Here at Xbox Enthusiast, we have been featuring a reoccurring segment where we talk to developers and discuss the process of bringing their game from concept to fruition. We discuss the creation of the game itself on any platform and specifically the Xbox. In our last segment, we spoke with Yacht Club Studios about Shovel Knight and its most recent expansion Plague of Shadows. This time, we talk to music giant Harmonix about Rock Band 4. We looked at their song choices, gameplay elements and present plans for DLC. We were fortunate to speak with Nick Chester who gave us some insight on the process to make Rock Band 4 a very entertaining experience. Thank you for your time Nick!
Andrew Gonzalez: How do you decide what songs make it into the game?
Nick Chester: “We open up our personal music libraries, hit shuffle, and the first 50 or 60 that come up we put in the game!”
“No, seriously, it’s an arduous process, but extremely important. First, we listen to what our fans want. We’ve always taken song request, but around the announcement of Rock Band 4, we put up a song request page and got a ton of response. Using that feedback, we were able to determine what it was our fans wanted to play. For example, Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” was among the top requested tracks during that initial request period… it’s on the disc! The Protomen was another highly requested artist… they’re on the disc! So that’s a start. But of course, we also have our own ideas about what’s fun, whether it’s big name acts like Van Halen and U2, or other bands and songs we love that people may be less familiar with.”
AG: Rock Band 4 features traditional gameplay, but there are added additions like freestyle guitar solos and vocal liberties with certain sections of songs. Will the change in gameplay regarding guitar solos increase the challenge or just allow players to lay back and have fun?
Chester: ” The Freestyle Guitar Solo gameplay offers more freedom for players in terms of what they can do, but also offers a different kind of challenge. We give players a bunch of tools they can use to make awesome guitar solos, but during gameplay, we have prompts that players are scored on – play a single note on the top of the neck, finger tap down on the smaller buttons, play a repeating loop of your choice, but play it fast… play some feedback!”
“We give players prompts and if they follow those prompts, they’ll keep their streak and get points accordingly. It’s not beatmatch gameplay, it’s something totally new and we’re excited for people to try it out and to see what people do with it.”
AG: When choosing songs for the game, what’s the criteria? Do you pick songs that the Harmonix staff likes, or do you search for specific songs based on difficulty, fun, notability, etc?
Chester: “I got ahead of myself a bit in an earlier question, but it’s definitely a mixture of stuff we like, stuff fans ask for, and what we think will be fun in the game. That “fun” is very important and what that means is actually different to a lot of players. For some, “fun” means something seriously challenging, tons of notes, really fast, difficult charts. For others, fun could be it’s a totally danceable song, something that gets the party going. So we have to balance that, and I think the team does a great job.”
AG: Rock Band 4’s Setlist features a wide variety of artists. Sometimes there are artists many people haven’t heard of. Is the intention to include lesser known artists have to do with expanding players’ musical horizons?
Chester: “Absolutely! A lot of the feedback we got from fans on the soundtrack is that they used it to discover new music. The music people recognize is a great hook. “Oh, I love that Queens of the Stone Age song, I want to check out this game.” But we really like exposing new people to new music and new sounds, and Rock Band is definitely a delivery service for that.”
AG: The Rock Band series is know for its gameplay, but also for its consistent DLC schedule. Has there been any plans for a DLC schedule when Rock Band 4 releases?
Chester: “Yes, totally. We plan to support Rock Band 4 with regular DLC over time, as we have in the past.”
AG: It has been said that players can transfer existing DLC over to Rock Band 4. Is the process easy and is there a list of confirmed songs that can be transferred?
Chester: “As I answer this question, we’re a few days from answering this. It’s a lot, I’ll say that. We won’t be ready to confirm those songs until they’re live and up on the stores, though. We had to resubmit a lot of content, and stuff happens… we don’t want to promise anything that we can’t deliver. But yeah, it’s a lot of music. Hundreds and hundreds of songs.”
AG: Harmonix has allowed players to request songs that they wish to be added as downloadable content. How closely does the company pay attention to these requests and has there been progress in making these requests a reality?
Chester: “We pay very close attention. A lot of songs have made it into the game as a direct result of requests. We can’t get everything and not every request we get is doable, but we try our best.”
AG: The music genre seems to be making a comeback this year…. Why do you think fans are suddenly ready to pick up and play games like Rock Band again?
Chester: “Well, it’s been awhile. Some people have never stopped rocking, but there are many who had their fill and needed a break, which is understandable. But we’re a few years into the new console cycle and there’s no experience like Rock Band on the platform. You’d have to bust out a console that you might not even have hooked up to rock out with your friends. It’s time. We think people are ready!”
AG: I personally have a hard time choosing the next song when playing with friends. One of the coolest features in Rock Band 4 is voting for the next song. That seems to ease the tension of agreeing on a song. How did Harmonix decide to implement this feature into the game?
Chester: “We play a lot of this game. I mean… a lot of it. And not just for the purposes of development. We play it for fun! So many folks on the team are Rock Band hardcore fans, so they get the pain of having to cycle through large libraries to decide what to play next. And you know what’s not rock n’ roll? Scrolling through menus. So we the new Shows feature gets around that, and does it in a way that actually gets band members talking to one another during the process.”
AG: Lastly, with so many songs in the Rock Band Library, what is your favorite song to play? What is your favorite song in Rock Band 4?
Chester: “I like “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie, a back catalog DLC song. On the new disc, I’m partial to 4 Non Blone’s “What’s Up?” because it’s so much fun to sing.”
Harmonix has worked hard on releasing Rock Band 4 (which is officially out today.) Are you looking forward to start a new band or get the old band back together? What is your favorite song in the Rock Band series? We will have a review of Rock Band 4 next week. Leave a comment below and feel free to follow Xbox Enthusiast on Twitter and Facebook. Rock on Xbox fans!