Guitar Hero series has become more than just a videogame: for millions of fans all over the world it is a total addiction and a way of life, spending uncounted hours in front of the screen imitating their idols. FREE! Magazine´s questions entered the heart of RedOctane’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, to meet Kai Huang, CEO and co-founder of the company responsible of creating the phenomenon.
How many times did you dream of becoming your favourite rock guitar players? Slash, Joe Perry, Dave Mustaine, Angus Young… you name it! Unfortunately, only a few privileged and extremely skills musicians are given the opportunity to go on stage and perform their skills in front of a mass of thousands of faithful fans. For the rest of us, simple human beings, the solution came on November 2005 with the release of the first videogame of the Guitar Hero series. A huge hit that was followed by Guitar hero II, Guitar Hero encore: Rock the 80s and the most recent Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Nevertheless, the idea was not new. The creation of the game had a direct precedent with Konami’s game GuitarFreaks. But the good taste in choosing the song list, a catchy design of the devices and a very attractive and easy way of playing made the videogame outstand and created a real worldwide phenomenon. If you do not believe it, just check out the curious video links in websites like YouTube, where the fans are able to play the notes in the most surrealistic positions after never ending hours of training, and some fingers numbness…
RedOctane is the company that has developed and published Guitar Hero, and we had the extremely good luck of contact their co-founder and CEO from 1999: Kai Huang. Nobody better than him to tell us all those little secrets and questions that you always wanted to know behind the (already) legendary videogames series.
How many people altogether are involved when developing a Guitar Hero videogame?
The creation of a Guitar Hero videogame is truly a collaborative effort. While Neversoft is primarily responsible for the development, there are countless individuals that are relied upon from RedOctane and Activision. We have hardware, marketing and PR, creative services, licensing and business development teams all working in tandem with production to ensure fans receive the best experience possible.
From what city or cities in the world is Guitar Hero concept created?
Activision, Neversoft and RedOctane are all California-based companies. Activision is located in Santa Monica, Neversoft in Woodland Hills and RedOctane is in Mountain View.
Who is the person/s who had the original idea of creating the first part of the game?
The concepts behind the original Guitar Hero idea came from a team at RedOctane. Prior to approaching Harmonix, the company was very successful at creating Dance Pads for rhythm-based games and felt very comfortable with our abilities to create a great guitar controller peripheral for a rock music game. Guitar Hero was a project that was built around the hardware.
Does it help to have any musical background for playing the game better?
The Guitar Hero franchise is built on the uniquely successful formula of easy to play yet challenging and rewarding to master meaning that a music background is not necessary to play the game. This pick-up-and-play formula allows all audiences to enjoy the game. That being said, understanding the basic fundamentals of playing the guitar can help with moving up the ladder in terms of difficulty level.
What criteria do you follow for choosing the song list in every game? Do you choose the songs according to the taste of the people there in RedOctane, or how do you decide it?
There are a few factors that go into song selection for any Guitar Hero game. We start with a very lengthy wish list that includes hundreds of songs spanning decade’s worth of music history. From there the lists are shortened based on what makes sense for the game, which tracks fans are requesting, which music licenses we can get, as well as song and artist notoriety. Part of the success for Guitar Hero is due to its ability to offer players the experience of becoming their favorite rock star and we want to ensure that we include memorable songs from legendary artists.
“The music industry now sees the benefits of having a song included in our game” (Kai Huang. RedOctane’s CEO)
Is it easy to deal with the licenses and get all the songs that you want? Is there any particular song that you wanted to include and was not possible?
Activision and RedOctane have great relationships with all of the major record labels, music publisher and band, which allows us to give Guitar Hero fans unrivaled access to music catalogues. The music industry now sees the benefits of having a song included in our game, so the process isn’t as difficult as it was for the original Guitar Hero title. With the phenomenal growth in music sales that mirror a song being included in the Guitar Hero franchise, record companies along with labels and artists are now viewing Guitar Hero as a medium to reach new audiences. There are still some highly sought after artists we’re trying to get though.
Do you have testers there playing with the guitars? How many hours do they play in a normal day?
We have quality assurance teams at Neversoft and at Activision that play the game 8 hours a day. Of course there are breaks involved, but who wouldn’t want to play Guitar Hero for 8 hours a day?-How is Guitar Hero III been taken by the fans?
Is it receiving the response you were expecting?
I couldn’t be happier with how Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has been received by the community. Guitar Hero has become a cultural phenomenon and it’s great to see people who aren’t gamers become obsessed with playing. And I’m still in awe that in the U.S., Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock was the #1 best selling video game of all time in a single year.
Can you tell us a bit more about the project you signed with NAMN, so people could learn to play guitar virtually?
We are very excited to have partnered with NAMM on their “Wanna Play Guitar” campaign, which encourages the playing of musical instruments and educating people about its benefits. The new collaboration is aimed at strengthening the connection between virtual and real-world guitar playing, along with encouraging more people to experience and enjoy both pastimes. There are a number of stories about kids playing Guitar Hero and then wanting to learn how to play the songs they hear in the game on a real guitar.
Why the release of Guitar Hero Rock the 80s before Guitar Hero III? Did not the fans want to wait so long?
The demand for new content was the driving force behind Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80s. Fans just couldn’t get enough of the game and the only way of distributing new content at the time was by delivering a new game. We were able to support the launch of Guitar Hero II on Xbox 360 with downloadable content. PlayStation 2 owners were not as fortunate as the infrastructure is not available to offer DLC on that platform. As such, we wanted to ensure that the very strong and loyal fan base received new content since that is what fans are always clamoring for.
What is the future for your company? Will there be more Guitar Hero games? Do you focus on different kind of games apart from this saga?
We’re continuing to innovate the rhythm-based music genre and deliver compelling content, such as the newly announced Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. We’re excited to be the first company to build a game around the music of a specific band and guest bands that are related to them in some fashion, and we look forward to bringing to our fans new ways of experiencing Guitar Hero, so stay tuned! There’s more to come.
Not only is song writing a bitch, but then it goes and has puppies
(Steven Tyler, vocalist of Aerosmith, on the recent news of the release of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith)
Indeed just a few days ago RedOctane delivered a press note in their official website where announced the launching of the new project that will put players on the shoes of the legendary American rock band. Scheduled for June 2008, having a music videogame built on Aerosmith´s musical history will be a hugely exciting experience. Vocalist Steven Tyler could not resume it any better in his declarations: Any band that can go from I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing to the ass-kicking Sweet Emotion to the cheekiness of Love in an Elevator, to the classic ballad Dream On shows why Activision chose us to headline this game based on the diversity of the Aerosmith catalog. Not only is songwriting a bitch, but then it goes and has puppies.With such an interesting future with exciting projects like this, now wonder that Kai Huang can feel satisfied of the success achieved. Before the end, he personally wanted to send also a message to all our readers and fans of the Guitar Hero series:Thanks for supporting Guitar Hero! We look forward to and are very excited about the products we will be able to offer in the near future!