Released in October of last year, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock introduced a number of new features to the popular series and did a good job of catering to newcomers and experienced shredders alike. Nevertheless, developers are perfectionists and are rarely 100 percent satisfied when putting their names on a game. For example, during a recent interview with Alan Flores, we learned that the lead designer of Legends of Rock (that's him) would've liked more time to work on the game before it was released. We also learned that he has some ambitious plans for the next Guitar Hero game.
GameSpot: Neversoft had only a year to whip a new Guitar Hero sequel together. Looking back at that year, what about the game are you most happy with, and more importantly, what would you have done differently?
Alan Flores: Yeah, it was a whirlwind year. We were really excited to work on Guitar Hero, as we all loved and played the games quite a bit. I think I'm most happy that we made a game that is introducing new people to video games. I hear tons of stories about people who say stuff like "My wife (or girlfriend) never plays video games, but she picked up Guitar Hero III, and now she won't put the guitar down." It's a pretty cool feeling.
I do wish we had a bit more time to tune and polish the game. However, we are really proud of what we did with Guitar Hero III, but of course with any game you make, there are a lot of things you think about doing differently after you're done. But that just allows us to include those ideas and innovations into the next one...
GS: How did the team scale the difficulty of the game compared to the previous ones? How do you answer claims that Guitar Hero III is significantly harder than previous installments and perhaps too hard for some newcomers? Is the series catering to its diehard fan base now?
AF: We tried our best to have a nice, smooth linear ramp for the difficulty levels. That's much easier said than done, especially given the accelerated development schedule. But we did focus-test the heck out of the game and tried to integrate the focus testers' feedback as best we could. Personally, I do feel the game is a bit too hard. It does seem that some of the songs in the end are punishingly hard to finish. However, the game is still quite accessible on the easy and medium difficulties, and that's where the majority of the players reside. Now that we have one Guitar Hero game under our belt, we will continually try to improve the gaming experience for all of our fans.
GS: What do you need to do to keep Guitar Hero's core gameplay from stagnating? What will we see in the next Guitar Hero that will keep it fresh?
AF: We really do want to keep the integrity of the core gameplay, but there are a couple of areas where we are going to innovate: music, gameplay, and hardware.
On the music front, we are getting calls from major bands about wanting to be a part of the Guitar Hero phenomenon. Of course, we can't really talk about that right now, but I think people will be stoked with the music we have coming this year. I hear lots of people saying things like "Hey, I really want to see band X or band Y in there." And now, due to the success of the franchise, you're probably going to see band X, band Y, or maybe both in the game.
On the gameplay side, combined with the hardware innovations we're working on, I think people will see that there's more to Guitar Hero than pressing buttons at the right time. We can't wait to show everyone the cool new features we've been working on since before GHIII shipped. We can also add lots of little things to make the guitar playing feel more like you're playing guitar.
Neversoft was one of the first developers to really embrace user-generated content way back in the good old days of the PlayStation 2. Fast-forward to 2008 and the next Guitar Hero... We are investigating the notion that the experience is not just about playing popular songs, but letting people create their own music. We can't go into specifics right now, but creating, recording, and sharing music--all within the game--is a big opportunity to reinvent the Guitar Hero experience.
GS: Your competition has delivered two more instruments--vocals and drums--which are distinctly different from the guitar and bass. How do you plan to keep pace? Will we finally see the infamous Drum Hero surface in the near future? Can we expect various Hero games to tie into each other?
AF: Our goal at Neversoft is to continue to make the best game possible. People have been speculating that we're going to add drums and vocals for some time now, and the infamous Drum Hero/Villain rumors have been going around. RedOctane has been working with a pioneer in the music game genre for a couple of years. He made the first arcade game using a drum controller. So, if we were ever going to make a drum controller, his input would be instrumental in delivering a kicka** drum experience and a quality product.
GS: Has the more aggressive pricing and release schedule of Rock Band's downloadable content (DLC) made you rethink your own stance on DLC?
AF: Well, we focused more on delivering songs to the player on the disk. We shipped with significantly more songs because we made that our focus. I suppose we could have held some content back and then delivered it via DLC at an additional price. But why? We figured it was better for fans to get it on the disk so everyone, even Wii and PS2 players, could enjoy them.
As for the pricing...as a developer, we don't really have control over that. But I will say this, since Guitar Hero III has released, we've released a number of songs for free. Cool stuff like the Halo theme on Thanksgiving and "We Three Kings" on Christmas. We don't have to give stuff away for free. We're just doing it because it's cool. It's a way to give back to our fans. The fans helped make Guitar Hero III a huge success, so we're going to continue to deliver cool free stuff as a way to say thanks. And on this President's Day weekend, we're giving away Aerosmith's "Dream On" for free!
GS: We've heard plenty of rumors about songs appearing on the next Guitar Hero tracklist, entirely new band-themed Guitar Hero installments, and even a DS-based portable Guitar Hero. What's the Guitar Hero road map for 2008? Will there be multiple products this year? Can we expect any new hardware iterations?
AF: Yeah, there will be multiple products. Our goal this year for the Guitar Hero franchise is to bring more great music and amazing bands to fans and to give new ways to experience this game. Today, we just announced Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which we are really excited about. We believe that superstar bands, like Aerosmith, are just one way that we can redefine the Guitar Hero experience.
In terms of new hardware iterations, we continue to focus on setting the bar for innovation and quality, and continue making the best equipment out there. We want to make sure that advancing the guitar hardware allows people who bought a guitar with a previous game to still use it to enjoy the next game.
GS: What band represents the "holy grail" of the Guitar Hero franchise--the one act you'd stop at nothing to include? Will we finally see some of the most oft-requested acts (for example, Zeppelin, AC/DC) showing up in upcoming installments?
AF: Well, we had this idea for the end of Guitar Hero III where you play the Top Gun theme by Harold Faltermeyer over the credits. But we weren't able to clear the song... All kidding aside, first as a fan of the game, and now as someone who has an opportunity to work on it, I'd love to see epic bands like Zeppelin and AC/DC in the game. And, there are also lots of other great acts that have yet to appear; bands like The Doors, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, the list goes on forever. I've got a feeling that you'll see some of those guys in the next game.
GS: Thanks for your time.