'Guitar Hero' Creator Reveals Details of New Summer Game Release 'Rock Band Blitz' (Q&A)


Harmonix is hard at work on its first downloadable "Rock Band" game as an independent developer.

It’s been a few years since Rock Band fans have had a new game to jam on with those plastic instruments. Developer Harmonix, which is now independently operated and no longer part of MTV Games, is readying its first self-published music title. Rather than going the disc-based route, Rock Band Blitz is a downloadable game for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that will connect with the full line of Rock Band games that have been released over the years by Electronic Arts and MTV Games. Matthew Nordhaus, Project Director on Rock Band Blitz, talks with THR about what’s next in the bestselling music rhythm game franchise.

The Hollywood Reporter: Can you talk about this new Rock Band Blitz gameplay experience and how in some ways it ties back to Harmonix' early games?

Matthew Nordhaus: Harmonix has always been fascinated by rhythm games. How do you tie music to a game controller? What sort of controls make the player feel connected to the music and elicit an emotional response? How do you get the player into “the zone” where they are reacting to the music on a deep, almost unconscious level? We’ve been asking and answering these questions for years, since we started creating rhythm games. In that sense, Rock Band Blitz is a continuation of our experience.

But Rock Band Blitz was always intended as a Rock Band game. We used Rock Band music and visuals to create a beatmatch game that allows gamers to experience the large Rock Band music library in a brand new way. In that sense, Rock Band Blitz has closer ties to Rock Band than it does to our earlier controller-based beatmatch games.

THR: Why did you decide to move away from the plastic music controllers for this experience?

Nordhaus: The full Rock Band games remain a great cooperative and social experience. But if you want to get a quick hit of great music with some competitive, arcade-style action, you can grab your controller and be playing Rock Band Blitz almost instantly. You don’t even need to put a disc into your console.

THR: How are you working with musicians and artists for this new game?

Nordhaus: In a very similar fashion to our disc-based Rock Band games; we have a team of people at Harmonix who work on licensing songs for our games. We identify a large list of possible songs and then try to narrow it down to a focused set of great songs for the game.  Sometimes songs aren’t available because we cannot get the original multi tracks for a variety of reasons. Remember, these songs are playable in Rock Band 3 as well, so we require all the instruments broken out onto their individual tracks for authoring.

Once we get the songs and create the Rock Band gameplay for them, there’s a great deal of back and forth on the team about which songs should be included. Everyone has an opinion, but in the end I think we have a great soundtrack that fits well into the Rock Band platform and also has enough diversity to have a little something for everyone.

THR: How will this game connect to those who have purchased previous Rock Band music and games?

Nordhaus: The game will work with all the downloadable songs that you have already purchased or your console. Additionally, any song packs that you can export from old Rock Band games (like Rock Band 1 and 2, LEGO Rock Band, Green Day: Rock Band, or any of our retail track packs) are also compatible with Rock Band Blitz. You don’t need to export them again, or pay anything extra -- they simply appear in the Rock Band Blitz song list once you purchase the full version. All of the songs that come with Rock Band Blitz -- over 20 brand new songs --  are instantly playable in Rock Band 3 when you purchase Rock Band Blitz.

THR: What has Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network opened up to game developers like Harmonix?

Nordhaus: For Harmonix, it’s given us a chance to try out smaller games without requiring the full cycle of creating a disc-based game, with its requisite publishing and distribution overhead. The chance to try out smaller ideas with shorter schedules is a great complement to our ongoing development of full size, AAA console titles.

THR: How will you expand this new game online moving forward?

Nordhaus: Our weekly DLC releases – which we’ve released consistently since the launch of the original Rock Band --- will be compatible with Rock Band Blitz. We also have some exciting ideas about using social media to allow Rock Band Blitz players to connect with their friends. We’ll be talking more about these features in the coming weeks as we get closer to our release date.

THR: Ubisoft has its Rocksmith game out there, but do you think there's still an audience and appetite for the more traditional experiences Harmonix introduced first with Guitar Hero and then with Rock Band?

Nordhaus: Absolutely. We have a large, vibrant community that still plays Rock Band 3 on an ongoing basis. Our forums are chock full of people talking about the game, speculating about upcoming week’s DLC, arguing back and forth about the best songs, and finding people to play multiplayer with. At PAX this weekend we talked with many people about how they still loved Rock Band, and played Rock Band each week with their families and friends. The Rock Band stages at PAX were jammed with people, standing in line all day long for a chance to play. People love the game, the cooperative and performance aspect of it, and none of that is going away anytime soon.

At the same time, we see Rock Band Blitz as playing alongside Rock Band 3, not trying to replace it.Rock Band Blitz is more focused on competition and arcade game fun, and we are not trying to replace music performance aspect of Rock Band 3, just give people a complementary experience.

THR: What role do you see this new Rock Band Blitz game playing in keeping the brand relevant until any potential future Rock Band simulations?

Nordhaus: We hope that people will enjoy their Rock Band music libraries is a brand new way. Rock Band Blitz is a quick and easy way to re-discover all of the great music that you have on your console, or waiting for you in are immense music store. Rock Band Blitz definitely extends the Rock Band platform, a commitment we’ve made to our fans since the first Rock Band game came out almost five years ago. 

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