Rock Band 3 Impressions

jmaltz@pnosker.com June 18, 2010 0

You try to walk past a large man standing in front of a maze of ropes, but he stops you, asking for a ticket.  You fumble around in your pockets for a slip of paper, which he accepts, and you move on.  In front of the door is a doorman blocking your entrance.  But once he opens the doors and the crowd files in, they are seated in a dark room in front of a large stage; curtains are shut.  The few lights that were on go off, and on the three large plasma screen above the stage, a video ensues–showing stars such as Paul McCartney, Green Day and Conan O'Brien.  Immediately after the video ends, the curtains open and men and women, 7 in all, blast their instruments while the TV screens show…a video game? This was the atmosphere Harmonix treated us to for their premiere showing of RockBand 3.

 

 

 

I wrote this article right away after Day 3 even though I had a bunch of other prior stuff to write up for one simple reason: Rock Band 3 is an amazingly exciting product.  I walked into the Harmonix booth expecting to see something which was rough and unpolished, with pro mode still a little bit awkward and difficult to use and just a bunch of new songs added on.nstead, what I was greeted with was a genre defying game which was, if not the most impressive thing I saw, definitely one of the top five.

First, lets start with some of the obvious stuff.  As we revealed before E3, Rock Band 3 will support the three part harmonies of Beatles Rock Band and a brand new keyboard instrument.The keyboard is seamlessly integrated into the traditional game mode.  Five areas of the keys on the keyboard are color coded. All you need to do is press one of the keys within the given color areas as it comes into the scoring area. Moreover, the track is identical for both keys and guitar/bass, meaning you won't need to worry about reading some sort of vastly different track when playing keys.  As for the keyboard instrument itself, it will be a full, 2 octave MIDI keyboard available from Mad Catz.  You can also use your own MIDI compatible keyboard by purchasing the MIDI converter box.  The introduction the keyboard brings the total number of instruments to seven which can be played simultaneously.  However, even when all seven are on screen at once the television is not cluttered, which is quite impressive.

 

Seven players rock out at once

However, Harmonix wasn't simply content to throw in a new instrument and call it a new game, they sought to totally revamp your Rock Band experience from the ground up.This starts with the dynamic drop-in, drop-out system.  This new system means that anyone, on any instrument, can come in and out of the game at any time. If you're in the middle of career and your friend wants to play drums with you, he or she can do that instantly.  If you are in the menu for quick play and the seventh member of your band unexpectedly shows up, you can add him or her in on the fly. Most impressively, if you are mid song and someone needs to leave for whatever reason, they can drop-out mid song and not force you all to end the song.

This is combined with a system that our presenter affectionately referred to as "douche-proofing" the game.  This means that each band member can individually select their settings independent of what is going on in the menu. So, while someone is picking a setlist, everyone else can set up their lefty flip and difficulty without interrupting everything.  This system also elminates any one player accidentally wailing away on the B button and taking the whole band back to the beginning of the selection process (thus "douche-proofing" the game).

Unsurprisingly, much like the rest of the title, the set list system has been completely revamped as well.  No longer will you be forced to scroll through every song just to find the two that you want. Now, you can flter the songs based on everything from song length to genre and decade.  In the version that we saw, this system effectively reduced over 1100 songs down to just one that matched the search criteria.  This is especially useful considering that RB3 with be backwards compatible with all other Rock Band songs. So, even though there are only 83 songs on the disk, more than 2000 are anticpated to be playable at launch. After playing songs you can now rate them as well.  The ratings aren't just for show though, as higher rated songs will appear more frequently in your ranadom setlists. You can also create set lists and share them with your friends through social media sites like twitter.

One thing which never changes, avatars always rock out hard


Harmonix said that they were targeting three different groups in their development, and have tailored an experience to each one.  For the casual gamer who likes to play with their friends there will still be all the quickplay features that you've come to know and love.  There is also an online song recommendation feature available when you purchase downloadable content to introduce you to new songs. For the hardcore gamer there is still a career mode, although it is now expanded into all modes.  In addition to the traditional career there are "hundreds" of little achievements scattered throughout the game. These can be unlocked in any mode, meaning that when you play Tom Sawyer with your friends in quick play, it can unlock accomplishments just like career mode.  For players in the middle there are the new road challenges. Road challenges are a collection of challenges that need to be completed and take roughly 2-4 hours per challenge.  Although we didn't get a hands on with them, Harmonix said the goal with the Road Challenges was to let people have a laid-back band experience and have them feel like they had accomplished long-term goals at the end of a play session.

Lastly, and definitely most revolutionary, is pro mode.  Pro mode sets out to achieve the goal that music games have been aspiring towards for years: teach musical skills through a fun video game.
This is accomplished differently on different instruments.  On drums, the cymbals are now differentiated from the hi-hat through the cymbal add-on.  Players can easily differentiate between cymbal and tom-tom notes as the former are more circular while the latter are still rectangular.The system is very intutive, and it is very obvious which notes should be played on the drum set.

The keyboard is handled by superimposing an actual keyboard onto the track.  The keyboard is only played one octave at a time, with groups of keys being color coded for ease of use.
The notes come down towards the superimposed keyboard to the keys which are actually being pressed by the user, with the black keys being noted by darker gems.  As you get to higher levels, the track also shifts as you are responsible for more than just the 18 keys the track accomodates.

Pro Keys in action, note the drop in drop out button in the top left

Guitar and bass are a different story.  The track is totally changed, now consisting of six strings instead of colored paths.  As you play, small flags come down each of the strings with numbers on them. These numbers correspond to certain frets on the guitar neck.  Pressing the correct fret, on the correct string and strumming on the given string will set you well on the path to scoring big points.  Should you ever be unsure of what fret your fingers are placed, simply pressing down on one of the neck buttons will show you what number you are pressing. As you move to higher and higher levels, chords will begin to be integrated, and, in the spirit of teaching you to play real instruments, the chord notation will be written to the side of the track in addition to the flags.

 

Pro bass and guitar in action


The high point of the demo came at the end, when Harmonix revealed their new guitars for pro mode.  The first one was the guitar we revealed earlier, with over 100 buttons on the neck and six plastic strings. After that though, they brought a fully realistic, wood bodied Fender guitar onto stage and plugged it into the game.  As one developer explained to us, this was also an available controller for the game, the other one strummed away to Seven Nation Army on easy pro guitar."That's cool" was the general concensus of the audience, but the developers weren't done yet.  They then plugged the guitar into an amp and proceeded to play the guitar as a full electric guitar, while simultaneously hitting notes on screen.  Yes, you read that correctly, the in-game guitar functions as a fully functioning electric guitar SIMULTANEOUSLY.I don't think I can explain how cool that moment was in words, as it is something you really need to see and experience to believe.

After walking out of our Rock Band 3 presentation, my opinions had done a complete 180 from what I thought going in.  This game literally does everything that fans of the Rock Band series have wanted including a super realistic music experience.  Most importantly, it does so in a way that is innovative and fun. Even Steve, who hates music games was thoroughly impressed by the presentation.  If you are at all a fan of music and rhytm games, you will definitely want to check out Rock Band 3 when it ships this holiday season on the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii.

[Rock Band 3] – $59.99 or $129.99 (w/ keyboard)

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