Post Script

In­ter­view: Jamie Jackson, cre­ative di­rec­tor and co-stu­dio head, FreeStyle Games


FreeStyle Games’ cre­ative di­rec­tor, Jamie Jackson, has carved out a dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent route for the stu­dio’s first shot at helm­ing the Gui­tar Hero se­ries, but that’s lit­tle sur­prise. This, af­ter all, is the com­pany that gave the world DJ Hero when plas­tic gui­tars reigned supreme. Here, he tells us why FreeStyle went back to the draw­ing board for Gui­tar Hero Live. You’re clearly go­ing for broad ap­peal, but are Skrillex and Eminem a step too far for Gui­tar Hero? Early on in de­vel­op­ment, I set rules for the team: do not use the old logo, barbed wire or flames. Let’s just try to start with a clean­ish slate. So we went through a phase where we just tried mark­ing up weird shit, and treated Gui­tar Hero as a rhythm-ac­tion game that hap­pens to have a gui­tar con­troller. So the Skrillex track was just this one we marked up early on. And you’re ab­so­lutely right, there’s no gui­tar in it, but we came at it as, ‘What if you were play­ing some kind of synth gui­tar in this track? Could it be fun?’ I really enjoy play­ing that track. I feel quite con­nected to the mu­sic even though it’s not gui­tar, but it’s got a good groove to it and it creates a bit of fun at that point. If you hate Skrillex, it’s not go­ing to do that. But I was at the launch thing in LA and I ended up play­ing the Eminem track against this girl who just wanted to go head-to-head. And we had a right laugh – it was really funny, and some­body else was try­ing to rap, which was even fun­nier. And what hap­pened was there was this great Gui­tar Hero mo­ment where you’re with your mates and try­ing to pre­tend you’re in a rock band. So that was what drove us to put it in. How did you go about bal­anc­ing the powerups to al­low dif­fer­ent types of player to com­pete? We’re go­ing to be launch­ing new game modes into GHTV, which I can’t talk about too much yet, but they’re go­ing to be rea­sons for com­pet­i­tive play­ers to get into more com­pet­i­tive gam­ing. And the powerups are really go­ing to come into their own there, be­cause it will give peo­ple that edge. But a lot of the powerups were de­signed to al­low peo­ple to build their own strate­gies in-game. The bomb one, for ex­am­ple: at my level, I can play Ad­vanced and then some Ex­pert, so I of­ten pick the bomb when I’m play­ing Ex­pert tracks, be­cause I know I’m go­ing to drop my note streak if I hit a gui­tar solo, but it al­lows me to pro­tect my streak a lit­tle bit. Other times, if I know I can nail the song, I’m go­ing to use the 2x mul­ti­plier. It’s all about let­ting play­ers level up, have a metagame, and really feed­ing that com­pe­ti­tion for those who really want it. Were you wor­ried about drop­ping the DLC model? Yes and no. The old DLC model, it didn’t really work for the en­tire fan­base, and that re­flected in the amount of peo­ple who used DLC in the game. But at the same time, DLC as a pipe­line for con­tent is, I guess, the ex­pected de­liv­ery method in the game in­dus­try at the mo­ment. Or per­haps it was and that’s chang­ing. Five years ago, [In­ter­net]-con­nected con­soles world­wide were about 40 per cent of the to­tal, whereas to­day it’s about 90 per cent. Which is huge, and it means that we can get con­tent to our play­ers in a dif­fer­ent way. For Gui­tar Hero, the con­tent is mu­sic, and to be able to give peo­ple mu­sic quickly and ef­fi­ciently was what was im­por­tant to us. Plus, I guess we’re all of that age where we grew up on MTV and miss those days a bit. And it’s about mu­sic dis­cov­ery, be­cause I re­mem­ber watch­ing MTV as a kid, and that’s how I found my mu­sic; GHTV is definitely about dis­cov­ery. High-score-chas­ing play­ers are likely to want to re­play tracks a lot. How did you bal­ance the Play To­ken sys­tem to not pe­nalise ded­i­cated play­ers? The whole premise of GHTV was to let peo­ple try stuff with­out spend­ing money. If they really want to play [spe­cific] things, they can spend money, but equally we’re go­ing to give them free stuff as well. I feel that when peo­ple get into it, they’re go­ing to re­alise that it’s been bal­anced pretty well. I think out of the box, you’re get­ting around nine hours of play what you want, how you want if you just play av­er­agely. Which is quite a lot when you think that you’re av­er­ag­ing three min­utes and 20 sec­onds a song. And you can keep play­ing and keep build­ing those to­kens up. I think that the peo­ple who want to ace the game, they’re also the peo­ple who will play it a lot more than any­one else, so ar­guably they’re go­ing to build up a lot more in-game cur­rency any­way. In the tu­to­rial, your roadie refers to the lower but­tons as “bot­tom strings”, whereas gui­tarists know th­ese as top strings. How did you ap­proach bal­anc­ing real­ism with ac­ces­si­bil­ity? You’ve picked the thing that caused the most ar­gu­ments in the of­fice, for ex­actly that rea­son! And this de­bate went on for months. I ended up be­com­ing the me­di­a­tor be­tween our de­sign team and ev­ery­one who plays gui­tar. And I ended up hav­ing to make the call. But ev­ery­one who plays gui­tar – and we’ve got quite a lot of them in our of­fice – came to see me and was like, “You can’t do it this way; it doesn’t make gui­tar sense”. And then the de­sign team’s like, “We know it’s not the right way, but ev­ery­one who doesn’t play gui­tar won’t understand it, be­cause to ev­ery­one else up is up and down is down”. That de­bate raged for ages and we ended up go­ing with… I guess what we feel is that we’re not making a gui­tar sim­u­la­tor, we’re making a rhythm-ac­tion game.

“I re­mem­ber watch­ing MTV as a kid, and that’s how I found my mu­sic. GHTV is definitely about dis­cov­ery”

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