Rocking the video-game world

Guitar hero Kai Ryssdal with the "Guitar Hero" controller in the Marketplace studios

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The hottest thing in video games isn't some blood-soaked first-person shooter rampage. And it most definitely isn't from traditional video-game leader Electronic Arts.

It's a guitar game, if you can believe it. From the lesser-known producer Activision. And it's helped Activision knock EA off as the number one game seller.

Kevin Periera follows technology for G4 television. Kevin, how are you?

Kevin Periera: Doing very well, thank you.

Ryssdal: So tell me about this Activision-EA thing. I mean, is it a very big deal that this has happened, or is it just sort of, you know, natural course of events?

Periera: No, this is an absolutely huge deal. I mean, you've got EA, which was the third-party publisher powerhouse. They've never been dethroned. And out comes this new genre of game that takes the, you know, the country by storm. And now everybody's playing with plastic guitars in their living room, and suddenly Activision's got treasure chests full of cash.

Ryssdal: We'll get to this guitar thing in a minute, and I guess I'm gonna have to try this.

Periera: Oh, you have to.

Ryssdal: We'll get to it in just a second. But, you know, I mean EA has been so big for so long, and that's really the only name that people who are only peripherally familiar with gaming know about it. Is EA done, or is this just the beginning of a war?

Periera: No, EA is far from done. In fact, they've got their own game to kind of counteract against the Guitar Hero franchise, which has, you know, taken the world by storm. They've got a game called Rock Band coming out at the end of this year, which was actually by one of the original creators of Guitar Hero, a company called Harmonix.

Ryssdal: All right. So even though this is a radio studio, we've got a television in here, and it's loading up. This is the demo portion . . .

Periera: Demo portion of the evening.

Ryssdal: So it is, it looks like a little kid's toy plastic guitar.

Periera: Sure does. It's a miniature version of a guitar. It's got five buttons on the fret board, and those are essentially your different notes or chords as you play. It has a whammy bar, so you can actually put a little effect, a little "rock sauce" if you will, on a note to earn some extra points. A plastic strum bar that actually lets you trigger the notes. And then it's got a tilt sensor in the guitar, so when you build up enough star power, you can actually turn the guitar up and earn some extra points.

Ryssdal: Do you get Jimi Hendrix points for back behind the head and all that stuff?

Periera: You don't. You can't . . . If you play with your teeth, there's a bonus points multiplier that'll come on, but you have to have the rock stance for the tilt sensor to work.

RYssdal: So these little notes that you see on the screen, they are roughly analogous to that bouncing ball in the karaoke game, right?

Periera: Correct, it's exactly what it is.

Ryssdal: All right, so hit me with a beginner level thing here.

Periera: I'm passing the plastic ax. Now this is your first time playing, correct?

Ryssdal: Yeah.

Periera: All right, so we're gonna see how intuitive it is. I would recommend using the guitar strap.

Ryssdal: All right. So we'll do the Police here, "Message In A Bottle."

Periera: All right, so now go ahead and hit the green fret button there . . .

["Guitar Hero" sound effects, Kai misses notes . . . ]

Ryssdal: Oh come on! Oh you ri . . . you have to . . . ra . . .

Periera: Now understand, this is a completely different gaming experience than you've ever played. It's not a controller. And you're rocking it, and talking.

Ryssdal: So a couple of thoughts. This really reminds me of that experiential feeling you get playing Wii — which I did, you know, a month ago for the first time — where you're really sort of into it and you're moving your whole body. Is that really the way these games are going now, it's not just sitting there with a controller, staring at a screen?

Periera: It's exactly what it is. You know, gaming was seen as this almost passive activity, even though it's quite active — you're using hand-eye coordination, and you're being involved, you're being interactive with the television. But it was seen as this passive thing where people wanted to zone out and sit on their couches. And now, you know, game makers and publishers are realizing no, you know what, these are social experiences. People want to get up, they want to have fun with their friends, something a little more interactive. And music especially is a great way to get that going.

Ryssdal: You touched on it a couple of times. So EA is coming back with now a competitor to this which is "Rock Band." Is that gonna have online connectivity, so, you know, you can have a friend in San Francisco and a guy in Detroit, you can all sort of get together online and play?

Periera: Sure, sure. Well, there's a couple main selling points for Rock Band. One of them is additional instruments. So you can actually have an entire band. There's a microphone, which can also be used as a tambourine or a cowbell. There's of course a bass guitar, which is the same peripheral. And now drums. And the beauty of that is I'm a drummer. I have the drum set. My buddy is a guitarist in Texas. We can link up online, form a completely online band with a singer in a different state, have a band logo and actually compete in a battle of the bands.

Ryssdal: Absolutely. And getting it back to the Marketplace of it for just a second — all those little accessories, price not included, right?

Periera: They add up. And that's the thing. The price has not been announced on Rock Band. I mean, some analysts are saying a minimum of $200 for the game, a guitar, a microphone and the drum kit. You still need an extra guitar, and if you're playing on the 360 and you want to go wireless, it's gonna be an additional fee.

Ryssdal: Absolutely. Kevin Periera from G4 television, "Attack of the Show." Thanks a lot, Kevin.

Periera: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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