Harmonix tunes up for Rock Band’s Xbox One/PS4 rebirth
Harmonix is bringing Rock Band back for PS4 and Xbox One
The stratospheric rise of the peripheralled music game between 2005 and 2008 was one of the more extraordinary trends in videogame history, perhaps equalled only by how quickly the genre disappeared. For millions, dropping to your knees with a plastic guitar held aloft is one of the defining memories of the 360/PS3 era, but annual iteration and a flood of new games with ever-moreredundant plastic instruments wore the market out so quickly that it could not survive the recession. In 2009, Activision released 25 different music game SKUs. By 2011, there were none at all.
But Harmonix – one of the originators of western rhythm-action games and the developer of Amplitude, Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the game that kickstarted the music game’s rise to prominence – is still here. And now, after a five-year hiatus, it is bringing Rock Band back. Rock Band 4 will be out on PS4 and Xbox One this year, and it’s designed to be a platform that can be maintained and updated for years. The industry is very different now, of course, but so is Harmonix. When the first Rock Band was being developed, the company was part of MTV Games under Viacom. Viacom bought Harmonix shortly after Activision acquired the Guitar Hero name, along with Harmonix’s former publisher, RedOctane. Now Harmonix is an independent studio once again, having bought itself out in late 2010, and Alex Rigopulos, co-founder of thee company, has stepped away from thee CEO position he had held for 19 years arss and recast himself as creative director. or.
“I’d been looking for a replacementen nt for quite some time, in large part becauseca ause the creative work is what I love mostt – it’sits it’s more fun and less stressful than CEO job job, b, and so I’d been looking for a way to g get more directly reinvolved in the creative ve work,” Rigopulos tells us us. s. “We’re much smaller no nowow than we used to be -–– during the peak Rock Band phase, we were near 300 people. Now we’re at t 110, 120. The biggerer difference is that backk then we were a monolithic c studio. We were like a factory that had to be devoted to producing more and more Rock Band content and titles. Now we’re much more entrepreneurial, with several small teams working independently of a central governance structure.”
It was one of those small teams that sparked Rock Band’s comeback. Last summer, a couple of staff were working on prototype Rock Band- style gameplay, and it reminded the studio that there was still work it wanted to do with the series, the rights to which it still owned. “Some of the most fun we’ve had was at the beginning of the project, just taking [ Rock Band] off the shelf and playing it again,” Rigopulos says. “Everyone
“Some of the most fun we’ve had was at the beginning of the project, just taking Rock Band off the shelf”
Peripherals are revamped but won’t deliver new functionality, and Harmonix is working hard to make the next RockBand backward-compatible