums weekly through the Rock Band Music Store is that we can diversify and delve into specific subgenres and artist catalogues. You'd be hard pressed to justify Jimmy Buffett and Disturbed on the same disc, but the great thing about DLC is that we can push the boundaries of what players experience.
We also listen to all of the suggestions that are posted on the rockband.com forums. If you have your own pet favorites, you should rally up support there.
IGN: Any cool mods added to the instruments like a wah-wah pedal or some vocal effects? Can we do Frampton?
Teasdale: We'll be talking more about hardware in the coming weeks, but one of our cool things we're pushing is player choice and customizability in their instruments.
IGN: How well do you feel the RB1 model for DLC has worked? Are there any areas you want to improve for when RB2 ships?
Teasdale: Our downloadable content plans have been the crux of our platform strategy, and I'm super psyched to see players enjoying it to. We've completely blown past our last announced milestone of 12 million songs sold and are now at 15 million paid downloads. We have an amazing music store integrated into the game, we've been outselling "real" music retailers like iTunes for some artists, and most importantly, we're releasing more and more new content every week.
That said, there's a huge amount of potential for finding more ways to play that content besides Quickplay and the World Tour campaign mode, and I think Rock Band 2 delivers some really new and amazing ways to do that.
IGN: We've only seen a few full albums with RB1 DLC. Is there an effort to ramp up album production for RB2?
Teasdale: We've got some amazing albums cued up for this fall, but you'll have to wait until we announce them to find out what they are, and how they integrate into Rock Band 2.
IGN: Is the announcement of RB2 for '08 going to alter strategy for releasing DLC prior to launch? Do you start holding some songs back for RB2?
Teasdale: It definitely makes our job harder when deciding "should this be DLC or a disc song". Fortunately for us we have great relationships with all the labels and artists, so a lot of our experiences are dealing with the massive deluge of requests from bands that want to be on Rock Band. We think people will be excited by both the songs on the Rock Band 2 disc as well as the weekly content for Rock Band that we'll be continuing to deliver.
IGN: Here are ten bands I want to see in RB2:
Built to Spill
Based on this list. How do you think I would rate RB2 on a scale of 0-10 (ten making me a happy reviewer and zero making suicidal).
Teasdale: Not only have you named some of my favorite bands, but you've also named some of the bands that are on the Rock Band 2 disc.
While I can't rate your list explicitly on "What's on Rock Band 2," I can rate you based on the number of times you mention music from my home country of Australia – which is none. Do you not like Australians? I'm a little offended that you haven't added iconic rock acts like Billy Thorpe, Radio Birdman, INXS, Midnight Oil or Crowded House to your list of songs. I haven't even started on modern bands like Regurgitator, Silverchair, Architecture in Helsinki, The Grates or Wolfmother!
I suggest that you purchase a couple of the "Triple J Hottest 100" CD's and get back to me.
Rock Band 2 is set to debut at E3 2008. Expect more details and first impressions the week of July 14.