Nobody has rocked the game industry quite like Harmonix Music Systems. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based game company is focused squarely on music and rhythm games, and it has churned out Guitar Hero, one of the most popular new franchises of any genre, with the aid of publisher RedOctane.
The band broke up somewhat abruptly at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo when RedOctane, which owned the rights to the Guitar Hero name, was purchased by Activision for $100 million. A few months later, Harmonix was bought outright by MTV Networks, and at GDC 2007, EA announced that it would be distributing the next Harmonix-made game through its EA Partners program.
While it was known that the Guitar Hero franchise would live on through Activision-owned Neversoft, Harmonix has kept the volume down on its next project...until now.
Harmonix, MTV Networks, and Electronic Arts today officially announced Rock Band. The music-based game will do Guitar Hero two better by featuring guitar, drum, and microphone peripherals, proving rock and roll requires more than just someone who can handle the axe. Rock Band is scheduled to be available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this holiday season.
Like Guitar Hero, Rock Band will feature licensed music. Thanks largely in part to its new relationship with MTV, Harmonix was able to wrangle multitrack master recordings from the catalogs of some of the biggest record labels in the business. On board to offer access to their portfolios are EMI Music Publishing, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Hollywood Records, and Warner Chappell Music. It is currently unknown how much from each music publisher will be available to Harmonix, but the emphasis going forward will be to work with the artists themselves.
Little is known about the gameplay at this time, but online interaction will be vital to the experience. Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos told GameSpot, "In addition to the music that ships with the game, we have very big plans for building out a huge library of online expansion content." Rigopulos also said that some content will "very likely" be free.
As for the controllers, the guitar peripheral will control the bass and lead guitar portions, a microphone will be used for vocals, and a drum peripheral will provide the beats. Rigopulos says the drum is "a really impressive piece of hardware. I'm a drummer myself, so we weren't going to settle for anything less than something that felt like a real instrument." Harmonix is still working out the details of how the peripherals will ship.
When asked if wannabe rock stars would be able to go online and seek out other musicians to play with, Rigopulos excitedly said, "Absolutely. The whole experience is actually about reaching out to other people and forming a band together and that collaborative experience...to form a band and rise from obscurity to fame."
The team behind Rock Band sees the project as more than just a simple game; they see it as a new platform for experiencing music. "We're at the very front of what will be a major transformation in music entertainment," said Rigopulos. "I really believe that four or five years from now, this kind of active participation in music making is going to be how people expect to experience the music that they love. Rock Band is a huge first step in that direction, but the sky's the limit in terms of the span of genres we eventually intend to reach with this."
For more on Rock Band, read GameSpot's Q&A with Rigopulos and EA Partners vice president David DeMartini.