Remember when the video game industry sold plastic guitar-shaped controllers and a game that helped you live out your fantasies of playing Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” atop a stage of adoring fans?
Well, Guitar Hero wants to rock your world again.
Game maker Activision Blizzard is reintroducing its play-along music game after a four-year hiatus with a new spin that it hopes will get music fans interested again. So what’s new?
Guitar Hero will still have a plastic instrument-controller and ask you to learn twitchy finger-moves that made living room gamers feel like rock stars back in 2007. But what’s changed is what happens on the screen behind the game.
The company wants to make you feel like an up and coming rock legend, and the way it will do that has to do with everything else that’s not the game’s music or controls. In the past, the background of the game featured cartoon musicians and crowds, re-creating the atmosphere of music venues large and small.
This time, Activision has taped live performances with real musicians forming invented bands to play real music. The screen shows the stage from the eyes of the band’s lead guitarist. When the player hits all his notes, the crowd of hundreds or thousands of extras goes wild. When he screws up, the crowd gives him nasty looks. Keep playing the wrong notes and even the band starts scowling.
Jamie Jackson, creative director from FreeStyleGames, which made Guitar Hero for Activision, believes this will give players a visceral, realistic experience. Or at least as much as can be done in a living room.
“Instead of third person camera looking at the stage,” Jackson said of his team’s mindset, “let’s make it first person camera.” To take it even further, he added, the team began blending mediums too: “Let’s make a movie.”
This idea mirrors the broader technology industry. Making videos signals an acknowledgement of a revival in music videos, thanks in part to websites like YouTube. Musicians are also beginning to strap GoPro sports cameras to their bodies to give fans a sense of what it’s like to rock out on stage. And for Guitar Hero, it’s a recognition that children who played the game nearly a decade ago have grown up.
“They’ll play it,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. It may not be the multibillion-dollar megahit it was back then, he added, but it will sell well.
One of the key ways Activision says it will avoid its past mistakes is how it releases the game: The company isn’t planning to release a new sequel next year, for example.
Instead, Activision hopes to keep people coming back to Guitar Hero with a new feature called “Guitar Hero TV.” It works almost like a television, where players can see various “channels” and, when they click on one, they’re presented with a music video.
The magic will be what’s shown on top of the video: Guitar Hero controls, so gamers can play along with their guitar. They can even play along with and compete over the Internet with people across the globe.
Activision declined to discuss how the service will make money, but the company said the channels will be free to anyone who buys the new Guitar Hero game.
Another way Guitar Hero will be different is with its game for mobile devices. Activision said the full Guitar Hero game will be available for smartphones and tablets, and that the guitar controller it created will work with them too, in addition to a video game console like a Microsoft Xbox or Sony PlayStation.
“Plug phone into TV and you have the full game,” said Tyler Michaud, a senior director of product management at Activision.
Will this all strike the right chord with consumers? Activision certainly hopes so.
“Guitar hero created a pop culture phenomenon, even my mom knew what Guitar Hero was,”Michaud said.
“We always wanted to bring Guitar Hero back, but we always said we wouldn’t do that until we had the right innovation,” he added. Now, the company thinks it does.