With the release of the ridiculously popular Rock Band 2, we had a chance speak with Harmonix Art Director Ryan Lesser about what he thinks of this new installment to the Rock Band franchise. The first Rock Band is still keeping people up until 5:00 am and we wanted to know exactly what about Rock Band 2 will continue that steady stream of blissful insomnia.
Peter Rizkalla: What's different about this installment of Rock Band aside from the new tracks?
Ryan Lesser: Well there's a bunch of new features, but, without going into every little thing, the World Tour has been really revamped as a new experience and also the way that the fans can battle each other online. There's a ton of new assets for characters such as new heads that you can put on your rocker. New art features. There is also a drum trainer that allows you to learn how to play the drums. There's a lot in there.
PR: Awesome. Can you tell us more about the create-a-character feature?
RL: Sure, we've built more on the last game's character creator where we wanted it to be a kind of an "arcade-y" character creator as to other character creators out there that take an hour to create your particular character. We wanted something a little more "party game esque." We've added more heads, more hair and accessories. We've also added the ability to give your character piercings such as nose piercings and ear piercings.
PR: No belly button piercings?
RL: [Laughs] No, the piercings pretty much stay on the face. There are also new clothes and all kinds of other features that allow you to shape your body and now that there is the Battle of the Bands option in the game I think that players are going to fall more and more in love with their personal characters.
PR: Is there a big artistic or graphical difference between Rock Band 2 and the first Rock Band?
RL: Graphically, we wanted to just sort of fill up the nooks and crannies that we couldn't fill in the last Rock Band. We really didn't want to reinvent the game just yet because it's only the second game in the series. We were pretty happy with the way the first Rock Band looked so we were really just polishing up Rock Band 2, adding all the new features and making the graphics deeper as opposed to graphically reinventing the wheel.
PR: What do you think is the best new multi-player feature in Rock Band 2?
RL: Probably the ability to battle bands online. I think that's my personal favorite feature for the game. There is a very sophisticated ladder that any band can participate in where you can see how you are doing against other people. We're also having Harmonix run competitions that people will be able to participate in.
PR: So forming online bands are kind of like forming clans in a first-person shooter or an MMO.
RL: Yeah, exactly.
PR: What makes Rock Band 2 different than previous Guitar Hero titles?
RL: I wouldn't even be able to compare them. They're both good games, which are different in a lot of ways. The older Guitar Hero games [only use guitar controllers], so there is a pretty big difference there. But if I could see what Guitar Hero: World Tour is like then that would be a different story.
PR: Is there anything that you would have liked to see happen in Rock Band 2 but never happened?
RL: Wow, that's a huge question! I think for the most part a lot of what we wanted to do for this title is in there but if I could have put 300 songs on the disc, I would have. I think that is my biggest feeling, that if I could have done anything, I would have figured out some way to get more songs on the disc but that can't really happen because the disc is only so big.
PR: That pretty much leads me to my next question. How often do you guys plan on releasing new songs as downloadable content?
RL: We're committed to putting out new music every week so people can expect more and more songs as weeks go by.
Peter Rizkalla, who writes the AWN "Press Start" videogame column, is a lifelong enthusiast of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in various videogame companies such as THQ, Namco and 2K Games and avidly attends many game conferences such as E3 and E for All. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.