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ScoreHero Invades Harmonix (Rock Band Impressions)
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Joined: 04 Feb 2006
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Location: Baltimore, MD

PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: ScoreHero Invades Harmonix (Rock Band Impressions) Reply with quote

As we announced earlier, on September 14th several of my staff (elx, Echelar, Phr34k, discgolferpro, Matt, cinder, and katamakel) and I met at Harmonix for a behind the scenes look at Rock Band. This comprised of no less than 13 hours of pure awesomeness touring Harmonix studios, playing Rock Band, and meeting with the development team throughout the day. We've now received a list of what we can reveal and will be sharing our impressions below.

Overview of trip:

When we arrived at 10AM, we were greeted by our host, Sean Baptiste, who pushed to make this event possible and spent the entire day with us - we truly cannot thank him enough. After signing NDAs, we were given a tour of the brand new, very large office area. So large in fact, that it was not uncommon to see employees whipping back and forth on scooters to travel from one end to the other. The atmosphere was casual and fun, but it was also apparent that all employees knew their roles well and worked very efficiently as a team. In passing by the various office rooms and testing areas, seeing Rock Band content on hundreds of monitors and television screens with old models and prototypes of drum kits and guitar controllers laying all over the place was truly a dreamlike experience. Harmonix employees were all very welcoming, greeting us with nothing but positive thoughts towards ScoreHero.

After the building tour, we were directed to a room called the "Star Chamber" where we spent most of our day containing a Rock Band setup on an XBox 360 with large speakers, a nice sized HDTV, couch, chairs, and a few stools for the drums which Sean indicated was setup for us no more than an hour prior to our arrival. Before we knew it, we were having a blast rocking out for hours on end.

Several employees stopped in on occasion to talk with us. One of the lead artists came in for about 20 minutes and we stopped playing to have a look at the concept art that was used to generate 3D graphics models and set the tone for Rock Band's look and feel. Granted, I'm not the person to ask when it comes to judging artwork, but we were all very impressed at the level of detail that was involved. In addition to artistic excellence, a lot of research went into the design to draw upon true symbols of rock in order to give the game the look that it demands.

Now it was time to eat. We were called out to join the entire Harmonix staff in their weekly lunch/progress meeting. The congregation area was very large with lines formed to get food. On each seating table were about 2-3 various different cakes or pies for everyone's enjoyment as well. Harmonix welcomed us as guests and Sean announced our presence to the rest of the staff, most of which had already seen us earlier.

Then came the most valuable part of the trip for me: a meeting with lead programmers, Dan Schmidt (aka Honest Bob), Rob Kay, and the audio lead, Eric Brosius of the development team to discuss the scoring system and gameplay mechanics in detail to assist in planning for ScoreHero integration. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes and was very substantive. What was perhaps most shocking were the complements we received in our management of ScoreHero and ability to maintain clean, competitive leaderboards in a completely open and public system. After our talks, Sean was impressed and even suggested that we start a consulting side-business to teach developers on how to prevent cheating from occurring.

Towards the end of the meeting, we were comfortable enough to bring up touchy subjects such as custom songs and "competition" with GH3. Harmonix was nothing but supportive and Dan reminisced about his first game as a developer (Ultima Underground back in '92). In regards to GH3, everyone seemed to be looking forward to its release just as much as us, stating that both GH3 and Rock Band are great for the rapidly expanding rhythm gaming genre, and that each has its own unique appeals. Dan, Rob and Eric were all very knowledgeable, helpful, and just all-around great guys. It was an absolute honor to have this opportunity - thank you Harmonix.

At this time, we were introduced to Rock Band's character customization system which is very flexible and will allow creative minds to go nuts. The options are pretty self-explanatory from selecting your height, weight, face type, eyes, etc., but the possibilities are endless – so much, that it's quite possible for no two characters to look the same. The most flexible part of the system is the tattoo creation tools, which allow basic shapes to be transformed into the most complex things you could imagine through simple rotation, shrink/expand, and stretch operations. The tattoos may be places anywhere on your character and may overlap to create multiple layers. Most of us had the time to play around enough to create a character for ourselves which was a lot of fun. The really impressive part for me was the level of integration with the system - every bit of detail that goes into the creation is accurately reflected everywhere that the character appears in-game.

After this, all meetings and serious matters were behind us, and we proceeded to rock out the rest of the night in the awesome Star Chamber. The original plan was for Harmonix to take us out to a bar (you should have seen Matt's eyes light up when Sean mentioned an open bar tab), but due to elx being underage, we decided as a "backup" plan to order pizza, grab some beer, and keep rocking at Harmonix until 11PM. A fine compromise if you ask me.

Gameplay Experience:

I spent most of my playing time on guitar/bass. One thing to note, when selecting the part (guitar or bass), it is possible for both players on the guitar controllers to select the same part (both guitar, or both bass) and the game will randomly assign different parts among the two. For example, elx and I played several times in a row on guitars and would commonly both choose Guitar and one of us would default to Bass automatically. I found this to be a very neat addition so you can just pickup and play without having to decide first who will play guitar/bass every song.

As for the controller itself, it did take a bit of getting used to with frets that click and a strum bar that doesn't. We also began to debate amongst ourselves whether or not the timing window was a bit tighter than GH2, as that's how it seemed. But after having played for an hour or so, it started to have a nice feel and we hit some more difficult solos that we were missing earlier.

Another unique aspect about these controllers, are the solo buttons. These may be used during "solo sections" when the screen turns blue and a "solo percent" display pops up indicating your progress as the solo is played. The solo buttons do not require any strumming at all, so tapping may become a much easier task. I attempted to use solo buttons several times and failed out in most cases. The buttons are small and very close together which have a much different feel and in my limited use, did not learn very well. But after some practice will become an awesome addition.

The controller also has a 5-way switch which changes the sound effects of the guitar when overdrive as activated. Certain sections sound better under various effects, and others sound funny, so it was a fun little thing to play around with that has no impact on scoring.

