Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rock Band RPG

I've been spending some time thinking about what I would really like to get out of Rock Band. I mean, of course it's a great party game, good fun for the whole family, and it's got all the personal challenges you could get in the Guitar Hero series. But now that Guitar Hero came out with World Tour, and there's at least one other game in the genre (Rock Revolution, which sounds like it's the ugly step-brother of Rock Band and GH:WT), it's time to explore what else this type of game can be.

And for me, the logical progression makes the next Rock Band game (or more likely, Rock Band 4) a role-playing game. Now, before you run off and talk about how Joe wanted to add swords and dragons to Rock Band, take a minute to realize what a role-playing game is. Fallout 3 is absolutely a role-playing game. To an extent, so is Grand Theft Auto IV. The basic concept is that you control the existence of your character(s) and march them through some sequence of challenges. If that doesn't sound like the path to stardom for a band, you're out of your mind.

(This is gonna be a long-ass post, by the way, so grab a cup of coffee, some Girl Scout cookies, and pull up a chair).

I've come up with some basic ideas about what a Rock Band RPG would entail. Below, I'll go into some of the features I think could be really exciting. And hopefully, I'll flesh out the concept enough for you to tell your friends about it...especially if your friends work for Harmonix. At the very least, if you think this idea has some legitimate merit, talk it up wherever you talk things up. A decent place to start would be the Rock Band 2 forums. I've looked on there, and the only thing it seems like people say about Rock Band 3 is the songs they want in it. I think bigger. The way I'm going to write this is as if the game already exists, and I'm describing its features to you as someone who's played the game.


The most noticeable and pervasive addition to the Rock Band RPG is the concept of "style." This concept draws from the function of the same name in the Saints Row series, where you earn bonus respect by completing tasks with stylish outfits. Winning a race while wearing a sport coat and slacks gets you more respect than winning a race with a tank top and ripped jeans. The same concept applies to Rock Band RPG.

It starts right from the get-go. When you create your band, you create a band member for each instrument, and declare your band as focusing on a particular genre. You can play all songs, of course, but you'll receive a style bonus for playing songs of your particular genre (to provide a similar variety of songs for each genre, multiple genres are encompassed by one umbrella category: hard rock/metal/industrial, punk/emo, etc). What do I mean when I say "bonus?" When you play a show in Rock Band and Rock Band 2, you earn two performance-based rewards: fans and money. In the Rock Band RPG, your band receives a slightly larger bump in fans by playing a song in your band's genre. As a result, the songs that your fans will appreciate the most won't necessarily be the overall most difficult songs in the game; they'll be the most difficult songs in your genre. Think Everlong for the alternative genre, Next To You for the punk/emo genre, Green Grass And High Tides for the southern rock/country genre.

But that's just one part of the equation to determine how successful a performance was. Obviously how well the song was performed (# of stars) would be the main determining factor. In addition to the song genre bonus, you get bonuses for matching up apparel genres, instrument genres, and venue genres. There's also be a built-in standard benefit, even if an item doesn't match your genre (playing a gold-plated guitar would be beneficial regardless of whether you're playing Pink Floyd or Pink).

Now on to the actual gameplay. You're still playing songs, building your song library, and accumulating money and fans, but the mechanism is more complex. For example, before you can play a song in a show, you have to practice it to a certain level of expertise (something fairly low, say 3 stars, basically just completing the song). And in order to acquire new songs, you have to actually "buy" the music using the cash earned from your shows.

You start in the city of your choice, which has several small venues that don't require any sort of special credentials, just a willingness to play for peanuts. The calendar function is a good addition, where you can schedule individual shows as well as "tours," for which you can produce T-shirts, hats, stickers, etc, to try to bring in some more cash. You still need a van/bus/airplane to expand the area in which you could play shows, but instead of just playing a gig and getting them, you pay for each as your band needs them. And logically, you aren't able to do a tour until you at least own a van to transport your band and equipment around. Additionally, you need to hire a sound guy and lighting company to play a gig in large stadiums, and different lighting companies provide higher or lower bonuses to your performance ratings.

One of the most exciting concepts of Rock Band RPG is your agent. You start out and they just let you know about potential gigs, give you some tutorials on how to book shows, and tips on how to increase your style. But as you grow, they become your one-stop shop for making money and booking shows. Your agent looks for opportunities, such as a chance to tap into large audiences by opening for bands who have songs the game (but of course, preventing you from playing any songs by that band in your set). They also arrange for the creation of CDs, DVDs, and merchandise. The agent also handles advertisements for said CDs and merchandise, and when you get big enough to do your own tours, handles finding bands from the game to open for you.

(end preview)

There would have to be a suspension of critical thought, since your band would just be a cover band, which would never make it very big. But we're video game players; we've learned over the years to take most games at face value. The potential for this Rock Band RPG to be fun is, I think, immense. Among my Rock Band-playing friends, I've received only very positive feedback about the idea. And of course, this doesn't have to be the limit at all. You can integrate costs for everything that your band has to work with, such as rent, fuel, hotel accomodations, and the costs associated with making T-shirts, CDs, etc. It's really up to the game maker to decide how complex the system will be.

I simply can't get this idea out of my head now. I get disappointed every time I play Rock Band 2, because I find myself hoping what future versions of the game might offer. So I'm going to try to spread the word about this idea and see if I can't get some steam rolling on the idea. Any comments, ideas, questions are more than welcome. I love talking about this idea. Comment away.


Anonymous said...

For the most part, a game like that has already been developed. Its a rock band rpg game where you start out as a low level musician and work your way to the top, form bands and compete against other players/bands, etc. Its still in Beta testing and free for anyone to play.

Joe Mattingly said...

I'll try out this game. I see that it's totally text-based, and thus obviously doesn't integrate the actual playing of music like in Rock Band or Guitar Hero, but I'm open to the idea.

J-Money said...

I love the ideas, I'm a huge fan of Rock Band!! This would be awesome to actually accomplish, but company's are more concerned with sells than commitment to the fan base. They'll rush some more Beatles and Green Day crap before they take the time for development such as this.

Anonymous said...

Cool, except you should be able to battle or something, like a strategy rpg.

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