Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Guitar Hero" creator guru's got mad game

Some people have several million-dollar ideas floating around in their heads, but they just haven't figured out a way to get them out. Others make their ideas into reality. Even fewer still are able to make their idea into a hit.

Meet Kai Huang, co-founder and CEO of RedOctane, a video-game developer now owned by Activision. Huang and his brother, Charles, are the people you can thank for the wildly popular Guitar Hero series. The newest game in the series, Guitar Hero World Tour , is slated for an Oct. 26 release. The game is expected to challenge Harmonix/EA's Rock Band in what should end up being the ultimate battle of the band video games.

Recently, Kai Huang dropped by our offices to talk to the Chronicle's Willie Jefferson Jr. about Guitar Hero World Tour , creating the popular Guitar Hero series and what it was like to work with iconic band Aerosmith for the Guitar Hero game, Guitar He ro : Aerosmith .

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is available for Sony Playstation 2, Sony Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360.

Q: What makes this version of Guitar Hero different from Guitar Hero II and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock ?

A: This version of GH offers a unique twist on the game series. It takes the same GH formula and adds Aerosmith's story to the game. You can follow Aerosmith from their first venue, all the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This game tells their story. The game covers their 30-year career and contains 40 songs; 25 original Aerosmith songs and 15 songs by groups inspired by Aerosmith.

Q: Tell me about the process — why did you choose Aerosmith for this installment of Guitar Hero ?

A: We were looking for an iconic band with great songs. We had to make sure the band had enough songs in their catalog. We agreed to go with Aerosmith for the game. However, they were not leaving Boston. So, we had to fly out to Boston to mo-cap (motion capture) the band. We boxed up all of our gear and flew from L.A. and San Francisco to Boston and set up the gear to tape them, mo-cap them and videotape them.

Q: What was it like heading to Boston to do motion capture?

A: Steve Tyler wanted everything mo-capped. (Motion capture is a process where designers capture movement of objects and apply the movements to a digital model of the object) He wanted us to mo-cap every song, even his scarf. We even mo-capped his mouth. We also mo-capped Run DMC during our Boston session.

Q: What about the venues and the storyline? Is it accurate?

A: The venues and storylines are historically accurate, but the songs aren't. They (the songs) are based on progression in the game.

Q: Do they play Guitar Hero ?

A: Not in front of people, because they don't want to look foolish. When they are home, they do play the game.

One day, Joe Perry heard some noise in his basement and went downstairs to see what the noise was. He saw his son and his friends playing Guitar Hero and he played it. He liked it. His son said "Dad, you should be in this game!"

Perry talked to the band about it. They said they were interested, so they contacted Activision. Activision contacted us, RedOctane, and we started working on the game.

Q: On the Sony PS3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360, downloadable content seems to be a hit. What is your view of the future of downloadable content in regard to the Guitar Hero series?

A: They are very important. Fans of the games want more music. Downloadable content allows us to offer more songs in the games. To date, fans have downloaded 22 million songs on GH3 . The games also drive music sales on iTunes. Take the group Dragon Force. Before GH , they were averaging 2,000 songs a month. After GH was released, they shot up to 40,000 a month. There is a link between the game and iTunes.

You will also be able to choose between buying CDs or downloading new album releases in the game. Metallica is giving gamers a gift — they can buy the CD or download it in the game (Guitar Hero World Tour , Guitar Hero Aerosmith and GHII I ) the day of release. So, you can play the new songs the same day you can buy their CD in stores.

Q: Speaking of World Tour , what is your view on Harmonix/EA's Rock Band ?

A: I am not surprised by Rock Band 's success. The game had over $1 billion in sales from the game and downloads.

Q: What will Guitar Hero World Tour offer that gamers can't get with Rock Band or Rock Band 2 ?

A: GHWT will offer all new wireless instruments. The instruments will be realistic — the drums, the microphone. It will offer the most music. There will also be a music creator to allow gamers to create music and upload it for others to download it.

Q: Can we expect other game expansions in the Guitar Hero series?

A: Yes. Expect (hip-hop and country versions). We are looking at different instruments to incorporate into the games.

Q: How did you get into video games?

A: I started with Atari's Pong and played games my whole life. In 1999, after we sold our software company, Adux Software, I co-created RedOctane. In June 2006, RedOctane was acquired by Activision.

Q: What inspired you and your brother to do Guitar Hero ?

A: Back in the '90s, there were great music games in Japan and Asia. We like the games. The Japanese audiences loved games like that, and it was indeed a neat concept. We wanted to bring those games to the U.S. but make them appealing to the U.S. gamer. So, we thought — what would a popular, party game have? What is appealing to the masses? Rock 'n' roll. So, we created a game, based on the Japanese and Asian concept and added the Rock 'n' roll twist.

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