A decade ago, "Final Fantasy VII" was all the rage. Now that popularity has been stretched in so many directions that the game's publisher made a "Final Fantasy VII" snowboarding game.
Today's gaming rage is "Guitar Hero." Where's it going before it gets to snowboarding?
Earlier this week, the man steering the "Guitar Hero" franchise talked to MTV News about the series' future, the rumors, the change in developers and even the chance for the game to show up on handhelds and the Wii.
"We have a lot of ambitious ideas that we have planned for the popular franchise," Dusty Welch, head of publishing at "Guitar Hero" publisher Red Octane, said in an e-mail. "Though we can reassure our fans that it will still align with the core game-play experience that everyone has come to love and appreciate."
Last week, gaming sites and the magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly began reporting a slew of "Guitar Hero" rumors, including that a PlayStation 2 '80s edition would ship in the spring alongside the announced "Guitar Hero II" for the Xbox 360; that Harmonix, the development studio recently purchased by MTV and responsible for the first two "Guitar Hero" games, would not be working on the eventual "Guitar Hero III"; and that Red Octane's parent company, Activision, is trying to trademark the possible game names "Guitar Villain" and "Drum Villain." The final item is true, as is the fact that Red Octane and Harmonix secured the trademark for "Drum Hero" last April.
On Friday, Welch started doing the rounds with gaming Web sites — not so much answering questions as artfully deflecting them. He tried this with MTV News when asked when an '80s edition, the "Villain" games or any other projects might be announced. "We only make announcements when confirmed information is available, and at the moment, we do not have further details in regards to any projects or titles outside of the Xbox 360."
He did address the developer switch, noting that Tony Hawk makers Neversoft will handle any future "Guitar Hero" game he otherwise cannot discuss. "With their talented group of developers, experience producing blockbuster franchise and understanding of our core demographic of fans with their work in the music and skateboarding culture, we felt it would be a seamless transition for the 'Guitar Hero' franchise," he wrote. "It's not the development of game play that is difficult with 'Guitar Hero,' rather it's about the selection of music, tracking of the songs and providing the features that allow for the greatest axe-shredding experience, and we fully believe we'll be able to accomplish all of that and more with Neversoft."
Professional wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper once said, "Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions." Taking that old-school WWF lesson to heart, MTV News pressed Welch on some new fronts. In interviews, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime has theorized about the potential for "Guitar Hero" on the Nintendo Wii. Was Welch interested? "The obvious answer would be yes we're interested, and how could you say no to Reggie?," he wrote before reiterating that the only confirmed product to discuss is "Guitar Hero II" for the Xbox 360. "With the transition onto the next-gen platform, it only makes sense for us to explore all the great opportunities available."
But speaking hypothetically, could the Wii remote benefit the franchise? "Guitar Hero has always been about being the lead guitarist of a rock band," Welch said. "We don't see that changing anytime in the near future with a controller outside of a guitar-based shape, though what works best on one console might not work on the other, so it's an item we would really have to research and test in depth before moving forward with anything."
In Japan, where the Nintendo DS is the dominant video game machine and developers make talking cookbooks and dictionaries for it, one product called "M-06" turns the device into a guitar. Players strum the lower screen using the system's buttons as the fret-board. (Videos of the transformation can be seen here.) So it's possible — though still hard to picture — to play "Guitar Hero" on the DS or PlayStation Portable. When asked about the chances, Welch said: "We don't want to speculate at this point, though we can definitely say we are exploring every option there is, as we have an incredible fanbase which still has tons of room for expansion. The mobile and handheld market is continuing to boom, and the opportunity for growth remains incredibly strong, though whether or not this market is a truly viable option for 'Guitar Hero' remains to be seen."
Welch was most forthcoming, naturally, about the Xbox 360's "Guitar Hero II." The game is set to ship in late March or early April. The game will include the 64 classic and recent rock songs from 2006's PS2 "Guitar Hero II" plus 10 new songs: eight covers of tracks by Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Pearl Jam and more along with master versions of My Chemical Romance and Toadies songs. The Xbox 360's focus on wireless controllers won't apply to the game right away. The shipped game will include a wired guitar shaped like a Gibson X-Plorer. "Going wireless is the natural progression to where technology is moving towards and where we want to go as well," Welch said. "Hopefully we'll be able to provide our fans with a 360 wireless guitar controller in the near future as well."
Red Octane has also announced that the Xbox 360 version will support downloadable content. Gamers will be able to add new content to the game over the Xbox Live Marketplace. Welch specifically mentioned adding new graphical themes and gamer pictures. But the real allure of Marketplace support would be the ability to download songs to keep building the "Guitar Hero" playlist. "That hasn't been decided upon yet," Welch said. "And there are many factors and logistics to weigh before we decide on the best structure to consistently supply new songs, though fans should certainly expect a regular stream of downloadable content."
The first "Guitar Hero" game has sold more than a million copies. The PS2 sequel has sold more than 1.3 million in the two months since its release, Welch said. That's the kind of success that could inspire a snowboarding spinoff someday. But for now, Welch has other — mostly secret — plans in mind.