A decade has passed since Guitar Hero's inception. Its success was almost immediate: Its guitar (and later, bass and drum) controller allowed video game fanatics to live out the ultimate fantasy—that of being a rock star—from the comfort of their living room. It soon became iconic, launching new versions (Legends of Rock, World Tour, Warriors of Rock) and band-specific tributes to Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen. For the next five years, GH dominated the video game world, taking the interactive element of something like Dance Dance Revolution and making it rock and roll.
In 2010, Activision—Guitar Hero's parent company—ceased making the game, possibly because music gaming declined in popularity, but also because of the over-saturation of its franchise. To put it simply, they were just doing too much, too fast.
That changed Tuesday morning, April 14. At New York City's famed Best Buy Theater, press folk of all kinds joined Activision for the exciting launch of a new game, Guitar Hero Live, due this fall.
The venue was devoid of its usual pack of concertgoers, the typically plastic cup–strewn floor lined with chairs. After a brief countdown, attendees were seated and greeted by Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision. His presentation focused on the current state of music: Guitar Hero Live could only exist with innovations that reflect how modern consumers of music and video games experience entertainment. The result is a release that looks almost nothing like the vintage version, an update looking to attract another generation of gamers.
Most notable in Guitar Hero Live is the removal of cartoonish avatars. Instead of watching animated figures strum and bop along, the game features real humans. Like a first-person shooter game, you're placed in the shoes of the guitarist, leaving the green room to walk on stage to a (hopefully) welcoming crowd with your band. The experience is extremely real: Even the sound of the game is reflective of a stage experience—if your character moves toward the drums, percussion will get louder in the mix. As you shred closer to the audience, the sound of their hollers become more prominent. If you mess up, they'll boo you. If you succeed, they'll beg for more.
The game was developed by FreeStylesGames, and CEO Jamie Jackson was there to showcase the new innovations...with some help from bud Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. The band's Save Rock and Roll hit, "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" is featured on Guitar Hero Live, and bassist was more than willing to show us how it's done, even commenting on the game's new level of reality: "That's what it's like."
The controller has been updated so it's even easier for novices and more challenging for veterans. The color-coded buttons are gone, replaced by two rows of three buttons at the top of a plastic fret board. For beginners, this means only having to worry about one row, while experts tackle two. Players can now truly mimic the feel of playing real, complex chords.
It doesn't end there. Guitar Hero Live promises a mode called Guitar Hero TV, the world's first playable music video network. As streaming slowly becomes a dominating force in music listening, GH and Activision have looked to a YouTube model where players can play (and challenge others!) to songs with the music video prominently featured in the background.
To illustrate the TV side, Jackson challenged My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way to his Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys single "Na Na Na." The desert video played behind them as they attempted to beat one another at the power pop-punk hit; Way won, of course.
The new version of the game will be available on most modern consoles: Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox One and 360 as well as tablets and mobile devices. As Rolling Stone points out, this generation of Guitar Hero arrives at a time when music video games (still!) aren't at the forefront of popular gaming. Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. tells Wired, "The amount being paid to the music industry, even though [these] games are entirely dependent on the content we own and control, is far too small."
That being said, the realistic experience of Guitar Hero Live—the feeling of stage fright and anxiety, the performance aspect of it all—might find a new home in the hearts of music fans and gamers alike.