This post has been translated from the original French on Le HuffPost, and can be read here
Activision just announced the release of a new edition of Guitar Hero , a series of popular video games last released in 2010. The announcement of the release of the title was done during an event for American press this past Tuesday, April 14, 2015 in New York, by Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision, one of the world's major leading video game editors, in the presence of musicians from groups such as Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance.
Guitar Hero is one of the most popular licenses in recent video game history, and beyond that, a true phenomenon of recent pop culture, having brought in more than a billion dollars in revenue in Europe and the United States. The game largely personified, next to Nintendo Wii, "casual gaming," an expression which refers to a culture open to video games accessible to the entire public.
The different versions of Guitar Hero for console are played with a plastic guitar equipped with five buttons, immediately accessible for people hesitant to learn the sometimes difficult task of learning how to use the joystick of a game console. But the duplication of very similar items ended up boring the fans to the point of justifying the stoppage of the license (unlike, for example, Call of Duty, another franchise of Activision invariably released with a new edition each fall).
As Eric Hirshberg emphasised at the time of the presentation of the game in New York, Guitar Hero retains a considerable degree of popularity despite five years of absence: "Guitar Hero still has more than ten million fans on social networks, and there are 40million people worldwide which have already played a game in the series."
Why, in this case, have they waited so long before giving new life to this title? "We waited to find an innovation breaking with the old games which was sufficiently rich to justify a new Guitar Hero, and have spent years experimenting before the release of this," explains the CEO of Activision.
The innovations are in fact numerous, to the point that one can speak one a true reinvention of the original game for this new opus called Guitar Hero Live. The development team, under the leadership of Jamie Jackson, director of Freestyle Games (the subsidiary of Activision in charge of the title), wished to create an experience as close as possible to that encountered by a rock star who comes onto the stage. Three elements are highlighted by the studio: "The first innovation was to invert the camera. This time, you are in the eyes of the rock star, in a subjective camera. That which passes on the screen is the point of view of a person on the stage. Then, in contrast to the very cartoonish style of earlier games, we have preferred a realistic point of view: you see the crowd and the rest of the group around you. Finally, the crowd reacts to what you play, positively or negatively."
Indeed, your first try at the game, and the repeated wrong notes, provoke a rather hostile reaction from the group and the crowd which increases the pressure on the player.
The plastic guitar which accompanies the game has also been completely reworked. In place of what were formerly five aligned buttons, there are now two rows of three buttons, which necessitates completely relearning the method of playing. "The game is at the same time more casual and more difficult. The redesigned guitar is both simpler for an inexperienced player, and more complicated for an expert player because we have introduced the playing of chords, which was not possible before with the old guitar," explains Eric Hirshberg. Guitar Hero Live will allow for following the journey of a musician from the first small scenes in intimate clubs to immense open air festivals, with a progressive difficulty in the game.
Another novelty: the game release will be accompanied by the launching of a viewing platform on YouTube - Guitar Hero TV - which will offer clips playable online to players worldwide, a concept thought up in order to allow for the discovery of new pieces. "We have seen how people have played. They choose their preferred titles, and replay them until they master them to the point of perfection. This is how I play myself. In this way, Guitar Hero TV will allow players to discover other pieces than those which they play, and to always bring innovation to the community" explains Eric Hirshberg.
Jamie Jackson confirms this approach: "Today, if I speak to you about a group you don't know, you will access it in twenty-five seconds on your phone. We all have this immediate relationship to music today. We will use the images of real clips on Guitar Hero TV, to reinforce the immersive aspect in the world of groups. This will truly be a new medium to discover and to listen to music."
Guitar Hero Live will also be available for phone and tablet, as the previous episodes had also been successful. Eric Hirshberg explains: "The mobile version will address itself specifically to 'casual' players, which play a lot in this way. We are going to seek out the players where they are located, and the gameplay which involves typing on the phone screen works well." No specifications on the innovations brought by the mobile version are given for now, although the release of this version of the game was announced simultaneously.
Guitar Hero has sometimes been criticized because the game offers an experience far from the real practice of an instrument. In reality, in the same way that FIFA is a much-played game by soccer players, Guitar Hero is also a recreation for real guitarists. "Almost the entire team at Freestyle Games is made up of musicians, I am a bassist myself and I was a DJ," explains Jamie Jackson. The two musicians present to promote the event - chosen for their great fame in the United States - affirmed that they were both present because they intensely played Guitar Hero with their respective groups on tour.
Gerard Way, singer for My Chemical Romance, in this way affirmed to have used his fingers on a song from Judas Priest with an old version of the game. According to him, Guitar Hero Live is a much more realistic game than the earlier version: "I tested the new game with the piece from Fall Out Boy, and I was really struck by the difference. Guitar Hero was super fun, but this new version is much more exciting. I felt anxious to succeed with the piece and to not mess up. The experience is really close to that which I feel on stage with a real crowd."
This is a point of view maintained by Pete Wentz, bassist for Fall Out Boy, who can also confirm the interest for a musician in participating in this new type of platform: "People who play videogames and don't know us could stumble across one of our songs, and discover the group in this way. I think that each new channel of propagation of music is good news."
And in this spirit, numerous groups have consented so that their pieces become integrated into the game, notably, the Black Keys, Green Day, and even the Rolling Stones. A partnership has also been signed with Universal Music. The video game actually seems to be an increasingly important way for record companies to introduce their artists to a young public.
The event organized in New York would have allowed one to attend an amusing duel of Guitar Hero Live between Jamie Jackson, game developer, and Gerald Way on one of his songs: Na Na Na. The match would have been pretty close, between the creator of the game and that of the piece, but still showed that, at the end of the day, the musician beats the computer guy.
Guitar Hero Live will be released next fall on consoles, tablets, and mobile phones, without an exact date for the time being.
Jean-Samuel Kriegk is the author of the book Art Ludique (Sonatine Editions)