Vicarious Visions Interview: On Guitar Hero Wii and DS

By Chris Faylor, Sep 19, 2008 9:27am PDT This fall, Vicarious Visions is planning to unleash a double dose of Guitar Hero. Along with the Wii edition of Guitar Hero World Tour, the Activision-owned subsidiary is readying a sequel to Guitar Hero: On Tour, which hit Nintendo DS over the summer.

Unlike past Guitar Hero releases on Wii, World Tour packs more than just the content of Neversoft's PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. Vicarious has created Mii Freestyle, a Wii-exclusive mode, meant to carry that "pick up and play appeal" the Wii is known for.

To learn more about the Wii release of World Tour, and to find out why owners of the first Guitar Hero DS should care about the sequel, I checked in with executive producer David Nathanielsz.

Shack: The Wii edition of Guitar Hero World Tour sports real downloadable content. How does that work?

David Nathanielsz: It's an in-game music store, accessed off the main menu as well as from the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You go into the music store and look at any available downloadable content, you can do all of the sorting and searching by artist, by genre. You can preview songs, get album art, all of that stuff is in the in-game music store.

When you download a song, it goes to your system memory and you can keep it in the system memory, or you can move it to an SD card. You can back up as many songs as you want on SD card. If the SD card is in your Wii, your songs are gonna show up on your setlist.

You go to the main setlist, you've got all the songs that are available on-disc, and then you've got all your DLC content as well. We have a cache on the system memory, so that whenever you choose a song on an SD card, it'll seamlessly load it in as you're playing through the setlist. It won't be obvious to the player where the song is coming from. It's a very seamless system, we think.

Shack: And the user-created songs of GH Tunes work the same way?

David Nathanielsz: Yeah, exactly. You can build a setlist that is a few songs from the disc, a few songs from DLC, a few songs from GH Tunes, and play through them all.

Shack: As with Guitar Hero III, players are required to plug a Wii Remote into each of World Tour's guitars and now the drum set as well. What's the reason behind that?

David Nathanielsz: We use the Nintendo standard controller system. That's really all it is. That's their standard, so we use the Wiimote.

Shack: Will there be any sort of price break on the instruments, since players need to have a $40 Wii Remote for each instrument?

Activision PR: We have not discussed pricing yet.

Shack: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the Wii edition?

David Nathanielsz: I'd love to talk to you about Mii Freestyle. We're pretty excited about it.

We've got the in-game music studio, that you see on the other platforms, so players can get deep and dirty into building their songs, with laying down tracks, guitar, bass and drums, using the slider bar for keyboard, etc. You do all of that in the music studio and use GH Tunes to upload and share that content.

But Mii Freestyle is our exclusive mode that allows you to take your Miis, put them up on stage, and have this sort of free-form, jamming improvisational experience, which we feel is really accessible.

Shack: I like the facial expressions. They're playing blues over there and those Miis look like their getting into it.

David Nathanielsz: [laughter] With the blues, it's easy to get that visual expression.

It's pick up and play. You've got a varied set of palettes and notes, chords, riffs, licks that you can choose from to create your own piece of music, but we really worked hard on this system so that somebody could pick it up and sound good right away, but find the depth in it and find all of the different kinds of tones and music that they could create their songs with.

Shack: What separates Mii Freestyle from GH Tunes and the music studio?

David Nathanielsz: The GH Tunes creator is more in-depth. You can spend time meticulously creating this three-minute song that has every verse, chorus, solo, etc. that you think is great, and you can import it into the game and play it.

What we wanted to created with Mii Freestyle was more of a free pallete to just have fun, jam out, and just make music sound good. Feel like you could be one of those jam bands that has enough musical knowledge to make something sound good, but being able to do that in the first few minutes of play.

It's not as in-depth of a mode for the hardcore user to really create something really detailed that they can share, it's more of a fun, pick up and play mode.

Shack: In the past, Vicarious Vision's Wii ports of Guitar Hero games have been identical to the other versions. Is this indicative of a possible Wii-only Guitar Hero game?

David Nathanielsz: What I'll say is, we're big fans of the Nintendo platforms. We want to do as much as we can with the Nintendo platforms to make Guitar Hero great for those platforms.

What does the Wii have? They've got Miis, that nobody else has. We really wanted to find a way to take those Miis and give something special on this platform.

Who knows where we'll go in the future. We're just done with this one, we're not really thinking about that now. But, the Wii platform has a lot of great things in it, and the fact that we could create an exclusive mode, that we could get DLC, that we could use Wi-Fi Connection to provide the same online experience and GH Tunes sharing as the other platforms, that's something we really wanted to deliver with this game.

