Sunday, 25 July 2010

Rock Band 2 vs Guitar Hero 4

For the most part I consider Rock Band to be the superior franchise. This is clearly evidenced by the sheer number of hours my friends and I have logged playing Rock Band over Guitar Hero. I think there are several reasons for this, the most obvious being the hugantic™ amount of tracks available to buy on the Rock Band store (A large proportion of which we have in fact purchased).

But the other reasons are a lot more subtle. Take a look at these two screenshots, on the left, Rock Band, and on the right, Guitar Hero:

In Rock Band, you'll notice at the bottom of each player's respective highway is that player's current score multiplier and the overdrive power bar. This is even true of the singer whose highway is at the top of the screen - you'll notice the score multiplier disc is in line with the target line, which is the place on the screen where each player's eyesight will be focused for the majority of the song.

By comparison, the Guitar Hero score multiplier is displayed up and to the side of each highway, which, whilst not a particularly large distance, is still enough that you're not really looking at the target line any more. The star power metre (the Guitar Hero equivalent to Rock Band's "Overdrive") is well out of the way in the top left corner. Of course, Guitar Hero's star power is combined for all players, which explains why it's as it is, but I think there's an argument for duplicating the information on each of the three highways so that player's don't have to look away from the target line to know how they're doing in that regard.

Rock band also has the "crowd metre" on the left, which shows the players how well they're performing or how close they are to failing a song. All player's are presented on a vertical bar as simple, clear icons which are easy to separate. Guitar Hero has combined this aspect of the HUD with the star power metre. You've got glowing yellow icons for each of the players on 4 separate power bars which has the end result of creating a very murky looking interface item that takes more than a brief moment to see how well you're doing.
I think the fact that each player has their own bar means that, if you think about it, a player has to find their icon amongst the 4, and then look at the bar above (which is 2 steps). Whereas in Rock Band, once a player has found their icon, they know how well they're doing as it's the icon itself that moves, and the bar is very clearly visible in the periphery.
It may sound a bit pedantic, but I think this kind of game bears a lot of similarities to driving a car - you must minimise the amount of time you take your eyes off the road. That's one of the reasons road signs are designed to be as simple (and non-distracting) as possible (the other of course being that if it's a long or complicated message on a sign you'll have driven past it before finishing reading it).

There are a few things though, that Guitar Hero does right, and they're so obvious as well, that I can't imagine why they're not present in Rock Band:

Singers are presented with a choice of scrolling text, where the text is constantly scrolling on screen from the right in a similar fashion to the other instruments, or paged text, meaning the text is static on screen, and the whole line changes at once (to a new "page") when the marker reaches the end. Rock Band only has scrolling text.

The other is a simple countdown from the pause menu. Rock Band simply throws you back into the action, usually meaning you'll miss the first few beats or notes as you get back into it, but Guitar Hero gives you a fighting chance by giving you a 3-2-1 at the same tempo as the song no less!

There is a lot of polish to be found in the little things - of any game - that I think can be what separates the good from the great.

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