The Hardcore Rock Band Players Keeping the Game Alive

Looking at the state of things now, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when the plastic instrument rhythm game was a billion-dollar industry with multiple yearly releases. Harmonixthe developers of the Rock Band franchise, were once a small company producing well received but ill-fated rhythm games Frequency and its sequel Amplitude. Former Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos said he had been told by a Sony Production Manager that during focus testing, Amplitude scored the worst “pre play ‘interest score’” of any game they had ever tested, but also scored the highest “intent to purchase”. of any game Sony had ever tested also. The fate of their original properties is a good analogy for what happened to Harmonix as a developer.


RedOctane, a hardware manufacturer largely known for making third-party Dance Dance Revolution pads, had seen the success of Konami’s ‘Guitar Freaks’ arcade machines in Japan and approached Harmonix for developing a game like it for western audiences to pair with a guitar controller of their own creation. After the massive success of the first two Guitar Hero games, Activision bought out RedOctane, holders of the Guitar Hero IP, but did not bring in Harmonix. This allowed MTV to buy out Harmonix, prompting them to expand into their own original game, Rock Band. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick was later quoted saying he regretted not bringing in Harmonix to continue developing the Guitar Hero franchise. Ultimately, it was probably for the best that Harmonix was able to go off on their own and create competition between the two.

When Rock Band launched in 2007, it quickly distanced itself from Guitar Hero by having better track charting, more instruments, and copious amounts of great downloadable content compared to their competitor. Activision fell into the habit of releasing a side-game any time they felt they had a good amount of extra content they wanted to put out. In the end, this flooded the market and exhausted long-time fans who had any loyalty to the brand.

Just as quickly as the genre came it vanished. There are a few factors that played into this. While Activision flooded the market with minor Guitar Hero releases, this was hardly the only reason. Plastic instruments took up a lot of space on store shelves and were an expensive luxury during the 2008 recession in the United States. This was aside from the fact that once you had already spent a decent amount of money acquiring the instruments, you were much less likely to keep buying new ones if you didn’t have to. Eventually, the casual players who had latched onto the craze left it just as quickly, and Rock Band ended with the third game’s release in 2010. Harmonix continued to support the game with DLC in the following years leading up to the series’ attempted revival with Rock Band 4 in 2015.

Rock Band 4 is its own tragedy. The game was made by a much smaller team than Harmonix had at its peak. They were also forced to launch out the door with a Guitar Hero revival taking place at the exact same time. Guitar Hero Live sold with a 6 fret guitar and a bizarre infrastructure that had most of the game’s content only online. Rock Band 4’s sluggish sales were compounded when both their instrument manufacturers, Mad Catz and PDP, went out of business producing the instruments.

This drove up prices of instruments up to ridiculous amounts on the second-hand market. Instruments for the game can be found for as much as $ 400- $ 500. If you wanted to use a Midi drum kit (much more durable than any plastic drum set), it required an adapter that had a small print run, and could run you as much as $ 1000 second-hand!

With modern releases all but unplayable, a devoted group of Rock Band players has filled in the gap. MiloHax, a group of several rhythm game fanatics, created several mods for both emulation and original hardware to improve the user experience with several quality-of-life changes, as well as easier access to DLC that has been unavailable for several years due to licensing agreements. The group have created modded builds of both Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero 2. While Guitar Hero 2 features more substantial surface changes, such as drum support, strum limit removal (making Guitar Hero 2’s infamous ‘Trogdor’ bonus track now possible to FC) , and generally making the experience less laggy and more enjoyable on emulation. Rock Band 2 on the other hand really gets into the nitty-gritty.

Rock Band 2 Deluxe features improvements such as 1080p support, 60fps venues, the song title always being on during gameplay, the ability to change the color of the 5 gem frets, and even online play through an emulator. The PS3 emulator on PC, RPCS3, has PlayStation Network support with a handful of titles. If you set up your PSN emulation with the username of someone who has played Rock Band 2 online on original hardware PS3 in the past (ideally yourself), it is possible to play on Harmonix original servers with players on RPCS3, or even the few dedicated still playing original Rock Band 2 on a PS3. Even some of the more well known people within the rhythm game community have been sworn by the release of Deluxe. Youtuber and final World Cyber ​​Games Guitar Hero World Champion, Alec “Acai” Castillo has high praise for MiloHax’s work, as evidenced by the following quote pulled from the mod’s website:

I was grinding ch (clone hero) today and STILL ended up playing RB2DX, that’s the fucking pull this game has on me ”.

On top of the numerous quality of life changes, the biggest difference for Rock Band 2 Deluxe is the ability to use whatever peripheral you want. If you have an original PS2 Guitar Hero controller, you can set it up to play with RPCS3. Wireless Wii drum pads, keyboards, regular game controllers or even midi drum kits. There are no restrictions whatsoever on playing Rock Band in the modern day if you are using the appropriate hardware.

Regardless of modern trends and sales numbers, it’s heartening to know that there is always a group of people out there who are passionate about the same things you, and will do anything to keep them alive.

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