We're allowed to discuss the drum head-to-head modes which Phr34k played for a good bit, so I'll let him share his experience there. He learned the drums very fast playing difficult Expert charts by the middle of the day, while the rest of us never stopped struggling on Medium/Hard. I played drums for probably about 5-6 songs, along with some head-to-head against DGP. I had a lot of fun on drums, but they're definitely harder than they look. It was difficult to coordinate my hands with my feet as I would commonly break combo by stepping on the pedal to beats that only require pad hits, and vice versa. I'm not a percussionist, but I fully plan to practice and learn through Rock Band.

Matt and discgolferpro were our main vocalists, and while a few others attempted a couple songs, I never got behind the microphone myself. They will provide their thoughts, but Expert was apparently very difficult as the vocals were failing more frequently than any other instrument. To give an idea of the difficulty, Sean told us a story about one of the artists who recorded a song in the game, and could not even get through his own song on Expert. They did fine-tune the difficulty a bit after that, but Expert is still very tough.

Lag Calibration:

For all who are tired of the GH2 lag problems in replaying the calibration countless repetitions to time your strums properly in order to get an appropriate offset value and then still having sync problems afterwards, rest assured Harmonix has heard our cries and responded magnificently. The new revolutionary lag calibration system for Rock Band now consists of two settings for audio and video independently of one another. The setting interfaces are visual sliders that provide real-time feedback as a note repeatedly scrolls horizontally and beeps to indicate when the note should overlap a circle on the screen. Adjustments may be manually set in increments of 5ms, and it is very easy to use.

Our Rock Band setup had offsets of -90ms and +30ms for audio and video respectively, and we could not even tell there was any lag at all. There are even preset modes for different types of setups such as LCD, Plasma, Projector, DLP etc. which automatically assign default offset values to work for the majority of those setups. These values were determined by Harmonix after performing extensive tests across many different audio and video systems. With this calibration system it should be possible to account for lag perfectly, regardless what type of setup you may have.

Overdrive (the "new Star Power"):

As you may know, Rock Band's version of Star Power is now called Overdrive. Just like Star Power, Overdrive is acquired by full-comboing phrases of notes, or for the vocals, receiving a high enough rating over a "special" phrase of notes. Each instrument maintains its own Overdrive meter which fills up 25% for each phrase completed. Whammying notes within Overdrive phrases also builds the meter at the same rate as whammying within star power in GH. Activating overdrive is possible after filling the meter to the halfway point, and continues to drain until it ends. One significant difference between GH and RB, is that each player may activate Overdrive independently of one another so you don't need to time activations with your partner(s) like GH2's co-op. Another difference is that Overdrive phrases no longer "overwrite" one another. Meaning, you can pickup an additional 25%+ to your meter for completing an overdrive phrase while it's draining, and the activation will simply last that much longer before deactivating. The duration of Overdrive is generally the same as Star Power (except for advanced readers: it is now based on number of beats, rather than number of measures).

To add more confusion to the matter, drums and vocals cannot activate overdrive at any time, even after having filled the Overdrive meter past 50%. They must wait for designated sections within the song to appear, at which time they may choose whether to activate by either making a noise into the microphone, or hitting a green note at the end of a free-play fill section. Choosing to either remain silent on vocals or not hit the green note on drums does not break your note streak or multiplier. However, no points are awarded during these designated sections which may cover up notes in the chart that would otherwise be shown and played for points. So this will certainly make for some tricky planning.

Scoring System

Rock Band's scoring is very similar to GH in that points are awarded based multipliers dependent on your note streak and Overdrive. The main difference between Rock Band and GH2's co-op is the fact that each instrument has its own multiplier, in addition to an overall band multiplier. Both multipliers are applied against individual's notes to contribute to the combined band score. Individual multipliers max out at 4x, except for bass, which maxes at 6x. Unlike GH, activating Overdrive doesn't change the individual multiplier, but rather increases the band multiplier. The band multiplier is simply 1x, 2x, 4x, 6x, or 8x depending if 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 players are under Overdrive activations at once.

Throughout songs, there are various opportunities to gather points outside of the traditional scoring scheme above through bonuses. Just to name a few that I can recall, after solo sections, a particular bonus will be awarded depending on the percentage of notes hit throughout the solo. Also at the ending of many songs contains a free play / end wankery section where all instruments can play notes at random to rack up bonus points within a timeframe, followed by some ending notes. If anyone misses an ending note after the wankery, then the entire band bonus is not awarded. We were told there is a limit on how many points can be obtained per second, so you can achieve the maximum bonus points without crazy-fast "Trogdor" strumming. The solo buttons also work during these portions, so it's best not to strum at all. There are a few other more obscure bonuses out there that we never really figured out.


The Special Edition Bundle pricing is $169.99 for both XBox 360 and PS3, and $159.99 for the PS2.

In summary, Harmonix has clearly proven to us all the amazing results of their hard and experienced work. Rock Band is truly a masterpiece with a ton of variety, and I highly recommend reserving your copy. You will not regret it.

Last edited by JCirri on Wed Feb 27, 2008 8:17 am; edited 3 times in total
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Location: Stockholm, Sweden

PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Use two days vacation off work to go to Boston, meet fellow SH admins for the first time, and play Rock Band at Harmonix's office?

So I fly in on a cheap flight to Boston via Philadelphia, and the security checks take just under 2h (which incidentally was the time between my flights in and out of Philly), with about 1.5h just waiting in line with fellow aliens.
Finally walk up to the guy, show passport etc. give fingerprints (both index fingers) and he asks what I'm doing in Boston. "Meeting some friends." .. "And how do you know these people." .. "I met them on the internet.".. "On the Internet?!" .. Yeah..
But anyways, I make it to my Boston flight with 5 minutes to spare, after I had to run across what felt like 2-3 terminals.

Arrived at Logan International Airport and now all I have to do is locate this Red '90s Mustang that DGP was supposedly driving.. I see a red car (I know shit about car models/makes) passing behind some truck just as I get out of the arrival hall, maybe that was him?
Maybe 15 minutes later, turns out it was. But he already told you that story.
Off to the hotel it is! Boston looks like a beautiful city, and this was my first time there so I wasn't biased at all (although I might be now).

