Guitar Hero World Tour Interview: 'Anything Is Possible'

As Neversoft director Brian Bright discusses the impending release of Guitar Hero World Tour, one idea keeps coming up time and time again: "Anything is possible."

Okay, well maybe not anything. The upcoming music game sequel certainly isn't compatible with most of the downloadable content that was released for Guitar Hero III. And missing master tracks make the inclusion of some songs, such as Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure," practically impossible to get in the game.

But as Bright points out, the future is wide open. Now that Guitar Hero has "the full band experience"--drums and vocals in addition to guitar and bass---the developer is hopeful that future entries in the series will work with the songs of World Tour and beyond.

"It's the direction we'd like to go," he says, with a smile.

Bright's optimistic view of the future manifests in a number of subjects, ranging from downloadable content, to the game's fabled "new instrument," its music creation mode, and yes, even the slight possibility of Prince appearing in a future Guitar Hero game.

Shack: How does the single-player campaign work? Is it still a list of specific songs you have to beat to unlock the next category, or is there some choice involved?

Brian Bright: You start off with three gigs, and gigs are anywhere from three to seven songs at a particular venue. Once you beat once gig, you unlock another gig.

So, you always have a choice of which gig you want to play and how you want to work your way through your career.

We also did away with the different difficulties [for campaign]. Essentially, you can start on expert and if you find it too difficult, you can step down on any particular song. You earn less cash, you won't earn all the achievements and things, but you can make your way through and play through all the songs that way.

Shack: Can other players join in during that tour, or do you have to hop in the multiplayer mode?

Brian Bright: You'd have to start as a band, to make a band first, to be able to go in and do band play. It's a separate career, it's got its own progression.

Each of their instruments have their own career. There's a bass career, drums, guitar, vocals, and then a band career. And they all have their own progression model, based around the difficulty of the song for that particular instrument.

For band mode, you can play with anywhere from two to four players locally. But also, if any of those players leave, you can have online players join in.

Shack: During my time with the game, I noticed that you can create your own setlist of songs you want to play, but that those setlists can contain up to six songs. Is that limit in the final game?

Brian Bright: We kept it to six. We could have probably gone higher, but we thought six was a good amount before you just wanted to take a break, maybe change difficulties and swap up the instruments or something.

We did leave it at six, but the cool thing with that is you can integrate your downloadable content, and you can also integrate any of the user-created songs that you've downloaded from GH Tunes.

Shack: Speaking of downloadable content and GH Tunes, even before those elements factor in, the game's setlist is rather large and requires a fair amount of scrolling. Is there any way to sort all of those songs and hop directly to certain categories?

Brian Bright: You can sort the set list by different criteria, and you can also hop down to the downloadable section, at least. Currently, there's nothing else beyond that.

Shack: Is there any sort of "No Fail" mode where you can just jam without fear of losing a song?

Brian Bright: We added a fifth difficulty, called Beginner Mode, this year. It's not really a no fail mode, but it's mainly for people who are new to the game. It's a lot harder to fail, for guitar you can press any button, you just have to strum essentially, we don't care what color [fret buttons] you press, you just have to strum in time. The drums, you hit any pad. It's a lot harder to fail in there than in easy mode, so it's really for playing with your little kid, or your grandmother, or parents or whatever.

Shack: And you can just pause the game and change the difficulty level at any point, though that'll restart the song?

Brian Bright: Yeah.

Shack: Will Guitar Hero III downloadable content be compatible with Guitar Hero World Tour?

Brian Bright: Only the Metallica downloadable album.

I'll explain. We request a song, let's say we request The Doors, and we want that delivered to us as nine streams--four streams for the drums, the backing vocals, the vocals, the guitar parts. We need a mix so when you miss a note, that stream's volume drops.

With Guitar Hero III, we only had, I don't remember, three or four streams. We didn't have drums or vocals--we didn't care, those were all in the background. For us to make those work, we would have to re-get all those songs, redo them all, then re-upload them, and [you'd] have to go and re-download them. It's just a monumental--and we've completely redone our animation system.

Going forward, now that we have the full band experience, we're gonna not try and fall into that pitfall again. But for us to go back and try to get GH3 stuff to work, it would just be monumental. It would be like making the game again.

