How Rock Band 4 Aims to Fix the Game Industry

How Rock Band 4 Aims to Fix the Game Industry

Rewarding long-time Rock Band fans with free legacy DLC shouldn't be shocking - but it's a huge leap from how the game industry operates.

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This is why Harmonix is one of my favorite companies in the game industry, and why I will be sucking it up and buying an Xbox One to play Rock Band 4 (all my 800+ songs were on Xbox 360)

Although I feel it needs to be mentioned, I think you overstated slightly the difficulty in porting the songs over.

But setting aside the fact that these aren't remastered editions, it's still incredibly unlikely that Super Mario Bros. needs more effort than 2000 Rock Band tracks. Super Mario Bros on the Wii U is exact same gaming classic as the NES edition, right down to its visuals and control scheme. But Rock Band 4 needs to bring everything to a new engine, which means tweaking animations, textures, resolutions - perhaps even the audio to some extent. And that's before it goes through bug-testing across PlayStation 4 and Xbox One systems. Then Harmonix will take all that effort revising content from a previous console generation... and give it away for free.

I wish to point out that the vast majority of the animations in Rock Band are canned animations that are contained on the game disk itself. The way Rock Band has always worked (and I presume it'll be no different here) is that they have a couple hundred "snapshots" of animation and they somehow categorize them based on the intensity of the song. When you play a song, whether it's DLC or on disc, the game randomly assembles these "snapshot" clips into a "slideshow" in a more or less coherent way based on the current tempo of the song. This occasionally leads to janky moments since the animations are not linked together coherently (ex. sometimes the singer will jump into the crowd and the next camera cut he's back on stage like nothing happened) but since you're usually not focused on the background these things are usually not detracting from the experience.

With that in mind, the VAST majority of animation information is contained within the disc, for all songs. As far as I can tell, the only info that is required to be contained in the DLC itself is information tied to the lip synching,miming the correct fingerings on the guitar, and hitting the right drums. The drumming animations are generated automatically based on charted information within the song (this is coincidentally how they were able to retroactively add pro drum support to the old tracks in the RB3 days, since they had the distinction between cymbals and toms coded into the song files for animation purposes.) Harmonix also has a system that will automatically create lip synching animations, that usually works fairly well, but they probably just need to add some polish to it. I'm not sure about how the guitar fingerings work, but I think those are the least crucial effect to have anyway, as long as they're "close"

So "tweaking animations, textures, and resolutions" should not be an issue when porting over to RB4, unless they completely overhaul how their system works. Audio may need to be tweaked slightly but not really. The biggest task will be actually carrying the charting information over from RB3 to RB4, which may have a slightly different engine. Let's be clear, this will still be a monumentally huge task considering how many songs are in the rock band library (over 3,000) but it's not like they have to animate all of them, they just have to rechart them and possibly make a few improvements to the charting, have their automated system handle the animations, and then polish the animations by hand to make them as good as possible (particularly the lip synching.)

I'd personally be really surprised if it was all that much effort to upgrade the old song files so that they're usable in the new rock band. Especially compared to something like selling an old DLC character in a fighting game. One who would have to be mostly built from scratch. Skipping the concept stages would be a bonus, but not enough to warrant selling the character effectively for free.

Mostly, while it's nice that Harmonix isn't deciding to screw their fans over by reselling all that DLC, I'd imagine it's not a huge loss on their part from all the work needed to upgrade. Nice, but not a huge, moral deal that we should extrapolate to every game developer.

Excellent article. Excellent labeling of editorial vs news.

10/10 would read again.

Sight Unseen:
snip

Xeorm:
I'd personally be really surprised if it was all that much effort to upgrade the old song files so that they're usable in the new rock band. Especially compared to something like selling an old DLC character in a fighting game. One who would have to be mostly built from scratch. Skipping the concept stages would be a bonus, but not enough to warrant selling the character effectively for free.

Mostly, while it's nice that Harmonix isn't deciding to screw their fans over by reselling all that DLC, I'd imagine it's not a huge loss on their part from all the work needed to upgrade. Nice, but not a huge, moral deal that we should extrapolate to every game developer.

I'll admit I'm no tech expert and can't say for certain how much or how little work it would take. But I think the bigger issue is that Harmonix is operating of a different standard - one where its DLC is like songs, not game content. Even if it was the easiest thing in the world to transfer the content, I'd say most other publishers would probably still charge for it.

Fanghawk:
How Rock Band 4 Aims to Fix the Game Industry

"-I can't help but wonder what would happen if more games followed this model. What if fighting games like Street Fighter V included DLC characters from Street Fighter IV?-"

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Going to stop you there. *Pause Button*

Personally, as awesome as that idea would be, it REALLY depends on the engine and mechanics of the game.
While it might be a lot easier for a game like Rock Band to grandfather in older content, that's because it's gameplay is basically DDR.
I point out the Street Fighter Example because it reminded me of another game that did something like that: Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.

