Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Feature: Looking Back at the Rock Band Franchise

Back in September of 2009, I wrote an article on the state of the rhythm game genre, which was written prior to Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles: Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, Rock Band 3, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and Rocksmith being released.

That sentence in its own holds the real problem of why the rhythm genre died. In just a single span of a year we saw six music games being released for this generation's consoles. My conclusion from the article was that unless Publishers and Developers started to innovate their music titles, we would see an end to the rhythm game genre. As the years passed, this has become more evident as Guitar Hero was put on hiatus back in 2011 and Harmonix, the company behind the Rock Band series, released its last piece of weekly DLC on April 2, 2013.

Appropriately, the last song to be released for Rock Band was "American Pie" by Don McLean.

About a month ago, we had some friends come over and jam on Rock Band 3. Rock Band 3 is great because you can have up to seven people play at once:

  1. Three Singers
  2. One guitarist
  3. One bassist
  4. One drummer
  5. One keyboardist

Harmonix has released new songs every week for its Rock Band franchise since the Fall of 2007 and amassed a catalog of over 4000 songs. It is a crazy accomplishment when you think about it. My own personal Rock Band library has around 1400 songs and features the talents of The Doors, Queen, AC/DC, Metallica, Foo Fighters, The Black Keys and Carly Rae Jepsen. Rock Band is to this day my favourite game of all time. The reason being: it introduced me to music that was never on my radar and gave me a taste of what playing real instruments would be like. A few years after Rock Band came out; I invested in a drum kit and guitar and haven't stopped rocking since.

To put things in perspective, let us look back at my entry into the rhythm game genre.

Back in 2007 I was just a normal kid (using that term loosely) in college who was an avid gamer, but never really into music. I mean there were certain bands I liked at the time, but I never spent a lot of my time consumed by music. I remember back at E3 2007, Harmonix, the company who at that time had only Guitar Hero 1 and 2 under their belt, was showing off what its new title, "Rock Band."

Sidd and his girlfriend rock out!
I was amazed at what I saw: a group of four people on stage, each playing a different instrument and having what looked like an amazing amount of fun. From that point onwards, my foray into the rhythm genre began. I remember Christmas 2007, Rock Band and Guitar Hero 3 were both being released and at that time both games were almost impossible to come by.

I was 20 at that time and I remember calling every game store and I even remember running 5 kilometres on the snowy winter night to the closest Future Shop to find a copy of the game, but my attempts proved futile.

I remember that the local Mom and Pop game stores were price gouging and selling the Rock Band bundle for up to $800 at the time.

Shortly afterwards, I was finally able to locate a bundle at a nearby video store. A friend and I went to the video store, picked up the bundle and were mesmerized over what we were experiencing. There was something so cool about nailing those first few chords in "In Bloom" by Nirvana. As soon as Rock Band launched, Harmonix did what no company had ever done before, they started releasing weekly downloadable content (DLC) for the game. At first, the DLC packs consisted of only 3 songs and over time Harmonix was releasing full albums or large packs consisting of up to a dozen songs. Harmonix was a Developer that truly listened to the community and supported their titles by not only releasing weekly DLC for the past five and a half years, but also making all of your music compatible with future iterations of the game.

For the past five and a half years, the first thing did when I woke up on Friday mornings was to check the Rock Band message boards to see what songs would be released the following week.

I woke up on morning of Friday, April 5, 2013 and realized my routine for the past five and a half years was gone. There was something about waking up and feeling excited to see what next week had in store for Rock Band fans in addition the weekend being near. Now I just wake up and am only excited about the weekend. (First world problems, right?)

I understand that the music genre has not been as profitable as it once was and with the next generation of consoles on the horizon it is only sensible that developers will start shifting their attention to new infrastructure. It is with a fond farewell I graciously thank Harmonix for giving me so many great experiences over the past five years and for the years to come. Back to rocking!

- Siddharth Masand