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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 Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

When RedOctane came to you with the request for a guitar game, how much of the detail of the project plan and the peripheral detail was already in place?

Basically, there were a couple of third-party guitars out on the market already for Guitar Freaks. When it began there was no hardware of our own as such, so we used those third-party ones.

Our first port of call was to get the beat matching up and running using those. Our first visuals for that were like super-basic Pong-style graphics with white markers coming down the screen as the gems to match the guitar part [gem tracks/gem authoring: terminology used inside Harmonix to describe the beats on the tracks that the player has to hit.

These are visually represented as little circles or gems within the game; e.g., on expert difficulty there would be one gem for every note within the song. To create easier levels, notes are removed -- one gem for several notes].

It was pretty fun; the controller really was the kind of magic sauce for what we wanted to do. It's very difficult to make games attractive and accessible, and I'm sure that 90% of what draws people into Guitar Hero is that plastic guitar. They instantly say, "I get it! I pretend to be a guitarist!"

The popular rhythm action game Guitar Hero

Music is an easy shorthand for a lot of people.

It's a universal language. It makes it so much easier to make videogames reach out to more people.

Did you have a sense at that time of the visual stylings; the kind of cock-rock excesses you were going to be reaching for?

In our pre-production period, when we were doing the gameplay prototypes, we were also developing the art. Our art lead, Ryan Lesser, was very involved in the East Coast rock scene; he'd been involved in making posters for gigs, so was heavily immersed in that kind of world. The design really spawned naturally from people's interests -- it wasn't as if they had to do a lot of research.

Were the key tracks in place when you started designing?

No, not at all. As we started designing the game we didn't know what the tracks were going to be. We had a wish list, but little control over it. As the project progressed, we gradually found out what the tracks were going to be. The music licensing process takes a long time, so we had to overshoot.

We wanted 30 or 40 songs for the game and put a hundred on our wish list. As songs arrived, we needed to adapt the list according to what we could get -- which were the easy songs, which were harder, which were popular, which were more niche. We had to constantly adapt the track list to balance those concerns as the licences flowed in.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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