- Better story. Design your own characters and session musicians from improved character models and watch their story unfold throughout the game. Your band members are seen getting into the van to go to a show, and practicing as well as performing. They even appear as you choose songs to play. "It is a really cool way to make sure you are always in the narrative no matter which mode you are in," Teasdale says. "The entire game is essentially one story of your band."
Everything you do earns achievements in the goal-based career mode. "Previously our career modes weren't really about getting better as a Rock Band player, it was about investing time," Teasdale says. "We developed this entirely new career mode based around unlocking achievement-like goals to show your progression through the game, and also give you incentives to get better.
"We have hundreds and hundreds of these goals across instruments and gameplay modes and across (downloadable content). It is a really great way to finish Rock Band in your way, based on your skill, and not on some predetermined path of songs."
- More fluid gameplay. Players can jump in or out of songs without interrupting a song already in progress. They can also change instruments or difficulty settings during a song without pausing. "It's a really cool way to get rid of that friction that players have when they are in a party situation," Teasdale says.
Another party-friendly mode, "road challenges," is described by Teasdale as "taking Rock Band 1 and 2's band world tour (mode) and merging it with Mario Party. We tried to find a way to get the core experience people had playing the band world tour and the things they really enjoyed, like getting the van or getting random set lists, and putting that into a setting that you can finish in an evening instead of a week. So now we have all these tours which are actually you going on a tour of the East Coast or touring across the world, and you are finishing that in three hours or whatever time you think you have to play."
- Revamped song-filtering system. With the Rock Band library expected to grow to about 2,000 songs by year's end, it has grown too big for simply scrolling. With the new system, "you can say, 'only show me songs in Rock Band 3' or 'only songs under three minutes' or 'Eighties metal songs from my (downloadable) collection,' " Teasdale says. "It's a really cool way to take your full library down to a manageable list of songs."
Not to be forgotten, the keyboards' addition — along with carrying over the three-part harmonies from The Beatles: Rock Band and new Green Day: Rock Band games — means that "you can play as a seven -player band," Teasdale says, "which is an amazing experience."
- Rock Band Pro. This new music learning mode lets players develop real-world music-playing fundamentals for keyboards, guitars and drums. More realistic music notations replace the standard color-coded notes during gameplay. For guitar, numbers flow down the screen along six guitar strings, telling you where to place your hands on the neck and when to strum.
Two new guitar controllers in the works have actual strings where you strum; one is a full-sized, fully functional six-string Squier Stratocaster from Fender. "It can tell where your fingers are based on technology in the neck and the bridge of the guitar. No buttons," Drake says. "While you're playing it, it feels exactly like playing a real guitar," because that's what you're doing.
The other is a Fender Mustang Pro controller from accessory maker Mad Catz with a field of buttons in each fret. As your fingers compress the smaller non-colored buttons on that guitar's neck, your finger positions are represented in the game's display. "You can go from plucking single notes to power chords and bar chords, we have crazy stuff like tapping and slides," Dubrofsky says. "If you ever had any aspirations of connecting with the music in a deeper way ... you are really going to like Rock Band 3."
- For drums, three new cymbals are added to the standard four drum pads, and you are forced to play the correct cymbal at the right time. "It really immerses you more. You feel more like a drummer," Dubrofsky says. "It's not only for expert levels. You can come in on easy and actually play Pro drums. We have all the different levels established. It's actually really fun. You are playing up on the high hat or down on the snare, and it feels more like a kit than ever before."
- On keyboards, Sussman says, "we're actually utilizing the full two-octave range that the keyboard controller has. Everything that you are playing, whether you are playing on easy or expert, is accurate musical information. The track looks like a real keyboard track, and you are playing notes on the keyboard that if you were to step away from the game and were to play on a real piano, they would be the right notes."
- Range: C3 - C5
Pro players can use the mode for private practice or incorporate it while others play the game's standard arcade modes. "You can be an expert keys-player playing with an all easy band, no problem," Drake says.
