Rock Band: Five Years of Experiencing a Game Franchise That Rocks (Part I)

Show:    Aerrow Shapiro’s Hour of Power (Tuesdays @ 5 PM PT)
Twitter:    @hourofpowerkssu

Where were you in November 2007?  For many gamers (if not all), they started experiencing a game that would later become one of the best franchises ever put out by a gaming studio called Harmonix.  On November 20th, 2007, a game called Rock Band came out, which expanded on the guitar game play from their previous work on Guitar Hero and combined additional elements, such as drums and vocals.  In celebration of its fifth anniversary, I’m writing about my experiences playing a most beloved game series in the form of a two-part blog feature.  Part I will start from the time when I first heard of the game and will cover from the beginning and all the way through my experiences with LEGO Rock Band and The Beatles: Rock Band.

It was the fall of 2007, and at the time, Harmonix was owned by MTV Games while Activision handled RedOctane and the Guitar Hero franchise.  The result for Activision was Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, developed by Neversoft.  Sometime after the game was released, Harmonix released a full-band-oriented game called Rock Band.  During that time, promotion abounded, especially with demo kiosks.  I first got into it when I tried it at CSUS on a Friday afternoon, and what intrigued me was the concept of playing together as a band.  The next day, my younger brother took me and his friends to another venue where we played at a demo kiosk; the more I played it with them, the more I grew fond of it.

Later in November, my brother bought the game with the full band bundle, including a guitar controller, a drum controller, a USB microphone, and more.  I started doing the vocals from time to time, and I got the hang of it, starting with songs I was most familiar with, such as “Here It Goes Again” by OK Go, “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and “Orange Crush” by R.E.M.  Then I decided to work on my vocals, so I began my Solo Tour game progress at the “easy” difficulty level (hey, everyone’s got to start somewhere).  Eventually, I worked my way up to the expert level.  During the game’s progress, I downloaded featured songs and listened to them so that I could get the idea of how they were sung.

In addition to the on-disc songs, the game also had additional songs with the support of DLC.  I got into it when I downloaded and played the first track pack from one of my favorite bands, Nine Inch Nails, which included the songs “March of the Pigs”, “The Collector”, and “The Perfect Drug.”  I later explored further with downloadable albums, beginning with playing Doolittle by alternative rock band Pixies, which made the concept of playing an album more interesting.

In 2008, its sequel, Rock Band 2, included the ability to export most of the songs from the first game into the successor and then-future games (with notable exceptions caused by music licensing issues).  In addition, all the existing DLC for the first installment was also compatible with the sequel.  This game totally blew the original away with new music tracks, including “Everlong” by Foo Fighters, “Give It Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, and “Panic Attack” by Dream Theater. While Solo Tour was different from the Band World Tour career in the first game, World Tour in the sequel made it possible for a solo player to have the full experience of the Band World Tour in the former game, while having more venues and places to go to.

Later in 2009, Harmonix, along with Traveler’s Tales, released a spin-off game called LEGO Rock Band.  While it may have seemed like a silly idea, it not only combined the two intellectual properties, but also maintained the basic structure of the game while providing a family friendly atmosphere and interface.  Unlike the two previous games, where most of the songs on each respective game were exportable to later games, this game had the ability to export the entire soundtrack to the main game series, with “The Final Countdown” by Europe and “Song 2” by blur being included.  The game also supported DLC in the PS3 and XBox 360 versions with select songs being deemed “Family Friendly” by Harmonix so that parents had no need to worry about their children singing something objectionable.

While I had heard of The Beatles: Rock Band before I played LEGO Rock Band, with the former being released (on September 9, 2009) prior to the latter (around November), I did not play or purchase the game until early 2010 because I wanted to learn how the songs were sung. I bought the box sets of all the band’s albums and their non-album tracks (compiled into Past Masters), and started listening to them to prepare to play the game.  This game was faithful to the band’s style and expectations; the use of imagery and likeness, vocal harmonies, and utilization of the band’s history (with little to no exaggeration) was the tip of the iceberg.  While the soundtrack and DLC were not exportable to the other games, I understood why; the music in the game was so special and iconic that they didn’t want to mess with it.
In the next article (Part II), I’ll cover the later parts in the progress of my experience with the Rock Band franchise, ranging from the introduction to Rock Band Network all the way to its most recent entry Rock Band Blitz.

Aerrow Shapiro is a DJ who hosts a weekly hour-long alt/indie show called Aerrow Shapiro’s Hour of Power, which (as of the date of publication) currently airs every Tuesday at 5 PM PT on  For more information you can check out the show on Facebook ( and on Twitter (@hourofpowerkssu).

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