Ultimately, Guitar Hero’s success wasn’t due to its frenetic gameplay or its expertly curated track list; in the end, everything really comes down to that little plastic guitar. Sure, Harmonix (and later, Neversoft) had a strong gameplay foundation to build on thanks to Amplitude, which provided the basis for Guitar Hero’s core beat-matching mechanic, but it was the controller that caught the mainstream’s attention. It doesn’t matter if the game is running on Easy or Expert difficulty; with that peripheral, it’s easy to sell the illusion that players are actually rock stars performing in front of thousands of fans.
FreeStyleGames, the studio behind the upcoming Guitar Hero revival Guitar Hero Live, gets that. As detailed in a recently released behind the scenes video, the FreeStyleGames team seems less concerned with radically changing Guitar Hero’s core, and more focused on pushing the game’s fantasy to its furthest extreme.
Take the game’s first person perspective, for example. Previous Guitar Hero games featured cartoony, computer generated visuals that highlighted the player’s virtual guitarist. By contrast, Guitar Hero Live focuses the camera on live action footage of the audience, who react to the player’s performance. Play well, and the crowd will rock out; do poorly, and it’ll start booing and throwing things at the camera.
The new interface flips the formula, in hopes of making things more real. After all, real rock stars don’t look at themselves while performing, and FreeStyleGames creative director Jamie Jackson hopes that the first person, live action footage will help capture what it’s like to actually be on stage. Real musicians, he says, “get a bit of stage fright… Is the crowd going to be a good crowd or a bad crowd?” That kind of anxiety is a key part of any live performance, and FreeStyleGames hopes that they can bring transport that feeling from arenas into players’ living rooms.
In order to keep the live action footage authentic, FreeStyleGames hired a actors and musicians to play Guitar Hero Live’s in-game characters. Broken Tide lead singer Ryan Burnett fronts Guitar Hero Live’s virtual band, while the audience is made up of a few hundred actors in front of a green screen. A robotic camera captured the player’s perspective, moving around the stage like a real person.
Guitar Hero Live’s new controller was also born out of FreeStyleGame’s efforts to enhance the Guitar Hero fantasy. As Jackson notes, when people play air guitar, they don’t move their hand up and down the guitar neck; they keep their hands in place, strumming with one and wiggling fingers on the other. The new controller mimics this, replacing the single row of five buttons on the guitar neck with two rows of three, negating the need for hand movement while making finger dexterity much more important. The new button layout has an added gameplay bonus, too: with an extra button in the mix, Guitar Hero Live’s upper difficulty levels should be even more challenging.
The new trailer also delves into Guitar Hero TV, Guitar Hero Live’s always-on multiplayer music channel. Players will be able to fire up one of the game’s channels (there will be two at launch), and cue up songs from a number of genres, all of which they can play along to.
GHTV’s song selection will be incredibly diverse; Jon Napier, FreeStyleGames’ director of projects, hopes that “whatever type of music you’re in to… you’ll find a good few songs in the game that are really suited to you.” Even better, Napier says, GHTV could introduce players to some new favorites. “It’s a really broad place for music,” he says. “We decided we wanted to have as wide a set of genres in the game as possible… [GHTV] will give the player an opportunity to experience new types of music.”
And that makes sense. Forget the high scores or gimmicky peripherals; music is what Guitar Hero Live is all about, and FreeStyleGames wants to share its passion for live performances with as wide an audience as possible. So far, it looks like the team is on the right track.
Guitar Hero Live is expected in late 2015 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.