Monday, July 21, 2008

( E3 Round-up

Last week, a troupe of Harmonix staff descended on the LA Convention Center to show everyone Rock Band 2. Frankly, we were blown away by the response - we were nominated for a swath of "Best of Show" awards, which is insane considering the strength of titles that I'll be lining up for on Day 1 like Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead.

(Derek Enos, Harware Engineer, shows off our nominee badges from IGN)

Unfortunately, you couldn't make it. That's okay though, I'll summarise the half-hour presentation that we gave to press during E3!

* We showed off the new Quickplay interface that I detailed out last week.

* We also detailed out the hardware options. While we've covered a lot of the big features in the instruments (autocalibration in the new guitars, expandability in the new drums), there were some specifics that came up during our demos:
- You can plug in three additional cymbals and an additional pedal to give you the same amount of inputs as a real drum kit.
- For those of you who've moved kits around, the kick pedal no longer falls off when you move the kit!
- There are also guidelines engraved onto the drum legs to help you perfectly balance your kit.
- The ION kit uses standard 1/4in jacks to plug into the Rock Band brains that come with the kit. This means that you can plug these surfaces into any other real drum gear, like the Alesis DM5 that we had on stage at E3.

* Battle of the Bands is our flagship feature in Rock Band 2. This isn't just 4v4 - in the words of PR Coordinator John Drake, "four versus four is what I like to call a band sissyfight in the parking lot after a gig". Instead, this is your band battling against your entire friends list, then once you're the #1 friend, the entire world!
- We're going to be adding new content to Battle of the Bands daily.
- Battles are only up for a certain amount of time - from a few hours up to multiple weeks.
- We have different ways to judge battles, like "longest streak" or "highest star count"
- We have full control of special rules like "No Overdrive" or "No Saviors"
- When you're playing, we show a meter kind of like the Tug of War meter that shows who's winning at any moment in time.
- If a friend's band beats you while you're offline, will send you an email letting you know that you've been beaten and that you need to reclaim your position!
- I'm going to write a blog post about this later on. Stay tuned!

(The members of "Friendly Sword Masters" prepare to battle against our evil nemesis "Spaaaaaace Hooker!")

* We talked about Tour Challenges but, again, I'm saving a lot of the details for another blog post.

* World Tour has a bunch of changes for Rock Band 2
- You can now hire staff to help your band! For example, you can hire an accountant to get more money or pay a street team to get you more fans!
- We've added a new feature called "Opportunity Gigs". Did you see the footage of Everlong with the trippy colors going off in the background? This was an Opportunity Gig where a music video director came up to the band and asked to record a music video with the band for more fans!
- You can now play it with 1-4 players, where any of those players is local or online
- You can choose the lineup of your band members that aren't playing. Want to make the ultimate nerd-metal band? Just make three characters and assign them to your band, and they'll show up even when you're the only one playing!
- Again, there's a bunch of big tweaky stuff that I'll save for another blog post, but the one I'll sneak out now to keep everyone happy - we've reworked how the fan system operates. There are no more times where you'll be blocked from getting fans, for example!

* We touched on the Drum Trainer and Jukebox Mode, but, yet again, bigger blog material.

* We have a new screen called "Game Modifiers". This screen has a bunch of options that allow you to change your game experience! The ones that were revealed at E3 were:
- "No Fail Mode". This disables failing out of a game, in case you want to play with people who aren't skilled enough to beat easy yet. Since we don't want it to be an exploit online, we also disable saving and achievements.
- "Breakneck Speed". By popular demand, we've added an option that increases the scroll speed of all tracks. Since we consider this a personal taste issue and not a game-changing exploit, we don't disable anything.

It was a pretty gruelling three days of interviews and parties, but the sheer amount of excitement from everyone who checked out the game was overwhelming. Now, we just need to finish the game!

(Kasson Crooker, Project Lead on Rock Band 2, takes one for the team to do an interview for Fuel TV)

And the one more thing: I played the Endless Setlist 2 last week. It took us 10 hours to beat all 84 songs on Expert.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

( Inside Rock Band 2 Quickplay

We're starting off small this week and checking out the new "Select Song" screen. Compared to Battle of the Bands or Online World Tour it's a less expansive feature, but the changes to quickplay greatly improve the Quickplay experience.

Let's check out what people will be seeing at E3 this week after they've checked out awesome stuff like Battle of the Bands, Music Videos and Tour Challenges - the Quickplay Song Select Screen:

So, as you can tell, we've used the Rock Band Music Store as a basis for our new screen. We've also added a bunch of new feaures based on the feedback we've recieved, as well as our own personal wants for easy song selection in Quickplay and "Make a Setlist" in our World Tour campaign mode:

As well as the nice album art and extended information about a song, we also show difficulty numbers!

This is per instrument, as well as the standard band difficulty ordering! This way, you can tell at a glance whether you'll need to drop down a difficulty level or not.


We actually have a bunch of different ways that you can create a setlist in Quickplay, all of them really easy to use:

The first one is a new option at the top of the setlist called "[Make a Setlist]". This works in a similar way to "Make a Setlist" in our World Tour campaign mode, however you can specify the number of songs you play!

If you just want to play some songs with one button press, we also let you play tiers as a setlist! With this, you play every song that is under that particular heading.