Being the type of people we are, we stayed up late on Thursday playing customs and after a short sleep and a nice shower at aroud 8am we get some play time in before heading out to Harmonix.
I, somewhat foolishly, decide to try the TFaF custom that has the bits from the GH3 video in it.
1st try: Fail intro doing it with HO/POs.. Maybe I should try strumming it?
2nd try: Strum intro. Pass intro... Verse... Chorus.. Solo.. Really? .. Outro..
3rd try: No need! I passed it on my second try ever! (I had never played that custom chart before, even without the GH3 stuff in it.)

So we head out to 65 Massachusetts Avenue where Harmonix's office is.. Wait.. Here's 55, and there's 75 Mass. Ave.. There is no 65 Mass. Ave. There's just a bus stop and some MIT building here!
Oh. 625 Mass. Ave. But the weather is absolutely gorgeous!

So we all sign the NDAs in the reception, as we can go no further without having done so, and follow our host (and all-around awesome dude, technical term), Sean Baptiste, around their office and say Hi to random people as we pass their rooms. As the others have said, everyone there seemed as happy and amazed that we were there, as we were to be there.

One room in particular stays with me to this day, and that's the room of the hardware guy. I've never seen so many plastic guitars, drums and other peripherals in one place ever. It was literally impossible to walk in that room. Prototypes everywhere!

So finally we end up in the room of all rooms. Newly furbished with some big banners on the walls and a sweet Rock Band setup, dual drum kits and all!
This is basically where we spent the next 13h, and the reason I crossed the Atlantic in a flying tube with wings.

We're told we are the first ones, including the press, to get to spend time with the full game, all songs, all game modes, everything. How cool is that?! I'll tell you how cool.. It's very, very cool
So we start playing, and even before the trip I'd decided that I would do vocals on Main Offender (being Swedish and all), and so I did, on expert, and actually got through it
After a while of playing, a bell rang to signal it was time to eat (handy!), so we joined the rest of the company in a long queue to the food. They had a big company meeting during lunch and we got to hear all the grit about what's going on behind the scenes, it was a cool added treat to an already sweet trip.
Then a big gong was sounded, a baby cried, and we all had a good laugh.

After lunch we were shown, and got to fool around with, the character/tattoo/logo creation system, which is insanely flexible. Some weird stuff is going to result from that!
Right afterwards we had a session about the scoring and gameplay mechanics and JCirri went through a long list of questions we had accumulated in preparation for the visit, and a lot was asked and everything answered gladly.

After this we got back to playing the game.
Matt and DGP were, as mentioned elsewhere, the main vocalists in our little troupe, so I mostly did guitar (Mississippi Queen, Creep, and one of the most fun guitar songs, Reptilia, and some others) but I did get to do vocals on Creep (freakin' awesome, ~83% on expert "sight-sing", and yes, i did the falsettos) and Learn to Fly (also awesome!!).
I tried some drums, but expert proved too difficult, and so did hard, so I settled for medium on whatever song it was.
I did get to battle Echelar on drums though, and I believe I lost.

Since we took turns every once in a while on the various instruments, there was "waiting time" (really just staring at the others playing the game, thinking how awesome this all is) during which we talked about various things, and I got to talking with Sean, our host, about programming, EA, etc. and the next thing I know, I'm being asked if I want to sit down with Eran Egozy, Chief Technical Officer and the co-founder of Harmonix!

The next 30 minutes were spent talking about the customization scene on PS2, Xbox 360, the different techniques used to do various things, and my view on all this. It's all a bit of a blur, but that meeting was probably one of the bigger highlights of the visit for me, personally.
Obviously I can't mention almost any details of what we talked about, but trust me, he's a very cool guy.
Thanks Eran, for talking the time out of your very busy last-moments-before-shipping-the-game day to talk to me!!

Back to more playing and just having a downright obscene amount of fun.
Our host, Sean, asks us if we want to go out to a bar (on Harmonix's dime of course) or rather order in some Pizza and Beer and continue playing..
Short pause.
"We'll go for the Pizza and Beer!", we all said. Also, Elx is just a kid

For some reason, I decided to try Sabotage, because "I know that song somewhat".
See, RB has this new thing where you have to actually pronounce the correct words during certain sections. Sabotage is just one big such section, but even though I failed a couple of times, I was saved by the others and the last time I failed was luckily right before the end of the song, so we made it on our first try!

The next few hours are just a blur of singing along with Matt and just about everyone else on In Bloom (DGP on lead vocals, I believe), watching Sir. Matt slither around on the floor singing, and Phr34k completely destroying every single song on the drums, all on expert.
We were all tired and energized at the same time when we had to leave Harmonix around 11pm.

The walk back to the hotel was obviously filled with delirious chatter about how awesome everything was, and how we should break into the offices again the next day, but alas, we are well-behaved.
Back at the hotel Elx's custom disc got heavy rotation, and I got some play time in as well, which people who watched the damn Web-stream noticed.

Sitting on the plane back home I started thinking about how awesome it was that, just like on the flight to the US, I had no one in the next seat and could spread out nicely. Add that to the fact that I'd just spent a day playing what probably is the most fun game I've ever played, with some damn cool people, it was money and time damn well spent undertaking this trip.
When I got back home, at 8.20am, I went straight to work, and worked almost a full day.. GUH!

It's funny, but this community we have here on the interwebs, and the time I've spent taking these games apart when I should probably have been resting after working a full day, was all worth it. Weekends and all.
It was definitely all worth it, no question. This game is going to be huge (and not just because of the size of the drum kit) and I will continue playing it until my eyes bleed from focusing on the screen too long.
$169 is a steal.

I support this message/game,
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rock Band Marks the 6th game that I am lucky enough to try out at Harmonix. (Amplitude, KR1, Anti-Grav, KR3, GH2, Rock Band). I can tell you that visiting Harmonix never changes, and hospitality and experience is always amazing.

This was my first time in their new building. (They started in one floor of one building and stretched across 3 more floors as they expanded.) In this new place formerly owned by Boston University, everything is wide open, and it's great.

After the tour, and seeing a bunch employees I haven't seen in a year or so, we were put into a holding cell called the "star chamber" I believe. There was a fairly amazing setup in there, large television, sound system, two full game setups, couches, a few bells and whistles to set the mood, and we were off.

