September 15, 2008

Harmonix Has New Hooks ; Cambridge Co. Releasing Sequel to `Rock Band’ Smash


Music-minded gamers can jam with the newest version of Rock Band beginning today.

That's when "Rock Band 2" for the Xbox 360, created by Cambridge's Harmonix Music Systems Inc., hits store shelves. New hooks include battle-of-the-bands tournaments, an online world tour, auto calibration to eliminate TV lag and a real drum trainer.

The interactive music game allows up to four people to choose from vocals, guitar, bass and drums and create their own characters in a band which they take on a virtual world tour. In small gritty clubs to giant stadiums, they can play the different parts of their favorite songs by following the colored-coded note track and hitting the corresponding frets of the guitar or the right pad on the drum.

Harmonix has sold 3.5 million bundles of the first "Rock Band" since the interactive music game's launch in November 2007, and fans have downloaded more than 21 million song tracks.

The flagship upgrade of "Rock Band 2" is the battle of the bands feature, according to Kasson Crooker, Harmonix's lead producer for the game.

"You get to compete against other bands - generic bands from around the world or on your friends list," Crooker said. "We have daily and weekly battles that you can choose from, and each one is created by us at Harmonix."

The music video game development company will have five active at a time - such as vocals, guitar or The Who battles - and scores will be uploaded to a server so players can see how they stack up against the competition.

The drum trainer added to "Rock Band 2" lets players practice the instrument with step-by-step lessons on the basic beats and fills in songs.

No worries for original "Rock Band" owners who want to upgrade to the new version. Almost all of the first game's songs can be exported and used on "Rock Band 2," as well as all purchased downloadable content. Harmonix also improved the game's instrument peripherals. A cymbal expansion pack can be added to the drums, for example, which now have quieter velocity-sensitive pads and more sturdy kick pedals.

Harmonix's new game will have new competition in just more than a month. Rival publisher Activision will release "Guitar Hero: World Tour" on Oct. 27, adding drums and vocals a la "Rock Band" for the first time.

Harmonix was actually the original developer of "Guitar Hero," working on the first and second versions of the game. And Crooker says his company is honored that Activision has recognized there's more to music than just one instrument and followed its lead.

"Music is about being in the same room with a bunch of musicians," he said. "There's something about the collective energy of feeling that you're all working together to play a single piece of music."

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Originally published by By DONNA GOODISON.

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