From 'Guitar Hero' to zero and back again

  • TECH
  • Friday, 17 Apr 2015

ROCK OUT: "Guitar Hero Live" (pictured) and "Rock Band 4" promise something new in 2015.

With Guitar Hero and Rock Band preparing new editions for later in 2015, we look at how band-based video games have gone from rock star fantasy to ignominy before making this year's comeback. 

The beginnings 

Inspired by a Japanese arcade franchise GuitarFreaks, Massachusetts studio Harmonix set about producing a console equivalent in 2005's Guitar Hero, powered by special guitar-shaped controllers. 

An immediate, industry-changing success, Harmonix's manufacturing and distribution partner RedOctane was acquired by Activision, who then published 2006 sequel Guitar Hero II, and by that time Harmonix had started working on an expanded vision of its original concept. 

In the Band 

2007's Rock Band took lead, rhythm and bass guitar elements, integrating aspects of GuitarFreaks sibling DrumMania and Harmonix's earlier Karaoke Revolution: players could now drum a plastic kit or sing. Likewise, 2008's Guitar Hero World Tour supported a similar range of instrument-shaped controllers and multi-track songs. 


The two brands upped production significantly, responding to seemingly unquenchable demand. Five fully-fledged titles were released over the course of 2009: Activision diversified by offering Guitar Hero 5, pop variant Band Hero, and the turntablist's DJ Hero, while Harmonix had licensed spin-offs Lego Rock Band and The Beatles: Rock Band

Half a dozen more supplementary song packs were also made available. 

Rock bottom 

But as it turned out, 2007 entry Guitar Hero III had marked the genre's peak. Successors received equally favourable reviews but couldn't match its sales figures. Accessories were expensive, spending power had diminished. How many games did people really need? 

By the end of 2010, several Guitar Hero teams had closed and Harmonix had parted with then-owner Viacom, focusing instead on Dance Central and Disney's Fantasia: Music Evolved for Microsoft. 

Further innovation came from an unexpected source. Where Rock Band 3 had allowed selected real instruments, Ubisoft stepped in with 2011's full-on guitar tutor Rocksmith. If cynically received after a genre glut, it proved genuinely capable of teaching musical skills. 

Comeback tour 

With nearly five years off for both core series, and Rocksmith taking care of technical aspirations, a rejuvenated Harmonix is returning to a vision of social, shared, party-vibe experiences for late 2015's Rock Band 4, talking up its passion, energy, and commitment to supporting one game for many years. 

Meanwhile, Activision's comeback Guitar Hero Live takes a different approach to authenticity. Its guitar controller has six wood-toned buttons that help approximate real chord shapes. 

Visually, it leverages rock concert footage to create an immediate, on-stage view. More than technical mastery, this is now about selling an adrenaline experience. – AFP Relaxnews

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Guitar Hero , Rock Band


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