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Interview: Ted Lange of RedOctane

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Ever since the uber-successful launch of Guitar Hero, it was inevitable that the axe would strike the PS2 once again. With new tracks, new modes and a vamped-up look, Guitar Hero II hit shelves earlier this week.

But a game doesn’t hit shelves without a staff of dedicated programmers and artists putting time into the title. Ted Lange, of RedOctane, recently took the time to give details on how the new music-game sensation Guitar Hero gets put together.

Aaron Auzins: First off, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Could you please introduce yourself and how you are involved with the Guitar Hero project?

Ted Lange: My name is Ted Lange, associate producer at RedOctane for Guitar Hero II. I work with production to make sure that the game gets released on time and as bug-free as possible. I also head up the music-selection committee here at RedOctane.

Aaron: Naturally, the Guitar Hero franchise has seen huge success. What has been the team’s response to not only the retail success but also the list of accolades the game has received from the press?

Ted: It’s really great! We love the project and are just thrilled that everyone else has been as excited as we have been about it. It’s an awesome feeling to help create something that so many people love.

Aaron: When you first started on the original Guitar Hero, how long did it take to complete the first game and what kind of process did you have to go through to pitch such a new concept to the publishers and the press?

Ted: It was a little under nine months from concept to delivery. The hardest thing was getting a solid controller created in such a short time. It was really interesting pitching the idea. We all knew it was going to be great, but it was hard to convince press and retail how great it would be.

Imagine trying to describe a game where you use a plastic guitar-shaped controller to strum to icons on a screen that ends up giving you the feeling of being a rock star. It’s a game that you need to see and play to really get it.

Aaron: Going into your second game, was it easier for you to get artists interested in being in the series? Did you take a different approach in choosing songs to be featured in part two?

Ted: Definitely. We were able to get certain artists such as Guns N’ Roses that we weren’t able to get in before. It helps when you have Guitar Hero to show a band or management. When they can actually see the game, they understand that we are trying to keep true to the rock genre.

Aaron: What is your take on the game’s involvement with independent bands? What has it been like working with them? Because of the game’s success, have you been bombarded with demo CDs and tapes randomly being mailed into you by independent bands?

Ted: We’ve gotten tons of music sent to us which I must say has its ups and downs. There is a lot of good music out there, but also a lot of bad music. We love independent bands though. We supported them on the original Guitar Hero and we wanted to continue the tradition by putting a bunch more bands on Guitar Hero II. The bands are great to work with, and they really just want to get their music out to the masses so it’s really a positive experience working with them.

Aaron: What kind of methods does the team go through while choreographing the keys the players need to hit during the course of game play? Are any of the commands loosely- (or even fully-) based off of actual tabs and chords? How does the team decide what kind of difficulty gets put on the songs?

Ted: Well, the difficulty is determined by the actual song. When you get to expert you are playing every single note that is in the song, so if a song has a ton of notes then it’s going to be a pretty tough song. The note charts are made pretty much by hand. There is a team at Harmonix that laid them in by hand and then it’s really just trial and error until it feels right. It helps too that they are musicians. They aren’t laid out exactly like the tab would be, but if you pay attention, a chord that is higher pitched will be on the lower buttons just as they would be if it were a real guitar.

Aaron: Would you be able to give us any details on how the career mode in Guitar Hero II will differ from the original?

Ted: The career mode has been expanded with new venues and a nice little road map where you are shown taking your tour bus to different locations. The biggest addition to career mode are the encores. After you finish four songs in a set, the crowd starts chanting and you are prompted to choose whether or not to do an encore, and for anyone that rocks, there really is no choice. You don’t want to let your fans down do you?

Aaron: What prompted the addition of the multiplayer modes and what can we expect out of them?

Ted: It’s something we would have loved to add into the first Guitar Hero, but it’s definitely something that was prompted by the fans. Everyone was calling for bass guitar so we gave it to them and, let me say, it turned out great. You really feel like you’re playing a second instrument. Even down to the clunking of the bass string when you miss a note. Now if we could only figure out a way to give you the feeling of playing slap bass.

