The band is back together: Guitar Hero Live tunes up for a big comeback

After a five-year hiatus, the air guitar favourite is back following a major overhaul, with a new real-world environment and new online multiplayer modes


It’s been a decade since it first hit the shelves, and five years since it last graced consoles, and now Guitar Hero is back. But it’s not the Guitar Hero you knew from five years ago; Activision and developer FreeStyle Games have taken the concept and turned it around – specifically, to face an audience rather than cartoon bandmates. And the stage, this time, is real.

Guitar Hero Live is an ambitious project. A real crowd and a real band makes it a very different experience to Guitar Hero of old.

FreeStyle Games’ creative director Jamie Jackson says the decision to resurrect the game was a considered one.

“When Activision put the game on ice, they always wanted to bring it back, as long as there was true real innovation in the game,” he says. “It wasn’t necessarily a case of ‘right, we’ll bring it back for the 10th anniversary, or we’ll do it in five years’, it was more a case of ‘we know a lot of people love this game, but we’ll only bring it back with true innovation. I think what we’ve got now with Live and the new controller, the new button configurations and GHTV, that whole package, we feel that’s the right innovation. That’s why now is the time.”

Screaming crowd
The entire experience has been designed to recreate that feeling of excitement and nerves before you take to the stage in front of a screaming crowd. The backstage build-up, the walk out to face the crowd; it’s all been meticulously planned to put players right in the heart of the action.

The crowd is changeable though. Play well and they’ll scream your name, hit some bum notes and they will turn ugly, fast. And the real action isn’t limited to the crowd; the band will react just as realistically to your playing as the crowd you are facing. What’s more intimidating – an angry crowd or your displeased band mates?

“In the very early days of R&D we tried to take it back to what was really cool about Guitar Hero, and the common theme that kept coming back was: it made me feel like a rock star,” says Jackson.

That formed the core mission statement of the game, giving the team something to build on.

“The background for Guitar Hero is not like a Call of Duty or Skylanders where you need to run around to experience that level; it’s kind of a secondary thing,” says Jackson. “Not many people pay that much attention to it. So we thought we could use that to draw you in even more, putting you on stage with screaming fans in front of you. That’s how it started and it just snowballed.”

The live action was shot with robot cameras that could be programmed to capture the same shots with both positive and negative reactions. To make sure the transition to these reactions is seamless, the movements have to be tightly choreographed.

Practise makes perfect
Machines are simple: they do as they’re told. People, though, are a different proposition. People miss marks, people are unpredictable.

“It was certainly hard but I think ‘practise makes perfect’ is so true of this project,” says Jackson. “The most important mark to hit was those of your other band mates. The crowd... they don’t tend to move around much anyway, the drummer was relatively straightforward. But it was the other band members who were moving around with you, so there was a lot of practice.”

The new Guitar Hero has two main elements: the live-action campaign and GHTV, which will bring online multiplayer modes to Guitar Hero and allow you to access new music and channels.

Jackson isn’t giving too much away just yet on GHTV, but it will have hundreds of videos and channels or players to choose from.

After the excitement of the live shoots, the work on GHTV and other elements of the game means they are back to what he describes as a more normal development environment. While work continues on the game, we can expect to hear more at E3 in June.

It effectively means an end to the frequent releases that eventually put Guitar Hero on the wrong side of consumers, and it takes advantage of the developments since the last Guitar Hero hit – more connected consoles and consumers looking to access ontent digitally rather than on a disc. Even since 2010, the way the world consumes media content has changed, Jackson points out, and Guitar Hero has adapted to that.

So will the game mean a resurgence of the music genre that was so popular a few years ago? And exactly who will be playing? Jackson says he expects the game will appeal to both seasoned Guitar Hero fans and new ones .

“Five years is quite a long time, so there are kids who were probably seven, eight nine years old back then who are now teenagers,” he says. “It’s going to be a new game for them and a new experience, so I think we’ll get both. We certainly built it to attract both.”

Watching people play it as part of the game’s preview has lent some weight to those expectations, as he describes the reaction to the game. “It’s amazing to see people not want to put it down.”

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