By Nathan Meunier
With Guitar Hero: On Tour, the developers said they initially struggled to get as much fidelity out of the visuals as they could and pushed the DS to its limits. The result was an impressively small-scale recreation of the console experience. They've pushed this even further to give Decades' visuals a noticeable improvement. The team said players will see these upgrades in motion particularly in the environments and the way the characters animate. Another important adjustment revolves around control input. Since strumming techniques varied widely among players, some experienced strum accuracy issues in playing On Tour, according to producer Jesse Booth. Extra care was taken to fix the problem and make it more accurate for those using different strumming methods. "First and foremost, we wanted to make sure any problems people had with strumming were resolved, so we concentrated on improving that," he said.
A Gripping Experience
For some, the crucial Guitar Grip peripheral that makes Guitar Hero possible on the DS results in some serious hand cramps, especially when rocking on expert mode. While it's not a completely unreasonable price to pay for portable shredding, it's one players will have to live with. At the moment, it appears no immediate changes are being proposed for the peripheral, but Nathanielsz offered some advice on the subject. "I think we've tried to let people know about some of the strategies we have that we think are successful in playing Guitar Hero: On Tour," he said in response to a question about discomfort while playing the game. "We noticed, while developing Decades as well as On Tour, pretty much everyone on the team had slightly different way of handling the game."
Nathanielsz went on to say he's noticed many players get very tense and think they have to hit the buttons hard. Instead, a more relaxed, loose grip combined with light tapping works better on higher levels, he said. "We just want to encourage people to experiment with the way they hold the game," he said. "I do believe that everyone can find the optimal way to interact with and experience the game."
Song Selection and the Future
The music in decades was particularly fun for the developers, because it provided a nostalgic trip to their rock-laden pasts. Evaluating and sorting through tons of songs for potential inclusion in the DS Guitar Hero series is a long and involved - yet fun - process for the team. There are various criteria, including song length, audio quality, and playability, to consider when looking for songs to feature, according to Nathanielsz. "We need to make sure every song in the game is fun to play and has great guitar parts for providing both a challenge and a joy for the player," he said.
Working with bands is an ongoing process and it takes time to nail down tracks. Initially, people were unsure what Guitar Hero would be like on the DS; but with On Tour, bands have seen what can be done and there's a greater interest on their part. "There's definitely more support from bands for getting those master tracks into Guitar Hero," added Booth. "It's worked really well and we generally have a pretty good success rate in licensing songs." The team declined to comment, when asked if there were any particular groups they'd have a difficult time working with to acquire songs for the games.
Song quality can make a big difference in the selection process as well. While including more metal in possible future installments isn't ruled out, heavy guitar distortion just doesn't always work well on the DS speakers, they said. However, the development team members were very surprised and pleased with the high level of quality the audio designers were able to squeeze from the system. The results have been far beyond expectation.