Rock Band 4 closes the door on keyboard; holds out hope for ION drums on Xbox One

During a Reddit AMA this morning, Harmonix answered questions about Rock Band 4, discusing the discarded Freeform Melodies feature, the keyboard controller, and why even the developers hope to see the ION drum kit ride on Xbox One again.


It's no secret that Rock Band 4 has had some growing pains since its launch, most of them revolving around the DLC catalog and with backwards compatibility. However, with this month's feature update, the game is starting to come together a little better. But with goals still in mind, Harmonix went to Reddit to answer a few questions and offer an update on upcoming features and ones that ended up on the cutting room floor.

The most interesting question from this morning's Reddit AMA surrounded talking to the crowd, a feature first detailed back in May. But Freeform Melodies ultimately didn't make the final cut and today, Harmonix explained why. The statement from the project's former lead developer reads:

"This call was a 70/30 mix of: killing our sacred cow / scoping near the end of the project. Ultimately, the original promise of this feature did not bear out in the version we implemented and play-tested. In the original prototype (back in pre-pro), one of our programmers hooked up a set of crowd reactions to a keyboard, and also a set of basic prompts in the vocal HUD on screen. So one person would operate the microphone, and the other would operate the keyboard. This now seems obvious in hindsight, but what made the prototype so fun originally, and why it was so difficult to make the game simulate the experience, was that a real human person was deciding how the crowd should respond to what the vocalist was saying. [...] Having a real human added a layer of unpredictability and humor that we just couldn't get in the final version, and we decided very late in production that we would need to revisit the feature entirely, or cut it. It will be up to the project's leadership to decide if this is something they want to revisit down the road, but thought it was an interesting anecdote about what happened and why the call was made."

Also, part of the reason the Shacknews review compares Rock Band 4 more to Rock Band 2 is the removal of the keyboard. It's nowhere to be found in RB4, even with the import of Rock Band 3 tracks. So is it gone forever? That appears to be the case.

"These are never coming back to Rock Band, Sorry," Associate Community Manager Criss Burki stated. "This is the Rock Band game for a newest console generation, and we want to focus on the core band experience, which is guitar, bass, drums, and vocals."

But what about the other instruments that are still in play? A popular topic among Shacknews Chatty posters that own Rock Band instruments is the ION Drum Kit, particularly the one for Xbox One. While support for that has seemingly been ruled out, it turns out Harmonix isn't giving up on it just yet.

"We've been working directly with ION and Microsoft on compatibility here," Harmonix Community Manager Josh Harrison stated. "No wired controllers from Xbox 360 work on the Xbox One, so we're trying to figure out how to move past this. Trust us when we say that many of us at the studio play on Xbox One and have a set of IONs collecting dust. We really want to bring them back, too! We don't have an ETA or anything on this, but it's far from abandoned, we're still working on this."

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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