Tuesday, August 26, 2008

(rockband.com) PAX and Tour Challenges

We'll be at PAX this week! If you're there, be sure to come and say hi to us at the booth, and/or come to our 90 minute panel of awesomeness.

On that topic: It has come to my attention however that "big name" gaming celebrities always make these outrageous claims and stunts in order to get press time from the gaming blogs. Therefore, as a D-list gaming celebrity who's trying to make sure that Team Harmonix isn't talking to an empty room on Saturday, I am making the following proclamations:

* I challenge Kotaku's Mike Fahey, Wired's Chris Kohler, and Destructoid's Nick Chester to an arm wrestle. Mike is allowed to substitute for Crecente if he can't make it, but in that case I'm allowed to take my elbow off the table and Brian isn't - Crecente looks like he works out, so I need any advantage I can get.

* I challenge 2K Boston's Ken Levine, Epic's Cliff Bleszinski, and Hothead Games' James Mouat to a thumb wrestle, to determine once and for all the title "Best Designer with a Right Thumb". If multiple designers accept the challenge, I will do 2v1.

* I challenge any members of the Guitar Hero: World Tour, SingStar, and Rock Revolution development teams to a manly hug/complement off. First person to pull away or stall on a compliment loses.

The only condition - the challenge needs to take place immediately after the "History of Harmonix" panel finishes up. If you don't show up, I win by default. If you've been served and want to bring it, then give me a yell ahead of time so that I can put myself into intensive arm/thumb/hug/compliment training.

And now, your regularly scheduled programming: Tour Challenges


When we started developing Rock Band 2, we had a bunch of goals for progression:

* We wanted to update Solo Tour. Progression is an important part of playing the on-disc songs, but the whole "play a list of songs" is stale, and World Tour is more focused on exploration than progression.

* We wanted to include DLC into the campaign mode. At the end of the year we'll have over 500 songs for people to play, and we wanted to integrate it properly, not just as a "Downloaded Songs" list.

* We wanted to solve the problem of people getting stuck on one song and not progressing (Freyaism/Reaperism). Just because I suck on one song out of 84 doesn't mean I'm not good enough to play the final songs.

* We also wanted to make sure every song played during the progression was the best for that instrument. Singing "So Watcha Want" is an awesome experience, but playing bass on it isn't as good as playing some of the other bass songs. At the same time, everyone should be able to play every song - mode-exclusive songs suck.

After messing around with different ideas, we came up with Tour Challenges!

In the Tour Challenge mode, players play increasingly difficult sets of songs known as "Challenges", represented as your band's discography.

Unlike Solo Tour in Rock Band, Tour Challenges follow a tree structure rather than a linear path - beating a challenge unlocks multiple other challenges for you to beat. This way, you are never 'stuck' on a song when progressing, since they can jump around between various challenges.

Let's give a quick example. I start up Rock Band 2 for the first time on guitar (and with a friend on drums), and jump straight into tour challenges.

My first choice is to select the difficulty of the challenges that I want to play at. Since it's my first time, I only have the first tier of difficulty available to me: "Local Upstart". Jumping in, I see all of the "Local Upstart" challenges that are unlocked by default

Since I haven't played anything yet, I have four options available to
* "Band Warmups" - which is the 3 best easy band songs in the game
* "Fender Warmups" - which is the 3 best easy guitar songs in the game
* "Drum Warmups" - ...3 best easy drum songs...

* "Vocal Warmups" - ...noticing a pattern here?

There are also some locked ones that we'll see more of in a minute.

Now, since I have a guitar and drum band, it means I can't play the "Vocal Warmups", since I need a vocalist to play those. I can, however, play the guitar, drum, and band challenges. Yes, that means you can have a friend on drums still help you out when you're playing the "guitar-specific" challenges! Let's play the guitar challenge!

Pretty simple, right? Well, if we beat this, we'll get three more challenges! Let's do it!

