So I see the new Guitar Hero is out. Some choice quotations from the IGN review:
"...but this title does play a tad different than what you're probably used to if you've been following the series closely. For starters, the window of time in which you can successfully hit a note has been extended by quite a bit...The difficulty on the lower tier songs has been reduced, making the game much more accessible to new players. It also makes it so that intermediate players can feel like a rock star right from the get go"
"The character models have been given a new art direction and its one that we're not particularly fond of. Although a lot of motion capturing was done to get the signature moves of Slash and Bret Michaels, as well as to nail the singing animations, the way the band and crowd move just doesn't feel like rock and roll."
"There's even a bit of slowdown that comes infrequently as star power is activated. It's a rare occurrence, but the fact that we saw it at all is inexcusable in a music rhythm game."
"The standard campaign mode has only been slightly tweaked for Guitar Hero 3. The game still plays as a list of songs broken into tiers with a surprise encore at the end of each one."
"One of the little scenes shows the band getting upset at accusations that they've sold out. That's fine, except that Activision clearly sold Guitar Hero out in every way it could. The story is rather hypocritical. Ads are fed into the game, an entire stage was sold to Pontiac, and there is even an Axe Body Spray guitar."
(they still gave it an 8.9, but hey, that's review sites for you).
So...basically, the team behind Guitar Hero realized that with two releases they had done everything that was really necessary to do in the game. Instead of hanging around to create endless retreads, they left to go and do something new and cool (Rock Band). The publisher, as per usual, just wants to wring the teat until the milk don't come no more, so they bring in a new studio to basically re-build the exact same game from scratch with a different song list, make it even more ridiculously easy (yes, to any GuitarFreaks / Drummania player, Guitar Hero is stupidly easy, the timing is insanely lax), throw in some utterly inexcusable bugs (slowdown?!) and throw a nasty patina of corporate sponsorship over the entire thing. I fully expect they will be doing the exact same thing until we hit Guitar Hero VIII and no one cares any more.
The coolest thing about Guitar Hero in the first place was that it was clearly a labor of love, a type of game that doesn't come along very often any more. Lots of people call it 'original', but as it was an acknowledged remake of GuitarFreaks for North America, it wasn't. However, it was done with absolutely perfect style and understanding by a bunch of people who clearly love the whole rock music world deeply, and perfectly understand it. To anyone who owns several hundred CDs and visits dozens of concerts a year, it felt absolutely perfectly right on a huge number of levels. Sure, it had corporate sponsorship - but from music firms, which was only appropriate. The game would've felt worse without Fender guitars, Marshall PAs and so on.
The Guitar Hero III / Rock Band differential paints the whole situation in a painfully clear light. Guitar Hero III is a pointless cash-in on an existing franchise, built by people who clearly do not understand the mindset and motivation of the original developers. It adds nothing new but bugs and it compromises the whole spirit of the exercise. Rock Band is looking to be exactly what Guitar Hero was - a game that's a labor of love, and that has a clear purpose and sense of development from what went before. Sure, it's going to have problems viewed technically as a rhythm game - it'll likely still be too easy for hardcore players, and will miss the crack-like mechanics that keep people playing GFDM for years on end (pass the song? good, go back and S it. S it? good, go back and FC it. FC it? good, go back and SS it. SS it? good, go back and excellent it. Not that good? Just keep trying to get your skill points for the song up, one by one by one...) But it's going to have the perfect atmosphere that Guitar Hero initially had, which is a huge reason that made it so popular in the first place.
GH 3 will sell a ton of copies on inertia. But I think there'll be a significant tail off from GH 4 onwards. Rock Band should sell truckloads, but it hasn't been well-promoted. If there's any justice, it still will.