While we were at E for All we had a chance to sit down and have a casual conversation with Brent Dady from Electronic Arts.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So, I’m here today with Brent Dady from Electronic Arts.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Brent, you are in charge of the Rock Band IP, right? So, tell us a little bit about yourself, kind of how you fell into this gig?
BRENT: I worked at EA previously on Battlefield 2142. My title is Product Manager so I am responsible for the marketing launch of the game and I happen to attend consumer events, which is a pretty cool gig.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Yeah, very cool, man. So, tell us all about Rock Band.
BRENT: Rock Band is a collaborative music game, a new way for gamers to experience music. You have the guitar game play obviously, and bass, and drumming – which is a whole new challenge for all those shredders out there that like really hard core games. Harmonix are actually the guys that made Karaoke Revolution and then obviously Guitar Hero 1 & 2.
THE GAME REVIEWS: How does using the microphone and singing work?
BRENT: Singing registers pitch; when you are on easy, you can kind of just cough your way through, like I do! – because I am a terrible singer. Then there are things in human speech called phonemes – when you come on and off a note, the game tells you how precise you are, like how well you hold a note for a certain length of time. So, when you get to the Expert Level, you’ve got to be like American Idol good. You have to be a really, really good singer.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So, when it comes to the singing, the one thing that I have noticed is that the voice of the real singer is heard, not the person who is playing, it is actually coming through, so even if you are a horrible singer, it still sounds pretty decent.
BRENT: You have to either use the Xbox or the Playstation controller to get through the menus, but you can also use the controller face buttons to adjust mic volume, mic sensitivity, vocal tracks – so if you are playing Nirvana and you don’t want to hear Kurt Cobain’s voice coming through, you can turn it all the way down.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Right on!
BRENT: Or, like I was saying about me, if you are a terrible singer, you can turn Kurt all the way up and me all the way down, so it is just registering the notes and such. I don’t like actually hearing my voice come through. That makes all of the wanna-be singers very happy! Really puts self confidence in your singing. I have to avoid the Karaoke Bars, I think that I have some false confidence built up right now.
THE GAME REVIEWS: In other words, keep it in the car!
BRENT: Yes, exactly!
THE GAME REVIEWS: So, tell us a little bit about the instruments. Tell us about the bass.
BRENT: Actually, the bass and the guitar use the game peripheral. It is modeled after a Fender Stratocaster guitar – a legendary rock guitar. You have five frets at the top of the guitar and one of the innovations is having five frets at the bottom, for the guitar solo parts. So when you are playing lead, it will cue you on your track that your solo is coming up and you will know to get ready for “Highway Star”’s killer solo. You actually just tap on the bottom buttons, you don’t have to strum at all, a la Steve Vai. And in songs like KISS’s "Detroit Rock City" there are freestyle sections at the end for all the instruments – so the drummer can just go crazy, too.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Right on, man! Very good!
BRENT: Yeah, and one of the other things is this switch – it is like having effects peddles. There is a 5 lever switch that you can change and get different effects – "wawa, reverb, echo"…it is really cool.
THE GAME REVIEWS: And they aren’t part of the game, actually, they are just kinda just to sound cool
BRENT: Yeah, exactly, whatever sound you want to do.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So tell me a little about the drums, I haven’t actually got out there and sat on the drums yet, how do the drums work?
BRENT: Well, the drums will come in a similar size box as the guitar, so they fold down super flat – an engineering feat, the way they were designed. You basically just pop two rods into the two feet, and then there are two legs that come up and you pop the drum head on top of the two legs. There are four different pads, and like playing the guitar, they correspond from left to right, in the game interface. The cool thing is that there is a bass pedal that plugs into the head and that is where the real challenge comes in on the gameplay, coordinating between your arms and your feet – it is a new pattern and a new kind of way to think, so that your brain has to learn to make the right connections.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Am I correct in assuming that pretty much for the base pedal, when you have to do it, you are queued on screen, because it is almost like a fret.
BRENT: Correct. I think that Harmonix experimented with that in the beginning, but they ended up just using four drum pads, kind of like four frets, left to right, so now when the bass pedal comes, it is an orange bar that traverses the whole interface. Instead of having another fret on the right side, it is automatically clear that you are to hit the bass pedal. They worked hard on this interface, and it is perfect now, I think.