I chose to let most of the other guys play, mainly because they are the ones that need the input for the actual Score Hero technical work, I just make some graphics. I've also tested stuff before and I wanted to give everyone else a good chance. Instead, I just chatted with Sean about beer and roadtrips.

I was very impressed with the game, the navigation of it. The graphical style of the menus is so minimal, but right there in your face. Rock Band screams "togetherness." It's true that I will most likely be playing the game alone in a room by myself someday, but after playing with the Score Hero guys, I see that cooperative play is amazing, and should be experienced by everybody.

As for gameplay technicalities, Phr34k was going nuts with the drums, rapping on tables and arms of chairs when he wasn't actually drumming. His site-reading was pretty solid as well. Having played a little bit of Drummania myself, I felt comfortable, I think the single biggest obstacle to be overcome will be to separate your leg from your arms. There's going to be times where your arms will be drumming a pattern, and your foot will be needing to play something entirely different, with a completely different time signature. You'll want to press the pedal where there is no note, because your arms already have a beat, or you'll be reading complex arm patterns, and miss pedal notes altogether, rap on the pedal a few times to make up for it, and compound the problem. Leg soreness will also come to you, until you get used to playing.

Again, I was really impressed with the technicality of the game, in terms of how much data the game inputs when 4 people are playing. There are certain points in certain songs where the experience of playing with other people is pure magic. Other times, you could be watching Matt writhing around on the carpet while singing "Don't Fear The Reaper".

The meeting with some of the developers was pretty intense in terms of if you step outside of the event for a second, and look in to see exactly what was going on inside that room. Video game designers, programmers, and the audio designer basically took a 1-hour chunk out of their day to discuss gameplay and scoring algorithms with fans.

I had to leave the party at 8pm, but Sean and I went to buy some beer for the over-21 Score Hero crowd, and we played some more. To say that this was really fun would be an understatement.

This also marked the first time that discgolferpro, JCirri, and I were in the same place. The origin of Score Hero, idea, coding, ....and some graphics.

Everyone will be impressed with Rock Band. These are my words.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Road Trip of a Lifetime

Since many will describe the game itself I'll give an account of my road trip and the folks I met along the way. I'll fill in game information from tidbits from my videos. The vids will probably not be available for public consumption for a while until I edit them but even then they'll have to go through Harmonix PR before being released. I'll extract screen shots as I get working with them.

When we got the news in August, I was floored. I couldn't believe the amazing opportunity to try out Rock Band 2+ months before the release date. Some of our staff were lucky enough to have the same experience with GH3 a few months prior but those of us that missed out on that were REALLY looking forward to this. We are all grateful to Harmonix and MUCH love goes out to Sean Baptiste for working his butt off to get through the red tape and making this possible for us.

I decided to drive from KC to Boston because I had a few stops to make and I preferred to have my car rather than arranging multiple flights and one-way rental car agreements. I was all set for the 3,400 mile trip. The audio CDs I picked (The Devil in the White City, Learn Spanish, The Salmon of Doubt, Fragile Things, Martian Time Slip, and a few more...) were going to be my only friends so I picked carefully. I shoved off at 8:30pm CDT from Kansas City on September 11th.

I arrived in Buffalo at 3:00pm EDT on September 12th and I wanted to stop by Niagara Falls. The last time I was out that way I was 10 years old and it was an awe inspiring sight when I was a kid. We've all become jaded with the amazing sights we see every day now (the likes of which Planet Earth gave us) but nothing quite compares to actually HEARING the power of all that water moving/dropping/scouring/eating/swirling about. It was amazing and it brought back many fond memories.

I slept in Syracuse and the next day (September 13th) I roll into Hotel@MIT and unpack. I head off to Logan to grab Katamakel but I had no idea what he looked like! I double park and get (rightfully) harassed by The Man. When the Officer asks me who I'm waiting for I tell him it's some guy from Sweden.

Officer: "Drive back around until you see him, you can't stay here."
Me: "Ummm... I don't rightly know what he looks like."
Officer (hand going to his holster): "What do you mean you don't know what he looks like?"
Me: "I only know his first name!"

Ten minutes later (and much explaining) he let me double park and run into the terminal to see if it was the correct one for International Arrivals because I might have missed Kata entirely (there were two different ones he could have come into). He was a nice guy after all and told me where to find the nearest pissah (DGP loves that accent!)

Back to the hotel, Kata unpacks, we log into the IRC zoo and it was soon time to hook up with JC and Matt. JC's right on time and Matt rings my cell. He's about "8 blocks away from the hotel". We all decide to wait before having dinner together with JC and his dad. 45 minutes later we call Matt and he says he's "only 2 blocks away now". Wow. He's now officially banned from giving anyone a tour of Boston ;-) (Mitigating fact: Boston's downtown is a driving nightmare. MC Escher had nothing on the urban planners who laid down those streets.) The meal at Hotel@MIT's downstairs restaurant (Sidney's Grille) was pretentious and overpriced (please Gordon, visit that place). JC's dad picked up the tab and that's not the only reason everyone liked him; he's a really cool guy! If you're into Environmental Engineering that's the guy to call.

Matt, Kata and I headed out to find a good neighborhood bar because even after we scarffed up all the food and bread and crackers and garnishes at Sidney's we were still hungry. Matt drove and we got an earful of House of Pain and Simon and Garfunkel from his current rotation of songs. A few drinks and half a pizza in a take out box later we were ready to head back. I can't remember what the name of the place was but the bartender/waitress had that lovely Boston accent and I almost asked her to marry me.

