In many ways, it can actually be a huge advantage to enter a market slightly later than your competition.
It's so much easier to make a successful product when you can pull apart something someone else has done and make it better. Doubly so if you actually made it in the first place. Confused?
Well, Red Octane and Harmonix first teamed up back in 2005 to release the original Guitar Hero. This was of course wildly successful, however the duo split up a year later when Red Octane was snapped up by Activision and Harmonix got acquired by MTV.
Red Octane had the rights to Guitar Hero, so last year Harmonix came up with a new game by taking the same formula but extending it with the addition of a drum kit and microphone to the mix - before packaging it up as Rock Band, published by Electronic Arts.
Meanwhile Red Octane partnered with Activision's Neversoft development group to continue work on Guitar Hero, releasing Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Following the story so far?
Whilst Activision and Red Octane enjoyed record sales for their guitar-only title, they couldn't sit idly by and let Rock Band take the lead, so they performed a bit of legal industrial espionage, pulling apart EA's Rock Band product to determine how they could make it better. It just makes sense - if you're going to take Guitar Hero and add peripherals such as a drum kit and microphone, you may as well see how your competition already went about doing the same thing. Thus, Guitar Hero World Tour was conceived.
EA of course has scarcely been caught napping; they're on the verge of releasing Rock Band 2 (in the States, at least) and their army of boffins have no doubt inspected Guitar Hero World Tour and are plotting a bit of one-upmanship themselves, but we'll wait for it to hit New Zealand before we get all excited about that.
In the meantime, it's Activision to the rescue, as this hard-hitting, bass-thumping rock band simulator is due to arrive November 13th!
We were given the chance to play Guitar Hero World Tour this week, along with several other media representatives who were only too happy to fill in as additional band members - allowing us to try the new peripherals one at a time. We suspect however that Charles Huang, the co-creator of the franchise, would have preferred to be strumming a guitar instead of holding the microphone he was stuck with!
The new guitar controller has been almost completely redesigned. The biggest new feature it sports is the additional touch-pad, down the neck from the conventional buttons. The touch-pad can be used at certain times during a track to add additional customisation, similar to the whammy bar, giving a unique sound and allowing you to perform extremely quick slide combinations without the need for the high accuracy the buttons generally require. The whammy bar has also been lengthened from the previous Les Paul design, although the wireless features and detachable neck have been retained. The strum bar is longer too, although this didn't seem to have much of an effect as I can't recall the previous models having a problem in this area.
The USB microphone is a simple Logitech design, although Red Octane has added some ballast weights to give it a more authentic feel. Anyone familiar with the SingStar franchise will fit fairly seamlessly into the role of lead vocals; there's really very little difference in how this has been incorporated in World Tour (or Rock Band, for that matter).
The new major peripheral introduced to Guitar Hero with World Tour is the drum kit - this is a solid design that has a number of improvements over the Rock Band example. Firstly, while RB's kit just had four drum pads, GHWT's kit has three main drum pads and two elevated pads that act as cymbals, along with the requisite bass pedal.
The pads themselves have been covered with a layer of silicone material that acts as a sound suppressor, and also provides gentler feedback to your wrists during those prolonged solos. Pretty much everything comes apart, so you can set it up and knock it down for transport without delay. But although the drum kit links to the console wirelessly, the bass pedal is wired to the drum kit.
Red Octane has stated that it wanted to make every single track in GHWT interface with the software in exactly the same way, so that each time you sit down to play a song using the drum kit, you would have the same experience in regards to drum pad mapping and note layout. For this reason, it's extremely easy to jump on the drum kit at lower difficulties and pick up a steady rhythm without missing too many notes, although those expecting a swift progression through each difficulty level might want to reconsider; even the real drummers at our demo event messed up a few times.
These new peripherals all combine in Guitar Hero World Tour's Music Studio, offering an innovative way to not only create your own music tracks, but upload them for others to share over the internet for free. We had a brief demonstration of how this works, and although it appeared quite technical we were assured that anyone with a passing understanding of music would pick it up in no time.
We witnessed an Activision representative strum out a few notes, add an accompanying drum beat from the incorporated drum machine, and then use the guitar controller as a keyboard to add additional effects. The resulting song could then be manipulated in the Music Studio, with entire sections copied and pasted to produce a chorus line. You can even do your own vocals, so there's a real chance that in future you could be listening to music created entirely in Guitar Hero World Tour and not actually know that it's completely devoid of real instruments.
But what's the point in rocking out with your own music if your character looks like an idiot on-screen? Enter the Create-A-Rocker mode. Here you can select your character from a number of pre-set models and tweak virtually every aspect of their appearance, from facial features to custom tattoos. We haven't seen this level of customization since our Saints Row 2 preview, so those who have secretly desired to see Helen Clark play "Everlong" by the Foo Fighers will finally have their chance. Activision confirmed that their testers managed to make an extremely convincing George W. Bush, so no doubt some crazy personalities will be popping up online soon.