Ten years ago, a music game craze gripped the nation that made plastic instruments a hot commodity. While some titles’ popularity fizzled out like so many bands that hit the big time, Harmonix is still rocking living rooms everywhere thanks to new games, continuous updates and brand partnerships.
The latest collaborations for Rock Band 4 include FXX and Floyd County Productions’ Archer, as well as Bethesda’s Mass Effect. When the Harmonix team learned that Kenny Loggins’ classic 80s song, Danger Zone would be made available as a Rock Band 4 DLC, they just knew that Sterling Archer had to sing it. (For those who have never watched Archer, it’s only like, his favorite song.)
“FXX will be promoting Archer’s Rock Band debut in their newsletter before the upcoming [Season 8] premiere, but our primary goal was to do something unexpected and fun for fans of both franchises, and FXX was totally on board,” Dan Walsh, director of communications at Harmonix told [a]listdaily.
The development team created a special cel-shader just for the character, in order to render him true to his TV show. Sterling Archer is available as a free costume to all Rock Band 4 owners. Players can either play as Archer or make him a member of their band without the need for any additional purchases.
Harmonix has a long history of partnering with video game franchises the development team loves—like Pychonauts, Fallout 4 and Battleborn—creating in-game skins and instruments for players to enjoy. That tradition continues with the addition of special Mass Effect: Andromeda items in the latest DLC update, including a bass that looks like the game’s Normandy starship.
“We’re big fans of Mass Effect and have a great relationship with the folks at EA, so we reached out to see if they would be interested in doing something,” Walsh explained. “All the Mass Effect items turned out great but I especially like the Normandy bass.”
The virtual band experience just got a lot more real, thanks to the launch of Rock Band VR (RBVR)—using the Oculus Rift to transport players onto a virtual stage with band mates, audience members and all. VR games are still somewhat new, and the hardware still pricey—so launching a game like this meant putting a headset on players and letting the game do all the selling.
“I’m a firm believer in the importance of demos for VR and we’ve been doing A lot of them over the past few months,” Walsh said. “We’ve been at PAX Prime, PAX East, GDC, OC3, CES—you name it. Almost everyone was amazed—the in-person experience is so much more powerful than watching video or screenshots. We’ve even had a few people say that they experienced a twinge of stage fright when they put on the headset and saw the virtual crowd looking up, waiting for them to perform. The Rock Band VR team did a great job of drawing from their own personal experience of being in bands and performing to capture what it’s like to be onstage—you really do feel like you’re there. The new gameplay that we designed specifically for VR also adds to the experience. It’s still technically challenging (and difficult to master) but it doesn’t force the player to focus on one fixed point in space, enabling them to look around and appreciate the environment they’re in as they play.”
“Once people play Rock Band VR, they’re usually sold,” Walsh said. “Prior to that point, we faced some interesting challenges due to people’s familiarity with the franchise. A lot of people that have played Rock Band on console tend to have a pretty clear idea of what Rock Band VR will be and it almost always involves classic, five-lane, Rock Band gameplay. To be fair, we had a similar idea when we started development but we quickly realized that classic Rock Band wasn’t especially suited to VR, so we designed all-new gameplay that played to the platform’s strengths. We did include a version of classic mode in the game, but it wasn’t the primary focus.
“From a marketing perspective, this meant that we needed to reteach people how to play Rock Band after they had gotten used to the same iconic gameplay for ten-plus years! Demos were a big part of that process, but we also relied heavily on mixed reality, tutorial videos and developer diaries to explain the reason for the change and to showcase the new gameplay.”
Rock Band 4 and its expansion, Rock Band Rivals are available now for PS4 and Xbox One. Rock Band VR is available now for PC for use with the Oculus Rift. At SXSW, Harmonix and Hasbro unveiled a new title called DropMix, a music-themed mobile game with collectible cards.