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

Now, the smaller controller has strings for picking and buttons on the neck, is that right?

DS: Yep, there’s a matrix of 17 frets, with six strings worth of buttons. So that’s a lot of buttons on the neck [102, to be exact. –Ed.], but it actually works exactly the same way that the actual Fender guitar does, where your left hand is pressing buttons and you activate them by strumming. It’s pretty close to the real thing; it’s a MIDI instrument but not an analog instrument, so because of the buttons you can’t bend strings and stuff like that. But it’s got a lot of upside that a real guitar doesn’t: You don’t have to worry about tuning or maintenance; it’s really just an out-of-the-box game controller that supports the Pro guitar stuff.

Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller

Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller, $149.99

Because of the smaller neck, will there be any difference in charting between the smaller controller and the full-size guitar?

DS: The only difference is with respect to the top end of it; there are more frets on the Squier than on the Mustang. So there is a difference in the charts there, where we look at what guitar you have and then make sure that we transpose those higher parts down when you’re playing on the button guitar.

So let’s talk about drums: Are you guys doing an entirely new kit?

DS: No. Drum functionality is basically the same as it has been in Rock Band 2. We’re making some changes in the software: Obviously we’re supporting the cymbals in this robust way, through Rock Band Pro. There are some other things: We’ve looked at the way we detect rolls and some of the other, more complicated drum things you do in a game, and we’re trying to support that in the gameplay a little better than we have in the past.

And on the drum kit, we’re actually opening up the mysterious second input jack. That will be by default a second kick pedal jack…or you can switch it to be a hi-hat, which functions in the free-play drum modes or the drum fills.

That’s awesome. So, how are the cymbals being designated in the game? Are you adding colors? Or new shapes? How is that going to work?

DS: We have new shapes. We share the same lane, so toms and cymbals coexist on a single lane, but they’re differentiated by shape. So the cymbals look like little cymbals, and the toms look like standard gems.

Rock Band 3 Pro Drums

Pro drums; note the new cymbal-shaped gems.

SM: About the drums, this is actually something we want to make sure people realize: To play Rock Band 3, you don’t have to buy anything new. You can play this with your existing instruments, unless you want to do Pro guitar or keys — the Pro initiative in general — but all the rest completely works with existing hardware.

DS: That’s true. The Rock Band 2 cymbals, all that stuff is super-functional right out of the gate. And I’ll add that almost our entire legacy catalog is already authored for cymbals. With keys and Pro guitar, the legacy stuff doesn’t support Rock Band Pro, but Rock Band Pro supports legacy songs for drums.

OK, right. So, it supports three cymbals, right?

DS: Correct. [Editor’s note: Yes, I know I missed something. Wait for it.] Although it’s pretty modular. In Rock Band Pro, you can play if you only have one cymbal, but you’ll suffer on the leaderboards. The game behind Pro drums is that you get extra score for hitting the correct surface. And if you don’t, it makes it a little harder to survive through the end of the song. But that covers the one-, two-, or three-cymbal configurations. Depending on what you have, the game adapts to that.

Let me back up for a second. You said that the legacy content already supports cymbals. Did you mean that you’ll see the cymbal icons when playing older DLC in Rock Band 3?!

DS: [clearly amused] Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

Wha — How did that happen? Have you guys basically been planning to do this all along?

DS: Well, yeah. Most of the content — some of the early Rock Band stuff doesn’t have it, but by and large, the vast majority of the entire Rock Band catalog supports cymbals in gameplay.

Wow. I, uh…wow. I don’t have a cymbal kit for my Rock Band 2 set — have I been missing something? Has this always been the case?

DS: No. Without devolving into too deep of a technical discussion, our authoring guys have basically been putting in information that has gone unrealized up until Rock Band 3. So there are a lot of cues and “hooks” in our authoring flow that have always been there; we just haven’t had the software cycles to take advantage of them. Cymbals are an example of that. [Our authors have been] authoring the distinction between a tom hit and a cymbal hit, but the software has never taken advantage of that distinction until Rock Band 3.

That is huge.

DS: Now, I want to stress that that’s only the case for drums. Everything that we’ve done with keys and guitar is a brand-new form of track and gameplay. That’s all restricted to RB3-specific content and forthcoming DLC.

Well, since we’re talking about DLC, do you know at this point if DLC from Rock Band 3 going forward will scale down to be compatible with Rock Band 2?

DS: We’re still trying to figure out how the landscape lies for DLC in Rock Band 3. We are committed to continue to build the catalog, but we’re not really prepared to talk about the specifics of our DLC strategy.

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  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


    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??