Like I mentioned in my last blog, you can pause and save your progress any time. So, if you need to leave before "New Kid in School", you can just save your position in the set and come back to it later.

Not this time though - we played through and won!

Note that we unlocked three new challenges that we can play in, just by playing one challenge!
* "The Guitar Apprentice" is the next level up of the "Guitar" challenges.
* "The Bass Apprentice" is the first challenge of the "Bass" campaign! Yep, you can go through and play a full bass campaign!
* "Warmup Marathon Part 1" is the first marathon challenge, and it's for people who want to play the game the old way - if you follow the "Warmup Marathon" path, you'll play all 84 disc songs in a single path. Note that you don't have to play these at all, because Tour Challenges lets you pick and choose the songs and challenges you play to get up to the top.

If I had any easy DLC on my console, these challenges would also show up!

Oh, and hey, I've unlocked another tier! I now have 15 challenges I can choose between to decide how I'm going to progress. They aren't just instrument based, either. Take this screenshot from a few blogs back...

* "'00s Hits" are the 5 best songs from the '00s in one challenge. Playing this unlocks...
* "Infinite '00s Challenge". This is EVERY song that was released this decade, regardless of whether it was on disc or DLC.

The cool thing about this is that it grows and shrinks with your library. If I beat this challenge, then buy "Girls Who Play Guitars" by Maximo Park, the challenge acts as if I saved and resumed just before that song was added. Essentially, I can re-complete this challenge just by playing that song.

This same system also applies for genre - you could have a "New Wave Challenge" that opens up into an "Infinite New Wave Challenge".

* "Touring Harmonix Bands Challenge" is one of the three challenges that the Harmonix Bands are in in Tour Challenges. We've broken them up into three categories: Breaking (which includes bands like Speck), Touring (which includes bands that are on tour right now, like Bang Camaro), and Impossible (which includes the abolutely ridiculous song "Visions" by Abnormality).

* "The Who Challenge" is a DLC artist challenge. This appeared because I have some Who DLC on my Xbox (which, frankly, you all should have).
New DLC challenges show up in this order:
- If you've purchased three or more songs from an album, an album challenge shows up ("Screaming For Vengeance Album Challenge")
- If you've purchased three or more songs from an artist, an artist challenge shows up ("The Nine Inch Nails Challenge")
- If you've purchased a pack of multiple different artists, a pack challenge shows up ("(Arguably) Punk Pack 01 Challenge")

* "Harmonix Rock Band Tracks Challenge" is a challenge comprised of all the Harmonix bands from the Rock Band 1 disc. When you export your Rock Band 1 disc, challenges are added into Rock Band 2 for those songs, based on the groupings that they had in Rock Band 1.

Oh, and one last thing - Tour Challenges give away "Ultimate" outfits if you play a specific path all the way to the end. These outfits are things that are so amazing, that we couldn't attach a price to them or justify selling them in the store.

One that we've talked about is the live snake, which you get for beating one of the Impossible Tour Challenges:

One that we haven't talked about is the assless chaps. I won't spoil what you get this for.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

(rockband.com) Early Blog this week!

By popular forum request, I present some interesting Rock Band 2 song
statistics! Hooray!

First Songs
* For all but vocals, the first song in the game is "Eye of the Tiger".
This is because it is awesome.
* For vocals, it's "Pretend We're Dead".
* The easiest Harmonix song is "Conventional Lover" by Speck. Honestly
though, it's not about how easy it is, it's how you play it.

Final Songs
* "Painkiller" is the final band and guitar song by difficulty.
* "Panic Attack" is the final drum and bass song by difficulty.
* "Tangled Up in Blue" is the final vocal song by difficulty.
* The hardest Harmonix song is "Visions" by Abnormality.