The shortcut menu has been massively beefed up since Rock Band. If you tap the "filter" button, you'll instantly jump to the next tier. However, if you hold it down, you'll get a navigatable menu of tiers!

This is especially handy for some of our new filtering modes, like "Sort by Location". If you want to get to your new DLC as quickly as possible, you can just move instantly to the "Downloaded Songs" tier.

We still have all of the sorting categories from the original Rock Band, but they've been tuned a bit. For example, if you sort by artist, the songs inside that artist will have subheadings that sort by album - which, yes, can be selected if you want to play that album as a setlist in Quickplay.

Naturally, all of this is supported for online bands too, but we've also added a "Round Robin" selection method so that everyone playing has a chance to pick a song. No more having to deal with leaders hogging the limelight.

We also now have a selection of "Session Musicians" that you can pick in Quickplay if you want to pick a character without spending time creating them!

This is on top of all of the other new matchmaking enhancements, which I'll cover later!


As you may have heard, we replaced the Solo Tour in Rock Band with Tour Challenges in Rock Band 2, which is a non-linear progression campaign mode. But what if you still really want to play all 84 songs in a linear list? Or even more so, what if you want to play all 200+ songs currently released in a linear campaign?

Well, one of the ways you can do this is in Quickplay! Whenever you play a song, regardless of mode*, we'll record your highest score and show it on the quickplay screen. Even better, this score is recorded both locally and online - so if you're playing without an internet connection, you can still record your highest scores, view them in the Leaderboards section of the game, and have them upload when you reconnect to Rock Central.

* There's an exception here for some Battle of the Bands events, because of a gameplay modifier that changes how scoring, streaks and overdrive works. More on that later.


This week's Q&A Question:

I understand the optional cymbals are just secondary inputs for the existing pads, but what about during fills and the "drum trainer" modes? Will those two things recognize the cymbals as unique inputs or will every part of RB2 just recognize the cymbal attachments as secondary pads?" - babywolf

A: While they're mapped to the same colors for the note charts, the Drum Trainer and fills in-game treat these surfaces are unique - hitting the yellow cymbal triggers a hi-hat, and hitting the yellow pad plays a tom. Same goes for all the inputs on the Ion kit and other third-party kits in development.


So that's the new Song Select list. You might not think it reading this blog, but this was one of the smaller features in Rock Band 2. Things like Tour Challenges and Battle of the Bands are absolutely massive, and I think you're going to be blown away by how much depth there is once you see them.

Oh, and for one more thing, here's a teaser for Tour Challenges: some art from two of the challenges you can play:

Friday, July 4, 2008

( Q&A Responses, Part 1

I wrote up this big post and took a lot of screenshots about one of our new features, and realised that I couldn't show it just yet because it relies on songs - and we hadn't officially announced any yet when I sent this off for approval. Awk-ward.

So, NEXT week you'll see that blog post, which will be good because I will be at E3 and usually wouldn't have time to do anything but a photoblog.

In the meantime, I've gone through the questions below and answered the ones that I'm allowed to talk about. Onto the questions!


Q: "If your Rock Band 2 instruments are better, if I wanted to switch disc over to play Run to the Hills or something can I use the new instruments?" - quinaking

A: Yes, all Rock Band instruments work on all Rock Band games for that platform, as well as any other music games that adhere to the controller standards.


Q: "Will there be any improvements on vocals? Will there still be talky parts, and, if so, will they be fixed or easier to hit than they were in RB1?" - Lady Sia..

A: Yes, on multiple fronts. We've improved the balance for pitched vocals, and completely rewritten the non-pitched talky detection. Rock Band 2 has drastically more reliable talky parts.


Q: "Well, I'm going to go on record that this "limited time XBOX360 exclusivity" is total bull crap. Who does this benifit?" - killerew..

A: This benefits both gamers and Harmonix. Microsoft have been awesome in supporting us and have actually helped out on some of these things by visiting us and working hand-in-hand on new platform features. They've been a great partner on everything from development to marketing, and some of the features in the game would not have been possible without them.

As well as this, the other platforms are coming out really soon after the Xbox 360 launch. Trust me, if you're an other platform owner, you'll be surprised at how little you have to wait.


Q: "I was wondering if you could create a code or a option to shut off the vocal pitch meter? Singing the song and making it "your own" would be a great idea and make an interesting addition to the game!!" - jd506

A: I can't talk about specific features until E3, but I think you'll be very happy with one of the new features in RB2 :)


Q: "Could you find Europe or Australia on a map? Only kidding. After the flamefest of the last European release hopefully you'll be more eager to talk about why there is a delay and such forth. So, why is there a delay and how long will it be?"

A: Trust me, I complain daily to everyone here about the release date in Australia (my home country). As soon as we can announce dates in other territories outside the US we will. Stay tuned for more info about this at E3! The window will be smaller this time around.


Q: "Cant wait for E3 and Harmonix's juicy details on Rock Band 2!" - Pamp

A: Me too! It means I can start posting screenshots and in-depth stuff.

As usual, if you have questions, post them below.

Oh, and one more thing for people having issues getting gold stars: The gold star score threshold is now easier to achieve in Rock Band 2. No more cursing at impossible deploy paths!