THE GAME REVIEWS: I think that it looks awsome.
BRENT: Yeah, we wanted it to be 60 frames a second, too.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Do you know where the decision came in to make the characters and keep them kind of in a cartoonish style and everything, in a cartoonish style versus going to a real style.
BRENT: Yeah, I actually can’t speak up about that, but the art direction is led out of Harmonix and you know that is kinda what they thought was going to be cool.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So what are the song titles that you have here today?
BRENT: So we have Nirvana “In Bloom” , KISS with “Detroit Rock City”, Weezer “Say It Ain’t So”, “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, “Vasoline” by Stone Temple Pilots, “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, “Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi which is one of the best songs on the list to play right now in my opinion. Well, that is about half way, Jet, “Here It Goes Again”, no wait, I can’t remember the name of the Jet song. My brain is melting after four days at the show…
THE GAME REVIEWS: I hear ya.
BRENT: I am trying to think of what else. We have The Hives, David Bowie on there…
THE GAME REVIEWS: Anything that you can tell us as far as some new songs that are going to be released?
BRENT: Yeah, well keep your eyes peeled, we are going to be announcing the rest of the songs pretty soon and then we have more announcements about downloadable content. One of the big things about the game is that we are going to have hundreds of tracks available for download.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Really?
BRENT: We have actually announced that we have a bunch of Grateful Dead back catalog, Nirvana’s entire “Nevermind” album, The Who’s “Who’s Next” album, so MTV is reaching out to record labels and we have full albums in addition to singles. That is one of the big selling points around Rock Bnad and we are really hoping that is one of the things that takes off about the game. You can customize the play list however you want – if you like punk, there is going to be something in there, if you like metal, cool. If you like Southern rock, there is going to be something in there for you.
THE GAME REVIEWS: It sounds like the re-play ability, the value, is great!
BRENT: Every week we are planning on downloadable songs via Xbox Live and Playstation Network.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So when you are buying the package, at least from the intial retail release, you basically have to buy the entire package at first, correct?
BRENT: Yes, that is correct. Initially, you have to buy all the instruments and that is basically it.
THE GAME REVIEWS: In the single player mode, can I play any instrument that I want?
BRENT: Yep, so actually, most people think that Rock Band is only a collaborative band game, but there are also single player modes, so that you can play the game, just as a guitarist, just as a drummer, just as a singer. You can go in and customize your character – there are like a jillion customization options, including customizing your personality – so you act metal or punk – you actually act differently when playing on stage. So you customize your character, and you end up
THE GAME REVIEWS: Like a Punk and Metal guy?
BRENT: Exactly, you can be like a Goth guy, I guess. I have these old Oakley’s that I wear around and one of the options in the game is White-out Oakley’s, so it looks like me.
Also, there is the Tour Mode where you start as this lowly garage band and you try to become the biggest band in the world. Then you have head to head modes – we have shown it a couple of times, drumming head to head – there is a meter that goes back and forth with whoever is doing better, you know, pulls more to their side, then once they max out the score, they win. And that is super fun!
Rock Band is such an ambitious game. Harmonix should be proud of themselves. It was such a feat to get this game out. We are really proud of it; it is by far the coolest product that I have worked on.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So tell us a little about Online?
BRENT: If you are in Boston and your friend is in Stockholm you can hop on XBox live together and jam. There is additional functionality where the game is spitting out data to the web, so you go to rockband.com - it is going to be a community site, where you can meet up with people, there is a social networking layer built into it; so, go to rockband.com for any Rock Band needs, I guess.
THE GAME REVIEWS: I am assuming that you are also going to have, just like you are kind a doing now, just a little bit further, like tournaments and contests are probably going to be held online with groups that are put together in multiple different states.
BRENT: Yep, yep.
THE GAME REVIEWS: So if you had to ballpark it, what would you say the longevity of the lifetime of the Rock Band?
BRENT: We see the Rock Band as a platform; you buy the instruments, and you are in – then we will get the content to you over time.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Exactly, are there any plans for Rock Band 2?
BRENT: TBD. Harmonix is thinking about it.
THE GAME REVIEWS: Well we are looking forward to the definite success, and I am looking forward to going in and playing. Thanks Brent for your time!