XLC Gaming Network were attending EGX this year for the first time and one title that has been on my radar since the day it was announced is Rock Band 4. Mad Catz had put on a live rock party like no other for all attendees and press alike. In fact I would say they were certainly on of, if not THE loudest booths in Birmingham’s NEC. The full band kit was on show to let all see and feel just how improved the new equipment really is, from one of the best Peripheral makers in the games industry.
As well as getting some hands on time on the drums, and seeing plenty of people let out their inner rock star, I managed to also grab a chat with Alex Verry, Mad Catz Global PR and Communications Director. We sat down and talked not only about the new hardware and new features of the game, but also the games tracklist and how the extensive back catalogue of DLC in the Rock Band universe will work with Rock Band 4.
Before we get to the interview though I would like to share my thoughts of my hands on playtime I had on the second day of EGX.
With the creation of Rocksmith from Ubisoft, people did wonder if there was still a space in gaming for the revival of the plastic instruments. I can happily say that being an owner of Rocksmith from day one and having also collected the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, the route Harmonix has taken with Rock Band 4 has been a very smart one indeed. They have kept the formula of what made Rock Band so accessible to all in the first place. When it comes to the electric guitar you have the newly added freestyle solos, which sound just absolutely stunning, allowing you as the player to really put on a show akin to the likes of Slash, Jimi Hendrix and many other of the best guitarists in the world.
The only ‘Pro Instrument’ to make the cross to Rock Band 4 is of course the Pro Drums. This though is one thing I love about Rock Band because you are more or less playing the drums for real. At EGX the new Drum Kit with the Cymbal Extensions was there allowing players to play Pro Drums but they could also elect to use just the normal Drums. My play through was with the Drums and I could actually feel the benefits on my first strike of the skins. There is much more bounce on the strike which doesn’t just make it more authentic but also shows how sturdy the whole drum kit is. Alex explains more about the drums in our interview. The kick pad also felt much better and also much more refined and sturdier. This will definitely tempt me to use it more often.
It’s not just the plastic instruments that have had the upgrade treatment, the microphone has went through changes all for the better. Having used many a different microphones on the last gen consoles I found that there was always an issue with it recognising voice tones and never always heard myself singing. The new mic seems to have sorted out all these bugs and the game didn’t seem to have an issue with voice tone recognition thanks to the games software overall.
The game presentation itself stays familiar with fans of the series but the graphical overhaul brings the game into the 21st century really bringing Harmonix art direction to life. Even with all four instruments the screen never felt over crowded and you could still see the band and crowd with ease. The note charts themselves are the same as before except when it comes to the note chart for the guitar solos. More on this from Alex below:
As mentioned I also got to chat to Alex about the game in general as well as the new hardware. I quizzed him on various aspects of all things Rock Band 4. It was a great chat as he shared the reasons behind the choices and how it makes for a much better experience reviving the Rock Band for the new-generation of gamers.
One of the first things we spoke about was the Pro Instruments from Rock Band 3 and the reason for going back to basics with the instruments.
Alex explained that “They wanted to go back to what makes Rock Band fun for the community. As well as making the game instantly accessible which is what made the games so much fun in the past”.
I asked him the benefits they are getting out of the new hardware over the legacy hardware?
Alex continues to say“they wanted to keep the same form factor, the same shape and the same appearance of the legacy form factor, as they work well as is. Harmonix explored the opportunity of innovating via the hardware but decided the better option for the community and new gamers to the franchise would be to innovate more in the games software.” As Alex says “the new instruments have been completely redesigned and re-engineered from the ground up. Which also allowed for a much better quality that matches today’s gamer’s expectations and needs.”
The Magic of the New Axe.
When it comes to the new guitar Alex expands “The guitar has went through dozens of adjustments. The neck and the base has been reinforced as well as the addition of structured ribbon. They won’t bend as much making it feel more than just a kids toy. The fret buttons have been added with positive force actuation meaning the fret buttons won’t feel as floaty as before, the buttons are also much more quieter as well. The tilt function has been added with a state of the art digital accelerometer so when you access overdrive you are not losing points. He explains this is something that affected the previous design with mechanical ball-bearing. The instrument have gone down from three batteries to two batteries at the same time doubling and even tripling the battery life in some areas.”
Bang Those Drums.
When it comes to the drums Alex explains “the drum kit has been added with structure reinforcements on the drum pads”. When I commented on the bounce back when hitting the pads he explained that this was intentional. He also mentions “The drums have been designed to take much more of a beating this time around.” He continued to mention how the drums interact with the cymbals in the ‘Cymbal Expansion Kit’ this time by saying “not only do the cymbals have a new sensor but the newly designed MCU of the drums is much more sophisticated. This gives you one-to-one clarity meaning the player can control the volume of the cymbals depending how hard they strike them.”
Let that Rock Voice Raise the Roof.
The final instrument is of course the microphone witch will be the bench mark for all future microphones not just for Rock Band but for karaoke games in general. Alex talks about why you will want to use one of these mics as he describes it in more detail. He says, “It is a new 16bit mic completely redesigned sampling at 48Khz. This mic is of studio grade, and you will be able to harmonize when using multiple mics. The engine they are using goes far above and beyond anything before in detecting pitch and range in voices” Alex also noted that “even if you don’t have an interest in the instruments and you were looking for a karaoke game then you won’t find anything better than Rock Band 4” This is certainly something I wholeheartedly agree with and no doubt is something that we will see at many Christmas parties this year.