If you look at the roster, most of the characters are in fact copy and pasted from older Capcom arcade games like Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Marvel Super Heroes.
This had woeful effects on character balance as characters like Ryu were designed for a MASSIVELY different game then characters like Magneto, seeing how he was the Final Freaking Boss of X-Men: Children of the Atom, hence why Magneto is one of the 4-5 characters actually played a professional level in that game.
Not saying it's bad game, it's good fun, but everyone admits that it's broken beyond repair.

Now, I agree that it would be a great way to get more value out of DLC and more backwards compatibility is great, but I'm just worried about how publishers would use this "Grandfathering" of content into games that mightn't be designed for it, just to justify those dumb season passes.
As for the Street Fighter example, putting characters in a fighting game is a lot like putting characters into a MOBA, you need to think about how they would affect the outcome of a match, how they interact with other existing characters and most importantly balance, not an easy task as you would think.
Again, going back to Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, there was 56 characters in that game and the balance was all over the place because they just shoved them into the game without taking time to adjust and balance them outside of slightly changing their attacks to be more over the top.

Meanwhile, in Street Fighter 4 Ultra, they added in a few characters that appeared in Street Fighter x Tekken, but they had to change them to suit the different game mechanics, otherwise, they could be broken as fuck as they could instantly charge up Super Combos thanks to how they worked in Street Fighter x Tekken.
Sorry to go on this tangent, but fighting game characters are a LOT harder to move from game to game then songs.

TL;DR: They can work all the DLC in because the gameplay in Rock Band is simple and at most it would involve rewriting a few song paths, for other games/genres, it would be a LOT harder to do so.

Fanghawk:

Sight Unseen:
snip

Xeorm:
I'd personally be really surprised if it was all that much effort to upgrade the old song files so that they're usable in the new rock band. Especially compared to something like selling an old DLC character in a fighting game. One who would have to be mostly built from scratch. Skipping the concept stages would be a bonus, but not enough to warrant selling the character effectively for free.

Mostly, while it's nice that Harmonix isn't deciding to screw their fans over by reselling all that DLC, I'd imagine it's not a huge loss on their part from all the work needed to upgrade. Nice, but not a huge, moral deal that we should extrapolate to every game developer.

I'll admit I'm no tech expert and can't say for certain how much or how little work it would take. But I think the bigger issue is that Harmonix is operating of a different standard - one where its DLC is like songs, not game content. Even if it was the easiest thing in the world to transfer the content, I'd say most other publishers would probably still charge for it.

I agree with your central premise and I agree that most companies wouldn't do this. Hell, Guitar Hero barely even did it for the games on the same console. I just wanted to be clear that porting a song from one game to another is not nearly as difficult as remastering an old game (porting 2000-3000 however, might be comparable). Even as a massive Harmonix fanboy, I don't think you should be overstating the amount of work they're putting in per song, because like I said, the animations are mostly on disc no matter what song you play.

I just wanted to give you what insight I could into the charting and animation processes as someone who is probably one of the biggest rock band fanatics on this site, and who has probably spent thousands of hours (and dollars...) on this franchise.

I've long held Harmonix to be one of the most consumer friendly developers, up there with the likes of CD Project Red, and this is just more proof of that.

Thanks for the good editorial :)

Sight Unseen:

Fanghawk:

Sight Unseen:
snip

Xeorm:
I'd personally be really surprised if it was all that much effort to upgrade the old song files so that they're usable in the new rock band. Especially compared to something like selling an old DLC character in a fighting game. One who would have to be mostly built from scratch. Skipping the concept stages would be a bonus, but not enough to warrant selling the character effectively for free.

Mostly, while it's nice that Harmonix isn't deciding to screw their fans over by reselling all that DLC, I'd imagine it's not a huge loss on their part from all the work needed to upgrade. Nice, but not a huge, moral deal that we should extrapolate to every game developer.

I'll admit I'm no tech expert and can't say for certain how much or how little work it would take. But I think the bigger issue is that Harmonix is operating of a different standard - one where its DLC is like songs, not game content. Even if it was the easiest thing in the world to transfer the content, I'd say most other publishers would probably still charge for it.

I agree with your central premise and I agree that most companies wouldn't do this. Hell, Guitar Hero barely even did it for the games on the same console. I just wanted to be clear that porting a song from one game to another is not nearly as difficult as remastering an old game (porting 2000-3000 however, might be comparable). Even as a massive Harmonix fanboy, I don't think you should be overstating the amount of work they're putting in per song, because like I said, the animations are mostly on disc no matter what song you play.

I just wanted to give you what insight I could into the charting and animation processes as someone who is probably one of the biggest rock band fanatics on this site, and who has probably spent thousands of hours (and dollars...) on this franchise.