Shack: Speaking of the future of Guitar Hero, owners of the first Rock Band can bring almost all of the original's tracks into Rock Band 2. Is that sort of functionality feasible in future Guitar Hero games?

Brian Bright: I would say it's feasible, that's about all I can say. It's the direction we'd like to go, but I can't make any specific confirmations at this time.

Shack: As for downloadable content, most of the Guitar Hero DLC released up to this point has been in bundle packs, and even the Metallica album Death Magnetic is one big bundle. Moving forward, are there any plans to sell songs individually?

Brian Bright: We're not talking about other DLC strategies yet.

The Metallica thing, they want their album to be in context, as a whole, and be experienced that way. Metallica feels very strongly [about that].

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Shack: Since we're talking about Death Magnetic, why does the DLC pack two GH-exclusive takes of Suicide & Redemption but lack the studio version of that track?

Lead Designer Alan Flores: The reason for that is, at that point, when we had the stems--we had to have the stems before the album was finished--they had recorded two versions [of Suicide & Redemption]. At that point, they couldn't decide which version they wanted to use. They were working with Rick Rubin, and he was going to probably chop it up and use pieces of each one to make one [version] for the album--they could only have one for the album.

And then they were like, "Hey, we have this cool thing for you guys!" At first we weren't super stoked, because that's twice as much work for us, but we stepped back and said," That's pretty cool. That's two versions of the song that no one can get except in our game."

Shack: So it was Metallica's call?

Alan Flores: It was Metallica, yeah.

Shack: Are there plans for more downloadable albums in the future?

Brian Bright: We'd love to do that. I can't announce anything, but it's great. The Metallica thing is awesome. Why wouldn't we want to do that?

It's even more exciting for us to launch when the album launches, rather than go back and get past recordings. The band gets a lot of buzz, we get a lot of buzz, and we get early access to great music.

Shack: About the upcoming update? Can you preview?

Brian Bright: Yeah, with the music store, which as I said, will be around a week-one title update. We're aiming for day and date of launch, which is October 26.

Shack: What else is in that update?

Brian Bright: Well there's the advanced MIDI stuff that I talked about on the PS3, there's an audio mixer [for the music studio]. Previously you had to go in and select each track and change the volume and you couldn't preview it. Now there's like a nice interface with a preview and you can move the faders around and mix.

You can also use any of the 75 keyboard sounds as your bass as well. It gives you a lot more variety. And numerous cleanup UI things, mostly geared around the music studio. A few refinements to gameplay, but nothing real major.

Shack: Earlier this year, Chris Parise told me that Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was a separate retail release because downloadable content can provide the song, but not the experience--specific animations, new venues, etc.

Has that changed for Guitar Hero World Tour? Is it possible to add new venues and new animations instead of releasing spin-off games?

Brian Bright: Anything is possible. Our focus will be, at first, to get good downloadable content out there. I don't think we've released our strategy yet, but at launch we'll have Death Magnetic. We've announced an R.E.M. pack we're going to be doing. There'll be a few Jimi Hendrix packs that are going to be available.

Shack: The Wii version of World Tour, developed by Vicarious Visions, has a Mii-based freestyle jam mode. Why isn't there something like that in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 releases?

Brian Bright: They wanted to do something like that at the same time we were kicking around the music studio. They had an innovation lab where they had cooked up something making music with the Wiimotes and such.

With the music studio, we really wanted to share user-generated content. Developing on the Wii, they were essentially porting a lot of our code to do the same thing. They were going to have GH Tunes and user-created content on Wii.

But then they carried on their original ambition into this freestyle mode. It didn't make it into our version. I mean, we don't have Miis, for one.

Shack: Xbox Live Avatars?

Brian Bright: They weren't ready [laughs]. Time constraints [played a factor] as well.

I played [freestyle mode] today. It's very fun, and it may be something we look at later. Time constraints, really, for us. We needed to get our version of the game done.

Shack: Trophy support in the PlayStation 3 version?

Brian Bright: We're not supporting Trophies on the PlayStation 3 at this time.

Shack: Does that mean they could be added later on in a patch?

Brian Bright: Anything is possible.

