While at­ten­tion will nat­u­rally fo­cus on the new pe­riph­eral’s six-but­ton lay­out, it’s equally im­por­tant to ap­pre­ci­ate what hasn’t been changed. One of Freestyle’s goals was to have what play­ers do with their left hand feel as nat­u­ral as their right; the strum bar has al­ways felt right, the tremolo arm sits within easy reach, and the Hero Power but­ton can be pressed with the heel of a hand. The dis­tance be­tween strum bar and but­tons is also the same.

The mul­ti­colour but­tons are gone, and keys now sit flush with the fret­board, the bot­tom row with a cross-hatch tex­ture so that fin­gers can dis­tin­guish be­tween it and the smooth top row. The re­sult is a pe­riph­eral that looks less like a toy than be­fore, ap­pro­pri­ate given the em­pha­sis on re­al­ism.

That, how­ever, isn’t such a con­cern when it comes to map­ping out notes on the high­way, a process Freestyle calls ‘markup’. “We tried repli­cat­ing ex­act chord shapes,” Matt Flint, lead MIDI designer, tells us. “But be­cause the ma­jor­ity of play­ers won’t un­der­stand – they won’t hear a chord and go, ‘Oh, that’s a D,I know that shape’ – they don’t get the con­nec­tion. It’s not about mak­ing it as ac­cu­rate as pos­si­ble. It’s about mak­ing it as fun as pos­si­ble.”

Freestyle’s dozen-strong markup team work in soft­ware that en­ables them to place a note on the high­way with a click, and their lay­out is playable with just a few clicks more. They start on Vet­eran, where the player has to per­form an ac­tion for ev­ery note in the mu­sic, then dial down from there, where rule-sets dic­tate how fre­quent note and row changes should be on lower dif­fi­cul­ties. A peer-re­view sys­tem sees tracks bounce back and forth be­tween staffer and re­viewer un­til both agree that it feels right.

“None of the [markup] team have worked in the game in­dus­try be­fore this,” Flint says. “They are all pri­mar­ily mu­si­cians; they have a pas­sion for games, but never got into pro­gram­ming or art. Be­cause they’re all gamers, they un­der­stand the dif­fi­cul­ties games have in try­ing to trans­late cer­tain things to play­ers. It’s amaz­ing how many times you’re mark­ing some­thing up, go­ing, ‘That’s per­fect, it’s ex­actly what the gui­tarist’s do­ing’, then you play it and it just feels wrong. It’s about get­ting that bal­ance, I think, be­tween mu­si­cal ac­cu­racy and playa­bil­ity.”


01 Freestyle’s cre­ative direc­tor, Jamie Jack­son.

02 Jon Napier, projects direc­tor, joined in 2012 from Brighton stu­dio Re­lent­less Soft­ware.

03 Lead MIDI designer Matt Flint is head of the markup team. 04 GHTV uses mu­sic videos for its back­drops. 05–06 The fi­nal de­sign for Gui­tar

Hero Live’s con­troller. Early pro­to­types had raised, coloured but­tons






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