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Things Rock Band Can Learn from Guitar Hero
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on August 10, 2009   |   Episode 74 (Show Archive)  

War! What is it good for? If we're talking about the all out battle between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it's good for keeping the developers on their toes and creating bigger and better games. With the upcoming release of both Guitar Hero 5 and The Beatles: Rock Band, we thought we might offer some unsolicited advice on how each company can make their product better. No matter which game you prefer, chances are there's something about the other product you wish they would steal. Be it the way the game looks or how you activate the overdrive, there's bound to be something the other game does better.

In this article we're going to look at the Five Things Rock Band Can Learn from Guitar Hero. We're going to be honest, hoping that in the not-too-distant future somebody might actually listen to us. And then when we're done with that, we're going to flip the tables and look at the Five Things Guitar Hero Can Learn from Rock Band. That's two very special lists in one day, a first for Defunct Games. So put down that fake plastic guitar and hang up your drum sticks, because we're going to spend the next three thousand word bitching about two of the biggest music games of all time!

A Better Way to Activate Overdrive
I love playing the fake plastic guitar. I may not be the world's most exciting Rock Band player (most of the time I'm sitting down), but I haven't grown tired of hitting those five colored notes while listening to some of my favorite rock songs of the last 40 years. Harmonix gets a lot of credit for making the guitar mechanic work so well, not

Why is it that I don't have one of these for my fake plastic guitar?
just in Rock Band, but also the original Guitar Hero. Without Harmonix I doubt I would be this excited about the music genre, even if I was a huge fan of PaRappa the Rapper back in the day. Part of what works so well is the way the guitar feels, especially the overdrive aspect. The motion of pulling the guitar's neck up while rocking feels so natural that it comes second nature.

While Harmonix managed to get the guitar mechanics right the first time around, they haven't been as lucky with the microphone and drum kit. Instead of being able to activate overdrive whenever you want, drummers and singers only have a limited amount of chances to redeem their extra points. While I'm not completely against the idea of playing a drum fill to go into overdrive, it's ludicrous that the singer has to wait for specific times before activating the mode. What's even more frustrating for the singer is that your yelling doesn't always register, which can add up to missed opportunities. In Guitar Hero World Tour you can use the control pad to activate overdrive, or if you're a drummer you can simply hit both cymbals together. It may not be the most elegant solution, but it beats the tar out of Rock Band's approach.

Itemized Player Stats
The one thing Guitar Hero has always been good at is letting you know exactly where you stand after playing a song. It not only lists your hit percentage, but also where you missed the notes and how well you did in each section. For a lot of my

Skeletor may not care about an itemized stat list, but I sure do!
friends that come over and rock only a couple of songs, these stats don't matter much. The truth is, they're more than happy just knowing that they made it through the song without embarrassing themselves. But I am not your average fake plastic guitarist.

With nearly 500 songs on my hard drive, I consider myself to be a seasoned Rock Band player. I don't bring it up to brag, but rather point out that some of the most hardcore of us actually do pay attention to our stats. I like to know where I messed up, that way I can go back and master the parts that I am weakest at. Sadly, Rock Band doesn't seem to offer anything like that. At best they give me my percentage and my note streak. What's more, half the time I don't even get the note streak, instead I get some inane compliment about how I'm a solo expert. Considering the computer keeps track of these statistics already, I don't think it's asking too much to give me more details if I request it.

Give Us a Countdown Timer
It may sound like no big deal, but anybody that has been forced to pause right in the middle of song knows that it's not always easy regaining your footing

after coming back from a break. Usually this isn't a big deal, but there have been plenty of times when I've had to answer the door or take a phone call right in the middle of kicking butt at an especially hard solo. The last thing I need is to miss a bunch of notes because I pushed the start button. And don't even get me started on coming back from accidentally hitting the Xbox 360's guide button (I'm looking at every single person that has ever used my drum kit).

In Guitar Hero World Tour, Activision managed to solve this problem in an incredibly simple way. They added a countdown timer for people coming back from a break. The moment you unpause the game, the screen shows you the upcoming notes and you get five seconds to get your fingers in the right position and continue rockin'. Better yet, the countdown timer allows you to pause in the middle of an extended note and not miss a thing. I certainly wish I could do that in Rock Band. Considering how simple this solution is, I'm going to be more than a little perturbed if Harmonix doesn't adopt a similar remedy in Rock Band 3.

Offer Multiple Packages
I'm usually apathetic when it comes to multiple SKUs of major games. If you want to go out and spend $150 on a Call of Duty making-of and night vision goggles, then be my guest. I'm of the mind that just as long as they offer

Not everybody wants all that stuff, so why not offer a cheaper guitar/game bundle?
a cheaper, game-only edition for $60, then they can make as many packages as they want. My apathy does not carry over to the fake plastic instrument genre. Because there are so many instruments and price points, I feel that it is important to offer at least three different packages for both Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

Currently Rock Band is only distributed in two different variations, a special edition bundle (which comes with a guitar, microphone and drum kit) and a stripped down game-only edition. If you're one of those people who buys a lot of music games, then the game-only version makes a lot of sense. If you want to own everything for a good price, then maybe $180 (or $250, if you're planning on picking up The Beatles: Rock Band set) isn't a big deal. But what if you only want a guitar and the game? Buying the guitar and the game separately will run you well over a hundred dollars, whereas Activision offers a Guitar Hero bundle for just under that triple-digit price. This cheaper SKU is one of Activision's most popular bundles. It gets people in the door and gives them to opportunity to pick up the drums and the mic for an inflated price. Activision will always have a sales advantage if Rock Band doesn't figure out a middle SKU to sell to those who just want the game and guitar.

Pioneer More New Game Mechanics
I cannot even begin to count the number of people who have lamented that all music games are the same and it doesn't matter which one you buy. While I disagree, I can see how it's easy for an outsider to see Guitar Hero and Rock Band

When I talk about being adventurous, I'm not talking about a player versus player duel that nobody cares about!
as two unevolving games cut from the same cloth. But that's not necessarily true when it comes to Guitar Hero franchise. Over the last two installments, Activision's developers have done an excellent job of trying to add new ideas to the experience. Some of these ideas are gimmicks (I could do without the touch sensor), while others prove to be fantastic additions to the otherwise excellent gameplay. I like the fact that the bassist is given instrument-specific notes to hit (such as an open note) and I'm a big fan of having several variations on the tried and true extended chord.

In sharp contrast, Harmonix hasn't added much to Rock Band's gameplay. In fact, outside of hammer-on/pull-off chords, I can't think of a single gameplay change from Rock Band 1 to Rock Band 2. I'm sure Harmonix would point to the three-part harmonies found in their upcoming Beatles-centric game as a big innovation, but that's not much after three installments. I'm not saying that Harmonix should mimic every gimmick found in recent Guitar Hero games, but it would be nice to see them be a little more adventurous.


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