Back­stage at this year’s most ex­per­i­men­tal re­vival

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Faced with the Point­less cat­e­gory of Videogame Pub­lish­ers Renowned For Tak­ing Risks, you’d stand a pretty good chance of ad­vanc­ing to the next round if you plumped for Ac­tivi­sion. With a Call Of Duty game ar­riv­ing for the big win­ter hol­i­day sales sea­son of ev­ery year since 2003, the com­pany has built a rep­u­ta­tion for iden­ti­fy­ing what works, and then giv­ing us some more of it, al­beit with twists to the in­gre­di­ents. Ap­par­ently the FIFA bods over at EA Sports could hardly process the news when they were told to sur­ren­der the game in­dus­try’s Most Likely To An­nounce A Se­quel tro­phy af­ter hav­ing the cat­e­gory sewn up for so long.

Against this back­drop, Gui­tar Hero Live man­ages to be a sur­prise on mul­ti­ple lev­els. Un­like 2008’s Gui­tar Hero World Tour, the new game is fo­cused not on fill­ing your living room with in­stru­ments, along with friends to thrash them, but solo play. And there’d be no need to drag out all of that old kit, any­way, be­cause Live can only be played with a new con­troller that de­mands a fresh ap­proach from mil­lions of fin­gers ac­cus­tomed to mil­lions of hours spent play­ing so many gui­tar games past. Then there’s pre­sen­ta­tion. In Live, in­stead of watch­ing a band play on stage as you per­form, you in­habit the gui­tarist, a firstper­son per­spec­tive pre­sent­ing a view across the all-im­por­tant au­di­ence. Which hap­pens to be not a bunch of 3D mod­els but filmed footage of real, living peo­ple.

Gui­tar Hero Live, then, is the op­po­site of the easy op­tion. Ac­tivi­sion is play­ing against its im­age and lay­er­ing risk upon risk, ask­ing de­vel­oper Freestyle Games to ex­per­i­ment in or­der to give new life to what once seemed a played-out se­ries. In the process, the stu­dio has faced the sort of chal­lenges that are never listed in game in­dus­try re­cruit­ment ads. Like wrestling with a two-tonne ro­botic cam­era rig, pick­ing through smashed-up Xbox 360 con­trollers, and try­ing to make a pitch-per­fect choir sound drunk. In our ac­cess-all-ar­eas story, the com­pany’s cre­ative leads ex­plain ex­actly what it takes to get us to care about plas­tic gui­tars all over again.

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