Shack: What's this about a new instrument for music creation mode?

Brian Bright: I don't think that that was actually--it was misconstrued. I made a statement and somebody misconstrued it.

Essentially though, what you can do is, on the PlayStation 3--we're doing a title update. It'll probably be available right around launch. The music store will be in there and a lot of features that you haven't seen yet for the music studio.

On the PlayStation 3, when this goes live, you can actually sequence on your computer. On the Xbox 360, you can sequence drums, which are MIDI channel 10. You can press play on the computer, and if you have it connected through MIDI, you can record into the music studio. But just drums, for now, on the Xbox 360, until we can get around, potentially, some hardware issues.

But on the PlayStation 3, whatever's on MIDI channel 1 will be your rhythm guitar. MIDI channel 2 is your lead, 3 is your bass, 4 is your keyboards, and 10 is your drums. You have complete control using the Mod Wheel on your keyboard, or setting notes [and] mod values in the music sequencer, of what color the notes will be.

So if you really want to compose on your PC--obviously you're going to use the samples in-game--but if you really want to compose on PC or turn your band's MIDI, your band's Cubase session or whatever, into a music studio / GH Tunes song, you can do that.

And that's where I was going when I said that. We have full, basically, computer editing control, at least on the PS3, through the music studio.

Shack: How does that all transfer over?

Brian Bright: It's going to take a FAQ on the Guitar Hero site. It's not something that your average user is gonna do. We're gonna try to get the word out and get it well-documented.

If you're a musician or you do any sequencing, it really just makes the pathway to getting your songs in the game that much easier--once you get it down. We just really want to give people enough tools to be able to make good music. We're fortunate that on the hardware side, we're able to put the MIDI import jack in and get the MIDI data into the console, which was no easy task.

Shack: Where do you see Guitar Hero and the genre going, in terms of instruments? Is a keyboard at all feasible?

Brian Bright: Obviously, it's feasible. The challenge there is to make compelling gameplay. The good think about playing guitar and drums is that synchronicity between your hands--doing one thing with one hand and another thing with the other.

If you're playing keyboard, if you're using both hands, it might be cool. But if you're just simply pressing five to ten buttons, it's not that compelling.

I've played Guitar Hero without having to strum--it's not a lot of fun. It's not as much fun without those crazy tapping sections that are just insane. But there's not a lot of keyboard music with insane tapping sections.

For us, a game like World Tour--obviously, there are songs with keyboard in them, but it's not a large percentage of songs. So for this game in particular, we didn't feel like keyboards were going to be the most--every song in the game has a bass and drums, you know.

Being a real social game and allowing people to play together at once, we didn't want to start having exclusions for gamers without keyboards. I would love to do a keyboard-only game. I'm a big electronic musician freak and I'd love to do that, but I think it might warrant its own sub-genre game.

Obviously there's refinements to the band gameplay, there's potential for new instruments in the future or cooler things you could do. But to broaden the music creation and really open up the ability for smaller artists to get in the game would be a direction I'd love to take.

Shack: Where there any songs or bands you really wanted but just couldn't get?

Brian Bright: Led Zeppelin and The Beatles seem to be two we haven't cracked yet [laughter]. Either of those would be huge for us.

For us, we're not really getting denied, it's more like they can't find the master recordings. We really wanted to get Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" but we couldn't, because there are no masters.

Sometimes we get bands to go back in and record things, like Motorhead and The Sex Pistols, but if an artist is huge, they may not want to [do that].

There's plenty of songs that the masters are just lost. Sometimes you can get a live version. If you see a live version in the game, it's usually because there's no master for it.

We're not getting denied by a lot of bands. Those two that I mentioned are the big ones that would be great to have.

Shack: What about Pink Floyd?

Brian Bright: Okay, three. That's another one.

Shack: Is there any chance of Prince?

Brian Bright: That's four. Fuck, another one.

Shack: I just want to play Purple Rain.

Brian Bright: You and me both.

Often referred to as Guitar Hero 4, Guitar Hero World Tour hits PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii on October 26 with 86 on-disc tracks.

The PS3 and 360 releases were developed by Neversoft, with Vicarious Visions on the Wii release and Budcat on the PS2 version.