Aaron: With the previews, it is definitely obvious the difficulty has been kicked up a notch. How did it come about that the harder songs became much more difficult than in the previous version? What features can new players look forward to so dedicated players that can tear up the harder tracks do not discourage them?

Ted: The difficulty was definitely kicked up a notch mainly due to the fact that people had mastered the first game. We wanted to give something for the veterans to strive for, but we also kept the starting players in mind when making note charts for the easy and medium difficulties. Anyone can still jump in and feel like a rock star. We also added practice mode where you are able to select those tough sections of a song and slow them down to a crawl to really nail them. It’s just like with a real guitar, you got to practice to get better.

Aaron: What kind of touch ups has the rest of the game received? I noticed a little bit more animation and better-detailed environments with subtle touches to them (like rats running around in the starter stages). What made the team go the extra mile outside of the game play aspects?

Ted: We wanted to not just make a direct sequel where we just give you new songs. We added all kinds of venue effects like strobe lights that go to the music and crowd members that throw things at the stage to really give you that rock vibe. If we can make the game better we will. We also touched up game mechanics like the hammer-ons and pull-offs. You will really feel the difference when playing and, trust me, you’re going to need to use the hammer-ons and pull-offs especially on the solo for Freebird … it’s a killer!

Aaron: Word is getting around about recent polls regarding the Guitar Hero franchise. What kind of responses did you receive from putting the polls out and how will they help you for future editions of the game?

Ted: We are a company that always listens to the fans. They are whom you are making the game for after all. We read all of the polls and listen to what is being said on the message boards to make sure we know what they want and also what they are expecting to see in future versions. You can’t believe how many song list suggestions I’ve read. A lot of people have some pretty good insight.

Aaron: There has been word of specialized Guitar Hero titles in the works (ones that feature strictly metal, country, etc.). Is this shaping up at all?

Ted: Yeah, Tommy Seebach’s Apache Hero will be coming out Christmas 2007. We are really excited about it. It’s going to feature new features like maniacal laughter using the USB headset and will come with a fringed jacket. But seriously, we are still looking into what will be the best-specialized title. Nothing has been locked down.

Aaron: Has there been any talks on songs made exclusively for use on Guitar Hero, a sort of Harmonix originals if you will?

Ted: Actually, Buckethead recorded a song exclusively for Guitar Hero II. It’s called Jordan and it’s the hardest song you will ever play on five buttons.

Aaron: The funny quotes that detail the reality of being in a rock band return in Guitar Hero II’s loading screens. Who makes those quotes and how did that aspect of the game come to be?

Ted: Harmonix comes up with all sorts of funny quotes. I think they came from the boredom of when you’re playing games and you get to the loading screen. Thirty seconds can seem like 30 minutes, but if you have some jokes to read, it kind of bridges the gap between menus to game play.

Aaron: The PS2 version is ready to go for November, but if we can talk about the plans for the upcoming Xbox 360 version, are there going to be any huge game play additions?

Ted: You will actually play the game with your mind. No need for controllers with next-gen hardware. The 360 has that potential and we plan to utilize it to the fullest … wait, I was just informed that it doesn’t actually do that, but we will be bundling it with the all-new X-Plorer controller.

Aaron: With the jump to next-generation hardware, what kind of graphical options and features can we expect? Will there be more crowd interaction, different animations, etc.?

Ted: Obviously we will be able to give the characters a much smoother look. This also goes for the venues and crowd. We are really excited with all of the improvements we will be able to make with the 360 version. We think people are going to really be stoked.

Aaron: How is the Xbox Live Marketplace going to supplement the new version? While we know there will be new songs offered, are there going to be any other additions offered for download?

Ted: We are looking into all of the great stuff you can do with Xbox Live Marketplace and we see a lot of potential. Yeah, I know I just answered a question without saying anything, but we really are still figuring it all out. Put it this way – you won’t be disappointed!

Aaron: Thank you again for taking the time to answer questions for us. Good luck with the release of Guitar Hero II as well as other future endeavors.

Ted: Thank you. We are just thrilled that everyone loves Guitar Hero as much as we loved making it. We hope to continue rocking out your consoles in the coming years.

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