Shack: Did you ever toy with the idea of bringing the Wii Balance Board into play, somehow? Maybe you can't say anything here, but how would you implement that into Guitar Hero?

David Nathanielsz: I don't think I can discuss that. We spent a lot of time thinking about ways we can expand Guitar Hero and bring new experiences into the Guitar Hero world, and that was the genesis of Mii Freestyle. "How do we create a fun pick up and play creative experience for users that is Guitar Hero but at the same time isn't Guitar Hero?"

We look at everything. We've definitely looked at opportunities with other kinds of inputs, but I can't really talk about what those are.

Shack: Speaking of casual, easy-to-play music games, what's your take on Wii Music?

David Nathanielsz: I have never played Wii Music, I've only read about it. I have no idea what it's going to be like to play, so I really can't comment on it. Sounds pretty cool.

The reason I give that answer, this is the first chance people have had to play Mii Freestyle. We've done some articles and interviews about it, and tried to explain it, but it's really hard to explain. You gotta just pick it up and play it to see how much fun it is. I have a feeling there might be other games that fall into that category.

Turn the page to learn about the latest Guitar Hero entry on Nintendo DS. _PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: Switching gears to Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades, what separates this from the first DS entry?

David Nathanielsz: One of the things we know about Guitar Hero DS is we don't have the ability to deliver the breadth of content, the amount of content that you can get on the Wii. We wanted to make sure that people could get that content through Decades.

Decades lets you, sort of, walk through the history of music, from the 70's, 80's, 90's, and then the modern day, with a whole new setlist of over 25 songs.

What we've done with song sharing is give people the ability to take Decades and play against people that have On Tour, and share all of those songs [in multiplayer] to essentially double the amount of songs you can play.

Shack: The announcement for Decades came very, very shortly after the release of On Tour in mid-June.

David Nathanielsz: We work hard and fast [laughs].

Shack: That has to be a tricky line to walk. Some people are going to accuse you of milking the franchise, but at the same time, the size of a DS cartridge limits how many songs you can put on there.

David Nathanielsz: We hear so many people saying, "We want more songs. We want more songs!" And so, we're giving them more songs, right?

You mention milking the franchise--I don't think we're doing that. People are asking for songs, and that's what we're giving them. That's what playing Guitar Hero is about, finding those songs--songs you know, songs you don't know--and getting into them through the game.

We were only able to deliver 26 songs in On Tour. I shouldn't say only, that's actually the most amount of songs that any DS rhythm game has ever delivered, but it's not as many as the Wii game.

Getting even more songs, and we really squeezed so we can get more songs in Decades, and the ability to share, so you've got over 50 songs to play on the DS [in multiplayer], I think that's what people have been asking for.

Shack: How many tracks are there, total, in Decades?

David Nathanielsz: More than 25.

Shack: I heard that answer with On Tour, and it turned out to be 26 songs.

David Nathanielsz: And it's more than 26 [laughs].

Shack: Is there any sort of connectivity or unlockable content between Guitar Hero World Tour on Wii and Decades on the DS?

David Nathanielsz: We don't have any connectivity for Guitar Hero World Tour. That's definitely something we want to explore in the future.

Shack: Do you feel like you're hitting a glass ceiling with the DS, only being able to put out "more than 25" or "more than 26" songs on a single pack?

David Nathanielsz: No. There's content, and then there's...We've got a lot of things we can do with Guitar Hero on the DS that we haven't done yet. We're excited about doing that, but song sharing, that's something--I don't think I've seen any other game, sort of, compatible between versions. That's something very exciting for us to be doing.

In terms of features, definitely not. There's a lot of things we can do with this series, and I think song sharing is a great example of that. In terms of content? We squeezed out more space for Decades, and we'll keep trying.

Shack: Have you considered something like, Guitar Hero DS: Fan's Choice, where people could vote for the tracks they want to see?

David Nathanielsz: Wow, there's so many things we can do with this game, aren't there? [smiles]

Shack: I'd love to hear about some of those ideas you have floating around.

David Nathanielsz: I don't think we should. We shouldn't talk about what we have or haven't discussed. I'm excited about song sharing. In terms of things you haven't seen on the DS to this date, that's what I'm excited about.

Activision PR: When we're ready to talk about those things in the future, we'll be in touch.

Bringing drums and vocals to the formerly guitar-only franchise, the Wii verson of Guitar Hero World Tour arrives alongside the PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360 editions on October 26.

Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades, meanwhile, is slated to hit Nintendo DS at some point in the holiday season.

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