WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Randy Guillote, and I'm a producer at Neversoft.
WP: What brought the Guitar Hero franchise to this point? Previously it had been focused on music, music, music, and now you've added a quest element to the game. Some people refer to it as doing to music games what Puzzle Quest did to puzzle games.
RG: Yeah. (laughs) I think we got here because we made a simpler game for a couple of years. A lot of the competition has you starting small and becoming a big band saga. A lot of games follow that formula, and this year, we didn't want to do that.
We really wanted to make a different, fun game. We kind of gravitated toward, "That is totally ridiculous. Yes, let's do that." That sounds awesome. What if Lars turned in a big warthog beast and he had an ax guitar? "That sounds rad!" One of our concept artists drew what Lars would look like if we did that, and he looked amazing. Yeah, let's try to make the game just over-the-top fantasy rock.
It was fun for us to make, and we thought people would have fun. It's kind of bringing the fun back to Guitar Hero, which I think we might have deviated from a little bit. We made a couple of games where the genre was trying to get new audiences, expand the music, and became more country and pop music — kind of unfocused for a couple of years. This year, we really wanted to make a very focused game and one unique vision: make it as fun as we can. That's where we are now. It's insane. It's like Monty Python. We think that it's great, and we think people will like it.
WP: In terms of music focus, does this see a return to classic rock? You've got Metallica, Ozzy and Queen. You've got Nickelback in there, so that might be a little questionable, but …
RG: You're very observant with music. This year, all musical groups are very guitar-based. In bringing the fun back to Guitar Hero, we wanted to bring the guitar back to Guitar Hero. We might have deviated from it a little bit. We had the whole band thing and it became a band game. This year, we said, "Let's make a very focused game, guitar-driven." All the songs have guitar solos and chord changes. They're songs that, when you listen to them, you're like, "That would be a great song for Guitar Hero." That's why it's there.
WP: Let's talk about your philosophy for a little bit. You guys are going for an over-the-top game, focusing on rock and guitars, whereas Harmonix is going in the opposite direction and trying to achieve as much realism as possible. They've got a 102-button guitar, a keyboard, and a guitar controller with real strings. What do you see as the main differences between the two philosophies, and how can they coexist?
RG: It's good for people to have a choice. Competition is great because a lot of times, someone else will come up with something that you didn't come up with, and you're like, "That's a great idea. Wow, I can't believe that. Why didn't we think of that?" Those guys are thinking the same thing about something you thought of.
I think it's great for us, actually, to go in a totally separate direction. We just wanted to make a game that's going to be fun. We wanted to make a game for the Guitar Hero player who already knows how to play it. They know they can pick up this game and have fun with it. That audience doesn't need to buy a whole band set anymore. They just need the disc. We're trying to get more out of content as opposed to buying the next big thing.
The other guys are doing what they're doing, and that's cool.
WP: There's always a push toward realism, but at a certain point, can a game be too real? If it's too real, can you still have fun with it? In your opinion, where does realism fall in making a game fun?
RG: That's a totally valid question, and I don't think it's just music video games. I think it's in every single game. Guitar Hero has always kind of been the "We take you there, but we don't take you over there" game, and that works for us. It's very accessible.
But it's really easy to cross that line. We haven't, and we do a lot of focus testing to make sure we don't alienate people. We don't want to, either. We don't want to make a game where you're thinking, "This is too hard." If all the signs are telling you that it's not fun, then it's probably not fun. We are very conscious of that in whatever product we're making.
WP: Franchise-wise, both of the lead music band games have had lots of DLC. You've also had band-specific games. Do you see the future going in more of the DLC direction, or do you envision that there will be more band-specific games?
RG: We had a great time making those games — Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen — and they were awesome. In the future, it's hard to say where it'll go since it's such a young genre and it's still growing. There are tons of collaborations between the music industry and the video game industry. It's a baby right now.
