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Book Excerpt: Inside Game Design: Harmonix Music Systems
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Book Excerpt: Inside Game Design: Harmonix Music Systems

December 5, 2007 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[Below, Gamasutra presents an excerpt from Iain Simons' recent book, Inside Game Design, courtesy of publishers Laurence King. Filled with interviews and graphics that illustrate exactly how top minds approach the design question, the book offers a look at everything from little-known indies to massive success stories, as with the interview we reproduce a portion of below: Guitar Hero and Rock Band developers Harmonix.]

Harmonix Music Systems has a mission. Lots of videogame developers have them, but they are in most cases relatively non-specific intentions to make innovative, original and brilliant new videogames. Harmonix is rather more specific. MIT alumni Alex Rigopulos (CEO) and Eran Egozy (CTO) didn't even start the company to make videogames; their aim was "to create new ways for non-musicians to experience the unique joy that comes from making music."

The studio developed music-led interactive attractions for a variety of theme parks before moving into game production with the critically acclaimed Frequency in 2001.

Global recognition hit with the release of Guitar Hero in 2005. This perfectly executed title made rock stars of anyone who wanted to step up to the PlayStation and grasp the guitar controller the game shipped with. The coverage and acclaim the title received were extraordinary, and it was adopted into that hallowed (and small) group of titles that even people who don't like videogames are allowed to like.

Along with Buzz and Singstar, the videogame became a welcome addition to many a house party. It shared a lot with these titles, mainly the ability to bring about extraordinary transformations in whoever played it. The space in front of the television was transformed from being the place where you play the game to the place where you perform.

The design of Guitar Hero was led by emigrated Englishman Rob Kay, who discussed the experience of making the game over the phone.

How did [the Guitar Hero] project concept emerge?

RedOctane had been talking to Harmonix for a while. It was a rental company and then they made dance mats for DDR [Dance Dance Revolution]. It ended up selling a bundle of these dance mats and wanted to progress that side of its business. The company was interested in making a guitar game as they'd seen Guitar Freaks, which Konami had done. So they came to Harmonix with the request, "will you make us a great guitar game for our new piece of guitar hardware?"

The peripheral led the project?

Yes. At that time, Konami hadn't released Guitar Freaks in the US, and I don't think RedOctane had any particularly grand ambitions other than needing a game. Relatively speaking, it was a pretty low-budget game -- about a million dollars, which is pretty tiny as a game budget.

We had a team that had just been freed up, as we'd just finished AntiGrav. This seemed like an awesome project. Everyone here was really psyched to work on a rock guitar game; it really fitted in with people's interests here. No one had any notions about it being a massive success; we all just thought it would be fun to do.

 


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