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Rock Band 10th Anniversary Blogs - Ryan Lesser


Ryan here. I helped create the first Rock Band, and over 10 years later I shipped Rock Band Rivals as its Creative Lead.

Wait… what?!

Rock Band is 10 years old? HOLY CRAP! WHERE HAS THE TIME GOOONNNE?!

[sits down. breathes deep. collects thoughts.]

Man, how weird is it to think back to those days where we were first inventing what would one day be called Rock Band (or, RockBand if I had MY way [Ed. note: There were multiple instances of Rock Band being one word before an editing pass])? Since those early days, we have:

  • Moved buildings (multiple times, sometimes back to the original buildings)
  • Been bought (and sold)
  • Went from 0 songs in our library to like 17,0000
  • Crossed hardware generations
  • Fought a many-year market battle against our very-own creation (Guitar Hero)
  • Found ourselves struggling, then on top of the world, and then back on the ground
  • Watched hundreds of talented developers make and ship multiple versions of Rock Band
  • And more!

Ten years is about a quarter of my life, so you can imagine the impact that this game has had on me. I was already heavily into music and rock bands, that came first… but I think that my identity itself has been impacted by Rock Band the game. Ten years is a long time, and it is difficult to recall what the hell we were all doing back then.

I do, however, remember talking with Alex, Greg, Daniel, and Eric about how sweet it would be to make a game where you were not just the guitarist… but also the drummer and the singer! Greg of course reminded us that some people will want to play bass, too! We of course did not believe him, but it was easy enough to include so we thought, “why not?” But for real, we sincerely wanted people to experience how awesome it is to be in a band, just like how we wanted people to know how sweet it feels to play guitar. This was not a just a company mission. We really REALLY felt strongly about that. Once the day came where it was time to start making the damned thing, so many factors kicked in. There are many possible paths down memory lane, but the one that I will cover is the INSTRUMENT CONTROLLERS.

Holy crap. As one of the developers of the OG Guitar Hero guitar controller, I knew this was going to be crazy. One instrument controller was hard enough, but making three!? We began in earnest by making crazy scatter charts of types of players, what they liked, guitar brands, drum colors, living room sizes, etc etc. It was whacko. We were all opinionated musicians, so we would argue about guitar manufacturers, guitar models, colors, pickups, drum shells, skins, pickguards, kick pedal designs, bands, songs… it was actually really fun! There was a core group of us that had the best time GETTING PAID to argue about the same dumb shit that we would be arguing about anyway at the guitar shop.

Some of those scatter charts were really interesting to me. I had not gone through this particular exercise before, but Industrial Designer Jonathan Hayes, a fellow RISD grad, was helping us with ideation and introduced me to the concept. Basically, on say the X axis, you would have something like RETAIL COST (low to high) and on the Y axis you would have something like PERCEIVED COOLNESS (low to high). There were tons of them. Then we would all converse about where on the chart brands/shapes/materials/etc. would go. It seems like mumbo jumbo, but in many cases I was pretty surprised by how illuminating the information was.

Making software is very rewarding since it's kind of like making your very own robot. You will build it from scratch, teach it what to do and when, and hope that it does not turn on you someday and kill you. Making music game hardware is an entirely different beast. It is kind of “dumb” in that hardware does not process information or send tons of messaging back to the user. Now, that is not to say it is not fun or rewarding to build. Just the opposite! Going through the process is incredibly satisfying, especially when the day comes that you receive those very first tooling samples. I remember playing the first version of the Strat and the drums very clearly. We all used our personal strumming techniques to test the strum bar, banged on the drums a million different ways, beat up the plastic parts and twisted them until they almost broke and held them up and just sort of gazed upon their glory. It was a happy day.

Meanwhile, some of us were starting to think about colors and finishes, guitar straps, drumsticks, etc. Again… arguing about guitar colors and their emotional impact on the player. So sweet.

It is nice to think back to the days where these instrument controllers were fresh and new. Nowadays, there are 69 Rock Band guitar controllers and drumsets in every corner and meeting room. They have become a household item and are admittedly sort of taken for granted in some ways… but I remember those early days with fondness.

Now however, there is a whole new breed of hardware popping up around the office… VR! Seems like at this point we all have an Oculus Rift, Gear VR or PlayStation®VR on our desks, and the Rock Band crew is at the forefront of this new tech. For those readers that bought Oculus Touch, you already have some Rock Band VR gear in your home. Each Touch box comes with a Rock Band guitar attachment so players can hook up their Strat or Jag controller to play Rock Band VR. I think players will be super psyched to check out Rock Band in VR. As I mentioned earlier, it has always been our intent to allow people to experience the sweetness of being on a stage and in a band… and RBVR has taken that concept to a whole new level.

Now, I wonder what Rock Band will be like in another 10 years?

- Ryan