Rock Band 3 will be able to use Rock Band 2-compatible DLC, with RB2 DLC having Pro Drum support. The reverse is not true, as format changes mean that DLC released on or after the launch of Rock Band 3 will not be playable on Rock Band 2 or Lego Rock Band.
Main Article: Rock Band 3 Setlist
"Ever since Rock Band expanded the musical video-game stage in 2007 to add drums and vocals to the Guitar Hero experience, players have been clamoring for keyboards. Consider that request filled. Rock Band 3 (due for the holidays for PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii) expands the virtual band to seven (drums, lead and bass guitar, keyboards, lead vocals and two harmony vocals). "With the introduction of keyboards, we get to bring a ton of amazing new music onto the platform, which will help feed the appetite for music for years to come," says Alex Rigopulos, CEO of game studio Harmonix.
Among the 83 new songs to be included, Rigopulos says, "it's hard to pick a favorite, but for The Doors to be making an appearance on Rock Band finally with their classic Break On Through, I love that one. And Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody is endlessly fun." The success of Rock Band and follow-up Rock Band 2 propelled sales of music games to more than $1.6 billion in 2008 — with the help of competing Guitar Hero titles. Despite a wide variety of new games in 2009 including The Beatles: Rock Band and DJ Hero, annual sales fell by nearly 50%.
That slide inspired the Rock Band 3 development team to try to recapture the fun "that really started this whole phenomenon in the first place," says project director Daniel Sussman.
During the game, green, red, blue, yellow or orange keys flow on a "stream" representing the notes to be played on five corresponding keyboard keys. In a new authentic Pro mode meant to help players segue to actual instruments, all 25 keys are used; the streams shifts left and right to cover the correct keys. The keyboard also works as a MIDI keyboard that can be connected to a computer. "This is a real instrument and a real device," says senior designer Sylvain Dubrofsky.
In addition to the new keyboard controller, also due for the game's release are two advanced guitar controllers that take advantage of the Pro mode, one a full-sized, fully functional Fender guitar (all sold separately, no prices yet).
Other Rock Band 3 advances: improved animations, refined gameplay features — players can drop in and out of games, or change instruments and difficulty settings without stopping songs — and a easier-to-use song menu.
"Our ambition for Rock Band 3 was really to re-energize and reinvigorate the (music game) category and advance it and move it forward," Rigopulos says."
"Development of Rock Band 3 began immediately after the September 2008 release of Rock Band 2, says project director Daniel Sussman at Cambridge, Mass.-based Harmonix.
As work continued, the music category's slide in sales made the design team deepen their focus. "We saw a kind of staleness in terms of game-play innovation," Sussman says. "Really, the main focus of Rock Band 3 development was finding new ways to experience the music and actually doubling down, if you will, on our investment in compelling game play.
"We are adding a new instrument (a 25-key, fully functioning MIDI keyboard) and we're adding a whole new mode, which is designed basically to answer that staleness factor."
The result, he says, is "an experience that is both accessible to players who are just getting into this thing, and builds something for the hard-core player who is maybe a little bored with where music games are."
Sussman and several key members of the Rock Band team (Harmonix senior designers Sylvain Dubrofsky and Dan Teasdale, and public relations gurus John Drake of Harmonix and Jeff Castaneda of MTV Games; you can see them all playing the game in the accompanying video) recently demonstrated Rock Band 3 for USA TODAY's Game Hunters and offered a test drive of the new keyboard controller, as well as the game's new authentic Pro mode aimed at helping players develop skills usable on real instruments.
"Everybody who wants to keep playing on the instruments they already have, we have enhanced new features and new gameplay for you," Dubrofsky says. "It's up to you to decide where you take this."
More on the advances for Rock Band 3 (due in November for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and Nintendo DS):"
See also: Rock Band 3/Gallery