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Guitar Hero and Rock Band - Battle of the game Bands

Jubenhimer

Member
Nov 11, 2018
1,656
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The late 2000s was the peak of hardware based music and rhythm games. Sure, the genre had been around for a few years by this point. Whether it'd be the dance mats of Dance Dance Revolution, the failed US releases of Japanese favorites, Beatmania, and Taiko Drum Master, or the DK Bongos of Donkey Konga. But the craze of jamming out to popular songs on plastic instruments exploded in popularity with the birth of one series, Guitar Hero.


Released in 2005 as a PlayStation 2 exclusive, Guitar Hero was a project born out of a deal between publisher Red Octane, a hardware maker known for making the dance mats for the console versions of DDR. And developer Harmonix, hot off the heels its previous rhythm games, Frequency and Amplitude for the PS2. After their last two games were met with a niche audience rather than the wide appeal Sony had hoped for, Harmonix took the lessons learned from Frequency and Amplitude, and applied them to a new project that Red Octane approached them with. A music game designed around a prototype guitar controller the company had in development. Harmonix learned from its previous failures that audiences don't really relate to abstract imagery and trippy music, so they saw the device as a perfect opportunity for a music game with more mass market appeal. Implementing mechanics based on real guitar playing, and covers of retro and modern rock hits, Guitar Hero released to critical acclaim, many hailing it as one of the best PS2 games of the year, with its simple yet surprisingly deep gameplay, giving gamers the feeling of being a guitarist, even if they didn't know a damn thing about playing a real guitar. With a new hit on their hands, Red Octane and Harmonix released a sequel just one year later, improving upon everything from the original in just about every way.

With Guitar Hero starting to catch on, there was money to be made. Shortly after the release of Guitar Hero II in 2006, Activision, known for the Call of Duty and Tony Hawk series, acquired series publisher, Red Octane, folding its operations into the company. Around the same time, Harmonix was purchased by Viacom, Inc., the parent company of MTV, as part of the channel's new gaming division, MTV Games. With the separation of powers, Activision took over publishing for Guitar Hero, and brought in Tony Hawk developer, Neversoft, to develop future entries, which included a port of GH II for the then recently released Xbox 360, a GH II expansion for the PS2 called Rock the 80s, and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, and even the Wii. Meanwhile, Harmonix, and its new corporate overloads began work on a spiritual successor/rival for guitar hero, that expanded the concept even further to include bass, drums, and vocals, creating a full on band. Guitar Hero III released to massive critical and commercial success, taking everything about the originals and perfecting them to a T with a new interface, a legendary song list, and some of the best note charting in its genre. At the time, it became the most profitable game of all time, no doubt helped by the sales of its guitar hardware split between four different versions.


Around that same time, Harmonix's Rock Band debuted to equal acclaim. Despite some initial hardware problems, along with the delays and feature gimps of the PS2 and WIi versions, it never the less proved to be a solid Guitar Hero alternative. It was obvious looking at Rock Band that the game was going for a very different approach than its rival. Particularly with the Neversoft games, Guitar Hero was fast and arcade-like, delivering the cartoonish, romanticized fantasy of playing a guitar with its abundance of hammer-on notes and heavy metal songs, much in the same way Tony Hawk's Pro Skater did for Skateboarding. Rock Band however, was much more grounded in its gameplay, focusing less on outlandish metal and guitar solos, and more on classic rock music and realistic note charting, feeling more like a simulator than a power-fantasy.

The two series would go head to head for the next several years, with Guitar Hero aping more and more features from Rock Band in an attempt to replicate its success, while Rock Band chugged along making improvements with each entry. Then... Oversaturating occurred while MTV and Harmonix stuck to their roots in Rock Band, Activision was intent on milking Guitar Hero with an abundance of unneeded side-games and spin-offs nobody really asked for. DJ Hero, Band Hero, Guitar Hero Mobile. All the while sales began to dwindle as the reality of having new hardware with each yearly release started to become ridiculous.

Both Activision and MTV pulled the plug on their series in 2011, with Viacom eventually selling off Harmonix that same year. The absence of Guitar Hero and Rock Band effectively killed peripheral-based music games for a while, as Ubisoft's Just Dance series slid in to become a surprise hit thanks to the use of the Wii Remote, which a majority of the game playing population already owned, no need to buy an expensive controller to play it. Meanwhile, Harmonix went on to make Dance Central, an Xbox 360 game designed around the Kinect sensor, which worked with other games as well, compared to the single purpose guitar and drum controllers of Rock Band. Guitar Hero and Rock Band stayed dormant until 2015, when they were revived with brand new games.


