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Exclusive Interview: New Details on Rock Band 3 Gameplay, Pro Mode, and Peripherals


Rock Band 3If 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.

Rock Band 3 Wireless Keyboard Controller

Wireless Keyboard Controller, $79.99; with game, $129.99

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.

Mad Catz MIDI PRO-Adapter

MIDI PRO-Adapter, $39.99

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.

Rock Band 3 Squier Stratocaster

Rock Band 3 Squier Stratocaster, Price TBA

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.

Rock Band 3 Guitar Pro Mode

L: Pro guitar run; R: Pro guitar chords

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.

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28 Comments

  1. Mike Prachar says:

    Huge. Absolutely huge.

  2. Arkk says:

    I cannot wait for this game, it’s going to be amazing! I’m a little confused about the double pedal and hi hat pedal, will the Drum Pro versions of songs chart double bass pedals or are the pedals JUST for freestyle?

  3. Mike Norrish says:

    *Sees Mustang controller and drops jawbone on floor*

    Holy crap! O.O Okay, I’ve got to get off my butt and start getting ready for this thing…

    Those strings in the strumbar slot… Those all function individually, right?

  4. Clinton says:

    Absolutely excited for this game. I can *not* wait until it comes. It will probably be the only game I play for several months after its release. :D

    Arkk:

    If I understood correctly, it seems that double bass and hi hats will *not* be charted in the actual charts themselves, due to some kind of limitation in their system. But there will still be some double bass parts similar to how they handle it in Rock Band 2, where one foot could play it. However, having the two bass pedals will give you an advantage in that stuation since you could play the parts with both feet.

    But during free form and fills, the pedal (whether double bass or hi hat) will work fine.

  5. Arkk says:

    Ah okay, I thought so, I’ve just been waiting for an Expert + mode for Rock Band, I was sure 3 would implement something along those lines, but I guess not. Oh well, I probably couldn’t even pass half the songs with double bass added anyway ;)

  6. Astroburn says:

    I am stunned by all this news. I dont know what peripheral to get first. I need new drums cuz mine are pretty shabby, but I have the 3 cymbals already so I’m set to go there. As for the guitar, I already have a real Strat so getting the Squire wouldnt be a real stretch to play, and I like the numbers scrolling down the highway. Its kinda like reading Tablature, So I totally see where they are coming from with the Game teaching more uses outside of playing the game – learning the guitar!

    And the KEyboard. Wow! I wasnt expecting that many keys! Good thing we are getting this news now, so I can start stashing money away with each paycheck to pay for the entire set come 4th quarter…

    Joe – Will you be getting all of the new equipment?

  7. CyberQuaker says:

    One of they biggest things I’ve been wondering is if they will give you the option to have the same character sing and play an instrument, which they (kinda) introduced in “Beatles.” Also, since they said that a lot of the DLC already has support for cymbals, I’m wondering if there is also a lot of DLC that has harmony data. I know they said they aren’t talking about their DLC strategy yet, but I know a lot of people are wondering if they will be releasing free patches for old DLC that adds the new features. I know that will probably be a lot of work, but I really want to play keyboard on the Nine Inch Nails songs!. With that, when they first “announced” keyboards, I was really hoping they would be adding more industrial and other electronic-infused rock. None of the currently announced tracks seem to fall into that category, but I hope there will be at least a few. Also, what about RBN songs? I really want to play keyboard for KMFDM, too! ha.

  8. CyberQuaker says:

    Looks like Kotaku got part of one of my questions answered: “While Harmonix reps say they expect to have all of Rock Band 3′s songs transcribed for Pro Mode difficulty, its plans for back catalog titles, like the keyboard heavy debut album from Boston, are still up in the air. Reps indicated they didn’t want to re-charge players for older songs.” [Source: http://kotaku.com/5560679/rock-band-3-playing-the-new-keyboard-102-button-guitar-controller
    One thing I forgot: I’d really like to know if they are planning any Pro guitar controller for bass.

  9. Onefreeman says:

    I’m now really worried tbh – Joe, can you try and get an answer for me if you get speaking to them again?

