Guitar Hero Live producer discusses GHTV, removal of fail states, and Avenged Sevenfold

During an event in Los Angeles late last week, Shacknews had an opportunity to speak with FreeStyle Games producer Pete Bucknall about the studio's vision of Guitar Hero, the removal of fail states, keeping GHTV fresh, and the recently-announced collaboration with Avenged Sevenfold.


Guitar Hero Live has been a creature of habit since the series' inception ten years ago. Even with the changes that hit each game over the next several years, the Guitar Hero concept was largely the same. But with Guitar Hero Live, Activision and FreeStyle Games are making a fundamental change, thanks to an entirely new guitar design.

To say this new design is intimidating for old GH stalwarts like this writer would be putting it mildly, but a couple of sessions were surprisingly intuitive. I was able to pick up the finger positioning fairly quickly and all of it seemed easy to grasp, aside from the insanely difficult Expert, and even that feels doable after some practice.

That only left me feeling curious about Guitar Hero Live and the opportunity to ask more about it came during a recent event in Los Angeles. Shacknews had a chance to speak to Guitar Hero Live producer Pete Bucknall about putting the unique FreeStyle stamp on the series, the always-on music video station that is GHTV, and the collaboration with Avenged Sevenfold that will see the band bringing three new songs ("Shepherd of Fire," "Buried Alive," and "Nightmare") to Guitar Hero Live.

Shacknews: How important was it to make Guitar Hero Live different from any of its predecessors?

Pete Bucknall, producer: We felt like innovation was needed. We definitely didn't want to make a retread of any of the previous games. We wanted something fresh, we wanted something new, because the music industry is different now compared to five years ago. We consume music differently. And we wanted a total new challenge. We wanted to bring a new experience, we wanted a new way to play, and a new way to discover music -- which is where we got the new controller, the new six buttons, instead of the five. GHLive, we jump in and you're in front of a crowd and you're playing to a crowd. It adds a whole new level of realism and immersion. And GHTV, where we're launching with hundreds of songs over tons of different genres, so there's going to be something for everyone. We're going to be regularly updating it, so there's going to be so much and people are going to be spoiled for choice. It's going to be great.

Shacknews: Talking about the guitar, is there a concern that consumers might not necessarily want to take another hardware leap and make that kind of expensive investment?

Bucknall: I think they'll be spending that money on a whole new experience. I think when people buy the game, they're not just going to see it as another bit of plastic. They're going to see it as this totally new thing that feels more connected, more realistic, and a whole new world to explore. So no, I definitely don't think so.

Shacknews: In terms of design, are there any lessons that FreeStyle took from Neversoft or any of the other old Guitar Hero developers?

Bucknall: We definitely wanted to put our own imprint on it. We felt like we were able to do that with the old guitar design. We've got a lot of experience from doing the old DJ Hero games and stuff like that. All of us at FreeStyle are either musicians or really hardcore fans of music. So that's where most of our influence came from -- being incredibly passionate about this and wanting to put our own imprint on it. And I feel like that's what were able to do by being such big fans of music.

Shacknews: One of the things I noticed from the DJ Hero games and even from Sing Party was the lack of a fail state. What made you want to take that idea, the lack of a fail state, and apply it to Guitar Hero?

Bucknall: We felt like we wanted to make it more about the experience of playing at a festival. If you're playing a festival, if you're playing in front of a crowd, unless the guitarist full-on passes out on stage, you're going to keep going. You're going to keeping carrying on. If you're not playing so well and the crowd aren't liking you, you're going to try to win them back. You're not going to want to give up. We felt like the right way to do that was to take away that fail state and make you want to push on through to the end, like a real rock star would want to. We feel that really adds to that sense of immersion.

Shacknews: What gave you the idea for GHTV, just to have that ongoing channel that plays music videos for the entire day?

Bucknall: We consume music differently now, way differently to how we did five years ago. We felt that moving away from DLC was the right choice, purely because people consuming music differently and discovering music differently. So we felt like having this whole platform, where all this content is readily available, not having to pay anything extra for it, it's just there ready to go whenever you want. You just jump into the channel, like your music TV channels at home, and there will always be something playing. You'll discover maybe a band you've heard before or someone completely new that you've discovered and fallen in love with. We felt like it was just the right direction to go in, just because of how people are discovering music.

Shacknews: How often do you hope to add new content?

Bucknall: Exact dates aren't really confirmed, but regularly. We want to keep it regular. We want to listen to the community and let them influence us and have that two-way street kind of thing, so we can update it as regularly as we can.

Shacknews: How did the Avenged Sevenfold collaboration come about?

Bucknall: They love video games, I know that much. They're a great live band, in my opinion. They put on an amazing show and we felt like they would be a great band to have in the game. It was an ideal collaboration, because both sides of the coin are fans of video games and fans of music.

Shacknews: What bands are on the FreeStyle wishlist for the future?

Bucknall: (chuckles) You'll have to wait and see.

Guitar Hero Live is set to release on October 20. In addition to hitting PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and mobile devices, the game has also been confirmed for Apple TV. More information on that version of the game is expected at a later date.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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