While Rock Band 4 very much stayed true to its roots, Guitar Hero Live completely changed up its franchise, for better or worse. The new Guitar controller does away with the color coded frets in favor of two rows of three black and white keys on the top and bottom of the neck. The 3D graphics were replaced with first person FMV sets, and a new feature, Guitar Hero TV let players play live-streamed music videos of hundreds of songs. Guitar Hero Live was met with mixed reception from fans, with the common complaint being that it just wasn't Guitar Hero. The re-vamped gameplay, cheesy FMVs, and inclusion of songs that had nothing to do with guitar playing did more to annoy GH fans rather than please them, and with GH TV discontinued, the game doesn't really offer much value anymore.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band are a phenomenon that sadly, I don't think will ever be replicated again. Making a game designed around a special proprietary controller? That's easy to do when you're a platform holder like Nintendo, who can design hardware and software in tandem with each other. But doing that as a third party publisher releasing for multiple consoles is much more difficult, as it requires you to tailor the buttons and inputs for each version of the game, on top of Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft having to certify your controllers so they can actually work on their systems. That reality eventually took a toll on GH and RB with them being on a yearly release schedule. I think a hardware based music game can do well today. But not with anywhere near the ubiquity and massive success that GH and RB had.
 
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Darklor01

Might need to stop sniffing glue
Jan 28, 2012
7,013
4,497
1,115
Having begun my play on XBOX 360 and having my songs locked to the XBOX eco system, yet I mostly play on Playstation these days means that I just don't spend money on a series I loved and could potentially still love to play.

I really wish they'd unify the collections. I'd go buy Playstation instruments so I could play on either manufacturer's system and dump some money into the music I love and loved from back in the day.
 

Bridges

Formerly 'Snuggle Bubbler'
Nov 15, 2016
669
972
565
USA
Love these series, still play Rock Band to this day and pick up the DLC whenever there's something I'm interested in.
Rock Band 4 has its flaws but it was well supported and eventually patched into a worthy successor to Rock Band 3, Harmonix was really ahead of the curve with the GAAS model and imo still does it better than the majority of devs that try it today.

I wanted to like Guitar Hero Live more than I did, the change of controller layout was kinda interesting since it made you have to relearn how to play, but the tracklist was extremely weak, all the good songs were on GHTV which got shut down way too early, and the idea of playing "stations" instead of choosing your songs was better on paper than in practice, plus the lack of full band play felt like a big step back, the addition of drums was one of the best parts of Rock Band/the later GH entries.

It seems like these games don't get much love here, but I will forever be nostalgic of the long nights spent on Rock Band and Guitar Hero back in their prime, there really isn't anything else out there that has recaptured that.
 
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AJUMP23

Member
Sep 29, 2020
2,479
2,665
415
I like Rock Band more than Guitar Hero. I still play Rock Band 4 at times with my kids. Harmonix selling Guitar Hero so they could make Rock Band was a stroke of genius.
 

D.Final

Banned
Oct 18, 2018
5,111
2,779
620
The late 2000s was the peak of hardware based music and rhythm games. Sure, the genre had been around for a few years by this point. Whether it'd be the dance mats of Dance Dance Revolution, the failed US releases of Japanese favorites, Beatmania, and Taiko Drum Master, or the DK Bongos of Donkey Konga. But the craze of jamming out to popular songs on plastic instruments exploded in popularity with the birth of one series, Guitar Hero.


Released in 2005 as a PlayStation 2 exclusive, Guitar Hero was a project born out of a deal between publisher Red Octane, a hardware maker known for making the dance mats for the console versions of DDR. And developer Harmonix, hot off the heels its previous rhythm games, Frequency and Amplitude for the PS2. After their last two games were met with a niche audience rather than the wide appeal Sony had hoped for, Harmonix took the lessons learned from Frequency and Amplitude, and applied them to a new project that Red Octane approached them with. A music game designed around a prototype guitar controller the company had in development. Harmonix learned from its previous failures that audiences don't really relate to abstract imagery and trippy music, so they saw the device as a perfect opportunity for a music game with more mass market appeal. Implementing mechanics based on real guitar playing, and covers of retro and modern rock hits, Guitar Hero released to critical acclaim, many hailing it as one of the best PS2 games of the year, with its simple yet surprisingly deep gameplay, giving gamers the feeling of being a guitarist, even if they didn't know a damn thing about playing a real guitar. With a new hit on their hands, Red Octane and Harmonix released a sequel just one year later, improving upon everything from the original in just about every way.

