Rock Band 2 Interview: Josh Drake, Harmonix
The Rock Band developer talks compatibility and competition, and dishes some dirt before its game squares up against Activision's Guitar Hero World Tour.
Autumn is upon us and the summer music tours and festivals are coming to an end, but for music fans, there's still a lot of rocking left to do. Starting in September, EA and Activision will release the latest iterations in their duelling music games. The competition between the two publishing giants couldn't be tougher.
With bellwether Guitar Hero: World Tour not scheduled for release until the end of October, Rock Band 2, released this weekend in the US, will have the stage all to itself. Among the several new features promised is a new drum kit that keeps up with the Joneses by adding up to three cymbals.
Josh Drake, PR coordinator at Harmonix, stressed to Kikizo in a recent interview that the company has given much thought to the best way for people to have only the plastic instruments they want in their living rooms. Drake, a drummer for 17 years, said that making the cymbals an optional add-on was "a really cool feature, a cool way to let fans to get what they want rather than forcing cymbals down their throat."
That's good news, because, let's be honest, once you start expanding your gear, the bottom line starts to grow violently.
"We realize that it's an expensive game," Drake said. "So if people don't have the money to buy it right away or they're not sure about buying it, we want to make sure it's compatible with everything. Again, people should have choice. We're all about choice. I would love to hear what Kai [Huang of RedOctane, appearing in a forthcoming exclusive Kikizo interview] has to say about stuff. We used to work really closely with them. We've got no beef with Red Octane."
One problem buyers of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band have struggled with is the limited cross-compatibility of instruments. For its part, Harmonix is adamant that it's doing all it can.
Drake called the situation a "kerfuffle", adding: "I mean it's not officially official, but you saw Sony saying that all PS3 instruments will be compatible, on their blog the other day, and we were like, 'Oh, good. That's what we want.' So hopefully that ends up being true. Again, the ball's not a hundred percent in our court, like we've always said, our doors are always open to anyone who wants to work with us."
Perhaps a bigger question though is one of necessity. Despite their differences, Rock Band and Guitar Hero are very similar games - a necessary remnant of their shared development by Harmonix. Is there really enough room for both games? "I think there is," Drake said. "The biggest thing for us in respect to that is we always said we wanted cross-compatibility for instruments."
Rock Band, the newer of the pair, is starting to distance itself from Guitar Hero, particularly in the breadth of its playlist. Harmonix is proud of the track list it has managed to pull together and it is waiting to see whether its rivals can come close to matching it.
"It just comes down to music for us," Drake said. "Frankly, our play list is already published, you already know what's on our set list for our fans here. We said five hundred songs by holiday, with the downloadable content. I have hope other people can put out great content and have some cool bands that we haven't gotten yet, that they're willing to shell out the money for or whatever it ends up being.
"But frankly it's like, 'Are you going to catch us?' Because we have five hundred songs. That's a lot of music. So good luck to them, and to everybody. It could happen."
Rock Band 2 is out for Xbox 360 on 14 September in the US, with versions for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and Wii to follow in October.
For more music game news, check out our exclusive interview with Kai Huang, president and co-founder of RedOctane, coming soon.