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Rock Band and RayBan Throw Mega-bash at Sundance

Rock Band News: Wireless Xbox 360 Guitars, Individual Instruments for the PS3

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Park City, Utah, Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 20, 2008

As anyone who has been can attest, Sundance has ballooned over the years from an independent film festival to a media carnival where stars and studios desperately “play” coy in an attempt to get media attention, fans try to sneak into exclusive parties hosted by companies with a tenuous relationship with film, and companies like Microsoft hold press conferences. Oh, and there are movies. This year U2 was there showing their new 3D concert film… you think being a local and in the media I’d have scored a pair of tickets, well, at least the local French teacher was able to take 40 of his students… ahhh, Sundance.

Don’t let me lead you astray, Sundance is a blast and probably your only chance to get pushed aside by a grumpy Quentin Tarantino … I will never wash that shoulder again. Sundance is also getting more and more game as time goes on. Last year it was Slam Dance and the Chasing Ghost Arcade on Main Street, and while the Slam Dance Game Lounge was back it was clearly outdone by the Rock Band/RayBan party.

Now what do Rock Band and RayBan have in common, aside from first letters? Who knows, but they sure no how to host a party, and they are doing it every night of Sundance at the Monkey Bar, just below the world famous Harry O’s. After much wrestling with the bouncer (note to self, pretend to be a blonde wearing a sequence top next time you try to get into a club) I was able to escape the snow outside and meet up with MTV’s Jeff Castaneda and Sean Baptiste from Harmonix. They were both kind enough to share a few minutes and talk about Rock Band, which was set up in the bar karaoke style.

After his stint on the drums, Castaneda was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding Rock Band and the PS3. He sympathized with the lack of Guitar Hero instrument compatibility and let me know that we would be seeing individual Rock Band instruments go on sale in a month. That’s right folks, in a month or so you will be able to buy individual Fender Stratocasters, drums, and mics. PS3 Rock Band owners will finally be able to put together a full band. Remember, you heard it here first!

Castaneda was also quick to point out the lack of cords on the Fender Stratocasters, no biggie, I thought, as it looked just like my PS3 Rock Ban guitar… until I realized they were playing on the Xbox 360. Wireless, official Xbox 360 Rock Band guitars in the wild! Though he was less specific about a release date, he assured me that they worked perfectly and were “on their way soon.” It seems like everyone is getting the Rock Band guitars they’ve been wanting this year.

Jeff was a busy man, running the whole party with finesse only an MTV rep could muster, but, perhaps thanks to jet-lag, I was able to pull Sean Baptiste away for a full interview. Sticking with guitar related news, he let me know that Harmonix and Mad Catz had inked a deal so that the company could build 3rd party Rock Band instruments and accessories. First up? Another guitar. “Trying to get out single guitars is a top priority, it’s moved to first on our list,” Baptiste said. It’s nice to hear, as this has been the number one complaint among PS3 Rock Band owners.

Baptiste continued, “we are all about third party support. Others using our products or making products for our games just makes sense. We’re all about open controller standards.”

When pressed on this point, however, he stated that the controllers weren’t “open source” and that if someone wanted to make a game using their controllers they’d have to work with Harmonix, though they would certainly want to help. In fact when I pitch the hypothetical game, “High school band” the immediate response was, “I challenge you to make a good flugelhorn controller… well, that would actually be pretty awesome.” He assured me that they were very interested in seeing this grow as a platform and not just a game, and that this required two-way interaction with other hardware manufactures and game makers.

When asked if we would be seeing a better version of the guitars, as so many players have complained about defective strum bars, the response was, “they are already out. The new guitars are better, work very well and feel nicer. I am very happy with the new guitar.” So there you have it. If you’ve been holding out for a better built guitar, your wait is over. He reminded me that this was a production on a massive scale, and they simply had to work out a few kinks in the manufacturing process. When asked about the broken drum pedals Baptiste responded, “we are very seriously exploring this issue. The hard thing for us is that our Q&A testers never broke any.” He assured me that they were very concerned and were trying to isolate the problem.

One of the concerns I have heard around the web is the lifespan of Rock Band. How long will it be before we all have to buy new instruments for Rock Band 2? He was unaware of any sort of time line for the product. However, he stated that, “compatibility [of instruments] is a big thing for use. We play our games. We design games we want to play ourselves. We don’t want to have a ton of peripherals we can no longer use lying around either.”

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