Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Guitar Hero Live is Dying…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 4, 2016

Guitar-Hero-LiveMy sympathies go out to the people laid off from Freestyle Games, makers of Guitar Hero Live. This pretty much nails the coffin shut on the Guitar Hero franchise. Things don’t sound great for Rock Band 4, either. It seems like the planned resurgence of the music rhythm game genre ain’t happening.

This kinda bums me out, but by the same token, I think I have some DLC for Rock Band 3 on my XBox 360 that has never been played. And I don’t have a next-gen console yet. But every once in a while we pop out the ol’ hardware with friends and family, and you know what? It’s still a lot of fun. Every time.

But … in all honesty, besides new songs, where else was the series to go? From a gameplay perspective, the only way to go was new songs. And after a good 5-year run, they’d hit a lot of the high points. Both games offered new instruments, of which the drums was by far the fan favorite. In the end, though, you stand there with friends and hit the right combination of buttons at the right time in time with the music to keep the music playing, using gameplay powers to try and prevent someone in a tough spot from failing or trying to maximize your score. And… what else? Part of the fun was in the simplicity of it all. Making things more complex would only detract from the game. There were all kinds of meta-game elements slapped on to the core gameplay, but it was the core that made people keep coming back… for a while. But eventually, we’d done it all.

For me… but sadly, not for many others… the next step was using the game to learn to play the real instruments. Rock Band 3 went there, with a custom controller and everything. Which I still have. It wasn’t great, especially because it had to be watered down to fit in the core experience of the Rock Band / Guitar Hero model.

Since then, Rocksmith offered a marginal improvement over that experience, and Rocksmith 2014 took a much bigger step in making a focused “learn to play guitar” tool, to the point where I have a tough time imagining too many improvements I’d want to see in an update. But in order to get there, it had to drop a lot of the fundamentals of the Rock Band / Guitar Hero experience,  which were excess baggage in a training tool. At least a singer can still plug in a microphone and sing along.

But this illustrates a problem that has existed in video games since the first arcade sequels, and games like Asteroids Deluxe and Ms. Pac-Man. It’s the reason we don’t play a totally new version of Chess every couple of years. Gameplay may be refined and accessorized, and the presentation may be changed, but if you change too much, it’s no longer the same game. But if you change too little, players will get bored. If you keep things simple to attract new players, your veterans will grow bored. If you make things more challenging to appeal to the veterans, your player base will shrink to just the veterans of the previous game.

Game makers have come to realize this, which is why changing content is the key (the game is the same, but the content keeps fresh). But it’s still a problem when so many game companies are dependent upon evergreen product lines. There’s a point where just changing the players on the sports teams to match this year’s lineup, or throwing in a few new levels doesn’t do it for players anymore.

I think this is also a reason why I’m such a big fan of retrogaming. A good game is a good game, and it shouldn’t have to be part of a big franchise to be playable a decade letter. This is what scares me so much with this trend to treat games as a service.

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