Technologically, I fall into that category a friend of mine likes to call "Last Caveman to the Fire." Downloading music, cell phones, text-messaging - all of these things were around a good while before I jumped on the bandwagon (and I still don't really download music). The same goes for video games, which is why my only previous experience with Guitar Hero-type games was sucking wind in an impromptu Rock Band contest before the recent Cruefest stop at Toyota Center.
Kai Huang teaches Rocks Off how to "Walk This Way" video by Keith Plocek
Finally, I'm no longer a Guitar Hero virgin, thanks to co-creator Kai Huang. Huang is making the promotional rounds touting the franchise's newest installment, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which tracks the Boston blues-rockers' career from their first high-school gig to the Super Bowl halftime show via 25 Aerosmith songs and 15 others ("All the Young Dudes," "Dream Police," the Clash's "Complete Control") the band hand-picked for the game.
Dance Dance Revolution
Huang began envisioning Guitar Hero when Red Octane, the company he founded with his brother Charles, helped develop the dance mats for GH precursor Dance Dance Revolution. He wanted to develop an American version, and realized "you gotta base it on rock and roll - and you gotta start with the guitar."
Kai Huang demonstrates some technique on "Sweet Emotion" video by Keith Plocek
When developing the original Guitar Hero, which was released in 2004, Huang says it was nearly impossible to convince artists and publishers to license their music for the game. "None of the artist would approve their music for us," he says. "We had no game to show them, and music games in the past hadn't been very good."
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Now, some 20 million games sold later, it's a much different story. Bands are lining up to get their music in these games, and thanks to the Guitar Hero franchise, music games have surpassed first-person shooters and sports games - even Madden - to become the biggest-selling video-game genre. Later this year, Guitar Hero: World Tour will feature songs from Metallica's forthcoming album Death Magnetic, and the entire album will be available for download into the game the same day it's released in stores.
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"The exposure is huge," Huang says. "Sales of songs in Guitar Hero have increased 200 percent on average on iTunes." The British speed-metal band Dragonforce, featured in the finale of Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock, saw its monthly downloads jump from 2,000 to more than 40,000 after the game came out, he notes.
Though some might scoff that playing Guitar Hero could never be the same as peeling off some sweet licks onstage, Huang says musicians tell him otherwise. "Almost every musician I've met loves playing this game," he says, citing My Chemical Romance and Korn as two of the first bands to endorse Guitar Hero. "Everybody's got it on their tour bus. My Chemical Romance was actually late for one show because they couldn't stop playing the game. For musicians, it's very relaxing." - Chris Gray