    I’ve an Ion Drum Rocker kit, which unless I’m having a blonde moment doesn’t have a spare input jack. Does this mean I’ll lose out on the double kick/hi-hat functionality?

  10. YES!!! Harmonix telepathically received my idea to add a designation between drum and cymbal notes. I feel a strange sense of accomplishment. :3

  11. Crap, can’t edit my first comment, but anyway.

    [EDIT] And I had thought re-tooling older songs for the cymbals was a longshot. O_O Thank you, Harmonix telepathic spies. *cries glorious man-tears*

  12. Mike says:

    Great interview!

  13. Bionic92 says:

    I was wondering if there would be a Pro mode for the bass guitar. That’s what I mainly play and I have been learning to actually play bass for a year now. Did you hear anything about Pro mode on bass or not?

  14. @Bionic Some of those screens do show two Pro mode tracks running at once. That may point toward a ‘yes’ about Pro bass or they went OH HAI LOL RHYTHM GUITAR TRACKS NOW. :D Which… wouldn’t be so bad either.

  15. Joe Rybicki says:

    Sorry for the delay in responding, folks — I didn’t actually pass out for 16 hours, but I did have a bunch to do today that I’d put off from yesterday thanks to the madness.

    So, let me answer some questions:

    @Arkk, I got the strong impression that no song would be charted for double bass or hi-hat. What I’m hoping — and didn’t think to ask until I’d hung up — is that you can use the hi-hat pedal to turn the Yellow cymbal into a Blue cymbal in-game, since so many songs are tracked with closed hat Yellow, open hat Blue.

    @Mike Norrish, Yep, the strings all function individually — my understanding is, in Pro mode you’ll have to fret and pluck the right string simultaneously.

    @Astroburn, As much as I think I won’t, I know damn well I’m going to have to bite the bullet and buy the stringed Squier. It’s just such an awesome idea…and I can always use a backup electric anyway! (In fact, it’d complete my trifecta of electrics: I currently have a Les Paul and a Telecaster, so a Strat body is a natural addition!)

    @CyberQuaker, I STRONGLY suspect Mad Catz will do a bass controller. After all, they’ve already made a few for RB2. Seems only logical.

    @Onefreeman, I’m not sure, but Ion’s site seems to indicate there’s a connector on the pedal? http://www.ionaudio.com/ied07 You might just need to swap out a pedal, if anything.

    @Bionic93, I’m fairly certain the image at the top of this post shows a bass line on the right. Based on the way the track is laid out, it sure looks like a bass line to me. I think there’s six strings because the controller has six strings. Definitely something I’ll ask them next week, though — if that’s not bass, then it’s gotta be rhythm guitar, which would also be pretty huge! But I”m pretty sure it’s bass. I’ll also try to find out if they’re doing a bass controller, and if so, if the 6-lane highway will detect that and drop down to 4.

    Thanks for reading, everyone, and for your awesome questions!

  16. andyyyyy says:

    well thats going to be good but for bass its going to be boring as FUCK!

  17. Seth says:

    Can someone please email this info to Jimmy Page so that we can get the Zep on RB?????

  18. Pele says:

    The cymbals already being charted for what sounds like the majority of the DLC back catalogue is giant news for fake plastic drummers.

    My only personal hitch is that I’m actually hoping to finally move from the realm of fake plastic drums to real, actual, acoustic drums — which are pretty goddamn expensive. I’d like to get the keyboard controller as well, but it’s hard to justify spending nearly $200 on video game instruments when you’re actually trying to be a real musician.

    Luckily for me: fake cymbals, keyboards; it’s all completely optional. There are so many ways to play RB3. I’ll just pick up the game by itself and play it with the standard RB2 instruments, then maybe upgrade down the line if I ever have some money to burn.

    Man, I’m excited!

  19. Astroburn says:

    @ Pele – I read somewhere (I cant find it anywhere now though) about a set of sensors that you can attach to a real drum set that allow you to use the real set to play with Rock Band. I dont remember if it was on here at Plasticaxe or elsewhere.

    If you can find it, then you should go buy a real kit and wire it up!

