Some ideas for Rock Band 2

So Guitar Hero IV is getting a lot of press these days. But what about Rock Band? 

Rock Band 2 hasn't officially been announced, but the speculation has already begun. As Rock Band fan, we'd like to add our two cents, while also acknowledging that we trust Harmonix and suspect they don't actually need our help.

1. Backwards compatibility
According to the Wired blog, this one's a go, but it has to be treated as rumor at this point without the official word from Harmonix HQ. If it's true, it would be a no-brainer - the instruments are expensive, and take up a lot of space. So why make people spend another $170 on another drum kit, especially since - contrary to popular opinion - quite a few people will find room in their lives for both another Rock Band and another Guitar Hero. 

Similarly, the songs released as downloadable content should be compatible with the sequel as well. Why make people swap out discs if they want to rock "Peace of Mind"?

2. Bring World Tour Mode online
This was one of the biggest complaint about Rock Band was its lack of an online version of Band World Tour Mode. People can play online in quickplay mode, but to do the multi-player world tour, you had to have your bandmates in the room with you. Harmonix chalked it up to technical issues. Perhaps they can be fixed now?

3. Non-gimped create-a-song mode
People can disagree about the relative merits of Rock Band vs. Guitar Hero all they want, but ultimately the easy way to look at it is that Guitar Hero caters more to people looking for something challenging and Rock Band is more for people looking for something closer to the authentic musical experience. With that in mind, we were skeptical when we heard about Guitar Hero's impending create-a-song feature. Would it really be an actual attempt at some quality music-making, or would it just be an excuse for people to make a solo that will be near-impossible to play? What would these songs actually sound like?

Having now seen a screenshot of it, we have to admit: it looks pretty cool. On the surface, it looks like they've at least attempted to idiot-proof it so that only a minimum amount of actual music theory will be required to make something decent. Guitar Hero's version doesn't have vocals, so Harmonix could win by simply doing that in theory. But we propose an alternate theory: our thinking is that, consciously or unconsciously, the ommission of vocals is an act of charity. Have you heard most people sing? Maybe Harmonix wouldn't necessarily be better served by simply incoprorating those.

Instead, here's a radical proposal: let people upload songs they've written and recorded.

The concern with uploads is that people will upload copyrighted materials. But how exactly is that alleviated by letting users input their own songs? It would seem doubtful that GHIV's create-a-song mode will be smart enough to recognize that some industrious gamer has just "created" "Stairway to Heaven" in its entirety and shared it across XBox Live. In other words, no matter what, songs that aren't licensed for the game will appear in the game. The more likely reason both companies are reluctant to allow uploads is that once people have uploaded songs from their library, they would be less likely to purchase those songs if they're ever sold as downloadable content. A possible solution could be the use of audio fingerprinting technology. It'd be ambitious, but it could work.

4. Counter-programming
We don't want to say too much about this for two reasons. First, all discussions like this boil down to personal taste, which is obviously subjective, and Harmonix actually does need to sell copies of this game. We're not going to pretend that the public at large would line up to play a game consisting of only songs that can be heard on our iPod. Second, Harmonix, generally speaking, gets it. They don't need our help on what songs to pick for the game. That said, with GHIV's soundtrack looking decidedly mainstream so far, it might be interesting for Harmonix to go in the opposite direction. Rock Band did a solid job of this - Radiohead, The Pixies, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, REM, The Cars, and Blur all work as "the idea." But then the Jimmy Buffett pack is, uh, not. Even if the sales figures ultimately prove me wrong. 

Just one more suggestion, though - maybe tone down the 90s obsession a bit? There are plenty of artists currently working this decade that make music that would be perfect for Rock Band: Spoon, My Morning Jacket, The Raconteurs, The National, TV on the Radio, The Hold Steady, Mastodon, Wilco, Torche... the list goes on. But again: you guys knew that already.

Also more of the songs that were in Guitar Hero II! We want to play "Free Bird" for real.

5. No physical disc for those who already have the first Rock Band
There's no reason this couldn't all be downloadable. Why not make it so? Who wants to go to a store? Too bad EA will never allow this one to happen, because it could be a whole new way for game companies in general to do business.

-- Ryan Stewart

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