Here's What Ted Price Would Have Done If He Took Over Rock Band In 2008
With everyone discussing the Rock Band 4 announcement, several editors in the office engaged in conversations about Rock Band's storied past. One of the talking points was a potential new direction for the series by a game developer you wouldn't expect.
In 2008, I challenged a handful of game developers to design a sequel to one of their favorite franchises that they hadn't worked on. Bethesda Game Studios' Todd Howard outlined his vision for a Final Fantasy sequel, Naughty Dog's Jason Rubin provided insight into how he would reinvent Resident Evil, and Insomniac Games' Ted Price walked us through his plans for a Rock Band sequel.
Below is Price's idea for a Rock Band that focused more on the story and the musicians than we've seen in Harmonix's series. Keep in mind, this piece ran in 2008, and a lot has changed in the world of game development between then and now. Regardless, Price's vision is fascinating. I'd love to see a music game dive deeper into the connection between the player and character.
Without further delay, here's Ted...
It’s hard to imagine working on or improving someone else’s IP, especially Rock Band since Harmonix kicked so much ass on it. But let’s say Insomniac owned Rock Band…what would we do with it? Since we have a very collective design approach it’s a tough question to answer without polling the whole crew. So for the moment I’ll be selfish and tell you what I would suggest.
While the world tour and developing your band is well done, it’d be even cooler to flesh out the solo character development more. I think it would be a blast to have a single-player campaign where you’re following your singer, drummer, or guitarist through the ups and downs of the music world. Yeah, I know everyone wants to get right to the songs, but I’d like to see my character experiencing more real-life moments as he heads toward stardom. I’d like to have some playable segments where I can interact with other characters and make some choices that will affect my music career.
For example, I get a groupie pregnant. What do I do? Do I marry her or do I let my manager pay her off since I’m worried about my sex appeal decreasing? Or I hear a rumor that my manager is using hired muscle to pressure venue owners into letting my band play – but at the same time he’s been setting up amazing gigs. Do I confront him or let it ride, hoping that his actions don’t reflect on me down the road? Or I find myself in a five-star suite. Should I trash it? I’ll pay a hefty fine but at the same time I’ll earn excellent bad boy PR. And so on. No decision would ever be the “right” one but each decision would have obvious consequences in terms of the opportunities that pop up.
Some football games have started heading this route where you’re spending as much time managing your players’ careers as you are playing the games. And while some gamers may find this tedious, I think a lot of players would appreciate the extra depth. It would also be an entertaining way to show how nasty the music industry can be. Not that I know anything about the music industry. I’ve just heard some crazy stories…
Going even deeper, how about RPG-like stats for your characters? A high “solo skill” could get you extra multipliers for your solos. A solid “consistency” stat would forgive you a few missed notes on each song. Good “sex appeal” stats (earned from your wardrobe choices) would give you higher quality groupies – some of whom could provide you with special opportunities. For example, one of your groupies is a heiress who convinces her father to pay you a few hundred thousand to play her 18th birthday bash. (Oh yeah, and you have to sleep with her to get that gig – she’s got a bad rep so you run the risk of losing fans). Good “PR” stats (earned from your non-concert activities) would give you better bandmates whose presence would get you more fans with each gig. This could go on and on.
Even though this doesn’t have much to do with game design, let’s get real instruments in there. For any of us wannabe guitar players it’s cool party trick to play on expert (not that I can). But it would be way cooler to pick up a real axe and shred in the game. In fact, whenever I play Rock Band, I feel kind of guilty – if I had been playing my stringed guitar for all of those hours, damn I’d be good. But unfortunately I’m still a lot better at hitting colored buttons than I am strumming the real deal. By the way, the drummers at Insomniac tell me that playing drums in Rock Band is actually a good primer for the real thing. And of course singing in the game can only help you the next time you’re drunk at karaoke night. So I guess I’m just sayin’ let’s figure out how to hook up our real guitars. I’d like the fantasy that I’m actually learning a true skill that I can brag about. I don’t know how the hell you’d do it. And I don’t know how it wouldn’t end up costing consumers even more money. But heck, people are already paying $130 for the game – I don’t think it’s about the money, not really.
Finally, let’s let bands record original tracks. Maybe a deluxe version of the game could include some sweet samplers – drums, bass and guitar. Assuming you had support for input from real guitars you could give the player the ability to do multitrack recording and some rudimentary editing. Even if the quality wasn’t that hot, uploading your finished songs to Rock Band central for others to check out would rule. Okay, we’re probably talking about a small percentage of the audience who’d actually be interested in seeing a song through to finish. And Rock Band would never take the place of Pro Tools and real instruments. But if it gave people a really, really easy way to collaborate and record some stuff together, damn, I’d buy it.
This article originally appeared in issue 181 of Game Informer.