Full Ranking List
* ...is going to be coming out through the gaming press very soon. Stay

Other Stats
* The shortest song is "Hello There" by Cheap Trick, with a running
time of 1:37. Coincidentally, it was also the most played song at E3.
* While "Teen Age Riot" has the most guitar notes at 3,316 notes, the
majority are chords. "Panic Attack" has the most individually strummed
or HOPO'ed notes, with 2,767 - "Teen Age Riot" only has 1,824.
* As of right now the highest scoring band in Rock Band 2 is "Dogs of
the A.M.S.", a band comprised of OXM reviewers. Nice work, OXM!
* The band with the highest amount of fans, however, is "Empty
Theatrics", a band comprised of GameInformer reviewers. Do I sense an
impending Battle of the Bands face-off?

And finally, to the people in the NeoGAF thread who were wondering why I
don't post there - I'd love to post on your forum, but the admins
haven't approved me to post. If you have any questions, you can post
them here in the meantime and I'll try and work them into some blog

Next week, PAX!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

(rockband.com) Q&A, part 2

I'm writing this short blog from home, since I'm taking some vacation time this week. Is this a good sign for how close Rock Band 2 is to completion? Maybe!

Besides sitting at home relaxing to the Penny Arcade game, Braid and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, I'm also preparing for a bunch of external stuff leading up to Rock Band 2's release:

* A bunch of us will be at the Boston Gameloop next weekend, talking about Rock Band 2 development. Unfortunately the first one is industry-only, but hopefully a good turnout will open it up for everyone else in Boston. If you're in the industry, you should definitely show up and hear us ramble about the game.

* Another bunch of us are going to Leipzig. Good for those people! If you're able to go, you should go!

* The more attractive and awesome people are going to PAX! We're going to have a similar setup for Rock Band 2 to what we had last year, but the cool thing is that we've been given a 90 minute panel to talk about Harmonix and everything we've done in the last 12 years or so. We'll have a wide spread of people there (me included) so if you have any questions to ask us that we've been avoiding on the forums, this is the place to ask! If you can't make it but have questions that you want me to try and slip whoever is MC'ing, then post in the comments and I'll see what I can do. We may even have a special announcement or two!

* A bunch of us may or may not be hanging out on the night of release to say hello to fans. We're still figuring out what retailers are doing what, but it's a safe bet that if there's a store near Boston that's doing a midnight release, we'll be there. More details soon...


More Q&A:


Q: "How does the autocalibrate work for surround sound systems? Or will it work by putting the
guitar up to any one of the 6 speakers?"

A: Ideally, you'd hold it up to one of the front speakers just to be safe, but yeah - just hold it up to the speaker and press the green fret, and you're done!


Q: "so you can play [automatically generated] Challenges, without having all the songs in the Challenge, ie The Who Challenge, without the entire pack (But why would you not have the entire pack?)"

A: That's right! There's a bunch of reasons why you might not have all of the songs by an artist that have been released:
* You might have bought them as singles instead of a big pack (for example, you buy 4 Who tracks instead of the 12-pack, then buy another track)
* They might be mixed across multiple sources (for example, you could have a Rush Challenge with "Tom Sawyer" from RB1, "The Trees" from RB2, and "Working Man" as a DLC track)

Basically, the setlist for the challenge will be automatically determined by the songs that you have on your console. You add more songs for that category, artist, or album, and they'll be added to the challenge!


Q: "Is there going to be a way to see who owns what songs on the song list in RB2? It's a pain sometimes when you find out that you've bought a song, and one of your other/2/3 friend[s] doesn't have this song. You don't know who to yell at and force them to download songs outside of their genre and belittle them."

A: Yep! If you select the song in the song select list, you'll be given a list of players that don't have the song so you can guilt them into purchasing more songs.


Q: "Another small question, but I won't ask this one every time, but if and when you go over Battle of the Bands I just want to know if most if not all challenges you will be able to do by yourself. Like if you have a solo band, will you be able to take your solo singer and do challenges like Any Way You Sing It, and then go to your solo guitaristand do the Ace of Spades Streak Battle."