We ate, drank, were merry and soon enough all set up with GH goodness in one of the rooms. I took off to retrieve Ech and ELX. Found them without a hitch so it was back to the hotel. Ech put me to shame when I decided to warm up on Girlfriend ProFaceOff Hard. Well I THOUGHT I did pretty good and when I looked up he shrugged and pointed at his FC. OK, fine. Time for Customs... WHOOT! I saw ELX rip into Fury of the Storm and I quickly figured out it would be best if I simply became a happy spectator from then on. :-)

At 1:30am EDT it was time to pick up Phr34k at Greyhound which was another fun fight with my GPS unit "Gabby" (We all name our GPS units and Gabrielle won't shut up). Every single street I was supposed to go to was a one way detour further from the station and the compressed nature of Boston's skyline meant that Gabby couldn't get a clear line of sight to many satellites. Even though I was having a great time exploring a 4 square mile area in the middle of the night I finally found him. He was wiped out from his trip and I could sympathize. Back to the hotel for some R&R. We played a bit more (including an EPIC TTFAF battle betweek Ech and ELX) and then crashed.

September 14th

Woohoo! This is the day! We all get up bright eyed and bushy tailed and were down in the lobby at 9:30am. It's just a short walk to Harmonix so we get out to Mass Ave and proceed to walk one mile in the wrong direction! A quick phone call (and 2 miles of great exercise later) and we're in the Promissed Land.

First off, let me confirm without any shadow of a doubt that Harmonix is a gamer's wet dream. When you first walk up the stairs and get buzzed into the reception area the first thing you see are boxes upon boxes of hardware EVERYWHERE. Now this might be because they just moved in (Harmonix took over an enormous ex-Harvard educational floor) but there is gaming gear and boxes and posters and tchotchkes and swag and memorabilia lying about as far as the eye can see. Beyond the reception area is a huge Freq Pit where everyone congregates. During Friday's lunches (whoop!), official company progress reports happen here too. At the front of the lunch room is a Bug Report tote board that everyone uses as a milestone marker for the progress on all the games currently in development.

Sean walked us around the place and we settled in the Star Chamber to get oodles of Rock Band goodness. I missed a Character Creation and Tatoo Creation session because I had to run out and get another freaking battery for the camcorder :-( Someone else will fill that gap. I came back for an amazing catered lunch where all the employees welcomed us to their tables and chit-chatted nonstop about how they were fans of ScoreHero (no, I'm not kidding :-) . It was an amazing reception. After chowing down, all the Managers were invited to give updates of various Milestones they were working on. Especially interesting to me was the Project Development Manager’s report on Harmonix's manufacturing plants in China. Even though they already had 9,000 people working on the hardware, he was anticipating adding even more production capacity in the coming weeks. In a very interesting bit, one of the managers described some of the Quality Control being done on the drum sets. For sensitivity, a ping pong ball is dropped from 2 feet on every pad to test responsiveness. This is followed by a 5 pound weight dropped from the same height to ensure the toughness of the unit and also to verify that there is no "crosstalk" between the drumming surfaces. Sean said a professional drummer broke his drumsticks on the bloody things and the drum kit kept working perfectly. That convinced me of the quality of the peripherals they were making. Top, freaking, notch!

We spent the entire afternoon playing to our heart's content. Matt and I mostly shared vocals duty and I must say I was impressed with his range. Expert is really difficult even on a song like Creep which is fully in my range. I could only get into the high 70% on Expert and most of the other songs could not get out of the 60% range. You must be on pitch for every phrase and nail every single tone, lilt and hum for the points to climb. When you start competing for very high scores, I believe that it will be very much like a RL band. You will probably need to recruit a lead singer that knows his stuff to compete at the highest level of a 4-man group.

I met Leo Tolentino (Technical Artist), "Plural" Takamoto (Associate Producer) and Helen McWilliams (Head Writer + Vagiant) while Smokin' in the Boys Room and they were all a riot. I wish I had caught Helen on tape doing her "You're a Rocking Rocker Rocking it to Max!" speech. HA! Maybe she'll join us and give us a rendition some day. Leo builds forts with product shipping boxes around his workstation (complete with windows, pantries, and soon a moat). Naoko is the Taco Fairy for the group and is also an accomplished artist herself.

We spent some time in the Network Testing Grotto where we met Keith Smith (QA + Anarchy Club). This tiny room is just CRAMMED with gadgets and hardware. The testers are set up with headphones against their right ear (so each can hear the game) and 360 headsets against their left ear (so they can hear their opponent's chat). It's a real rush to stand there while 6 people are playing, drumming, singing to their own feeds. Anarchy Club indeed. Matt, Phr34k and I were lucky enough to challenge some online folks and I can happily confirm that there is ZERO LAG.

The end of the work day found us back in the lunch room mingling with a bunch of folks relaxing and calling it a week. Sean says that we can, 1. Go over to TT's Bar where Harmonix has a permanent open bar tab going for employees, 2. Head off to a different place where some bands are playing... and then ELX chimes up and says he's 20 so bars are a no-go. Sean then gives option 3 and asks if we'd rather just grab a few pizzas and a couple of cases of beer and keep playing. Well, it took us all of 50ms to scream option 3!!! Woohoo!!!

Fastforward the goodness, it's 11:00pm and we are all blissfully spent. We had an impromptu MVP award that went to Phr34k for his Godly performance on drums. Sean gave him a sweet RB shirt. Back to the hotel for more Customs shredding, food and beer. We had 2 live ustreams and I passed out (literally) at 4:00am. What a day!

The next morning (ahem afternoon) we walk around a bit exploring Mass Ave, have a good lunch and before we know it it's time to drop Phr34k off at Greyhound. Well we didn't know how late it had gotten and I was soon doing 60mph through downtown Boston because EVERY light we came to was red. He made his bus thankfully!

I dropped Kata off at his friend's hostel and I made my way up north to Montreal for a visit with my family.

Soon to be an author! (maybe, hopefully... watch this space...)

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First off, as everyone else has said, a HUGE thank you goes out to the Harmonix crew and especially Sean Baptiste for having to put up with all our crazy antics throughout the day. He is awesome, in every meaning of the word

I arrived in Boston (bwoston) at about 1am on the 14th, getting picked up by DGP. Thankfully I recognized him from his spoon picture so we were good to go. Being guided by his hopelessly lost GPS (Gabby) through the MOST CONFUSING ROAD STRUCTURE I HAVE EVER SEEN.... EVER. Literally there was a section that had 7 roads... SEVEN combine into one. Of course, Gabby lost the satellites at that point. Thankfully we made the right choice XD. We arrive at the hotel around 2am and I do a quick meet and greet with those I had not met previously in LA, while yelling "HOLD ME" and collapsing on Echelar. After a nice comfy shower it was time for forum checkups and a little IRC banter. We decided to go to bed at around 4:30 am since we knew we had a long day ahead of us, but not as long as we were truly going to have.

