There’s a ridiculous PR war that fans are taking pretty seriously: Rock Band vs. Guitar Hero. I’ve mentioned it before as being silly, but a quote got blown out of proportion, and fueled a fanboy bonfire of comments. Many swore they would never (or, to quote, “NEVA”) buy Guitar Hero. I used to work at a movie theater, and occasionally people swore they would NEVER come back.
They came back. It’s rarely an intimidating threat, but that isn’t the issue at hand. The issue is many wanted to call Brian Bright a copycat after he called Rock Band a copy cat. The obvious Pot vs. Kettle vs. Pot nature of this isn’t the issue either. The common argument is that neither Activision or RedOctane created any music anythings, and they are big fat cheaters. And, unrelated but often mentioned, Tony Hawk games suck.
Well, Activision knows they didn’t create anything. That’s why they hired John Devcka and his Enterprises, creators of MTV’s Drumscape, released in 1997 on the basis of 1996 Devecka Enterprises pattens. (DrumMania wasn’t released by Konami until 1999.)
Harmonix originally wanted to make music accessible to those who found traditional instruments too challenging or intimidating. They didn’t seem to previously have an interest in games with controllers that simulated instruments, like guitars, before working on Guitar Hero with RedOctane. It was RedOctane who asked them to created a game that would use a simplified guitar controller.
And, to flesh out this history, it was Konami that created a game link between their drum and guitar arcade games, effectively creating the first gaming band. Konami and Harmonix worked on Karaoke revolution before the Guitar Hero series came about. Konami hadn’t previously released a drum or guitar game in America, likely because their formats would be in violation of the patent held by Devecka Enterprises.
Devecka, in America anyways, had the original idea for realistic instruments that created a realistic music experience, and filed a lot of pattens.
MTV Drumscape, made by Devecka, was the first drumming game, not DrumMania by Konami.
Harmonix made music games, but not with realistic instruments. Their most literal was with Konami for Karaoke Revolution, which used a microphone.
RedOctane asked Harmonix, critically acclaimed for their games FreQuency and Amplitude
to create a guitar game for a controller that they would produce. RedOctane previously made high quality dance pads for Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution game.
Konami did not release neither DrumMania nor Guitar Freaks in America, likely because their instrument designs violated Devecka Enterprises’s pattens. They did release Taiko Drum Master and BeatMania, probably because these devices were not specifically in violation with Devecka’s patent.
By September 2006, Harmonix was acquired by MTV games and RedOctane was acquired by Activision, who delegated the Guitar Hero series (Red Octane apparently holds the rights) to Neversoft.
RedOctane and Activision separately copyrighted different game titles, including “Drum Villan” and “Band Hero” while working on Guitar Hero 2.
Konami got hosed. They (without obvious malicious intent) improved upon vague patents and then were not part of their realization in the US home market.
Harmonix and MTV, in their creation of Rockband, both seemed to take advantage of previous partnerships to flesh out the first Rockband, but the basic idea started long before either of them.
I don’t know why Activision is charged with malpractice here, or why Harmonix is assumed innocent. All games come on discs, Microsoft is getting avatars, and Rockband isn’t completely original. Neither is Guitar Hero.
And thanks to commenter Setzer IIDX for mentioning some of this history on the Kotaku post.