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Rock Band 4

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Mad Catz Interactive
Developer: Harmonix
Release Date: Oct. 2015

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PS4/Xbox One First Impressions - 'Rock Band 4'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 5, 2015 @ 5:30 a.m. PST

Rock Band 4 is the latest installment in the music/rhythm franchise, not only bringing over 2000+ songs from past iterations, but all new tracks, features & modes.

We don’t usually have impressions of a game immediately after it has been announced, but then again, most developers don’t usually offer direct access to project leads before announcing a new game. For Rock Band 4, we sat down with Daniel Sussman, the project manager at Harmonix who is responsible for the overall game, and discussed where the franchise is going, what to expect in the new game and why now is the right time for Harmonix to re-introduce the Rock Band franchise.

Although he was not able to demonstrate any gameplay or talk specifics about game features, Sussman did explain Harmonix’s vision for Rock Band 4, the plan for DLC and details around hardware compatibility.

First and foremost, Sussman confirmed that Rock Band 4 will feature full compatibility with all previously purchased DLC. This not only includes individual tracks, but it also includes the disc exports from both Rock Band and Rock Band 2.

"If you bought a Rock Band song, it should be yours in Rock Band 4," said Sussman. "Everything that you have already exported will come over."

He told us that behind-the-scenes work for the DLC transfer, known as “legacy entitlements” has already begun on both PSN and Xbox Live. This includes everything from ensuring that previous purchases are properly migrated to the new consoles, as well as dealing with a file format change for Rock Band 4 and reviewing every piece of content. Just like any other DLC, songs have to pass submission requirements from each of the console manufacturers.

"The technical logistics of rebuilding this library are substantial," said Sussman.

Harmonix is working through the core catalog of Rock Band DLC first, but plans to convert RBN songs as well. RBN songs will be converted after all of the core catalog has been finished.

One big question mark as far as DLC is concerned is Rock Band 3. Sussman told us that there are currently no plans for a Rock Band 3 disc export. However, he qualified that with a caveat, saying that Harmonix wanted to prioritize the items that were important to its fans. If fans want to see a Rock Band 3 disc export, then let Harmonix know via sources such as Twitter and the official Rock Band forums.


On the hardware side, Harmonix is working to enable compatibility with legacy hardware. At this point Sussman could not confirm 100% compatibility, but he said the goal was to ensure that PlayStation 3 owners could use their existing hardware on the PlayStation 4 and that Xbox 360 owners could do the same with Xbox One. Harmonix recognizes that hardware is a big investment, much like DLC, and doesn’t want to require players to re-buy things that they already own.

"We think that there is a lot of value in the [Rock Band] software," said Sussman. "Your hardware and your DLC content though, if you're already bought it you should be able to use it."

As we chatted about hardware, Sussman focused on the core components of Rock Band: guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Although he would not confirm that keyboard support was out, he did make an effort to avoid speaking about the keyboard. We also discussed the Rock Band pro features, and Sussman hinted that those would also not be returning in Rock Band 4.

Harmonix’s vision for Rock Band 4 is firmly in the “accessible game” territory. Even though its technology has been used in games like Bandfuse, which support real guitars, Sussman and his team believe that playing with game controllers and playing with real instruments are two separate experiences and should be treated as such.

In addition to planning backwards compatibility for existing Rock Band hardware, Harmonix has also struck a deal with Mad Catz to produce a new line of Rock Band instruments for the PS4 and Xbox One.

"We are working with Mad Catz to develop a suite of new controllers as well," said Sussman.

When the conversation shifted more towards the game specifics of Rock Band 4, Sussman spoke in generalities, but Harmonix’s PR man, Nick Chester, stepped in to say that the company was targeting three different groups of players:

  1. People who play Rock Band at parties.
  2. People who play by themselves to chase scores.
  3. People who enjoy the campaign narrative.

Things that we can expect to see in Rock Band 4 include a full campaign as well as access to all songs right off the bat. Online play will also be supported. Harmonix is also looking at possibilities for exporting performances (we saw that functionality in Fantasia), but there is nothing concrete on that feature right now as it is not a core element of the game.

Of course the big question hanging over the room was “Why now?”

"We knew it was a matter of time,” said Sussman “We were waiting for the right time to strike."

Perhaps the major difference between the previous generation and Rock Band 4 is the fact that Harmonix isn’t viewing Rock Band 4 as just another entry in the series, rather the developer sees Rock Band 4 as a platform to support the Rock Band brand going forward. As a result, it is important for them to get this right, because Harmonix is planning for it to have a long life span.

"We can do a lot of things that will sustain Rock Band 4 over five to seven years," said Sussman.

Without seeing any actual game code running, it’s impossible to say how closely Harmonix is tracking towards its goal, but Sussman seemed confident in what the team was doing. He was also very open regarding the reasons behind wanting to do Rock Band 4. Assuming the final game lives up to his vision, we may just see a resurgence in plastic guitar sales later this year.

Editor’s Note: For more on Rock Band 4, check out this behind-the-scenes video from Harmonix.


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