We wake up at about 8:30 am and gear up to walk to Harmonix, only a few blocks away. Arriving right at 10am, we were greeted by Sean Baptiste and shown around the massive office. By about 10:45 or so we were shown to the "Star Chamber", aka rock out central, where we were to be rocking the %^@$%^ out all day.

I was mainly playing drums throughout the day, as I had done singing games and guitar games plenty before. I wanted drums damnit. I was determined to start with expert, though failing for an hour here and there on easier songs, I did pick it up fairly quickly. The kit is pretty damn solid, with 8" pads (either 8 or 10... correct me Sean :P) on a rack system that was extendable. The pads are pretty sensitive, though for extremely fast things you will be forced to play quieter. The foot pedal goes on a sliding bar at the bottom of the rack, with a spiral cord that likes to pull it to the center... a lot. First thing I'm gonna do is duct tape it in place. The kit itself tends to move around a bit, though that's due to its weight. So get out your Rock Band branded cinder-blocks and you will be fine. Aside from that, its an awesome kit. Really, its totally awesome. \m/ o_o \m/

Mid afternoon, we were getting pretty good. Matt was singing his lungs out sometimes going 2 octaves too high, so awesome it was making me fail a few times cause I couldn't stop laughing, And I mean nailing the note 2 octaves too high. Also Matt was slightly epic with the cowbell parts of certain songs... especially Don't Fear The Reaper. All day he was wanting to play it, and when we finally did, you can only imagine what he started doing. Pelvic. Thrusts. Well that only got us riled up more then we were, so we all started rocking out quite wildly. During Nirvana's In Bloom, you could hear everyone singing along in the room. When there were parts with little drums, I was generally tapping my sticks to the beat. Oh yeah, the sticks. Real 5A format sticks. I'm unsure of the wood type, but they were light with a very nice rebound.

For a while we were playing the local drum head-to-head mode. Think of Face-Off in Guitar Hero, and thats how this mode worked. Important things to note were that the scoring is balanced like previously, and that Overdrive (star power) is put on hold if you do not have any notes.

A very important thing to note is how you actually activate your Overdrive as a drummer. Guitar and bass work the same as Star Power, by either tilting or hitting select. But for drums... you don't exactly have a select button within reach. If you have enough Overdrive to activate you will get fill sections in standard parts of the chart that will allow you to do a fill of your choice and hit the far right pad at the right time to activate. You can choose to not activate at that time, and wait, but keep in mind that during the free fill sections any notes that normally would be there are not added to your score, you don't lose your combo, it's as if they were never there in the first place. This will make some interesting paths I can assure you.

Vocal activations are a little different. Any time there is a couple seconds of silence in the vocal part, you will see a huge ass orange awesome looking block of awesomosity. The vocalist just needs to make noise during that block to activate Overdrive.

Towards the end of the night, DGP had a request for me.... He wanted to see me play the Expert chart for Rush's Tom Sawyer. WELL! If you know the drumming style for Neil Peart... this is NOT an easy task! I had not looked at the chart before, but knew what I was in for. Even though there are only 4 pads and a kick, every note was in that chart that was in the actual song. They did an amazing job of balancing the parts around the pads. This chart has lots of consistant hi-hat 16ths and oddly timed bass hits, along with a crazy ass section in the middle. About halfway through, the kit was almost perpendicular to my body from all the bass hits, so I moved it back into place and Sean Baptiste became my cinder-block by laying on the floor in front of it. I managed to get through the entire chart without failing out... somehow. Apparently I was the 2nd person ever to pass that chart first time seeing it, and the other guy had been testing for quite some time. If you ever had any fear of drums being too easy... well... think again. There are PLENTY of difficult charts out there.

During the day we had a meeting for Character Creation and the Tattoo Creation setups. Character creation is pretty straight forward, along the lines of how The Sims works. You can change damn near anything about their look. You can also assign an attitude style to your character, which will reflect in the animations while playing. The tattoo creator is absolutely awesome. The amount of detail that you can go is incredible. You are given basic shapes to work with, with many options in how to tweak them. You can move the shapes anywhere on the body, stretch, shrink, rotate. Matt got ahold of the controller and decided to make Roxo, the rock and roll clown... KEH-KEH-KEH-YEEEUHH, I DO COCAINE.... (Metalocalypse character, go watch the series... seriously). I fully expect some absolutely ridiculous detail from people with the time to spend on it.

At the end of the day, we gave our big thanks to Sean once more, while trying to convince him to come back to the hotel with us. He would have if this wasn't to be the only full nights sleep he was able to get for the next month or so. So off we went to the hotel for an epic night filled with customs, joint-bannings, and white masks. w00t!
Rhythm Authors LLC
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Location: Bethel, Vermont

PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My side of the story:
Boston is only about a 2.5 hour drive for me, so I left work at 5pm Thursday and headed straight there. After getting lost (like I usually do whenever I decide to try to just "find" a place in Boston), I called my brother, who lives in the area and was nice enough to put me up for the night, and got directions from him. After missing a turn, he was nice enough to give me revamped directions. After missing another turn (but slowly spiraling in on the hotel), he was kind enough (this guy has endless patience for me) to give me re-revamped directions. Finally, I get to the hotel 45 minutes later than I had told everyone I would be there.

We ate dinner there, and JC's dad was amazingly awesome enough to pay for our meals (Thanks Mr Cirri!). Because of the upscale-ness of the place, DGP, Kata, and I decided to find a bar. So we all pile into my car, I turn on the music and immedaitely start singing (maybe kata will post the video he took of me singing the Nations of the World, from Animaniacs), and we head off on a painful journey of Gabby constantly recalculating directions for us.

We finally get to a sleazy (well, not that bad) bar across from a nice bar (which we wouldn't have been able to get into because we weren't wearing collared shirts), and we enjoy a pizza and some drinks (gin and tonic for me, but only one since I was driving ) Then I dropped the 2 of them back home and went over to my brother's about 10 minutes away to spend the night (which involved 2 more times calling him for directions after I make wrong turns).

