Hot Games for Fall 2008

By Jason Griffey |

The titanic battle of musical rythm games happens this Fall, when both Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band II will be released. Both are sequels to hugely successful games, and both games up the ante in their own way. Guitar Hero World Tour eschews the solo guitar as the ideal of rocking and adds the rest of the band--drums, microphone, and bass. The game setup is similar to Rock Band but there are now 4 instruments to rock out on. Guitar Hero World Tour is adding additional complexity to the game--it includes a touch-pad on the new guitars that allows for note variations, sliding tones and a variety ofother effects. There is also a more complicated drum set that is velocity sensitive, an improvement on the binary sensitivity of Rock Band I.

Rock Band II will be an evolutionary successor to Rock Band, but probably not a revolutionary one. Similar to the original Rock Band, it follows the 4 instrument model, with updated controls similar to Guitar Hero World Tour. The biggest difference between the two games is the actual content--the music you play during the game. Both sets of developers have been pounding the pavement to ensure that there is a tune in their game that you can't live without playing. Here's a short list of the standouts in each:

Guitar Hero World TourRock Band II
Beat It - Michael Jackson
Eye of the Tiger - Survivor
The Wind Cries Mary - Jimi Hendrix
No Sleep 'til Brooklyn - Beastie Boys
Hotel California - The Eagles
Rebel Yell - Billy Idol
Pinball Wizard - The Who
Give It Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Float On - Modest Mouse
Peace Sells - Megadeth
That's What You Get - Paramore
Alabama Getaway - The Grateful Dead

Both have already announced dozens of songs with lots of standouts. Metallica has announced that they will release the entirety of their new album for Guitar Hero World Tour when the album hits store shelves. Some people are saying that Rock Band and Guitar Hero may be the saviors of the music industry, with an entirely new way to monetize old content...several classic albums (Blood Sugar Sex Magic by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nothing's Shocking by Jane's Addiction) are being released in their full form, playable on one of these games.

Both games are going to support some level on online play. Whether it is competitive (whose band rocks most!) or cooperative (two bands in two different locations playing the same song to a virtual crowd), both games will allow you to collaborate. Both also are promising some type of "free play" aspect, where you can create your own music using the game's instruments.

I'm betting that the major non-musical release of the season will be Spore by Wil Wright. Wright is the brain behind SimCity and The Sims so naturally Spore is a simulation game. But it's a simulation game of a new scale, where you create a lifeform and then play it through evolutionary steps. According to the game's literature it is possible to play from a single-celled organism all the way to interstellar travel, with different play styles at each level of organism. Spore is not going to be available on consoles (xbox360, Playstation 3, or Wii) immediately, but it will make its way there from the PC soon after release.

Spore has another interesting thing going for it. Although how it works in practice isn't going to be clear until the game is released, Wright calls the game a "massively single player" game. This is a play on the genre of massively-multiplayer games that are common these days. In a massively multiplayer game (often called an MMO), gamers are tied together on a server, and coexist in the "world" of the game, interacting with one another in various ways. In Spore, groups of players will all inhabit the same world, but  will not interact in the same way as in an MMO. How this works out in gameplay is yet to be seen, but with Wright's pedigree in game design, this one is likely to be the casual gaming hit of the year.

There are, of course, tons of other games on the way...these are just the three that I'm watching. Library decisions about programs and collections are local decisions, so choose your games wisely!