I hope that one day, you'll be able to buy a song and listen to it and play it, but we're not there yet. That's going to take a lot of time, and there are so many parties involved. It's a complicated process, and it's not as easy as you think it is. I think that people want to get the most out of anything they buy, and I think that's where the future should go, but we'll have to make baby steps toward that.
WP: One of the things that you guys had in previous games was the ability to create your own songs and upload them. Is that still going to be in the franchise?
RG: That's still in this game. We've merged the servers with our other Guitar Hero games, so anytime anybody uploads a song to that, you'll be able to download it into whatever game you're in. That's pretty much it, but most of our development resources went toward the Quest mode.
WP: Can we get a few specifics about the Quest mode?
RG: Yeah! The game is very different this year. The Quest mode is broken down into character chapters. You get into Johnny Napalm's chapter, which is set at an accurately re-created CBGB. Johnny is a punk rocker, so you're going to play punk songs in his chapter. Lars is a metal rocker, and you're going to play metal. Casey is classic rock, and so on and so forth. Each character has his or her own themed venue that has songs fitted toward that character. The band that they play with in that venue looks like them, and the biggest difference is each character has a power that affects gameplay.
Johnny has a streak-keeper, which lets him stay at 2x multiplier throughout the entire song and never drops. If you reach 3x, you get a bonus star at the end of the song. Every character has a power like this that changes the amount of stars you can earn, the star power you earn, how you affect the crowd meter, etc. It directly affects the way the game plays in Quest mode and helps you earn more stars. It was crazy talk. We tried it, and it was awesome.
Quick Play is the same. You can just play a song if you don't want to bother with anything and just play it the way it is. We added new challenges to Quick Play. It's totally different. Every song has 13 gameplay challenges. You can earn bonus stars through those challenges. We added a lot of return on your investment.
WP: You've announced a lot of the songs for the game. You've got the entire Rush "2112" album on it, probably the most controversial of all Rush albums. How did that one come to be?
RG: That was awesome. Every time we start a new Guitar Hero, we try to talk about a big-ticket band. We look at artists who have approached Activision about wanting to be in the game. We make a hit list of "We've got to do this. We've got to do that." Since we're going in such an extraordinary direction this year with fantasy rock and over the top, it's such a stretch. We went full-bore and thought, "Hey, what if we had a whole chapter that was just Rush?" It works out, right? We have the beast and the demigod, and the demigod lost his guitar. It made sense to us, and it sounded rad. We talked to Geddy Lee and the Rush guys about it, and they were excited to get introduced to a new audience in such a good fashion. We have artwork in there, all the levels look like they should, and we have the narrative from the band itself and their blessing.
WP: What song did you guys single out as this game's "Through the Fire and Flames"?
RG: We just played "Through the Fire and Flames" the other day. It's still too hard. (laughs)
We do have another DragonForce song in the game. There are a lot of hard songs in this game. It's hard to say which one sticks out as the hardest.
There's a Dave Mustaine song that he recorded at his home specifically for this Guitar Hero game ("Sudden Death"). It's the last song you play in Quest mode, and it's a classic Megadeth song. You've got vocals, and it's one of the hardest songs we've ever had in the game. His intention, when he wrote the song, was to challenge the top Guitar Hero players. He sent it to us, and we had our Expert players play, and they passed it. So he made it harder, they passed it again, and he made it even harder. We did that back and forth a few times, and he was hell-bent on making this the hardest song available. It's such an awesome song, and it fits with the game. There are lyrics about the beast, and it even fits thematically.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
RG: All the stuff that's been in previous Guitar Hero games is still there. We didn't take anything out. Party Play from last year was a giant thing that we added so you can pick up and play without any hesitation. Pick it up, press green on your controller, and you're in the game and playing. That's still there; we didn't take it out. Competitive mode is still there, and the Music Studio is still there. We added so much stuff to Quick Play that we had to call it Quick Play Plus. All the stuff that you like is still there. We just made the stuff that is there better!
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