Side note: I don't have a very bad sense of direction or navigating skills. Boston just doesn't label half their streets.

Next morning I awaken and drive on over to Harmonix, and I get there as everyone is checking in at security (I was amazed at my accidental good timing). We head upstairs and into the Harmonix area, and the rest is history (and is well documented in the other accounts).

That night I spent at my friend's house about 30 minutes north of Boston, so I wasn't able to spend time playing GH all night with the rest of them :p (I am sure many of you noticed my absence on the stream that night).

As for my impressions:

First I want to say my best impressions were from the hospitality of Harmonix, especially our host Sean, who had the horror of babysitting us all day :p
They were kind enough to feed us lunch *and* dinner, along with a few more things to fuel our rocking into the night. Sean, I just want to say, I love you, and I put a tracking device on your car so I could find where you live and watch you sleep through the window. You're cute when you don't know you're being watched. <3

Now onto the game:

I stuck almost solely to vocals. I played each of the other instruments for one song each.

People have asked me what the vocals are like. I can say now, that "playing" the vocals is just as you would expect. The idea is to get as close to the actual singer's pitch as you can. Really not much can be added on here.
I can't compare much to karaoke revolution, as I played that very little, and that was a while ago.
I will say, even for you experienced singers out there, vocals is going to offer you quite the challenge. In order to get the maximum points per section, you're going to have to sing just about perfectly on key; there is next to nill room for error. This includes sliding down a few notes at the same rate of the original singer does. And hitting those sudden high notes.
Another plus is that you can sing in any octave you like. If you get bored during a song (or feel daring) you can try to suddenly go up or down an octave and see if you still stay on pitch. Or if you have a friend to kick you in the balls mid-song, you can go up 2 octaves.
Another nice feature is there is no "double strum" with vocals. You cannot break combo unless you actually do poorly enough on a section. With this in mind, you will quickly be throwing in ad-lib comments between verses :p
Also, because of this, one can yell all kinds of things into the mic (which is active as soon as the venue loads) before the song starts, or before the vocals begin "Hello Wisconsin!".
All the songs we played were a lot of fun (and we played a lot of them). We did not dare try the new "full set list" mode; a mode in which you play every song back to back, no breaks sans loading time. Better bring a glass of water or 3 with you!
As for the anecdote that JC had mentioned, I believe the difficulty on Expert was tweaked a bit after one vocalist could not pass his own song.
All in all, I found the game amazingly fun; I may buy a ps3 or 360 just for this game...

Please note: Don't Fear the Reaper does indeed need more cowbell, please correct this when you play.
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"
Mark 8:36
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Location: Fort Wayne, IN

PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First, thanks so much to Sean from Harmonix for graciously hosting us all day. We were there for thirteen hours, which is WAY more time with the game than could have hoped for. And let me just say, if we could have played for another 13 hours the next day, it would have been done. We had that much fun.

The coolest (besides the game) thing about the visit, to me, was that everyone at Harmonix knew us. Everyone we passed in the hall would stop and say "this is the ScoreHero group?", and then be excited to meet us. They seemed as excited to have us as we were to be there. We even got to have lunch with the entire Harmonix staff, which was awesome.

Now, to the game.

Rock Band has reinvented what it means to Rock Out. If you have three people that can play RB with you, then this game will be amazingly fun. We had 8 people there, plus whichever HMX staff was in the room with us at the time. It produced some epic moments. Imagine this: 4 people playing Black Hole Sun. The lights are dark in the room; the sound is cranked up. Lead guitar just finished the sweet-sounding solo. The singer is going all-out on the final chorus. Half the people in the room are singing along. There's just so much energy in the room. That's what this game produces.

By the way, the game on all-expert is difficult. Even the SH elite won't be playing drums and vocals on expert to start. We failed a TON of songs, more than you'd expect. The only one of us that managed to ramp up to expert difficulty drums was Phr34k, and he has percussion experience in the past. I don't, and I was happy being able to pass some songs on hard. It's definitely a different skillset, and there are definitely difficult songs. There was one song (which I cannot name) that we played... probably 10 times trying to pass it. The only instrument that didn't fail was bass. Guitar, vocals AND drums were all hard enough to cause failures. We did finally pass it in the end, by the way.

The game definitely wasn't handing us anything out of the gate. Most of us that went to L.A. racked up a full set of 5*s on the first tiers of GH3, but there was no free ride this time. Not only were the drums and vocals very difficult to keep combos on for us beginners, but the different visualizations of the guitar parts took a bit of getting used to as well. Passing songs with everyone on expert was NOT a given, even on the easier songs. 5*ing anything on all-expert only happened once or twice, on the very easiest of songs.

Passing and failing deserves a little discussion. There's an overall rock meter for the band, plus an individual level for each instrument. If you've seen screenshots, you see a bar filled with color, plus icons for each instrument pointing at a spot on the bar. The color fill represents the overall level for the band. If that goes to zero, the band fails out completely. If any one of the instruments goes to zero, only that instrument fails out. When an instrument fails, the band's meter will continue to fall (even if the other 3 of you are playing perfectly), so you need to save that member in about 30 seconds to not fail. To "save" an instrument, one member activates Overdrive, and a half bar is used to bring back the failed member in place of activating overdrive. You can only bring back a member twice; the third failure by the same will be permanent, so while saving overdrive to bring back other members is good, using it preemptively to prevent the failure is also good. As a note, any band member using overdrive provides a rock meter boost to every member, so the bass player using overdrive can save the lead guitarist in his crazy solo.

The last cool thing I want to talk about is the solo buttons. Those five extra buttons you see on the Stratocaster guitar. In each song, "solo sections" are designated by having your fretboard turn blue. You'll also see a % appear above the fretboard that updates as you hit notes (indicating what % you've hit of the solo so far). When you're in these solo sections, you have the option of playing with the 5 solo buttons in place of the normal frets. If you choose to do this, you can play the entire solo section with zero strums. It doesn't matter how many notes are marked as strum notes. Playing with the solo frets essentially makes every note a HOPO. It's very difficult to do, b/c the size and spacing of the frets is very different, but it can make for some great showoff moves. Also, it could be easier in the long run for impossible sections (no restrumming to restart tapping, anyone?). You can also use the solo buttons in the free-play sections at the end of certain songs.

