Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Design of Interaction with Music for Video Games

Since the launch of the original Guitar Hero game in 2005, music-based video games have quickly grown in popularity. Recently, music has overtaken sports as the second most popular category for video games. Equally astonishing, according to the Venture Beat blog, these games are now driving adoption of video game consoles more than any other genre.

The sudden growth in popularity of these games has been driven by the evolution of the design of game interactions beyond the traditional game controller. Guitar Hero provided the first interaction breakthrough when they released a controller that is designed to mimic the feel of real guitar. These controllers have been much improved since the first Guitar Hero release. My personal favorite is the Rock Band guitar because it provides the most natural feel and is considerably more accurate from a strumming perspective.

When Rock Band launched in 2007 it also helped push the envelope by supporting four person games and adding interactions via drums and a microphone. Now gamers can create an virtual "rock band", as opposed to being limited to guitars only. For people like me, who always wanted to learn the drums rather than guitar, this was an awesome new feature.

That is not to say that Rock Band is the clear leaders in the market, the battle rages on Guitar Hero. Earlier this year Guitar Hero came out with a new version that not only features a full band set-up but also enables players to compose their own songs that can be shared with others online. For the first time gamers are able to go beyond playing existing songs to create their own masterpieces.

Since the launch of the newest Guitar Hero game, Nintendo has released a music creation platform of its own. The Wii Music game enables players to interact with over 60 virtual instruments. This release, which was launched approximately two months ago, is often referred to as a toy rather than game. The reason being, it is focused on enabling users to play with virtual instruments for pure pleasure and does not feature structured and score-based goals as is common on both Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

The growing popularity of music-based games has also reached mobile platforms such as the Nintendo DS and the iPhone. For the DS platform, two games are currently available: Guitar Hero and Ultimate Band. Both attempt to leverage similar game-play experience to the console games listed above - of course, in a much simplified manner to work on this portable device. The music-based game offerings for the iPhone are quite similar. They include a series of Tap Tap games (which are some of the most popular apps in the app store) and Guitar Rock Tour.

One more interesting thing to point out is the impact that these games are having on the music industry as a whole. According to MSNBC and AP "Aerosmith [has] made more money off the June release of 'Guitar Hero: Aerosmith' than either of its last two albums, according to Kai Huang, co-founder of RedOctane, which first developed 'Guitar Hero... [and] Artists from Nirvana to the Red Hot Chili Peppers have seen sales of their music more than double after being released on the games... The Killers released two new songs on "Guitar Hero" the same time their latest album came out."

Here are some interesting articles about music games that served assource materials for this post:

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