I've long held Harmonix to be one of the most consumer friendly developers, up there with the likes of CD Project Red, and this is just more proof of that.

Thanks for the good editorial :)

Well, as the announcement said, they will be porting over 2000+ songs so that still works. Although since there's only about 1700 DLC tracks, I'm guessing some of that will be content from the first 3 games/spin-offs... Which now that I think of it could be more work depending on how they go about making the transition.

And thank you for the perspective!

Fanghawk:

Sight Unseen:

Fanghawk:

I'll admit I'm no tech expert and can't say for certain how much or how little work it would take. But I think the bigger issue is that Harmonix is operating of a different standard - one where its DLC is like songs, not game content. Even if it was the easiest thing in the world to transfer the content, I'd say most other publishers would probably still charge for it.

I agree with your central premise and I agree that most companies wouldn't do this. Hell, Guitar Hero barely even did it for the games on the same console. I just wanted to be clear that porting a song from one game to another is not nearly as difficult as remastering an old game (porting 2000-3000 however, might be comparable). Even as a massive Harmonix fanboy, I don't think you should be overstating the amount of work they're putting in per song, because like I said, the animations are mostly on disc no matter what song you play.

I just wanted to give you what insight I could into the charting and animation processes as someone who is probably one of the biggest rock band fanatics on this site, and who has probably spent thousands of hours (and dollars...) on this franchise.

I've long held Harmonix to be one of the most consumer friendly developers, up there with the likes of CD Project Red, and this is just more proof of that.

Thanks for the good editorial :)

Well, as the announcement said, they will be porting over 2000+ songs so that still works. Although since there's only about 1700 DLC tracks, I'm guessing some of that will be content from the first 3 games/spin-offs... Which now that I think of it could be more work depending on how they go about making the transition.

And thank you for the perspective!

If they decide to port the Rock Band Network songs (which weren't official DLC, it was a separate system for self-publishing/monetizing your own music) then there's well over 3,000 songs in the Rock Band catalog. I have no idea if they plan to port those songs or not though, especially since the PS3 has far fewer of them than the Xbox 360 did.

Also I heard that so far they don't have plans to port the RB3 on-disc songs to RB4 due to some kind of licensing thing. But that may change since I think a lot of people want the RB3 songs to transfer somehow, and hopefully the peer pressure will convince them to find a way to make it work :P

Is that ... is that the Lost Prophets singer in the picture?

Baffle:
Is that ... is that the Lost Prophets singer in the picture?

It's from the Rock Band 3 cover art :http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3b/Rock_Band_3_Game_Cover.jpg

When talking about Nintendo's virtual console games, I'm not so sure it's as simple as all that.
I heard them describe the process, and while superficially it might sound like just dumping a ROM and putting it in an emulator, it actually sounds like some of them are heavily tweaked for performance reasons (and to get them as close to the original as possible. Emulators often mess up games that rely on specific hardware quirks).

For that matter, I've even heard rumours that for some of them they aren't even that. They have been reconstructed from the ground up. Yes, they use the art and level designs of the old games, but the entire underlying engine has in some cases been rebuilt. Not from the original code, but from observation and notes of a game's behaviour.

As to whether that's easier than porting 2000 songs to a new engine, that depends on what they do with them, and how the existing data and assets for those songs are structured.

Could be as complex as redoing the entire thing from the ground up, or as simple as taking the raw files for the song in the older version, and re-packaging it into the file format of the new version using an automated tool.

If they do this kind of thing as standard practice, then it actually seems more likely they planned for it and built tools specifically to make it as easy as possible. (especially with having as many as 2000 of them to get through)

Virtual console games were definitely never planned with that in mind, so it's entirely unpredictable whether it will be easy or difficult to get it to run on a new system.

But who really knows either way, unless you have intimate knowledge of the development processes involved.

I can tell you one thing - if a new Call of Duty had all the old CoD maps, I'd buy it at twice the current price. If every new Call of Duty had all the old maps, I'd buy each new one that comes out.

Well Harmonix, now you've spoken, please don't let the people, you promised all this to, down!
I really want this to work, being a bit sceptical though, and not owning, nor will I most likely own, any of the two consoles they will release this on. I still hope this will work out as they are saying!

I would happily trade 1700 songs comprised mostly of padding for 100 solid hits.

Guffe:
Well Harmonix, now you've spoken, please don't let the people, you promised all this to, down!
I really want this to work, being a bit sceptical though, and not owning, nor will I most likely own, any of the two consoles they will release this on. I still hope this will work out as they are saying!

I don't know how much it might affect your opinion on this issue, but I do know they did this kind of DLC interplay on the PS3/360 gen consoles. At least, songs I bought on Rockband 2 would work on Lego Rockband. So I do think it gives what they're saying a bit of credibility.

 

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