Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Game Concept: Pick Me

I was riding home on the bus, listening to music and letting my mind wander with the music. I don't know if you've found yourself doing this, but I sometimes follow the lead guitar or bass lines and try to imagine how the song would play in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this. I don't even own a copy of either... Anyway, I was listening to a song that had a lot of pick work and it got me thinking.

The plastic guitar craze has taken hold. I really don't see it going away any time soon. People get it; and while the only thing you can really do with a plastic guitar is pretend, there is a lot of music that you could pretend to play. With GH4, you'll even be given the tools to make your own. Along with another set of fake drums to clutter up your living room.

But the plastic guitars only gives you one way to play it. Chose a note/chord and strum. That strum bar takes the place of the individual strings. While that vastly simplifies the actions you need to do, it removes some of the finesse. But it works, I don't think you could have the wide ranging appeal that the GH and RB games have gathered if you over complicated the controller.

Now the Nintendo DS version of Guitar Hero is on its way. A lot of design ideas and prototyping went into the development of the game's grip controller. They played with the idea of an even smaller, portable guitar. They tried 4, 5 and even 6 button configurations. They finally settled on 4 buttons, as anything else was too hard to use while trying to hold the DS steady.

Here's the setup: You plug the grip into the GBA slot. You strap the thing to your hand, and hold the DS open, book-style. The note highway shows up on the normal screen, and a miniature guitar (and other icons) show up on the touch screen. You hold the grip buttons down for the notes/chords and strum across the virtual guitar with the (guitar pick) stylus.

However, I think that they missed an opportunity to add challenge and detail to the game because they were too focused on the external hardware of the game. They remain married to the idea that the only way to play the guitar is to strum it. But not every action has to be a strum.

In the same way that Rock Band has solo sections, GH:DS songs could have pick sections. The virtual guitar zooms in. You are given a particular chord to hold on the keys. Then the individual strings become the note highway, with you having to pick each note with the stylus as it comes over the bridge. Added detail could include the speed you play sections of complicated notes affecting how they sound. Harder songs would include more chord changes on the buttons and more notes to pick.

And it uses the unique interface already part of the DS system. Sure, the strum uses the touch screen too, but it could have been as easily mapped to another button. Picking, and when/where you pick notes could have added a level of customization and personalization to the virtual playing of your favourite songs.

Activision, Red Octane, and Vicarious Visions: you are welcome to use this idea in the Guitar Hero DS sequel.

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