With Guitar Hero starting to catch on, there was money to be made. Shortly after the release of Guitar Hero II in 2006, Activision, known for the Call of Duty and Tony Hawk series, acquired series publisher, Red Octane, folding its operations into the company. Around the same time, Harmonix was purchased by Viacom, Inc., the parent company of MTV, as part of the channel's new gaming division, MTV Games. With the separation of powers, Activision took over publishing for Guitar Hero, and brought in Tony Hawk developer, Neversoft, to develop future entries, which included a port of GH II for the then recently released Xbox 360, a GH II expansion for the PS2 called Rock the 80s, and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, and even the Wii. Meanwhile, Harmonix, and its new corporate overloads began work on a spiritual successor/rival for guitar hero, that expanded the concept even further to include bass, drums, and vocals, creating a full on band. Guitar Hero III released to massive critical and commercial success, taking everything about the originals and perfecting them to a T with a new interface, a legendary song list, and some of the best note charting in its genre. At the time, it became the most profitable game of all time, no doubt helped by the sales of its guitar hardware split between four different versions.


Around that same time, Harmonix's Rock Band debuted to equal acclaim. Despite some initial hardware problems, along with the delays and feature gimps of the PS2 and WIi versions, it never the less proved to be a solid Guitar Hero alternative. It was obvious looking at Rock Band that the game was going for a very different approach than its rival. Particularly with the Neversoft games, Guitar Hero was fast and arcade-like, delivering the cartoonish, romanticized fantasy of playing a guitar with its abundance of hammer-on notes and heavy metal songs, much in the same way Tony Hawk's Pro Skater did for Skateboarding. Rock Band however, was much more grounded in its gameplay, focusing less on outlandish metal and guitar solos, and more on classic rock music and realistic note charting, feeling more like a simulator than a power-fantasy.

The two series would go head to head for the next several years, with Guitar Hero aping more and more features from Rock Band in an attempt to replicate its success, while Rock Band chugged along making improvements with each entry. Then... Oversaturating occurred while MTV and Harmonix stuck to their roots in Rock Band, Activision was intent on milking Guitar Hero with an abundance of unneeded side-games and spin-offs nobody really asked for. DJ Hero, Band Hero, Guitar Hero Mobile. All the while sales began to dwindle as the reality of having new hardware with each yearly release started to become ridiculous.

Both Activision and MTV pulled the plug on their series in 2011, with Viacom eventually selling off Harmonix that same year. The absence of Guitar Hero and Rock Band effectively killed peripheral-based music games for a while, as Ubisoft's Just Dance series slid in to become a surprise hit thanks to the use of the Wii Remote, which a majority of the game playing population already owned, no need to buy an expensive controller to play it. Meanwhile, Harmonix went on to make Dance Central, an Xbox 360 game designed around the Kinect sensor, which worked with other games as well, compared to the single purpose guitar and drum controllers of Rock Band. Guitar Hero and Rock Band stayed dormant until 2015, when they were revived with brand new games.


While Rock Band 4 very much stayed true to its roots, Guitar Hero Live completely changed up its franchise, for better or worse. The new Guitar controller does away with the color coded frets in favor of two rows of three black and white keys on the top and bottom of the neck. The 3D graphics were replaced with first person FMV sets, and a new feature, Guitar Hero TV let players play live-streamed music videos of hundreds of songs. Guitar Hero Live was met with mixed reception from fans, with the common complaint being that it just wasn't Guitar Hero. The re-vamped gameplay, cheesy FMVs, and inclusion of songs that had nothing to do with guitar playing did more to annoy GH fans rather than please them, and with GH TV discontinued, the game doesn't really offer much value anymore.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band are a phenomenon that sadly, I don't think will ever be replicated again. Making a game designed around a special proprietary controller? That's easy to do when you're a platform holder like Nintendo, who can design hardware and software in tandem with each other. But doing that as a third party publisher releasing for multiple consoles is much more difficult, as it requires you to tailor the buttons and inputs for each version of the game, on top of Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft having to certify your controllers so they can actually work on their systems. That reality eventually took a toll on GH and RB with them being on a yearly release schedule. I think a hardware based music game can do well today. But not with anywhere near the ubiquity and massive success that GH and RB had.
So nostalgic