February in Vegas. I’ve managed to track down Harmonix’s Nick Chester to follow up on a rumor I heard—that he was making appointments for something at GDC. Something I needed to see. I asked him for an appointment, and the first words out of his mouth were: “It’s not going to be on PC.”
“I don’t care,” I responded.
It’s maybe the only time I’d say those words. We don’t cover console games on PCWorld anymore. Ever. Heck, we barely even cover the consoles themselves. I fought for that right. I won that right. As far as this site is concerned, consoles basically don’t exist. This is PCWorld and we are PC gamers.
Two exceptions. 1) Tony Hawk. 2) [Expletive] Rock Band.
It’s back. Rock Band 4. Coming this year.
I wanna rock
Yes, after months of not-so-subtle hints it’s finally here: The official Rock Band 4 announcement. And the game will be in our hands by the end of 2015.
I bet you have questions. I had questions.
1) What happens to my DLC, now that we’ve moved to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4?
“The question at the top of everyone’s list is our DLC catalogue,” said Harmonix’s Daniel Sussman as I sat down to discuss Rock Band 4. “It took us over five years to build this catalogue in the first place. We are working towards the entitlements, so the songs you had bought on the PS3 you will have on the PS4.”
“At the same time, there is a lot of focus internally on the disc soundtrack and forward-looking content plans.”
2) Will your old instruments still work?
Yes! I don’t know how. Magic, I guess. Even though the way the Xbox One controllers connect is different than the Xbox 360, Harmonix says they’re working with Microsoft (Sony’s PS4 still just uses Bluetooth) to make sure old hardware will still work.
At the same time, “We are working with MadCatz to develop a new set of drums, a mic, guitars, native to the two consoles—the PS4 and Xbox One. There is an opportunity for incremental upgrades, to improve the overall quality of some of the components—which we’re taking—but by-and-large supporting the legacy hardware is so important that it’s absolutely worth it to not develop new hardware that’s part of an upsell device. We want the game to be playable with whatever you have,” said Sussman.
Sad news for keyboard players, though: Rock Band 4 is going back to its guitar/bass/drums/vocals roots. “The thing people think about when you talk about Rock Band, it’s really that core band experience.”
The same goes for Pro Guitar, custom song authoring, et cetera. “Rock Band 3 veered off from the core essence of what Rock Band is all about,” said Sussman. Rock Band 4 is slimmer in some respects, but hopefully better for it.
3) When do we get Rock Band 5?
Never, hopefully. Or at least, not on this console generation. “We’re calling it Rock Band 4 because we feel like it’s a genuine evolution over Rock Band 3,” said Sussman. “We think this is going to be the best Rock Band we’ve ever done.”
“At the same time, we do not anticipate Rock Band 5. We think there’s an opportunity to do something this time around that’s never been done in this space before. We view Rock Band 4 as the Rock Band for this console generation.”
It seems like Rock Band 4 will be what we’ve wanted for a while—Rock Band as a digital service or platform, instead of a $60 box title that comes out every two years with a whole raft of new instruments or features.
“We think it’s important to think about how to create an experience for folks that can evolve after they’ve gotten that one disc. We don’t want them to feel like we’re hitting them up for a new $60 title every year,” he said.
4) What’s new?
Harmonix is pretty tight-lipped about this so far, saying they’ll show off more features towards E3.
For now, though, here’s Sussman:
“There are two rich areas for improvement, both of which are pretty high-level.”
“If you think about Rock Band as a multiplayer game, in fact it’s kind of four single-player games that people are coincidentally playing at the same time. There’s not a lot of rich interplay or awareness from one person to the next. That’s the antithesis of what it’s like to play music. It sucks playing with people that aren’t listening to you. I think there’s a lot of things we can do in the game to incentivize you to pay attention to what everyone else is doing.”
“The other one, which is pretty obvious, is there’s this element of Rock Band where regardless of your performance the song sounds the same. There’s a lot of things we can do to stay true of the song, stay within the simulation of the experience, but allow for some expression for the player.”
I ask whether Rock Band will be learning from Fantasia—after all, that whole game centered around changing and remixing songs on the fly with your movements. “Not to say there’s anything direct that we pulled from [Fantasia] to Rock Band, but certainly trying to figure out how to allow for self-expression in a gaming context is something we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.”
6) Is that it? Please don’t stop feeding me Rock Band 4 information. Please.
I’m sorry, but that’s honestly all we know right now. Harmonix will be doing hands-on demos presumably closer to (or during) E3, but for now we’ve just got these few tantalizing details to scrape through over and over again.
And over again. Until you’ve reached 100 percent mastery.
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Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.