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Rock Band 4 interview: Getting the band back together

“Don’t expect a Rock Band 5. Maybe ever!” You heard it here first, folks.

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Rock Band 4

“Don’t expect a Rock Band 5. Maybe ever!” You heard it here first, folks.

October is going to be a big month for the rejuvenation of the rhythm genre. A couple of years ago, it looked like the days of strutting around in your living room wielding a plastic guitar were pretty much done and dusted; Rock Band had gone quiet, and so had the Yin to its Yang, Guitar Hero.

Now, they’re both back, and they’ll be released within two weeks of each other. Rock Band 4 is out on October 6 with Guitar Hero Live to follow on October 20, and they’ve been getting a lot of good press at the various trade shows this summer.

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Guitar Hero Live claims to offer a new ‘live’ experience, which emulates the feeling of playing to a real audience, whereas Rock Band 4 has gone for creative expression with its new ‘freestyle’ mode. Which one is going to be better? We’ll find out in a few weeks, but we caught up with Nick Chester, PR Lead at Harmonix, to see why they think Rock Band 4 is the game you should be going for.

Thumbsticks: We literally have no idea where you’d even begin when putting together a track-list for a game like Rock Band 4 – we’re presuming some sort of sorting hat or a tombola – can you explain the process?

Nick Chester: Replace sorting hat with “room of people arguing” and you’re on the right track! Choosing a soundtrack is a tricky thing, because while it’s impossible to please everyone, you want to have a really well-rounded selection of the music. We sort of view it as a “mix tape,” curated by a group of people who not only love music, but understand what would be fun to play with Rock Band gameplay. We also opened up song suggestions to our fans fairly early in the process and it resulted in us actually adding many suggestions to the soundtrack. For example, Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” was a top request, and we were able to get that on the disc.

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Does it ever lead to any disagreements and disappointed team members? I guess someone must have overall creative control or it would be chaos!

Oh yeah, of course. There’s one song that I won’t name, but there was some internal angst over whether or not to include it on the disc. Some were very for it, while one person was just not into it. That happens. Music is subjective. Not everyone loves the same sounds, there’s very little consensus over what’s “good,” and that’s totally okay. There’s also a lot of music that I personally love and would love to see in the game, but am realistic about the fact that it wouldn’t appeal to a broad audience or maybe even be much fun to play.

Rock Band 4 screenshot

Do you ever get bands (or their representation) coming to you, desperate to get in the game?

We have bands approach us all of the time, for sure. Many musicians see the value of being part of something like Rock Band, exposing their music to a new audience through the game. Some are also just straight up fans and it’s been their dream to be in one of the games.

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Getting Van Halen on the books is a bit of a coup (following their Guitar Hero exclusive title in 2009) – who are you all most proud of getting on the roster? Who are you most excited about?

We try not the play favourites around here!

And was there anyone the team really wanted that just didn’t work out?

Again, I don’t want to name names, but of course! If there’s a band that you think would be great in Rock Band and you’re wondering why their music hasn’t appeared in the game, don’t think it’s not for lack of trying. Sometimes the stars don’t align, though, but that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to pursue those artists. Never say never.

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There’s not long to go now until the release; are there any unannounced artists or tracks you can let us in on?

We just announced the last batch of songs, so you’re as up to date as you’re going to get! I’ve already spotted some of the stuff coming down the pipeline for post-launch Music Store content and it’s pretty great, too. And no, I won’t tell you what those are!

Everybody’s obviously very pleased that they can use their existing peripherals with Rock Band 4, but it seems a shame that Xbox One gamers need to pay for an extra device to make their peripherals compatible; what’s the technical reasoning behind that?

Rock Band 4 game-only edition comes without peripheralsIt’s simply a hardware thing. The wireless receiver used in the Xbox 360 is different than the one used in the Xbox One. Xbox 360 controllers simply don’t talk to the Xbox One, and that was a choice Microsoft made with its hardware. That said, they’ve been absolutely great to work with when it came to creating the adapter that would allow players to use old instruments on the new hardware. They saw the value there, and we’re psyched we were able to make it happen.

Are there any compelling reasons people should be buying the new Rock Band 4 hardware over sticking with their originals? Any improvements to form or function?

The form is similar and we did that because we build gameplay around supporting the older instruments; we knew we could do cool stuff in the software that didn’t require a new controller, like Freestyle Guitar Solos. Mad Catz has done an incredible job with the new generation of instruments. The buttons and the strum bar on the guitar feels better than ever and the tilt sensor is now an accelerometer, so it’s more reliable than before. The drums have nicer heads, which are much quieter and feel better to hit; the kick pedal is reinforced now. The microphone is also a huge step forward, and allows singers to get much louder without clipping, and will pick up quieter notes and such.

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And are there any new game modes in Rock Band 4 that we’ve not seen before; anything new we should be excited about?

We’ve shown Freestyle Guitar Solos a lot, and we’re incredibly proud and excited by that innovation. It’s totally new gameplay that allows players to express themselves while being challenged by guidelines that allow them to score. The game’s campaign is also a lot of fun, and we haven’t shown much of that, because it’s full of surprises we want people to experiencing for themselves.

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Did the team send spies to have a sneaky play on Guitar Hero Live at E3, to see what the competition was like? And if so, what did they make of it?

It’s actually great to see other games in the genre emerging. We’re excited by the fact that for the first time in a long time, these two franchises aren’t trying to do the same things. That’s great for us and that’s great for fans of music games.

Rock Band 4 vocal freestyle

And finally: We’re presuming the addition of a post-release track store massively extends the potential lifespan of Rock Band 4 (so we’re not expecting to see number 5 any time soon!) What’s next for Harmonix, then?

You’re right – don’t expect a Rock Band 5. Maybe ever! We do intend to update the game with music as we’ve done in the past, but we’re looking at Rock Band as a platform and a live service this generation. What that means is that instead of releasing a new game every year, we’re going to push updates to the core Rock Band 4 game and expand on it with new features that could dramatically alter the experience. And we can do this by having a conversation with our players, listening to what they want and watching how they play. We already have some cool ideas in the hopper, and we can’t wait to share them, but we’ve got to get to October 6 first!

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Pre-order Rock Band 4 from Amazon now. Already have the peripherals? Then save yourself a few quid, and pre-order the game-only edition of Rock Band 4.


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Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.

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