Welcome to part two of our interview with Harmonix design director Rob Kay. Yesterday he answered questions on the controversy over Rock Band's pricing in the UK as well as Xbox 360 exclusivity and the dispute with Guitar Hero publisher Activision. Today, we bring you his thoughts on the future of Rock Band, from DLC to "crazy blue sky" thinking, and why it can help you play drums in real life.
VideoGamer.com: On SingStar PS3 there's a video creation tool and you can upload your own videos. Any plans for something similar with Rock Band?
Rob Kay: I think it's a cool feature. I haven't actually seen it myself. We've talked about ways of recording performances and we've riffed on that idea. We haven't got anything in the works right now. But I wouldn't rule it out for the future.
VideoGamer.com: What about future retail releases? Will it be Rock Band and DLC only till the next Rock Band or will it follow the Guitar Hero model with different retail expansions?
RK: The thing that we've jumped into with both feet is digital distribution, doing it online and having weekly releases of songs. We're absolutely going to continue that and that's our premier way to experience Rock Band. We're in this strange cross over at the moment between bricks and mortar retail sales and online sales, and maybe there's a kind of cross feed going on. There will probably always be people who buy gifts in stores for family members. We're just trying to navigate that at the moment and try and figure what the right approach is.
We've jumped in with both feet with the downloads because we know that's where the future is, and actually the present there as well. We've sold six million plus songs for Rock Band. Now we've got the music store built in as well. We think that's probably the best way to do it. That's what we're really excited about. In the future we'll have albums that will be available to download through the game online. There's an online store that you'll see with the UK version, and on the first screen it says do you want to buy songs, do you want to buy song packs or do you want to buy albums? At the moment albums is coming soon, because it's something we're working on but it's not quite ready yet. Any song that you buy with Rock Band, say the song is part of a three song pack, you don't have to buy the three song pack to get the one song you want, you can just go and buy any song individually. We've also got slick cover art, we've got audio previews. We're really embracing the idea of the music platform. We think that's where it's going. We've got all the major music labels on board with that. They're right behind it.
VideoGamer.com: Any hints as to what albums we might see?
RK: We don't want to say. We've said a little bit in the past about some albums that people can expect and I think it created expectation levels that we don't want to dash. One of the problems is sometimes you think you have the approval and then at the last minute it gets whisked away from you, because maybe they can't find the masters. There's stories about masters in shoe boxes hidden in people's attics and they don't show up. We've now taken to being a little bit more guarded about when we'll announce the albums. But there are some coming.
VideoGamer.com: Harmonix as a studio - is it Rock Band and Rock Band only for the foreseeable future or does the team fancy doing something else?
RK: Music in gaming is where we're at, it's been our reason for being for many years. We want to do justice to Rock Band and what it's creating. We see possibilities for taking it forward. But we're also full of ideas for other games within musical gaming. We're structuring ourselves internally so that we can both deliver all of this music and incremental upgrades to Rock Band, while also devoting enough of our time to just real blue sky crazy s$!t.
VideoGamer.com: What kind of things are going on in your head?
RK: Musically there is so much possibility for games that allow you to be more creative. That's something we dip our toe into with Rock Band, like on the drums you get an area when you can freestyle and do whatever you want. We see ways of taking that way forward where we're giving people creativity tools within the game. It's tough, because as soon as you do that you open up the possibility of A: it sounds really bad and B: they'll not have a clue what they're doing. So any solutions that we come up with in that space are going to be ones that people can pick up from scratch and it sounds great. That's a challenge but we're working on it. That's one of the spaces that we want to explore.
VideoGamer.com: Like a song creation tool?
RK: Something of that ilk. It's too hazy and early to put any firm descriptions on that. But that's just one of the ideas. What tends to happen is you think of lots of things and then you filter down the ones that seem to test really well, so who knows if that's going to work out. But we're allowing us to find out.
VideoGamer.com: You mention that one of the problems with user generated content is that much of it will be rubbish, but peer reviews seem to filter out the crap. Is that a way around it?
RK: It works for YouTube and stuff like that right? There's a whole new world of user generated games that are in and you can see that making sense for the future. We want to create a platform of Rock Band and it would be awesome if one day any band were able to get their music into the game. We've not really thought about hurdles in the way of that vision, but we'd love to get there one day. Looking at that is another one of the things that we're thinking about. It's kind of user generated content but it's more like super user generated content. We're looking at all of that and that whole landscape and trying to figure out what's the best way to apply that to music games that always keeps it true to what we're trying to achieve.
VideoGamer.com: Sounds cool. What's the pricing of the individual songs in the UK?
RK: It's the same price as the US. Most of our releases are 160 MS Points and then some of them are 80. The 80 ones are usually just indie stuff that will come out, or off the wall stuff. We recently did the Portal song and released that for Rock Band which was an awesome bit of nerd rock. We'll tend to release stuff like that cheaper. The UK will have the exact same music library as the US. There's going to be no difference. The game releases here on the 23 May, which is the Friday, and Tuesday is when we release all the DLC every week. On the first Tuesday after the game's launch the whole music library will become available to everyone in the UK. That's also the same day we'll most likely make the UK exclusive songs available to the rest of the world as well. We don't want to get into the situation where, oh I can get this song from here and I can't get it from here, we just want to keep it open for everyone.
VideoGamer.com: Any heads up on the next batch of UK exclusive DLC?
RK: One of the things we're trying deal with is we've got all of these different pressing needs and different territories on the music that we release and trying to make sure that our pipeline for choosing those songs include those considerations. We will have UK songs in the game going in fairly regularly just as we would have US songs going into the game fairly regularly. We won't frame it as UK exclusives. It'll just be like, hey there's UK bands. Or we had the Oasis pack which we released a few weeks ago and I expect that to do well in the UK, but it wasn't launched as a UK only thing, it's available to everyone.
VideoGamer.com: Personal question - what do you prefer, singing, drums, guitar or bass?
RK: Drums for me, but I'm a drummer! It's so hard to choose. Last weekend I was playing with my girlfriend and we were playing Radiohead's Creep and I was singing, and I had goose pimples. It was the best, most emotionally touching Rock Band moment I've had! But comparing that with playing Keith Moon's part in The Who, it's just totally different. It's awesome in a completely different way.
VideoGamer.com: So you're a drummer. Does being able to play the drums help?
RK: Yeah. As long as you can get used to reading the track, which is different, you can play on expert. Because it is one for one, you are playing on expert level every note you see in the game is a note the real drummer played. So you are able to play a beat exactly as it's played on the track. Then what we do is make it simpler on hard, simpler again on medium and super simple on easy. On drums I was always able to always start on expert. But when I first played the guitar stuff I was fumbling.
VideoGamer.com: So could playing the drums on Rock Band help you learn to play in real life?
RK: Yeah, for sure. No doubt about it. We've got people internally who've never played on a drum kit before, and they've played Rock Band and maybe got through to hard or maybe even expert and then you sit them down at a real drum kit and they can hold down a beat and it's like, oh s$!t! The action of the way you play is the same. You're actually doing all the same actions and learning a lot of the same patterns that real drummers use.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time.
Rock Band is due out on May 23 for Xbox 360, with other platforms scheduled for later in the summer.