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.
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.
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.