Interview

INTERVIEW: Harmonix’s Nick Chester Answers Our Questions About ‘Rock Band 4’

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In less than two months, the Rock Band franchise is returning for a reunion tour of sorts with Rock Band 4.

After developing the original Guitar Hero back in 2005, Harmonix went on to develop Rock Band, a music game that incorporated singing and drumming along with the guitar gameplay they revolutionized for Guitar Hero. After branching out to dancing games with the Dance Central series for Kinect, Harmonix has decided that the time is right to get the band back together.

Recently, we had the chance to talk with Nick Chester, PR & Communications Lead for Harmonix on what we could expect from Rock Band 4 when it releases in October. While some of it is still under wraps, he opens up about new gameplay inclusions for the game and clarifies on which previously bought songs gamers will be able to transfer over.

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It has been almost five years since the last, proper Rock Band title. Do you think that there is still a space for these kind of titles? Alternatively, do you think that previous fans have a sort of nostalgia for these games?

We absolutely think there’s space and a market for games like Rock Band; we wouldn’t be making one otherwise! But in all seriousness, the Rock Band franchise has continued to have a faithful fanbase of active players, even long after we shipped “American Pie,” which was the final piece of Rock Band 3 DLC… until we surprised everyone by releasing more earlier this year!

Truly, we believe that the love of music and the feeling that “playing” music gives you, particularly with your friends, is not a fad. It’s an important experience, and it’s one that you simply cannot have on current-generation consoles right now. There’s an empty space there; there’s no experience currently like Rock Band on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. So far, the response has been really positive, so we think we’re on to something!

Rock Band 3 was a huge step forward for the series, taking the three-part harmonies from The Beatles: Rock Band and bringing them into the main series. It also brought in the Keyboard, which allowed for all new gameplay and added in Pro Mode. Are these going to be making a return to Rock Band 4?

Rock Band 3 was a great game, but when the team went back and looked at it, it was obvious that it was kind of sprawling. It’s jam packed with features, some of which are amazing, but not all of them actually amounted to a better experience, in retrospect. The key for us with Rock Band 4 is focus, really building on and perfecting the stuff that matters to the most players.

We’re super proud of the work we did to develop the keyboard peripheral and the associated gameplay. Same for the Pro Guitar; that was an incredible design challenge, on both the software and the hardware side. The reality is, what we found is that most people gravitated towards the core experience of the series – the bass, the guitar, the drums, and vocals. So we’re focused on making that experience the best it has ever been in Rock Band 4.

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What are some of the new gameplay inclusions that Harmonix has created to change up each of the instruments?

Two in particular are very exciting to me – Freestyle Vocals and Freestyle Guitar Solos. Both of these features speak to one of the key tenets of Rock Band 4, and that’s personal expression, putting your own stamp on music. That’s what musicians do when they play, they express themselves, they go off script, they make choices. With beat match gameplay, it’s really about playing what you see, what you hear, and doing what we tell you to do. That’s super fun, but we’re excited to add new features that allow players to “color outside the lines,” so to speak.

Starting with the vocals, the way it’s always been in the past is that we’d judge the player based on how closely they were singing the song as it was recorded, matching that pitch and that melody exactly. But that’s really not how people sing, particularly rock singers who are in the moment and really like to let loose. With Freestyle Vocals, when you’re playing on Hard or Expert, singers can make choices with the notes they sing, create their own melodies and get scored on it; as long as it’s in the key of the song, they won’t get penalized. This totally changes the experience of singing in Rock Band and makes it a much more exciting, dynamic experience.

With the guitar, we’ve designed completely new gameplay around guitar solos that we called Freestyle Guitar Solos. Here, we actually turn the entire guitar peripheral into an instrument that players can use to craft really amazing, intricate guitar solos with no musical knowledge needed. While this is improvised freestyle play, it’s also scored, with completely new gameplay built around it. It’s both challenging and satisfying, and really expands on the whole “guitar god” fantasy we honed in on with the original guitar gameplay design. We’re really excited for people to try it out.

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The main campaign of Rock Band has been described as being a musical RPG. Can you give us some details of how the campaign will work?

We’re not really saying too much about the campaign right now, but we think it’s one of the most ambitious campaigns yet, filled with some cool, fun surprises. We can’t wait for people to start bands with their friends and family and start a Rock Band career on their new consoles… we just don’t want to give too much away right now!

One thing that kept a large number of players coming back to prior Rock Band games was the fact that there was weekly DLC for the main entry titles. Are there still plans on bringing that structure back for Rock Band 4?

Absolutely, we plan to support Rock Band 4 with new music after release! It’s core to how we view the series, which is as a growing platform.

Another major point that Rock Band previously had was the Rock Band Network, the system that allowed for music creators to bring their music into Rock Band. Are there any plans on bringing that system back?

We don’t have plans to bring Rock Band Network back at launch; we’ll see what happens in the future!

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One huge selling point for Rock Band 4 is that Harmonix is working to bring all previously downloaded content, including the on disc content from previous games. There were some previous songs, however, that due to some licensing issues were unavailable, namely the Metallica songs. Are those songs going to make their way back into Rock Band 4 or are those licensing issues still present?

We’re always working with our music partners to get as much music to our fans as we can, but we don’t have anything to share about specific licenses right now.

The prior games had a huge number of songs in them right on the disc. While you’ve said that exporting songs from Rock Band 3 to Rock Band 4 won’t be available at launch, are there any plans to make these songs, or any other on disc songs, available as DLC? This could be a huge issue since, as of this writing, a new copy of the PS3 version of Rock Band goes for over $80 on Amazon.

Nothing is off the table, but for launch, we don’t currently plan to support the Rock Band 3 soundtrack. Stay tuned!

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Are the spin off games, like Green Day Rock Band, Lego Rock Band and Rock Band Blitz going to be able to be exported to Rock Band 4?

Yes! That was an easy one.

Finally, what are your favorite songs to play in any Rock Band game?

Anything that gets the room singing!

Thanks for your time, Nick!

Rock Band 4 is scheduled to release on Xbox One and PS4 on October 6, 2015.

You can check out the game’s official website for more information and stay tuned to Pixel Related for the latest on the game up until its launch.

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