A: Yep - we'll have battles geared all the way from full-band family friendly to single instrument hardcore rock-offs. On top of that, we have different metrics besides score that we can use to level the playing field regardless of skill level or number of players. Also, any character can play any instrument, so your solo singer can also be a solo guitarist just by changing your controller.


Q: HMX does RB2 have a high score list for any given song. Local I mean; not like a leaderboard.

A: It sure does! RB2 will record your scores both locally and online, with the added bonus that it will update your online scores with your offline local scores when you reconnect to Rock Central.

Friday, August 1, 2008

(rockband.com) Rock Band 2 Small Stuff

We've got a bunch of really good "big" things coming up through the
press, but I realised today that nobody has talked about the little
things that make Rock Band 2 a really polished and fun experience! So,
let's check out some of the small stuff that most reviewers will miss:

New Manual Calibration

Sure, our new autocalibration is great and means that you don't have to
do anything to get a perfect number besides "hold up your guitar", but
what if you don't want to buy the new Fender Stratocaster? Well, we've
made revisions for you too!

There's no more trying to line up a click with a target - just strum
when you hear clicks, then strum when the metronome hits the ends, and
you'll have an accurate number. It's definitely simpler than Rock Band's
system, and it produces far more accurate results, although I still
highly recommend autocalibrating since it'll give you a perfect number.

We've completely overhauled Matchmaking to "party safe" the game as well
as support some cool things for online world tour.

The biggest win is that you can't just mash into a slot and past
matchmaking, or mash out of matchmaking. When you're able to progress,
you need to press START to continue past the matchmaking screen. Hitting
Green will just help you make a noise to annoy those around you. Plus,
if you're mashing back, you'll be required to confirm that you want to
leave the session and kick everyone out.

The cooler part of this is that in Online World Tour, people can join your band
whenever you're preparing to rock! So, if you're in the Rock Shop and
your friend wants to join, you don't have to do anything - they'll just
select your band name and instantly join your session, without you
having to go back to Matchmaking and send an invite.

Tour Challenge Pausing and Resuming
We'll be talking more about the Tour Challenges incredibly soon, but
there's one cool feature that most people will miss when they're playing
through the first time.

Say I'm in the middle of a five song set, but I can't finish the third
song. Or, even worse, I can finish it but I have to leave the house!
Whatever shall I do?!

Well, you can save your progress in the set and come back to it later!
You'll be able to tell which sets you're in progress with a subtle
finish that we add to those albums:

This also applies to any dynamic challenges, like "The Who Challenge" in
this screenshot that exists because of my purchasing of some Who tracks.
In this screenshot I've finished the challenge, but if I was to then
purchase a new The Who song, this challenge would change to "In
Progress" and I'd need to play the new song to finish it again!

In this screenshot, see if you can pick out any of the other Tour
Challenge stuff that we'll talk about more later! There's at least two
things that you may not have already known.


One of the biggest feature requests we recieved was asking for the
ability to assign the people that played on stage with you when you
weren't playing in a full band. We've added this to Rock Band 2, and
called them "Stand-Ins".

Take this screenshot here. "Bikini Tiny Little Monkeys" is my band that
I'm using to play through on Rock Band 2 right now, and I've created a
bandmate called "Megan" that I play with. However, I wanted to make
another character that is always on vocals, since I don't like it when
my vocalist always changes.

So, I created "Carrie", then assigned her as my Stand-in vocalist! Now,
whenever I play, both Megan and Carrie are on stage rocking out
together! If someone wanted to come and sing with me for real, Carrie
would take a back seat to the new band member.

Profile Changes

Just a couple of quick things:

We now track a Career Score (which is disc only), and a Total Score
(which includes DLC)

We also want to encourage as people creating band logos as possible,
since they represent your band in modes like Battle of the Bands. What
better way than achievement points!

While we're on achievments: Yes, we know that the Tug of War and Score
Duel streak achievements are a pain to get. We've drastically changed
how we're handling this in Rock Band 2. Maybe we'll be talking about the
rest of our achievements very soon somewhere?


Oh, and one more thing: