Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is predicted to be one of this winter's biggest sellers. The sequel to the hugely successful Guitar Hero II includes many new features, new wireless guitars and plenty more original tracks than we've seen in previous games. I caught up with Kai Huang, president and co-founder of RedOctane, at Games Convention 2007 to chat about the latest game and the future of the franchise.
Pro-G: Could you just explain to our readers what your role is in the development of Guitar Hero III?
Kai Huang: I'm the president and co-founder of RedOctane. We are the publisher behind Guitar Hero, and two years ago now, back in 2005, we were interested in making a guitar-based video game, so we approached developers to do that. Right now my role is generally more of a management role, but I get involved in some of the game's development side and the creative side as well.
Pro-G: Peripheral-based games haven't done exceedingly well in the past. Are you at all surprised by the huge success that Guitar Hero has achieved?
KH: Yeah, I think it's hard not to be surprised by a title like Guitar Hero. We knew it would be a great game. We had heard at the beginning of the lack of success of other peripheral-based games, but we knew this was a very special game. It looked great, but you can never really predict the success of something like a Guitar Hero. So definitely a surprise, but we always knew it would be a great game.
Pro-G: Guitar Hero is in a way a rather restrictive franchise, in that you play a guitar to music. Given that you've already released two games in the series, is there a danger of new ideas running out?
KH: Well, we have a lot of new features in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and I think we're far from exhausting all the ideas that we've had - not only for the game but also for the music. A lot of the features in Guitar Hero III haven't been available in previous versions.
First we've added a battle mode, which is a really fun competitive mode that allows you to compete against a player. We've added boss battles, so now you can actually compete against Slash, a real legend of rock. We've added some really great co-op multiplayer modes, and of course we've added online. So, all of the game modes available in Guitar Hero III can be played online with friends.
Pro-G: Online play is obviously something that's been wanted since the beginning, but with the game being built around precision timing, has lag been a major stumbling block?
KH: We were very concerned about how going online and lag would affect the gameplay, but Neversoft who's the developer on the game has a significant amount of experience. They are one of the best developers in the world and they've had a lot of experience with online. The result is that we've managed to overcome all of those concerns we had at the beginning of the project, so there are no issues with lag and going online.
Pro-G: What systems will gamers be able to venture online with? Anything planned for the Wii?
KH: There is online for the PS3 and Xbox 360. There won't be online initially for the Wii, but we are working with Nintendo to see how we can get those features in.
Update: It seems some wires were crossed over the online functionality of the Wii game. A RedOctane representative contacted us to clear up the issue.
"There will, in fact, be Online gameplay for the Wii when Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock launches in late October. However, there will not be Downloadable content available on the Wii at launch. That, we are still working with Nintendo on."
Pro-G: Previous games have had a smattering of licensed music. Is this an area you've really focussed on in Guitar Hero III?
KH: This is a really big focus for us. In Guitar Hero III there are over 70 tracks and over 70% of them are original master tracks. Getting the originals is very important to us. Sometimes we do have to do re-records, and there are specific reasons why; for example, some songs are a little long and we want to cut them a little bit shorter or there are places where there's a real dead spot. In some cases the original master just isn't available so we have to re-record.
After the success of the franchise we've had bands who are excited about the game, or they have kids who love playing the game. For example, we have the Beastie Boys in Guitar Hero III. When we told them we wanted one of their songs they actually re-recorded the song for us, just for Guitar Hero III.
Pro-G: Have you got to the stage where bands have approached you to make exclusive tracks for the game? Is that something you're going to be looking at in the future?
KH: I think we're definitely trying to create closer relationships with the bands and artists. It's something we want to do and have done in the past and will continue to do. We want to see how we can get their music in the game.
Another example of what we're doing is with Slash, where he actually composed an original song for us, and Guitar Hero III will be the first time people get to hear that song. We want to work with the music industry; we want to work with artists and the bands, and we want to do creative things like that.
Pro-G: Wii gamers expect their games to be different to what they'd find on other consoles. Is the Wii version of Guitar Hero III going to be a different experience?
KH: The Wii version will be a different experience. We haven't made any specific announcements on what the differences are, but absolutely we want to take advantage of the Wii-mote and utilise all of its capabilities. People will be able to see the differences.
Pro-G: The downloadable content for Guitar Hero II on the Xbox 360 came under a lot of criticism, mainly due to its price. Did you learn anything from your first foray into this growing area of the industry?
KH: You know, we constantly listen to all the feedback from fans and we try to incorporate that feedback. We look at different ways to package the music and ultimately we want to find the best way for both the consumers and for us to deliver that music. We're certainly going to try and incorporate the feedback into the downloadable content for Guitar Hero III.
Pro-G: For the first time, in the shape of Rock Band, there's some real competition to Guitar Hero. Has this affected the development of the game or are you simply trying to focus on your own title?
KH: We haven't really focussed on competing with Rock Band and I don't really consider Rock Band a direct competitor. I think Harmonix is a great developer and they're taking their product, I believe, in a slightly different direction, in the sense that it's a bit more complex, multi-player, going online and joining a band. For us it's all about accessibility and casual gaming. We want to get as many people as possible to play Guitar Hero, and to do that we need to make it as simple and as easy to play as possible.
The great thing about Guitar Hero has always been that it's easy to learn but hard to master. We really want to stick to that so we can get as many people playing Guitar Hero III as possible. We really do believe that it's a mass audience, casual game that both hardcore gamers and casual gamers enjoy.
Pro-G: One of the criticisms of the recent Rocks the 80s was its difficulty. Certain players found it far too easy. Is difficulty something you've worked hard on, considering you want Guitar Hero III to appeal to such a broad range of gamers?
KH: Definitely, difficulty levels are something that we've addressed with Guitar Hero III. You know, it's always a difficult job to balance difficulty with playability, to make sure you get all that right. We took a lot of time with that and looked at the feedback to make sure we got it spot on with this game.
Pro-G: Finally, as the franchise progresses, will we get to the stage where you're simply adding new tracks? How far can the franchise evolve into something more than what it started as?
KH: I think we have a lot of great ideas for Guitar Hero, so we're far from exhausting all the great ideas that we've had. Just as a simple example, in Guitar Hero III we've added all the different modes, online, boss battles, original music and wireless guitars. We've got a lot of ideas for future versions of Guitar Hero and I think they'll definitely make it into future games.
Pro-G: Thanks for your time.
KH: No worries.