published Thursday, March 28th, 2013

In Tune: 'Rock Band' fans face end of an era

On Tuesday, fans of the video game "Rock Band" will face a hard truth. The music, it seems, is about to die (or at least stop).

For six years, developer Harmonix Music Systems has consistently added to the game's library of songs, but in February, the developer announced that the final -- and decidedly fitting -- addition to the library would be made available on April 2. Appropriately, the last release will be Don McLean's "American Pie."

The end of these weekly updates will undoubtedly be bittersweet for anyone who has held a plastic guitar in their hands pretending to be Slash or banged away unabashedly on a plastic drum kit like a wannabe Keith Moon.

When it was released in 2007, "Rock Band" was publisher MTV Games' shot across the bow of the "Guitar Hero" franchise, the series Harmonix created in 2005 that helped catapult music games into the mainstream.

Unlike "Guitar Hero," which limited players to bass and lead/rhythm guitar, "Rock Band" lived up to its name with the addition of vocals and a drum kit.

Although "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" initially were considered evenly matched, their business models were wildly divergent. "Guitar Hero" focused on releasing a seemingly never-ending stream of titles and spin-offs that oversaturated the market. In 2011, Activision capped future development of the series.

"Rock Band" spawned a pair of sequels -- most recently "Rock Band 3" in 2010 -- but instead of new $60 releases, Harmonix focused on adding songs gradually through its downloadable content library. Cherry-picking one's favorite songs was cheaper, and "Rock Band" became a go-to party game for me and many of my friends.

The cooperation required to nail a perfect, five-star rating on a song was undeniably fun, but it was only part of what made "Rock Band" so appealing. There was a ritual to the experience, and I always looked forward to checking the store to see if a favorite track had been added or if the developers finally managed to secure rights to Led Zeppelin's catalog. (They didn't.)

To date, there are 4,000 tracks available by artists ranging from Iron Maiden and Smashing Pumpkins to those uploaded by independent musicians through the Rock Band Network platform. At $2 a pop, it would take thousands of dollars and lots of time to experience everything the game has to offer, but I for one am sad that, as of Tuesday, the set list will be complete.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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