  20. @Joe I’d think it may be a backwards/more costly step to make a line of new pro 4-string hardware as some songs may still require a 5-string or 6-string bass (found out by some of us who’ve gone to youtube to see how Panic Attack’s bassline looks on an actual bass). I’m guessing they’ll just leave the 5th and 6th string blank for 4-string bass tracks in pro. Except… I DO shudder at the thought of going expert pro on a song that requires the full 6 strings if it’s a song anything like Panic Attack.

  21. Pele says:

    @Astroburn/Joe — Thanks for the heads up! I checked out the review. To be frank, though, it looks like, uh, sort of a dumb waste of money. Especially when an acoustic kit is so expensive, it seems asinine to spend $250 just to make it Rock Band-capable.

    In comparison, the RB2 stock kit is perfect for Rock Band. It doesn’t take up too much space, it’s quiet enough to play it at night, and I already have one! The only change I’ve made is I’m using the sturdier Rock Pedal instead of the stock pedal. But playing it feels great and I’m not really looking for anything different — at least as far as game controllers go.

    I think in my situation, the best scenario would be to buy a nice 4-piece drum kit (hopefully for under a grand), play the hell out of that, and then go back to plastic drums for Rock Band. I’m all for keeping the real instruments and the fake instruments separate. That’s how it is for me and guitars, after all.

    And being strapped for cash is my real issue, so just under $200 for RB3, the keyboard, and the fake cymbals sounds great next to $250 for a lot of work tweaking sensors into and on a real kit.

    But thanks again for the suggestion! It was nice to see video proof of Joe’s existence after OPM closed so many years ago. Probably the first and last magazine I was ever really excited to get in the mail.

  22. Astroburn says:

    @ Pele – If I had the room, I’d pull my drums down from in storage and use them instead of the Rock Band ones. It seems nitpicky, but I dont like how small the pads are. I rimshot like crazy on my Rock Band kit – mainly cuz I’m trying to avoid hitting the air bubble that has formed on my red and yellow pads. Its a tough call. The IONs at best are 250 bucks, and I’ve been wanting the pro set since late last year. And the Pro set is 500 bucks.

    I guess what I’m saying is that 250 bucks to convert a real set isnt that bad, when comparing it to what else is available besides the RB stock set. I say if you are serious about learning drums, hit up craigslist and find a “garage” ready kit on the cheap. Sometimes the crappy garage kits do just fine, and its a great way to get your foot in the door of Drum World. Then, after your neighbors move away from you, save up for the Omega. Gosh, now I really wish I had the room to do this…

    @ Joe – Do you still use the Omega?

  23. Pele says:

    @Astroburn — Have you tried RMA’ing your air-bubble’d stock kit? There was a huge air bubble on my original bundle RB2 stock kit only a couple of months after I started playing on it. I sent in an RMA request to EA online (along with a photo of a receipt) and they replaced my kit, even though I’m pretty sure the regular return date had expired!

    The replacement stock set I’m using now has yet to show any signs of wear (cracking/bubbles) and I’ve been playing it pretty heavily for over a year. It might be worth trying if you’re stuck with the stocks for now anyway.

  24. CherryGarcia13islucky says:

    Is Pro Mode a difficulty or are there difficulties in pro mode, because i don’t want that guitar if it would be to difficult to use it in the game.

  25. Astroburn says:

    @ Pele – Havent tried to RMA this set. I figured I was well beyond any warranty coverage, especially since this was a warranty replacement for my original RB2 set when I first got it.

    I thought about looking into replacement heads such as what is available at http://www.goodwoodmods.com. I’m still on the fence though…

  26. joe says:

    for people saying there might be a 6 string bass i doubt it cause for the real fender guitar has a different tunning than a 6 string bass bass is beadgc while guitar is eadgbe (standart tunning) and also for bassist that dont pick its harder to play finger style on smaller strings.

  27. rob says:

    Ugh, i was really hoping for and expert+ for drums, i really want the double bass aspect of the game. As a drummer that uses double bass its odd hearing the doubles in the song then not playing them on the rb2 kit. I was really hoping for double bass charts. maybe patch??