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Guitar Hero is finally facing some tough competition this year due to Rock Band, and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering between companies is probably pretty confusing to most music game fans.

The creators of Guitar Hero may have moved on to develop Rock Band, but the GH license is still going strong with big-name contributors and more addicting guitar gameplay. We talked with Activision’s Alex Ortiz, who is Guitar Hero 3′s production coordinator, about how the legal and licensing changes have affected this popular series.

Q: What was the transition like from Harmonix to Neversoft?
A: I joined the team later in development. As far as working with Neversoft on this title, it seems like Neversoft knew what exactly what they were getting in to. They’re a really great developer who pulled off a really good game in GH3. They pretty much proved they can take over Harmonix crown and still preserve what Guitar Hero is.

Q: Did you use the same engine and interface as the previous two Guitar Heroes?
A: They have their own engine. We couldn’t use what Harmonix developed, but overall users who are familiar with GH1 and 2 will pretty much feel right at home with GH3 and see that not much was changed. Obviously the menu and everything is completely different. It’s more of the Neversoft style of things, but it’s a really good change, to be honest.

Q: What were Red Octane and Activision’s response to EA buying out Harmonix?
A: It was one of those buyouts that takes everyone by surprise. It wasn’t really expected, but we weren’t really surprised that a great developer like Harmonix was eventually bought by another company.

Q: What sets Neversoft apart from Harmonix?
A: I think what really sets it apart is our own unique style. When you look at the two games, Rock Band and Guitar Hero, there’s not a whole lot you can do as far as changing up the prep board too much. They’re almost going to look the same, it’s just what each developer going to bring to the table art and style-wise that’s going to differentiate the two.

Q: What’s in store for online play?
A: Online play is available right out the gate on PS3, Xbox 360 and the Wii. PS2 does not have online.

Q: What can you do online?
A: Basically it’s what you can do offline. Co-op mode is available online and competitive online play is there. You can pretty much go head-to-head against anyone in the world and prove who the best GH player is.

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Q: Rockband has MTV, what about GH?
A: GH has the fact that it’s a monster franchise and brand name that is so well known. Throngs of people know GH. People still don’t yet know that Rock Band name. It’s yet to prove itself to the wide consumer market. You know when most people hear GH they know what it is. Rock Band, they’re not sure what it is. Because GH is such monster of a franchise it’s actually easier now for us to get artists involved. Artists are more proactive about coming to us first and trying to get involved.

Sex Pistols came back and rerecorded “Anarchy in the U.K.” for us. That was a major, awesome accomplishment. We got the band Living Colour to also rerecord “Cult of Personality”, and they actually extended and added things to the solo in the song. It’s amazing.

We also have Slash and Tom Morello who came in and recorded new, exclusive music just for us.

Q: EA claims that their guitar and the GH guitar are interchangeable, are they?
A: That’s been the long-standing thing that Harmonix has said– that the Guitar Hero guitar will work with their game. I’m sure their controller will probably work with ours, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be some compatibility issues. Each piece of hardware is different. How the pieces of software are going to react to a controller that wasn’t necessarily designed for it, that’s kind of up in the air.