Guitar Hero Live GHTV Impressions: The New MTV (When MTV Played Music)

We sit down with FreeStyle Games' Jamie Jackson to take an hands-on look at GHTV, Guitar Hero Live's on-demand playable music entertainment service to see what's playing. 

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Guitar Hero Live showed off its guns when it was first announced in April, and we were able to try our hand at playing it. But even after a lengthy introduction, the specifics of one of the game's more ambitious features - GHTV - seemed rather vague. Put simply, it's a music service where players can find and select the songs they want to play. But instead of having band mates and a crowd cheer you on or boo according to your performance like in the Live portion, GHTV lets you play songs with the music video playing in the background. We recently met up with FreeStyle Games creative director and studio head, Jamie Jackson, to get more details about GHTV's functions.

For those who are unaware, Guitar Hero Live uses actors to simulate playing a live performance in front of huge audience. Play well, and your band mates will compliment you while the audience cheers wildly. Playing poorly earns you the opposite reaction. The custom guitar has six fret buttons on it, arranged in three upper black and lower white keys. Although it's an efficient system, it takes some getting used to compared to the traditional toy guitar, especially when switching back and forth between upper and lower frets. New songs that were not seen in the previous demo include 45 by Gaslight Anthem; Little Monster by Royal Blood, and King for a Day by Pierce the Veil.

While the Live mode can be regarded as the game's story based campaign, made up of two big music festivals (so far) and 10 bands to play alongside, GHTV is like an open online MMO. Players drop into songs at anytime and start playing in leaderboard competition against each other.

It starts by hitting the GHTV button, located near the bottom of the guitar's body. Players can hit the button at any time, even while in the middle of Live mode, to go directly to GHTV without having to flip through menus. From there, players can jump into whatever song happens to be playing. Hitting the button again brings you to the GHTV main menu, which is arranged in different shows, and lets you know what songs will be coming up next at what time. Shows are curated playlists built around different themes, and they start and end at pre-designated time schedules. So, you can plan around play a rock show at a certain time, much like tuning into a TV show.

Players will also be greeted to a custom welcome screen, with the types of music they play most organized into boxes. Guitar Hero Live will track player preferences as they play different songs on GHTV, and the opening screen will reflect those tastes. So, if you mostly play classic rock songs, the system will automatically assume that it's what you like best, and won't bring up featured Pop music. GHTV content will be updated constantly in the background with new shows and a broader music selection. The custom music screen highlights the new content you might be interested in. However, I should state that the GHTV interface is still a work in progress, so it's possible that the final version will change significantly.

Jumping into a song brings you to a music video, with the interactive music highway overlaid on top of it, and people playing the song at the same time shown on the left side along with their current scores. Chances are, songs will already be underway when you start up, but you can still jump straight in and play whatever remains of the song. The game will know if you were late to the party and will give you an option to replay the song when it's over. Unlike the Live mode, there's no way to fail out of a song. So, you're free to mess up as much as you want, or you could just sit back and just listen to the song if you don't care to compete.

However, playing and scoring applies to more than rankings. Playing GHTV earns credits, which can be used to purchase Play tokens, which are used to pick whichever song you happen to be in the mood for. Plays are free, and are earned simply by playing GHTV, gaining experience, and leveling up. Yes, GHTV has a progression system. Leveling up unlocks new gear, like custom designs for the music highway, and the in-game credits are used to purchase them. There will also be bonus powers available, like Invincibility, which will temporarily lock your score when you activate it, so you can get through really tough parts of a song. As of this writing, there is no word on what the maximum level will be or what all the bonus abilities are.

Probably the most impressive use of the in-game currency will be to gain access to Premium shows. These shows may consist of special themes, unreleased albums, or pre-recorded live shows that players will have a chance to participate in. Other ways to join the Premium show, if you don't have enough credits, is to complete a series of tiered game challenges, which typically means playing through a group of songs and getting a minimum score. The credit system just lets you bypass the challenges. I asked if it would eventually be possible for these shows to support live sessions as they're happening, and Jackson stated that although it's not possible now, the feature shouldn't be completely ruled out for the future. Other features that will be implemented in the future will include player-to-player challenges and sharing custom playlists,

As expected, GHTV will also feature a real-world currency system which I'll refer to as Hero Credits (HC), although that might not be the final name for it. HC is used exclusively for purchasing songs for your library, so that you can play them anytime you want with having to use a Play token. For now, the system is limited to purchasing individual songs. There's no word yet on whether players will eventually be able to purchase entire albums. Purchased songs will only be available on the system you're playing on, and cannot be transferred between consoles and the mobile version.

Playing alongside music videos is a pretty straightforward means of playing Guitar Hero Live, and it lacks the sort of real time performance feedback you get from the Live mode. However, GHTV's main goal is not so much to replicate the Live experience, but to offer a means of discovering new music that can be played on demand. The developers will keeping a constant eye on the data, and will expand popular or highly requested genres. As evidence of its effectiveness, the first time I loaded up GHTV, I happened to get dropped into a song that I'd never heard of, but really enjoyed and wanted to learn more about. In that moment, I discovered a new band simply by going into GHTV.

There are still a number of kinks to work out. There need to be some more social aspects, like passing along song recommendations to friends. Then there needs to be a more efficient way to see if a song you like is available. Right now, there still a bit of menu switching and searching involved. It would be great if the game could integrate an app like Shazam or SoundHound to quickly search out music players might have heard on the radio. But the system is continuously evolving, so the developers will have plenty of time and opportunity to fix any issues that might arise.

Guitar Hero Live releases on October 20th for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and Wii U.

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