RedOctane execs on a roll with "Guitar Hero"

Sat Jul 12, 2008 9:01pm EDT
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By Antony Bruno

DENVER (Billboard) - There were a lot of questions surrounding the "Guitar Hero" videogame when it first came out. Would gamers agree to pony up extra money for the special guitar-shaped controller needed to play it? Would the music industry agree to license master tracks? Would the addition of downloadable content be successful?

The answer to all those questions has turned out to be a resounding yes. "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" has sold more than 8 million copies, and the franchise has sold more than 20 million songs through its downloadable content store.

During the past month, publisher Activision -- which purchased the rights to the franchise by acquiring original publisher RedOctane -- rolled out a portable version of the game for the Nintendo DS called "Guitar Hero: On Tour," introduced a special edition dedicated to classic rock act Aerosmith and unveiled plans for its next installment, "Guitar Hero: World Tour," which for the first time adds drums and vocals to the mix in a bid to compete with rival "Rock Band." An added twist for the expected fourth-quarter release: The game's "music studio" feature enables users to compose and record tracks and share them online.

To be sure, the story of "Guitar Hero" seems to be just hitting its stride rather than slowing down. Billboard caught up with RedOctane founders and brothers Kai and Charles Huang -- president and VP of business development, respectively -- to hear their reflections on the past and what they've got planned for the future.

Q: Why a whole expansion of the game dedicated to Aerosmith rather than just featuring the band as a downloadable content special?

Kai Huang: Because we really wanted to showcase Aerosmith the band. Downloadable content will allow you to just get the music, but we've gone much, much further than that. We've actually brought them into the studio to do full-motion capture of them in performance, and we put all of that into the game. We had the band consult on the actual songs that they wanted, including about 20 of the songs that they had over their 30-year career. And then they provided input on songs that were from bands that they'd either toured with in the past or that have influenced them over the course of their career. So the game is a lot more than just about Aerosmith music, it really is about the history and the rise of Aerosmith.

Charles Huang: Even the venues have changed, so the venues are the actual places where they played. We actually have Nipmuc High School (in Massachusetts), where they did their first gig, (and) Max's Kansas City, and all of (those) are authentic through the history of Aerosmith, so it was a lot more than just making their music playable with "Guitar Hero III." That's why we had to put it on disc to get all of that into the game.

Q: Is this the template for how you would like to do other expansion-type discs with other artists for "Guitar Hero?"   Continued...

<p>Show attendee Brian Weinberg plays Guitar Hero III on a Dell laptop during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada in this January 8, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Steve Marcus</p>