If you’re like me, the revelations of Rock Band 3 info that hit yesterday morning left you with just as many questions as answers. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to talk to Rock Band 3 project lead Daniel Sussman and publicist Stephanie Myers yesterday afternoon to ask some of the questions we all have — but I never expected some of the answers they were able to give.
Read on to learn new details about the functionality of the Rock Band 3 guitars, a new peripheral that should get serious drummers and keyboard players pretty excited, and the secret Rock Band 3 functionality that’s hiding on your hard drive right this very moment. Plus: the debut trailer!
I wanted to start off talking about the keyboard. I saw that the keyboard has MIDI out; is that how it interfaces with the game?
Daniel Sussman: No. The MIDI out is for whatever musical application you would like to use it for. [The keyboard is] a fully functional videogame controller on each platform. So, on the 360 it’s got the Ring of Light, all the buttons, and it connects wirelessly; on the PS3 and Wii it’s got the same dongle structure that we use on all of our peripherals.
So MIDI is basically an added-value sort of thing?
DS: Exactly. We realized pretty early on, as we were designing the keyboard, that it was going to be a pretty functional keyboard, so we wanted to sort of realize its potential. Given my past in the hardware-development scene, [we're all] very psyched to be making real instruments.
So, would there be any way to use a full-sized MIDI keyboard with the game or anything like that? Or is it pretty much just the controller?
DS: We are developing a MIDI box, a conversion box, that would be a controller in itself and allow the import of standard MIDI [keyboards] and drum kits into the game.
Oh, that is awesome. Then, let me ask you about the guitar: Do the new guitars have MIDI out?
DS: The new guitars both have MIDI out.
SWEET. Pardon my geeking out, but I do some home recording and the idea of having a guitar with MIDI out is really exciting to me.
DS: Well, to us too! Again, as with the keyboard, both flavors of the guitar are designed to be MIDI instruments at the very least, and the Fender Squier is — it’s a real guitar.
So, how does the technology work with the Squier? Can you explain how it detects finger placement and so on?
DS: Well, I don’t want to get into the super-detailed specifics, but we basically isolated this matrix of strings and frets so that we can tell what your left hand is doing before you strum.
Stephanie Myers: We don’t want to go into too much detail about that, but it’s essentially fret-sensing technology for your fingers. And it shows up in real time on the screen, so you can look at the screen and see where your left-hand fingers are.
DS: I’ll tell you what, though, we’re going to have it all at E3, so my advice is to just check it out on the floor. It’s easier to see in person than to describe it.
For Pro mode, for the guitar, are you basically learning the song? Like, if you got up to Expert in Pro mode, and you played the song, would you then just be able to go pick up any other regular guitar and play that song?
DS: Effectively, yes. The underlying design of Rock Band Pro across all the instruments is that whatever you’re doing in the game translates to some form of genuine musical ability outside of the game. So on the keyboard, even if you’re playing on Easy or Medium, the notes that you’re playing, or the notes that the game is cueing you to play, are pitch-accurate.
And in guitar, it’s the same way. We’ve designed an interface that covers everything from single notes and single-note runs, to power chords, to full barre chords and open chords. It gets pretty complex.
We have arpeggio language — it does take you all the way through to Expert, which is note-for-note authoring…for ridiculous songs! Like, “Crazy Train,” or “Rainbow in the Dark,” or whatever — these songs that have blistering solos — in order to beat those songs in Pro mode on Expert, you will have to learn the song.
That is insane.
DS: Well, it’s been an adventure, to say the least, to develop this stuff. We’ve been blown away by the response that we’ve gotten through focus tests, and just sort of the natural development of it all as we actually put our game in front of people and watch them develop skills.
But actually, it’s not such a stretch when you think about what we did with [the first] Rock Band and the drums. We could have made that a far more abstract simulation of drum gameplay, but we didn’t. We kept it as close to the real thing as we could, and by Expert, you’re basically playing drums. And so that was sort of an awakening moment for us, as we saw that in the field and saw how people responded to that, and how Expert Rock Band players could learn skills in the game, and then transpose those skills to real music. That was the glimmer of insight into Pro mode, where we realized we can totally do this.
People get so good at guitar — Expert guitar, what people can do on that, is actually mind-blowing. The amount of time people spend, we’re super-respectful of that time investment. And with Rock Band Pro, we’re looking to do two things: One is to level the playing field, in a sense. This is new; if you’re really good at Rock Band or Guitar Hero or whatever, this is going to be new to you — it’s a new way of interacting with music. [The other is that] at the end of that difficulty ramp, if you actually put the time in, you’ll have something that is valuable outside of the game space. That’s the ambition of Rock Band Pro.