I was lucky enough to have a friend who worked on Guitar Hero: World Tour. Below is the fantastic interview I was able to do with my buddy Zach Parr.
Mike: So first of all thanks for doing the interview and giving us some insight on your work
Zach: No problem, I really like what you guys are doing with your site so I was happy to do my part.
M: Alright, let’s get into this. How did you get hired at Activision/Neversoft? What is your school background?
Z: I submitted a resume to Activision which got passed down the Neversoft. The two major qualifications which got me the job were a masters in computer science as well as a music background. Since it is the case that Neversoft is currently in the business of “rhythm games” my qualifications fit the profile of the type of person they were looking for.
M: What is your official title/ what do you do at work?
Z: My title is UI Programmer. I primarily work on game screens involving stats, menus, and HUD (heads up display) elements
M: What was it like having Guitar Hero 4 being your first project to work on and where you a fan of the series beforehand?
Z: Being assigned to GH: World Tour as my first industry job was truly amazing. It is a triple A title and most people don’t get the pleasure of working on such a popular game when they first enter the industry. I was a fan of the series before hand but only in the “party” since, I hadn’t really gotten into the game until shortly before i had my interview while doing research on the company’s current titles. I quickly became an addict. Guitar Hero aside I’ve always been a huge fan of the Tony Hawk series.
M: Experiences (best and worst) working on the project? At what phase did you come in on the production of the game?
Z: I started at Neversoft midway through development of GH:WT, this was quite daunting at first. I would in fact chalk this up to the worst experience so far. The learning curve is very steep when jumping into such a massive code base. At the beginning I wasn’t sure what i had gotten myself into, i was constantly breaking the game and having to reboot and reload into the portion i was working on just to have it crash again! These games are very fragile while in development and this can be quite frustrating. The best experiences for me come during the development of a new idea. Game elements are often reiterated over and over until all the producers/designers/directors are happy with that particular element. The best experience is when I put my own twist on some element I am working on which gets a consensual smile of approval among the leads.
M: Being a drummer, what are you thoughts on the drum set along with the new features on the guitar?
Z: The drum experience in the game is the most realistic out of all the instruments (excluding vocals) this is both a good and bad thing. In my opinion its very cool how realistic the experience is, but I’ve spent years behind an actual drum set developing the necessary coordination to play the instrument. So playing drums in the game feels very natural to me. On the other hand it is very difficult for me to imagine what it must be like playing the game without such a background. The general consensus is that it is very difficult; I guess you’ll have to start on easy folks. In my opinion difficult is good, people have already gotten 100% on through the fire and flames from GHIII, we have to cater to all skill levels and the challenge is part of what makes this game so addictive, the drums add a whole new dimension to the “challenge factor”.
At first I was not a particular fan of the new slide guitars, I really like the look and feel of the les paul, though after using the new slide guitar it wasn’t long before i preferred the smoother strum bar as well as the beefier size. (I still like the look of the les paul better though, I’m not a big fan of the sunburst)
M: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Z: There is a natural creative energy that emanates from the studio, this is created by the folks who work there. My favorite part of the job is how amazingly well the people interact, everybody has their own ideas and visions of what the finished product will be like. These ideas all differ in their own ways. Everybody must support the team and make decisions as a team. I am amazed on a daily basis at how well a team of over 100 people can fight it out and always come to a compromise leaving everybody in agreement
M: What are your thoughts on Rock Band and the other music games being released?
Z: Harmonix is a great company and have been making rhythm games for a few years longer than us. (you know they did develop the software for GH1 and GH2). I don’t really like the fact that you have to replay songs through the career progression of the game in order to get everything unlocked, but oh well, ill survive. You won’t catch me talking smack on them but there is a general level of competition between the two studios. I think this is quite healthy and keeps massive pressure on pushing the genera forward. We often compare what we are doing to what they are doing. We feed off their ideas as well as I’m sure they feed off of ours.
M: Now for some rapid fire questions, lets see what you got.
M: Favorite Smash Bros character?
Z: Fox on melee, Mario on brawl (lame I know)
M: Favorite Song in GH4?
Z: Rebel Yell
M: System preference and why.
Z: Xbox 360, its got the most games and largest online community. And you can have multiple people signed in online at the same time, Sony really screwed up not allowing that on ps3, I heard a rumor that they are changing that with the new sdk : )
M: What games are you playing right now?
Z: Metal Gear Solid 4, Dead Space, Rockband 2, COD 5 beta, Warcraft III (ill never give that one up), god of war on PSP (what ever the name of that one is) *Editor Note: it is called Chains of Olympus* and Spore.
M: What games are you looking forward to?
Z: Little big planet, StarCraft II and Diablo III.
M: What games should people check out that they have probably missed?
Z: Braid and Castle Crashers both xbox live arcade titles, Odin Sphere (ps2), Warcraft III (PC)
M: And finally, what are you working on next?
Z: Sorry, can’t tell ya.
Well there you have it kids, I hoped you enjoyed yourself. And remember Guitar Hero: World Tour comes out this Sunday (10/26) for PS3, Wii and the Xbox 360.