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Battle of the Bands Interview with Aaron Loeb

Battle of the Bands is the newest game from developer Planet Moon and published by THQ. Aaron Loeb is the Chief Operating Officer of Planet Moon as well as the Executive Producer of Battle of the Bands for the Wii and discusses the rhythm combat game with us. Battle of the Bands is a pretty difficult game to describe, but could you tell our readers about it and what it is that makes the game so special?

Aaron Loeb: Battle of the Bands is the world’s first rhythm fighting game. By hitting beats, you instruct your band to attack your opponent’s bands with your weaponized instruments. The game captures a true showdown of musical styles: Country versus Rock, Rap versus Mariachi, Marching Band versus Rock, etc.

The cool thing is that the dominant player controls the music, so if your Country band is dominating, you hear a country version of the song. If your opponent’s Rock band is ahead, you hear the rock version. We’ve taken 30 famous songs and recorded them in all five styles, for over 150 complete tracks (there are also some songs recorded as Classical versions for the boss battles in single-player). Hearing the music switch back-and-forth is an absolute first in videogames and is very entertaining. Battle of the Bands is a very unique take on the rhythm genre, where did the idea come from?

Aaron Loeb: The idea was pitched at our company pitch-fest by the game’s Senior Designer, Ian Slutz. At Planet Moon, everyone pitches ideas several times a year, and this was an example of a game that went from pitch to reality very quickly.

THQ had asked us to present them with ideas for the Wii - this was before the platform had been released, and we liked the idea of using the Wii Remote to literally hit beats, and thus order a band to attack another band.

The original game was battling marching bands of robots. As a group, we changed this to different musical styles battling, represented by armed bands. From there, it was the natural next step to have the different bands playing versions of the song in their own style. Was there ever any thought of potentially using existing instruments to use while playing Battle of the Bands? I know this is a Wii exclusive, but could any other console potentially host a game like this?

Aaron Loeb: The game was built from the ground up exclusively for the Wii Remote. The idea was to try to capture the way we physically react to music. If other platforms had a similar controller, the game could certainly move to those platforms. But the gameplay was definitely designed for the Wii from day one. You’ve got five distinct genres represented in the game: Rock, Country, Marching Band, Hip Hop, and Ranchero. How was the decision made as to which genres eventually made it into the game?

Aaron Loeb: We worked with our friends at 3volution Productions, who recorded all the music, to isolate styles that would really sound great in contrast to one another. It’s very important for the gameplay for the player to hear the real difference in the styles. The rhythm genre has really progressed in the last couple of years, what is it that you think makes it so appealing to gamers of all ages now as opposed to before the big hits like Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution?

Aaron Loeb: I think games had gotten into a place where we were usually just adding new features to very mature genres. About 3 years ago, I remember everyone in the press was saying that innovation was dead and the industry was nothing but sequels. The last year has, I believe, disproved this notion resoundingly. Music games, though they’ve been around for over a decade, feel very different from other kinds of games, like FPSs and RPGS. They appeal to people who don’t necessarily have a history with games.

At DICE this year, Matsuura-san talked about rhythm, dancing and beat being a kind of universal language of play, and it’s clear he’s right. My daughter is two, and she dances to music. This is not something we taught her; it’s instinctual. If we put her at a piano, she bangs on keys and makes little songs. Matsuura-san’s point is this is true of children in every culture on the planet. Human beings understand beat at a very core level, and turn it into little games, dancing together, improvising new songs, humming, etc.

Because of this, music games have become a terrific way to introduce new people to games. People are able to have friends over who don’t play games, and very quickly they understand how to play these games and have fun just by interacting with beat. Hopefully, they then get turned on to other kinds of games, too! Would it be fair to say that the bulk of the fun probably comes from the multiplayer portion of the game? What sort of experience will the single player enjoy from Battle of the Bands?

Aaron Loeb: Because this is a rhythm combat game, the fun comes from oppositional play. There is never a version where your band just plays; you’re always fighting another band. That band is either controlled by the AI or by another player.

In the single-player game, you are playing through a campaign mode in which your band seeks to conquer the city of New Cadenza and overthrow the town’s current dictator, Mr. Hong and his Violent Orchestra. When the Wii was originally announced, I could see that quite a few innovative games would eventually make their way onto the system. If you had to take a guess as to the potential of the Wii how far along, percentage wise, is the development community into getting the maximum creative output into a game? What most impresses you about the Wii?

Aaron Loeb: What impresses me most about the Wii is that it is capable of throwing out the entire language of videogames that preceded it. You don’t need to have ever heard or understood the term “inverted axis,” or “dual analog sticks” or “triggers” to get how to play some of the most successful games on the Wii. You need to know how to interact with the world you’ve been living in your whole life. Know how to swing a baseball bat? Do that, but with the Wii Remote.

The reason this impresses me is because I have now successfully played Wii games with my parents, my in-laws, small children, and lots of other people in my life who know nothing about videogames. And they understand how to use this device.

It pains me that there’s so much “controversy” in our industry right now about the perceived invasion of non-hardcore titles. It is great for our entire industry that people who have never played a game before, not even Pac Man in the 80s, are now playing Wii games like Wii Sports, Wii Play and Carnival Games. It is showing them that games are fun for the whole family and may introduce many of them to the rest of our industry. Today’s Wii Sports player is tomorrow’s Bioshock 2 fan. These new gamers are also teaching our industry new ways to make games easier to understand and, potentially, more fun for a wider audience. That is, I think, a pure good for our industry. When did you decide that you wanted to be a part of the video game industry and how did you get your big break?

Aaron Loeb: My first job was as a reporter. I was the founding Editor-in-Chief of the UGO network in the early days of the Internet. I went on to run Next Generation Online and Daily

I joined Planet Moon in 2001 and have been here since.

I have been a gamer since I was 5. I vividly remember hours spent playing Space Invaders on my Atari 2600. Way too many hours. I’ve never stopped. Making games has always been a lifelong dream. What games did the development team play when taking a break from Battle of the Bands? What’s in “heavy rotation” in your favorite console right now?

Aaron Loeb: Rock Band, Call of Duty 4, Super Mario Galaxy and Wii Sports all featured prominently in our lives. Is there anything else you want to add about Battle of the Bands for our readers?

Aaron Loeb: Battle of the Bands is a hugely fun party game. Try it out with your friends. It will make you smile.

Bonus Questions Better grunge band? Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Alice in Chains?

Aaron Loeb: Nirvana is my favorite of the three. Though I like them all, I had a profound late-in-life conversion to Nirvana. I actually didn’t like them when Kurt Cobain was still alive and for years after his death, but for some reason a few years ago I heard Heart-Shaped Box on the radio and suddenly realized, “I love these guys!” I can’t explain it, but it is so. Let’s look into the future two years, what will be a better movie: Thundercats or Voltron?

Aaron Loeb: Neither. The Smurfs feature will make them both eat it. We would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for our readers. We sincerely appreciate both your work and your candor. We wish both you and Planet Moon the best of luck with Battle of the Bands and any future games. Thanks.

Aaron Loeb: Thank you! We appreciate your interest in the game. Battle of the Bands is out now, so check it out! We would also like to thank Jenna at THQ for arranging this interview with Aaron Loeb for us.

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Battle of the Bands Interview with Aaron Loeb

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Posted by: Redeema
Date: May 6, 2008
System Reviewed: Wii

Categories: Wii Features, Wii, Features

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