GDC 07: Behind the music of Guitar Hero II

Production duo discuss the musical challenges behind the mega-successful Harmonix game.

SAN FRANCISCO--Fresh off a Best Audio IGDA award for Guitar Hero II, representatives from Harmonix, the developer of the game, discussed the issues encountered and lessons learned from building the game. Producer Daniel Sussman and senior audio designer Eric Brosius articulated new issues they encountered with level design and the thought that went into creating the Guitar Hero franchise.

Much of the focus of the panel was on how Guitar Hero II took a lot of lessons from the rest of the industry, but with Harmonix applying its own specific twists. For example, games often rely on repetition to build skills, then variation to keep player interest.

Brosius noted that in platformers, level designers built on this concept by letting the gamer do something familiar, then something new. "[But] when we do something with pop songs and rock songs, the artists who have written them have done a lot of the work for us."

In fact, the repetitive nature of pop and rock music worked to help develop the songs, the Guitar Hero equivalent of levels, Sussman argued. The musical structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo helped provide the structure that game designers often seek when trying to challenge their audience.

This also helped scale the difficulty level, Sussman pointed out, drawing comparisons to non-music games. "As a game designer, you're looking to bring people in at an easy level and then you throw all kinds of challenges at them as they improve."

Similarly, it was important that players could easily articulate the differences in difficulty. Guitar Hero helps them along by having only three possible notes on "easy," four on "medium," and all five on "hard" and "expert."

The design is made more difficult by the fact that the tools available to the developer on any specific song are extremely simple. "It's notes, long notes, and two notes at a time," said Brosius, in describing exactly what gamers could do on a level.

Earlier in the panel, a show of hands demonstrated that much of the audience had played Guitar Hero II and could appreciate the specific examples and songs that Sussman and Brosius used. The two capitalized on this enthusiasm by showing how song selection could be classified into different types.

"Unrelenting assault" was their name for songs like Foo Fighters' "Monkey Wrench" and Helmet's "Unsung." Featuring lots of persistent rhythms, physical gameplay, and the need for endurance, these songs differed from Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" and Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend," which focus more on verse and chorus bits. As Sussman described it, "You're always going back to the foundation, this bass line, then we throw in fresh things."

Some other classifications included "death match" (lots of sight reading and instinctive play), "ass kicker" (very physical, repetitive gameplay coupled with patterns that are physically hard to get), and the "boss song."

The boss song was especially noteworthy, Sussman said, because "just as it's important to have that first song, it's important to have that song that drives you crazy." In addition, it was interesting in that it broke so many tenets of level design. "I've never seen so many people die at 99 percent, because that's just f***ed up. It's just kind of mean. We get away with it because our songs are kind of short."

Their final classification was "set piece," the classic songs that people would immediately recognize like Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" and the Police's "Message in a Bottle." Describing Boston's "More Than a Feeling," Brosisus said it "was a perfectly balanced pop song, with some simple emotional lines and the big long notes. That just automatically worked, and everyone just kind of liked it. Nobody thought people would like that."

The rest of the lecture was left for a short question-and-answer period where they described some of the changes they made in response to tester feedback, like adding a guitar solo to David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust." No one had to ask the most common question though, what Harmonix was doing after Guitar Hero II, because the final slide had a bullet point: "We can't tell you what Harmonix is working on...hint: it's not Accordion Hero."

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48 comments
djman24us
djman24us

Behind the music of Guitar Hero II a VH1 Special presentation.....

djman24us
djman24us

Behind the music of Guitar Hero II a VH1 Special presentation.....

kim_nielsen
kim_nielsen

I can't wait, I only want to se the final track-list, to see what songs in it, but anyway I got a pre-order for the game so I getting it anyway... Can't wait to be Rocking, I love Rock 'N' Roll Does anyone know the full track-list?

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

GDC 07: Behind the music of Guitar Hero II that just sounds funny to me, anyone else?

-Squirrel-
-Squirrel-

Oh I'm waiting for the all encompassing rhythm game. The one where you play the guitar, while dancing on a pad to the beats, and singing the lyrics into the mic. I think they would call it "Dance Guitar Karaoke Hero Revolution Suicide."

brothaval
brothaval

I'm all for kazoo hero, myself =P By the way.. they're making Guitar Hero for Wii (oh man!)

urdoomed11
urdoomed11

nightshade_01 no it comes out april 3rd

jakman2004
jakman2004

the only reason i dont have 360 is because of college work. and if i didn't have college i''d have one right now, this is just another reason on top of gears of war, dead rising, crackdown, and all those techinically fun ass kinda games to annoy me

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

I can't wait till guitar hero 2 comes out for 360!

DarkSaber2k
DarkSaber2k

TTDog, that's my annoyance as well! I'm gutted it's on the 360 version when i've wanted to play it all along!

jwrebholz
jwrebholz

"When does that game come out for the 360 anyway?" This week.

xmg0
xmg0

cool backstory

TTDog
TTDog

Hows about "Triangle Hero"... you wait 4 and a half minutes while all the competent musicians play and right at the end, when boredom kicks in you get your one note and miss is as you were daydreaming. My kids just angry that the 360 version of GH2 has a few extra tracks than the PS2 version and among them is her all time favourite Iron Maiden track. I preferred GH2 to GH1 as in GH2 you get to be SPINAL TAP.

judge__judy
judge__judy

Im selling my ps2 version and buying this. BeCaUse Of ACheIvmenTS!

The_Weekend
The_Weekend

I can't wait for DRUM HERO and see how they pull that one off without ripping off Drummania!

