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Harmonix forms Rock Band

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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 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 E3 2006 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 CEO Alex Rigopulos explains Rock Band in his own words.

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 multi-track 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 also 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.

EA publishing MTV/Harmonix game

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SAN FRANCISCO--Last year, Activision spent nearly $91 million to acquire indie publisher RedOctane and its popular rhythm game license, Guitar Hero. The investment has paid off: As of January 31, the PlayStation 2 Guitar Hero II has sold over 1.58 million copies in the US alone, generating upwards of $114 million. That haul will surely increase next month, when an expanded version of the game arrives on the Xbox 360.

While the RedOctane purchase was certainly a coup, its edge was blunted somewhat when MTV Networks bought Guitar Hero developer Harmonix for $175 million. (Guitar Hero development is now being done in-house at Activision-owned NeverSoft.) The situation was further complicated tonight, when Harmonix co-founder Alex Rigopoulos and vice president of EA Partners David DeMartini revealed that Activision's archrival Electronic Arts will distribute the forthcoming MTV-branded game.

Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopoulos talks to GameSpot about the publishing deal with EA.

Speaking with GameSpot at a 2007 Game Developers Conference-related event, Rigopoulos said his company had inked a deal with EA Partners, EA's independent developer liaison. Under deals brokered via the division, EA is co-publishing Mercenaries 2 with Pandemic Studios, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 with Valve Software, Crysis with Crytek, and Hellgate: London with Flagship studios.

As for further details of the EA-published, MTV-branded game, Rigopoulos demurred. "The project we're working on is by far, by far our most ambitious undertaking ever," he said.

Flight Sim X gets a dose of Adrenaline

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The friendly skies are about to get a bit more competitive. Microsoft's official Flight Simulator X communit Web site: http://www.fsinsider.com/Community/News-Articles/fsroadmap.htm has been updated with news of the game's first full expansion, Adrenaline, and the add-on introduces multiplayer air racing to the game, as well as a handful of other new features.

Scheduled for takeoff during the holidays, Adrenaline will include new missions and new aircraft as well, specifically the P-51 Mustang. It will also support standard Games for Windows features and include support for DirectX 10.

In the near term, an update for the game is expected to arrive in April with a "targeted set of performances and content enhancements to address the most common customer requests." A DirectX 10 update for the game's visuals will also be made available around the launch of Adrenaline.

Study: Driving games lead to real-life speeding

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Violent games have been accused of influencing criminal behavior in the youth of today, but now games may be accused of influencing something else--putting the pedal to the metal.

What's a beach doing on this street?

A study by British driving institution BSM has found that young drivers are more apt to speed and drive recklessly after playing a racing game, reports the BBC. A survey showed that more than a third of 1,000 subjects polled are more likely to push the gas a little harder after playing a racing game, and 27 percent of drivers aged 16 to 24 "admitted more risk-taking on the road after a gaming session."

However, some of those polled also believe frequently playing driving games can improve their on-the-road performance. About 40 percent are convinced that playing games benefits reaction time and reflexes.

This isn't the first time racing games have come into question with reckless driving. Just over a year ago, a copy of Electronic Arts' street-racing game Need for Speed was found in the car of a driver who killed a taxi driver while drag racing his friend.

GTA:SA suits settling, GTAIV trailer coming 3/29

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It was a mixed week for fans of the Grand Theft Auto series. It began with word that Take-Two Interactive, parent of GTA publisher Rockstar Games, is settling a consumer lawsuit brought against it in the wake of the "Hot Coffee" scandal. According to the Reuters news service, a New York City federal court judge stayed action on the suit after a Take-Two lawyer said both plaintiff and defendant "agreed to engage in settlement discussions with the hope of amicably resolving this matter."

In 2005, several Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas purchasers sued the publisher after sex minigames were discovered in the Mature-rated title. Among them was an octogenarian grandmother who bought the game, which was rerated AO for Adults Only before being edited, for her 14-year-old grandson.

Within hours of addressing the GTA series' past, Take-Two looked to its future. This afternoon, Rockstar sent out an e-mail blast centering on a black, monolithic Roman numeral "IV." It announced that the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV will unspool in exactly four weeks on March 29. Since all GTA games from Grand Theft Auto III on have used the in-game engine for cinematics, it is likely that the trailer will contain the first glimpse of the game in action. GTAIV will use the RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) previously seen in Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis.

Also today, the official GTA IV Web site launched, sporting a countdown clock that will end at 3 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. That is, if it accounts for the early implementation of daylight-saving time on March 11; if not, it will end at 2 p.m. PDT.

As announced at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Grand Theft Auto IV will be released domestically for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on October 16. Europe will get the game three days later. It will presumably have an M rating and $59.99 price point.

THQ forging Warhammer 40K MMOG

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Video game publisher THQ and tabletop game publisher Games Workshop have already enjoyed great success since 2004 with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, the popular real-time strategy game based on the gritty and brutal Warhammer 40,000 sci-fi universe. The game has given rise to two expansion packs, the most recent of which won GameSpot's award for Best Expansion Pack of 2006 and remains a popular title with strategy enthusiasts.
Heavy is the cyber-crown of the future, apparently.

Today, the two publishers are announcing an extension to their licensing agreement to work together on new projects, including a Warhammer 40,000 massively multiplayer online game. The first hints at such a project came last November, when Relic Entertainment, developer of the Warhammer 40,000 real-time strategy series, posted a want ad for MMOG developers. As it turns out, though, another studio--Austin, Texas-based Vigil Games, will be working on the new project, which should not be confused with the swords-and-sorcery MMORPG, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

To find out more about the Warhammer 40,000 MMOG, GameSpot spoke with THQ executive vice president of worldwide publishing Kelly Flock and Andy Jones, Games Workshop's head of group legal and licensing.

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