Power Gig: Rise of the SixString Preview
New game developers Seven45 Studios chose GDC this year to unleash the news about what they consider to be the next generation of music games, and we got a chance to see the goods up close. The game is called Power Gig: Rise of the SixString, but the more interesting thing seemed to be the controllers. The game will include guitar, drum, and microphone controllers (that's right - no bass), and while only the guitar was on show behind closed doors at GDC, it was an impressive showing nonetheless.
Seven45 was spun off from musical instrument creator First Act, who makes a large majority of the instruments you'll find down at mainstream retail stores like WalMart and Target. People have been asking for years to see a music game that's fun like Guitar Hero but allows you to learn real guitar skills, and it looked like the executives at First Act got sick of waiting for Harmonix or Activision to step up.
So what does the controller look like? It's pretty much a full-size guitar, and the more expensive "premium" ones will be made entirely out of wood and metal. It's got six real strings on it, and there's a retractable "dampener" which keeps the strings from continuing to vibrate after a note is strummed. This is important for video game mode, where distinct notes are necessary for the guitar's controller components to detect. But it doesn't take much to turn this guitar into a real electric instrument, too. Just push down the dampener, plug your guitar into any amplifier, and you're ready to go. The kits will ship with picks and strings, and the game will even help you tune the guitar.
We also got a look at Power Gig itself, which was in a pre-alpha stage, but the music highway was there, 3 Doors Down's "Kryptonite" was getting demoed, and two gameplay modes were shown. The first was the basic beat-matching style of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and along the neck of the guitar will be the familiar five colors. Put your finger on the frets that match those colors and strum (any note will do), and you've got your note. Note that while there are game controls way down on the body of the guitar, there are no buttons up on the neck at all - the controller really does detect the note you're playing.
But there's also a more complex mode that not only has you pulling down chords, but it also has you play power chords and strum the proper strings, too. In this mode, there will be a number sitting on top of the usual colored note; the color, just like before, tells you the fret to play, and the number tells you which string to play. It's important to mention that you won't be doing any crazy magic with your guitars; even in this more advanced mode, you won't be asked to shred even remotely like a world-class guitarist would.
Anyone who actually plays for real has probably already figured out from these descriptions that this method is not exactly how one learns how to play guitar, and the developers are already on the record saying that this is meant to be far more entertainment than education. It may get a player familiar with putting a real guitar in their hands, but it doesn't include real lessons and even after hours of it, you'll really only be able to pluck out some notes.
The big thing that I see as the limiting factor here is that the guitar can't be used as a controller and as a real guitar at once. Some people's dream was to have some sort of video game interface that they could plug any electric guitar into, and then play notes on there and have them show up in some kind of Rock Band-style game, with their own sounds coming through the TV or stereo system's speakers. There's already PC software out there that does that, but from what I hear, it's not very exciting or fun, and you can't exactly play it with your family - so maybe that's a goal that's still a few years down the road, because Power Gig doesn't seem to be taking it that far. But this is most definitely still an evolutionary step towards learning real guitar by putting actual instruments in people's hands.
Cross-compatibility is also assured in both directions. The guitar will work in RB/GH simply by pressing down the frets that those games tell you to and strumming the string for whatever you held down - essentially, just like Power Gig's more simple beat-matching mode. And regular plastic controllers will work here, but again, only in the beat-matching mode. To have a music game detect what string you're plucking, you'll need both Power Gig and one of the controllers made for it.
Seven45 promises to show more at E3 this June, including the full band setup. My instrument of choice is the drums, so that's where my interest truly lies. And hey, drums may wind up being easier to reproduce in a controller format and people seem more willing to pay a bit more for them, and Seven45 says that they'll be giving their drum controller that same upgrade in feel (over the GH/RB drums) as they are doing with their guitar over the plastic controller versions. I'm very excited to see what they have in store.
As far as the price goes: Seven45 says that they plan on keeping the price of their "full band" kit comparable with the games we've seen already. If that seems like a tall tale, keep in mind that the profit margins on some of those cheap plastic instruments are huge; that's why those drumsets that cost $100 in a box alone can get put on sale for $30 or less during the holidays (and it's probably also why they seem to break so often). It seems like First Act is used to taking a smaller profit margin than that with their instruments, especially since they sell directly to stores like Walmart, so they are pretty sure they can get away with comparable prices for their kits. We'll see if that stays true once the release date nears, and whether people are ready for music games to move in this direction. Right now, Power Gig is set for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 this coming fall.