Guitar Hero: On Tour drew big crowds in its first two DS outings, which makes the Modern Hits the much anticipated encore. A different style of music coupled with a slew of improvements to gameplay promise to make this third iteration the star of the show.
Vicarious Visions spoke with us about the move to a modern setlist, changes to the single player career, and the role media criticism of the handheld series has played in the development process.
Guitar Hero: On Tour - Modern Hits remixes the gameplay of the previous two games with new music, while keeping ties with the other games for multiplayer song sharing. "We view it sort of as a trilogy," says Producer Jesse Booth. "Each game allowed us to explore different concepts, this one allowing us to explore the modern time period with a great set list."
As the title suggests, the game's soundtrack is wholly rooted in the music of the last five years, with selections from The Bravery, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, and Modest Mouse among others. "The set list was a key focus for Modern Hits," explains Lead Audio Designer Justin Joyner. "It was a catch-22 for us: rarely can we create a soundtrack that everyone can like."
Joyner's acknowledgement of the difficulty of drafting a universally compelling setlist touches upon criticism levelled at the previous two games.
Particularly with the original Guitar Hero: On Tour, displeasure with the soundtrack was pronounced even if it didn't affect sales. Executive Producer David Nathanielsz asserts, "This set list was not a reaction to criticism."
That doesn't mean the team has been ignoring fan reaction to the game. Modern Hits makes fundamental changes to the single player game based on playtesting and calls from players to make the experience more accessible.
Instead of a linear career where songs are unlocked by playing venues in order, tracks can be played from the get-go. Unlocking items and bonuses occurs via a new fan challenge mechanic. For example, you might get a request to nail a 100-note streak in Modest Mouse's "Dashboard." Succeed and you gain more fans, unlocking costume items and new requests.
"We found players were setting goals for themselves," says Lead Designer Muhammed Ahmed. "The new system of fan requests taps into that." Ahmed continues by observing the greater flexibility in play afforded by the new system. You don't have to accept challenges: if you want to just jam to the songs, you're free to do so.
While plenty of alterations have been made to the single player game, nothing is being done to change multiplayer. Nathanielsz explains, "We're somewhat constricted in making changes to multiplayer in order to ensure that song sharing works with the previous games."
The song sharing feature, which enables you to play with songs from the two other Guitar Hero: On Tour titles with another player, returns in Modern Hits.
With the June 9th release of the game right around the corner, Vicarious Visions surprisingly wouldn't peer too far into the future. The next instalment of the series and plans to support DSi were topics brushed aside by the team, which urged a focus on the release of Modern Hits.
"We're excited about DSi," says Nathanielsz. "We're looking at it closely." Perhaps E3 will provide news on that front, though Modern Hits should offer enough to tide the wait to the inevitable next handheld gig.