That's all I have to mention at the moment. Maybe as questions come up, I'll update the post with answers. In short, the game is crazy fun, and I hope it is received as a reinvention of the genre of Rocking The **** Out.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First of all a I'd like to give a massive thanks to Sean, and Harmonix for making this entire experience possible for us. The entire trip was a blast, between the developer meetings, lunch with the entire Harmonix staff, customs at the hotel, the sleep deprivation, and of course the massive amount of time we had to play Rock Band.

The instruments were all of high quality in my opinion, although the new guitar does take a few songs to adjust to. In the end, i grew to like the slightly thinner neck and clickless strum bar. The guitar charts I played were still a blast, and definitely had their fair share of tricky parts, including some spots that caused me to fail, which is a rare thing for me these days.

As a drummer, I found the drums to be a blast, although they were much more difficult than I expected. After failing about half way through Enter Sandman on expert, I moved down to hard for most of the day where I was able to pass most of the songs. I did however move back up to expert in order to play Wont Get Fooled Again in the Drum Tug Of War mode. Needless to say, I got my ass kicked, at a few points just stopping because I no longer knew what was going on.

Vocals were not a part of the game I was looking forward to that much before hand, but I eventually scraped up the courage to give a few songs a shot, including Are You Gonna Be My Girl, Blitzkrieg Bop, Learn To Fly and Epic. I spent most of my time on Medium for Vocals, since Expert was way to hard for me to keep up with.

The feeling of playing along with a group of friends when you are all together is so much fun. Expect this to be a big hit at parties, with everyone eager to hop in on their instrument of choice.

Some of the biggest highlights of our time there included:

- Me, Matt and kata arguing over who was going to sing Black Hole Sun, although Matt eventually won that debate.

- Having a chance to talk to the developers about a lot of the behind the scenes mechanics of the game and scoring.

- The fact that I was not 21 yet ended up buying us a few more hours of game play.

- The massive group sing along on In Bloom

- Last but not least, a moment that isn't related to Rock Band. When we were streaming back at the hotel, someone pointed out that Chris Vance was watching the stream. After multiple attempts, me and Ech managed to tag team pass the GH3 intro to TTFAF

When all is said and done, I will be glad to pay $169 for the game upon its release in November.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 10:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow! Sounds like you guys had a ton of fun
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Location: University of Oklahoma

PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 11:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


I am so stoked to play this game. And kind of excited about ad libbing on vocals...HEEEEEEEEEHEEEEEEE.

GD:RB brought be back, RB3 will keep me

Bass FCs: RB 55/58, RB2 71/84, DLC 22/lol++(of over 300 DLC FCs only 22 scores were still posted...wtf!), AC/DC(X) 0/18, LRB(X) 18/45, GD:RB 10/43
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Location: Denmark. Seckseh land!

PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 11:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Damn, that took me a long time to read. And I enjoyed every minute of it! Damn that's nice. I can't wait for Rock Band to come out now. For me, it's just a matter of fitting everything into my very small room.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 11:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, sounds like an amazing trip! Glad to see those OKs finally came through Thanks for answering our questions about overdrive on the vocals/drums and guitar solo sections- I'd read a discussion thread a while back that said the guitars were pretty bad next to RO's, but it's awesome to hear that's not the case.

A couple of questions, if it's ok and your NDAs allow:

1) Did you guys see any more in the way of in-box songs that haven't been announced yet, or were there any hints of unannounced DLC that made you crap your pants?

2) How are HOPOs handled visually? Are they distinct, or do you have to squint for a look at a white outline like in GH1?

3) Did you guys spend any time with Band World Tour or online sessions? Can you share your impressions of either?

4) Which songs were the most fun to play both as a band and specific to each instrument?

Ok, that's probably enough for now ;P. Thanks again for sharing your impressions, answering our questions, and (above all) maintaining such a kick-ass site!

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 11:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Amazing ) I just can't wait to play this game!!

Plus, Dan Schmidt was a programmer in Ultima Underworld?? This guy is my hero!!!!!
Yikes for the new sig rules :-s
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yay! Finally RB info! My fears of sucky vocals have been allayed. I can't wait until this game comes out in November!

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 11:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

vcard wrote:
Wow, sounds like an amazing trip! Glad to see those OKs finally came through Thanks for answering our questions about overdrive on the vocals/drums and guitar solo sections- I'd read a discussion thread a while back that said the guitars were pretty bad next to RO's, but it's awesome to hear that's not the case.

A couple of questions, if it's ok and your NDAs allow:

1) Did you guys see any more in the way of in-box songs that haven't been announced yet, or were there any hints of unannounced DLC that made you crap your pants?

2) How are HOPOs handled visually? Are they distinct, or do you have to squint for a look at a white outline like in GH1?

3) Did you guys spend any time with Band World Tour or online sessions? Can you share your impressions of either?

4) Which songs were the most fun to play both as a band and specific to each instrument?

Ok, that's probably enough for now ;P. Thanks again for sharing your impressions, answering our questions, and (above all) maintaining such a kick-ass site!

1. Not much about this at all actually. Let me be the first to say that the DLC content will probably be one of the most secretive things until the release. I believe no one will have access to that so at least we are all forewarned and we won't need to answer this question more than a million times.

2. Yes they are distinct but they are different. They are not harder to pick up but our brains have been used to seeing round notes for so long that a little bit of re-training will be necessary. About an hour in everyone had adjusted I believe.

3. We did a bit of online play (see my bit). We were connected "internally" with other employees playing on other floors and even some folks from EA from elsewhere in the country (not sure where). All I can say is it was flawless. Regarding Band World Tour we are not sourcing that information here in SH but a lot of other sites have this info if you need it.

4. Personally, I really enjoyed Dani California because Anthony Kiedis sings in my register.
Soon to be an author! (maybe, hopefully... watch this space...)

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