Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Guitar Hero/Rock Band

This is the ultimate thrill. You’re standing on stage with an ocean of 30,000 fans stretching out in front of you, each one mindlessly jumping up and down, singing each and every word as if their life depended on it. Speakers behind you shoot solos and drum beats past your ears and out across the open air, travelling further back than you can see. Your band mates are lost in the moment, but you can’t help but stop and take it all in, breathing in the heavy, sweaty air as if you were really standing on that stage yourself.

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It’s impossible to deny that the music videogame genre isn’t what it once was. You may remember the days of Guitar Hero and Rock Band fondly, but in truth it’s been just under four years now since we last saw a main entry in either of these once-unstoppable franchises. Annual releases and a reliance on peripherals have regressed the genre back into its PlayStation 2-era alternative status, with stylish button-matching arcade titles providing a fleeting beat on the sector’s pulse.  It’s certainly a shame to see a once thriving juggernaut reduced to so little so quickly, and there are few signs of a revival happening any time soon. Perhaps virtual reality (VR) could change that.

For many, VR is about bringing to life our wildest dreams, exploring far off worlds and reliving historic events. But one dream that almost everyone has had is to live the life of a rock star. Perhaps not the showbiz fantasies, but the in-the-moment excitement of performing live on-stage to scores of fans. For the first time, VR gives us an opportunity to live out that fantasy without having the fortune of playing in one of the handful of rock bands across the world that can actually live these dreams. Imagine if developers dusted off those colourful plastic guitars and electric drum kits and got to work on bringing this idea to life.

Picture perhaps a four-player experience similar to Rock Band or the later Guitar Hero titles. Only, instead of gathering around a screen to match inputs in time, you each slip on a headset and appear in a virtual venue of your choosing. You could arrive in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens or in the centre of London’s Wembley Stadium. Song choices could appear in fan-held signs which you select at will. The music’s origin would be independent of your headset, so you could position your speakers to match the set up. It’s hard to see this being anything but one of the most exciting uses of VR.

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VR videogames face a range of challenges in their current state, but the music genre could seemingly bypass a lot of them. Input is a constant discussion among the community, but we’ve already got the perfect means for VR music videogames in the instruments that hide away under our stairs and buried in our attics. Perhaps we could see the PrioVR fully body motion control suit implemented into such a title so that we can talk around stage, but for the most part, having the instrument in our hands as we play it will go a long way to keeping the sense of immersion intact.

That said, some issues do present themselves. Traditional Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles are played with a stream of coloured notes appearing on-screen for users to press/hit in time. It would certainly break the immersion to have this intrusive display staring down in front of us as we play. Perhaps the answer lies in a more organic inclusion. What if the notes appeared on an enlarged screen behind the crowd, keeping it within the confines of the title? We’d be able to take everything in at once and focus on what we wanted to focus on. Experienced players may then only need a glimpse of the screen every few seconds, while new players wouldn’t be deprived of the atmosphere.

The music genre’s integration with VR makes perfect sense, at the end of the day. We have dreamed of this virtual fantasy before we’d even heard of the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus. Wouldn’t it be exciting it, somewhere deep in Rock Band developer Harmonix’s studio, a VR headset was being used to test this experience right now? Image its potential.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets. 

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