The Possible Closing of RedOctane and How I Will Miss the Music Game Genre.
Posted on Saturday, February 13 2010 @ 09:19:01 PST
In recent news: Activision has decided to listen to the masses and lower the amount of Guitar Hero video games being released in the future, but as a result of this; they are wiping out Underground Studios, the studio in charge of the not-so-amazing Guitar Hero: Van Halen, and possibly RedOctane, the co-owner of the Guitar Hero Franchise that sparked the American Peripheral Revolution for the years to come. I know a lot of people are thanking their saviors for knowing that there won't be another 5-7 Activision-based music games to emerge in 2010, but I may be one of the very few who see this as the beginning of the death of one of my favorite genres.
Back in 2005, I remember my brother asking me a question of if I had ever heard of this new game called Guitar Hero, to which I had no idea what he was talking about. He had told me about it: how he had played it at a party, and how it was one of the coolest things he had seen, and that he was gonna go and get it so me and him could play it. Whenever I saw this game, I wasn't all too big in the music genre, with my only dive in that category being Dance Dance Revolution. I was kind of confused and very interested on how this worked, and quickly my brother showed me how to play the game. With all the different colors and a whole new way to play a game, I was quickly hooked onto this intriguing set-up. I remember playing the game for hours, just trying to get to that higher difficulty and to see what new songs would show up. Back then, I didn't know many of the songs on there [including most of the final tiers minus Pantera, not sure why I knew them but not Stevie Ray Vaughn. Weird, I know.] and I couldn't wait to play them. I remember that all elusive switch from Blue to Orange that everyone had the same problem with, don't say you didn't. You did. It was such a breath of fresh air to many of the people who had never heard of Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, or DDR.
When RedOctane and Harmonix came out with Guitar Hero II, I remember staying up until midnight waiting for the game to come out so I could see what they had made of it and what new songs they were introducing to me. I think that was one of the biggest reasons I loved the beginning three compared to the rest of the series: the three games showed me venues of music I had never heard of; to the greatness of Megadeth, to the extremely obscure of Graveyard BBQ, it was all a refreshing experience with these songs I had never heard of before. To be able to learn these songs through Guitar Hero gave every new iteration of the game a positive meaning for it actually coming out in my book. The problem actually started with Guitar Hero III, when they decided to hit the fan favorites instead of songs that fit well with the game.
This is where many people believe this was the last great Guitar Hero game since it was the last to focus on just the guitar & bass perspective, I honestly believe it was the first in the steady downfall of the Music Genre. What was so fascinating and interesting about the Guitar Hero games before Legends of Rock was that it was what Kotaku called an "instant cult classic", it was under the radar. When Guitar Hero did not have to settle the masses with every type of music in one game [See: Guitar Hero 5], it allowed the flexibility to take risks in music and expand what you could play within what they picked. To see the local Boston Rock and the confusing music of Made in Mexico and Freezepop be sacrificed to the likes of Dragonforce and AFI really hurt the credibility and the uniqueness of the game. Once Guitar Hero hit mainstream, it lost that spark in which it had you guessing what you would be playing. The only real guess from Legends of Rock and on was, "how many Spanish Rock songs would be on this time"? The mainstream Guitar Hero became, a boring Guitar Hero.
And in came Rock Band.
When RedOctane and Harmonix split due to Activision buying one but not the other, MTV Games and Harmonix gave the Music Genre that essential spark with the ability to have up to four people play at once. The music was varied enough to be fun but not ridiculous, and the party value was un-heard of. It was exactly what Guitar Hero was missing, Rock Band wasn't selling out to mainstream qualities and was a type of game that didn't need a sequel if they didn't want to make it. But what Activision did was not to continue the qualities in which Guitar Hero used to get to the popularity that it had gained, but to follow the bandwagon to continue the mainstream profit that Activision knew it could make. It was like watching your kid make it in the world, only for one dumb decision become multiple dumb decisions, and to see it plummet, knowing you can't do anything to help it get back up. With Guitar Hero picking up the band equipment and releasing World Tour a year after Rock Band was released, the buzz of the multi-instrument layout was already seen, and the reaction Activision wanted was not there, already taken from them a year in the past, and again, Guitar Hero took a shot in popularity knowing it was not the monopoly of the Music Industry anymore.
So instead of going back to its roots and making a fun, unique game again, they went with the opportunity to make more games and not solidify a game that they spent the time and heart they did with the original games. Having six different Guitar Hero titles coming out in 2009 alone, the series had gone to its thinnest thread, and most people were sick of the idea of anything peripheral-based. Even I, who had stuck behind the game through all of its downfall, questioned buying Guitar Hero 5, and when I did, I didn't even send in for the free Val Halen game. So after all this mess, Activision decided to close Underground Studios, and may be in the mist of shutting down RedOctane.
So where does this put the Guitar Hero franchise? If RedOctane does go down, it would leave Vicarious Visions and other third-party developers the range to continue the franchise, but it will be without its two original creators. If anything, this will give Harmonix's Rock Band 3 an even bigger pedestal seeing Guitar Hero crumble. But with Rock Band 3 teasing to actually teach people the music in which they chose, I don't see as many people going to bite on that addition, and will bring the Music Game Industry to a perpetual slowdown. More Guitar Hero games most will not want to play, and a Rock Band that looks like it's going to take the simple fun of the series to help actually train customers to play the instruments they've been pretending to play for years. It just doesn't look good for the future of the Music Genre and will have to take a miracle to ever re-live the glory it once did during 2005-2007.
Just think about this for a second. Remember the first time you played Even Rats by The Slip? It's a simple, six minute song that was empowering enough to make you want to play it again and again; because it's good, clean music that signified that you don't need crazy 10-finger solos to qualify a Guitar Hero song. It was all about the mood of the game, the venue in which your character was in, the feeling of every note at your fingertips, the powerful mentality of every power chord you hit. It was an exciting feeling that never got old and brought you back for months. Now look at Guitar Hero 5, with almost every song give or take a few has a ridiculous solo to help hit the hardcore group, the only group they have left. To all the people wanting to Full-FC the games, the feeling is gone. It's all about high scores and who can squeeze the last points out of a sustain. Where did the enjoyment of just playing the song go? The lightness of having that guitar in your hand while you played a song to show your friends how awesome the game is, not how awesome You are at the game. Guitar Hero was all about making a name in a way that no real game had done yet: make a game that empowered the user with a simple mechanic. The game doesn't need solos or 1 million points for people to enjoy the game. All it needed was the ability to make someone feel like they were playing that song with their heart, not just their hands.
Something like a real Guitar Hero does.
Until next time,