Create Your Own Freestyle Guitar Solo Like the Masters of the Axe.
The flagship feature of Rock Band 4 is of course the ability to play your own freestyle guitar solos. This is also where the new note chart comes into play. I asked Alex to go deeper into how this works.
Alex explains:- “Upon your first meeting with the new Guitar Solo charting it can be a bit daunting, although the game will have a tutorial mode explaining what each of the unique note charting means in the solos. There is only about four to five new commands you will need to learn to understand the freestyle guitar solos.”
Alex also revealed something that many may not know and that is “Harmonix have been working on the freestyle guitar solo feature for ten years.” He continued to say “The thought process was to see how Harmonix could give players that feeling of being a true rock God and bringing something unique to their experience. All at the same time giving the illusion of being in control of the music. He also noted the freestyle guitar solo is unique and has been patented to Rock Band 4. You will not find this in any other game.”
Going back to how this feature works in Rock Band 4 Alex continues to explain that, “just buy using the buttons you have on your guitar, be it the new instruments or legacy instruments, and buy holding down different combinations of frets and strumming at different speeds your own freestyle guitar solo is born.” You can button bash if you wish but Alex goes further saying, “That if you take the time to learn the rhythms you will learn the logic behind the new language and repeat it time and time again in the game.” He also reveals that “The game will never let you sound bad in your freestyle solo and you will always sound in context to the game.”
Freestyle Guitar Solo Over a Full Track You Say?
As if the freestyle guitar solo sections in the songs are not already sounding an amazing addition to Rock Band Alex revealed another feature that utilizes this unique gameplay style. Alex mentions that “There is a special jam mode that will allow you to play every track as freestyle solo.” I personally think this sounds absolutely awesome. It will be great to hear peoples unique freestyle take on the Rock Band 4 song library in the weeks to come. It also shines a light on the strong relationships that Harmonix have built up over the years with their music partners.
New and Legacy Instruments are a Match Made in Rock Heaven.
I also quizzed him about mixing legacy instruments with the new instruments. For example if you maybe just bought the guitar bundle and use an old set of drums would it work together?
Alex assures our readers that this will not be a problem and expands on this by saying, “The game is smart enough to detect when a legacy instrument is being used.” He continues to say, “That the game will adjust the latency without you ever noticing making sure that everyone is in sync regardless of the instruments being used.” He also points out that “This is the first time a company has attempted something this complex, that allows you to take legacy instruments to communicate with the next-gen consoles”. For PS4 fans no additional equipment is needed but for Xbox One fans they will require the legacy adapter which will come bundled with the disk. For those buying digitally the adapter will be sold separately and the team are working hard to meet demand as well as making it available for the games launch.
The Ease of Co-Publishing with Harmonix for The Fourth Instalment
Rock Band was a franchise that had many different companies involved although Mad Catz have always been there from RB2. I asked Alex the advantages of RB4 now only being Mad Catz and Harmonix.
Alex explains that “After Harmonix released Rock Band 2 they were looking for one company to take charge of producing the hardware and Mad Catz secured that deal and became the exclusive peripheral manufacture of the hardware.” He continued to say that “With there just being two parties involved things are much more simplified. Harmonix make the game and Mad Catz with all their experience produce the hardware, making co-ordinating over the world so much easier.”
Songs, Songs and More Songs
With such a rich back catalogue of DLC for Rock Band 4 already available and ready to go, I asked a few more questions on the song front as well as DLC. The first question I put forward was: did they secure artists that they might not have been able to secure before?
Alex did mention the return of “Areosmith who were exclusive to another game for quite some time, and also the recent announcement of Van Halen, was a big score for the team.” He couldn’t express enough that they are “Always conscious of who fans are asking for, and will always work hard to secure the best music.”
I then proceeded to ask about exporting previous songs from previous games and if this will be possible?
Alex confirmed that “All previous DLC bought will be playable in RB4 and the Rock Band music store will have over 1500 tracks available from day one.” He continued to say that “If you have already exported songs from RB1, RB2, RB AC/DC, RB Green Day and Lego RB it will appear on RB4. With Rock Band Beatles this will not be possible due to licensing issues. At the moment this is also the same with RB 3 but it is something the team are trying hard to work on.” My last question to Alex before we got back to rocking out was his music weapon of choice. He admitted to the mic being his weakest, with the drums and lead guitar being more his poison to entertain the crowd.
I can’t thank Alex enough for taking the time out of his busy schedule at EGX this year to speak to XLC Gaming Network further about Rock Band 4. From my early hands on of the title Harmonix and Mad Catz have done a stellar job on bringing not only a fresh but also unique Rock Band experience that you will not find in any other music game. The freestyle guitar solos are definitely the games most killer app along with the ability to freestyle over whole tracks. I never saw one unhappy rocker come off the Rock Band 4 stage at EGX. This is certainly a strong sign of things to come from Harmonix and Mad Catz and I just can’t wait now to get my hands on the finished product.
You can head on over to http://www.rockband4.com/ to pre-order Rock band 4 which is released on the 6th October 2015.