The end of laughter and soft lies

So Activision are shelving the Guitar Hero franchise, a move that doesn’t come as a great surprise. Since that last post of mine I picked up Guitar Hero 6: Warriors of Rock when the full band bundle briefly dropped to £60, probably to clear some warehouse space at GAME and Amazon; the hardware is nice, especially the drum set which is the main reason I’d picked the bundle up, the set list has some good stuff in it, but like Rock Band 3 (Pro Mode apart), it’s Yet Another Guitar Game.

A few of the Slashdot comments highlight lack of innovation as a key failing in the Guitar Hero franchise, but I’m not really sure how many avenues they had. I can’t think of another game genre that sprang into existence so fully formed; course there were gradual improvements over the course of the series like use of master tracks for songs instead of the “As Made Famous By” cover versions, adding drums and vocals, and general tweaks for a better game experience, but the core mechanic of pushing-buttons-in-time-with-music has remained constant. Graphical improvements are far less relevant than for most games, with the players focused on those coloured dots coming down the screen. They tried a head-to-head PvP battle mode in Guitar Hero 3, it didn’t really work (the good old “see who can get the highest score” method has remained the main area of competition for the more dedicated). Band Hero tried a more pop-oriented set list, I’m guessing they didn’t shift a whole lot of units as the Warriors of Rock bundle I got from Amazon, once the outer sleeve slipped off, was in a Band Hero box with the game itself swapped over. There were artist-specific games for Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen, but I guess the number of fans of the artists who hadn’t really thought about music games before didn’t make up for the number of music game fans who weren’t big enough fans of a particular artist to get a specific game. Working real rock stars into the main games meanwhile caused legal headaches, and though I can just about understand people getting annoyed about Kurt Cobain singing Bon Jovi, I’m slightly less convinced that No Doubt’s lasting artistic integrity was irreparably damaged by having them perform songs by those no-talent hack Rolling Stones. Speaking of real artists, The Beatles Rock Band made a brief dent on mainstream coverage, but doesn’t seem to have had a lasting effect on the music game genre as a whole, even with the biggest band in history and a phenomenal amount of care and dedication from Harmonix. We’re still waiting on the real guitar that will connect to Rock Band 3 in Pro Mode, though signs are positive that it will actually be coming to the UK, and for a not entirely unreasonably price compared to the US price if the pre-order information at Andertons holds up. I’m still pretty keen on picking it up, but I’m sure I’m part of a pretty small niche.

With the historical focus on DLC that Harmonix have had with the Rock Band series, I’d hope they can continue profitably with their scaled-back team; I wonder if Guitar Hero could possibly have continued in a similar vein, releasing “track pack” style expansion discs to simply add songs to previous games, but that doesn’t seem to be in keeping with Activision’s mega-franchise strategy. Ah well; it’s been a good run, and I’m sure it’ll be back in some rebooted form eventually.

3 thoughts on “The end of laughter and soft lies

  1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    I think there are some interesting similarities between music games and MMOs. The games released and they were seen as exciting and new, although they were based on older games in a similar vein.

    Eventually things improved to the point that a few big franchises were being put out. But, ultimately, the developers didn’t really see a way to expand and improve the games. As you point out, better graphics only go so far when players are focused on brightly-colored bars and interested in hitting them with the right timing.

    The result? Eventually it becomes virtually impossible to follow the leader. Big publishers have no idea how to handle that type of game if they can’t fall back on the tried and true methods of improving graphics and forcing obsolescence so people have to buy the very latest version. A once highly profitable game series is seen as bygone. True fans of the genre lament what could have happened if publishers/developers hadn’t been so stupidly thick; their only options seem to be either accept the sad remnants left over for them to enjoy, or turn their back on the genre completely until it gets a clue.

    I’ll stop now before I depress myself again. :P But, perhaps I’ve made my point.

  2. Stabs

    “lack of innovation as a key failing in the Guitar Hero franchise”

    Erm? What should they have done?

    Guitar Hero 15 – a mystical gaming experience where you play intelligent cockroaches in a post-holocaust world, competing with other heroes by building complicated house of cards style piles of rubbish.

  3. Zoso Post author

    @Brian I think there could be a lot of interesting stuff in the rise and fall of genres, parallels between them and key differences; flight sims, space sims, adventure games, scrolling shooters, beat ’em ups… Maybe there’s a GDC panel or something in it.

    @Stabs Sounds like that could be the perfect follow-up to Guitar Hero 14: Consuming Vast Quantities of Industrial Strength Hallucinogens (or Syd Barrett edition…)

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