RaiKageRyu
RaiKageRyu

You know what would be the ultimate Guitar Hero? If u could input your own songs and it creates the level on the fly.

sigma8
sigma8

Yeah, like...flute hero!? Back to GH2.. I hope they don't take repetition too far. I liked the Song List in GH1 better, not just the songs...actually, maybe not really even the songs per se, but the songs in GH2 took FOREVER to finish. GH1 seemed more realistic, unless we're talking about live encore acts. Maybe each song should have a short and long version. If I could combine the music of GH1 with the improved controls of GH2, I'd be so happy.

Lumenadducere
Lumenadducere

I'd personally like to see them branch out into things other than guitar. It wouldn't sell as well, but it'd still be fun.

xack10
xack10

I wonder what "Guitar Villan" will be like.

jcloverboy
jcloverboy

Really looking foward to this game on 360. Have had it pre-ordered since it was confirmed.

Brad2theBone237
Brad2theBone237

I have this game on preorder for the 360. I don't think I've ever been so anxious about getting a game. I just hope my 360 comes back from getting repaired before April 3rd..

Shado_Man
Shado_Man

I want Bagpipe Hero. That could seriously be more awesome than Guitar Hero. Get some Flatfoot 56 on there and rock it out like the Scots. Oh, and and make sure to include a kilt with the game. xD

dotfortune
dotfortune

I do't think the guy who said guitar hero sucked because of the rock was talking about hip-hop. I think it's more of J-Pop. RUN!! FLEE!! SAVE YOUR SODA! SAVE YOURSELF!!!!!!!!

Banana_Kid
Banana_Kid

Damn. I really wanted Accordion Hero. I'm not kidding.

TheDeceitful
TheDeceitful

I'm just glad that this time around they put in some good, technical hardcore and metal songs from bands like All That Remains, Killswitch Engage and Trivium on some of the Guitar Battles in 2 player mode. And in reply to this... -Tmills_basic "Guitar Hero is the worst franchise ever created for rhythm games. All the songs are terrible, and the theme is all about rock n roll....talk about alienating gamers who don't like that stuff." Why make a guitar hero game and put hip hop, rap or funk. 75% of that music is repetitive with no real skill in guitar, if there is even any guitar heard in any songs of that genre of music. All I ever here is drums, bass and sampling of stringed instruments EXCLUDING the guitar. They could have used some more blues in GHII though. I've been playing guitar for 11 years and when I look at a guitar I don't think, "Man, I could play some smokin' rap music on it." Guitars are the epitome and all around most recognized symbol for rock in all genre's of the sense. Be it light rock or my favorite heavy metal. With no guitar, it wouldn't be rock.... It would be rap.

fireemblems
fireemblems

you simply have to try the game and you will love it, i have no musical skill, i loved it, my friend is a professional guitar player he loved it :D

Jared_Vegeta
Jared_Vegeta

Correction, Guitar Hero is the only rhythm franchise worth playing. Highly addictive and both challenging and easy to get into. Perfect.

KniferHitandRun
KniferHitandRun

Oh my God! Lucky 17! jk. I really don't understand all the hype behind this game though

the_hsoj
the_hsoj

Well Tmills_basic it is Guitar Hero and Guitars are used it every rock band ever made. If you dont like that stuff dont play it

Tmills_basic
Tmills_basic

Guitar Hero is the worst franchise ever created for rhythm games. All the songs are terrible, and the theme is all about rock n roll....talk about alienating gamers who don't like that stuff.

ryustruck
ryustruck

jshaw. all of the music in GH2 was licsensed (sp?) just because you havent heard it doesnt make it new, or unfamiliar, if anything ive heard more songs from GH2 than in GH1, mainly because thats what im exposed to. dont generalize just because you fail to realize that not everyone has the same exposure, experiences, and surroundings.

UnknownPerson55
UnknownPerson55

...waiting for guitar hero 3 to be announced for ps3, 360, wii...

Mikeh_515
Mikeh_515

I hope when the X-Box 360 version comes out theres more types of music and loads more tracks to play along to. I don't have a copy yet because I'm waiting for the 360 version I'v gone of Sony products lately.

aRE-you-AFraid
aRE-you-AFraid

When does that game come out for the 360 anyway?

BlizZardMAn
BlizZardMAn

I liked GH1's songs better, but I like GH2 because the Hammer-ons/Pull-offs are much easier to do. Plus multiplayer in GH1 kinda sucked unfortunately

Jshaw71
Jshaw71

i liked GH1 better than GH2, it had more firmaiilair asongs that GH2 dose, IF i play a tythm game, i want it to have a good soundtrack and not throw a bunch of obscure songs at me, i have idea when they were recorded, i wish harmonix wiuld do more liscened work in GH, but whatever

kjax8
kjax8

8!!! My favorite number. 360 version comes out, and I disappear for a while...

jerami
jerami

Seven for me! HAHA! I AM LUCKY.... but I love this game and I can't wait for the 360 version!! Woot!

aygol
aygol

I'm the sixth one... anyway... I'm gonna get Guitar Hero II for Xbox 360.

jmartinez1983
jmartinez1983

OMGS! I'm somewhere near the top!... who cares? Anyway, I might pick this one up for 360. Its almost too much fun to pass up.

kamillebidan92
kamillebidan92

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

drunkenpoop
drunkenpoop

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

chaos_6t9
chaos_6t9

(Guitar hero 3) is going to be something everyone wil be keeping their eyes on. Especially after all the hype Guitar hero Already has. One thing I worry about. Will it be specifically next gen? And if so, What can next gen offer to a rythme game other than more space for songs? I can't wait to see what Harmonix will throw at us next.

mac24
mac24

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]