Not too long ago I was told how MTV Games' "Rock Band 2" would be different from the first "Rock Band." I was among a group of games reporters in a small theater at the Los Angeles studios of Electronic Arts. The makers of "Rock Band 2" were giving a demonstration. Later, they let us play the game, but I was feeling too sick to jump on the drums, wield the guitar and sing. (I did feel well enough to block the game with my head).
So, aside from the fact that "Rock Band 2" will let gamers play World Tour mode online, this is how the new game is supposed to be different from the original…
The "Rock Band 2" drums will be wireless. We were also told, in the presentation, that the drum pads will be softer, quieter, more responsive and expandable. The developers were talking about "premium drums" as an option but didn't elaborate.
The game's guitars will have softer necks, a more precise strum bar and sensors that let the user hold their guitar up to their TV to quickly sync controller and display. That syncing is supposed to eliminate any lag between making an input on the guitar and seeing or hearing it reflected through the TV, regardless of the player's choice of home entertainment set-up.
For all their improvements, the sequel's refined instruments aren't a required purchase for "Rock Band 2" gamers. Publisher MTV Games and developers Harmonix ar emphasizing the cross-compatibility of the original "Rock Band" with the upcoming sequel. They're making it clear that any songs "Rock Band" owners downloaded for the first game will be freely transferable to "Rock Band 2" and that last year's instruments will work just fine with this year's game.
"There were a lot of ideas that we just weren't able to get to the first time around."
The biggest feature the game's creators are pushing is World Tour Online, a highly requested feature from players of the first game. In the sequel, players will be able to virtually tour with bands made up by friends who aren't all standing in the same living room. A World Tour Online band will be able to enter a rivalry with other bands. Initially, these challenges will be among bands that are "friends" with each other -- assumedly based on a shared buddy list. These friend-band rivalries will involve challenges created by Harmonix and issued regularly online. To use the example given at the event, a challenge might be to see which band can get the highest streak on a particular three-song setlist. Once a particular band reaches the top ranking spot among their friends' bands, that victorious group will be entered into competitions with bands around the world.
Another tweak to the first game's formula is that the new game won't force players to tie their band to a particular band leader character. Harmonix developers said they want to make the band set-up more flexible. To that end, they also briefly toggled one character from his spot at the drums to center stage with a guitar, suggesting that characters will no longer be tied to specific instruments. Gone may be the days when a group of friends playing "Rock Band" have to swap characters just because someone else wants a turn at the drums.
"Rock Band 2" appears to be one of those sequels that is being developed by people who keep a checklist of complaints and requests regarding the original game taped to their computer monitor. Harmonix co-founder Alex Rigopulous said during the EA presentation that the first game "was so big in scale that there were a lot of ideas that we just weren't able to get to the first time around." This year, a lot of those small things appear to be getting checked off.
Expect more "Rock Band 2" news next week at E3, when the game goes head to head with the first-ever multi-instrument "Guitar Hero" as well as Konami's debuting "Rock Revolution."
"Rock Band 2" is slated for a September release on the Xbox 360 with more than 80 songs on its disc. The game is scheduled to hit the PS2, PS3 and Wii later in the year.