Greg LoPiccolo chat
guest was Greg LoPiccolo from Cambridge game studio
Harmonix. Greg has had not one but two jobs that many
would consider "dream jobs" ... making some
of the world's most popular video games with Guitar
Hero I and II and Rock Band, and living the rock 'n'
roll dream in the late 80s and early 90s as bassist
for the Boston band Tribe.
Greg is here today to chat about the game industry,
Harmonix, his band days, selling audio equipment, and
anything else you feel like asking him about.
LoPiccolo: Nice to be here!
Greg is here until 2 p.m. Take it away, Greg!
Hi Greg. I was wondering, as a musician turned-game
developer, what was your role in the design of Guitar
Hero I & II and Rock Band? Input/advice, or were
you very hands on in simulating the guitar experience?
LoPiccolo: There was a small group of us (me, lead
designer, art director, audio director, senior coder,
a few others) that worked collaboratively in a very
hands-on way to get the core gameplay together. It was
basically a small group just cycling on a prototype.
Hi Greg -- ever think about what you'd be doing if not
in the games industry?
LoPiccolo: Occcasionally, but I never come up with
anything very interesting. I'm very happy about what
I get to do, so I don't have much reason to speculate
on other paths.
OK, I'll ask: What did you think of Guitar Hero III
and, more specifically, Bill Gates rocking out with
Slash as the CES?
LoPiccolo: I think Neversoft did a solid job in
a tight time frame, and it appears to be selling quite
well :) Obviously, we can point to things we would have
done differently, but thankfully we've got our own game
to obsess about. It's their franchise now, and we wish
them well in developing it.
When can we get our Phil Lesh on!
LoPiccolo: It's on the way! The dates haven't been
announced, but it is in the pipe for sure.
Did you make more bucks playing for Tribe or with Harmonix?
Can you give us some idea how much?
LoPiccolo: Tribe was
a labor of love, but didn't really pay much at all.
Very few rock bands make any money at all, unless they
are the .001% of bands that break into the big time.
It's not a good career choice if you value financial
stability. Harmonix actually pays me to show up, which
Greg - are there any plans of making a version of Guitar
hero that is more of a teaching tool for the real guitar?
LoPiccolo: Well, technically, I'm not the right
guy to ask about future GH developments, since Harmonix
is no longer involved with that franchise. I can imagine
a version that detected frets on a real guitar, but
it's kind of a big leap. Who knows? Maybe someone will
end up pursuing it.
maxjive: Any chance we'll
see a 10 song, Jazz Band, add on....? Great drum work,
walkin' bass lines, vocal standards, and cool guitar
Greg LoPiccolo: One of
the cool things about the Rock Band framework is that
the DLC feature (downloadable songs) lets us explore
music that might not appeal to a mass audience, but
is of interest to a smaller group of people. That could
totally stretch to Jazz as long as the instrumentation
matched up (guit/bass/drumx/vox). I wonder, though,
if a Jazz audience would consider such a thing impure.
It's a video game, after all. Do jazz fans play video
games? No idea, just asking.
Evil_Eddie_C: Greg - I'm
a big fan both of Tribe (Pinwheels and Abort being particular
faves) and the Rock Band game. Unfortunatelt, the guitar
that came with the bundle we got at Christmas has stopped
working properly. Any word on when I can get a replacement
guitar, or if there will ever be the possibility of
my Guitar Hero guitar working with Rock Band on my PS3?
Greg LoPiccolo: EA has
a good warranty program. If you go to Rockband.com and
follow the links, you can arrange to have them ship
you out a replacement guitar very quickly.
doug: Wha was your major
in college? Did it preprare you at all for what you
do today? And would you ever consider going back to
Greg LoPiccolo: My major
was German of all things, and didn't help me at all
in my chosen profession. However, college was where
I discovered that I loved music and music tech, so it
all kind of worked out karmically (sp?).
KMT02138: Hi. Big Tribe
fan here. Saw you dozens of times. So happy for all
your success in the gaming world. I believe you are
still working with Eric and Terri. True? Do you know
what the other Tribe members are up to?
Greg LoPiccolo: Yup, Eric
is Harmonix audio director, and heads up the staff that
does all the song authoring and sound design.Terri has
done some freelance writing for us in the past, and
works for other game developers as well (plus she was
the voice of Shodan in System Shock). Janet is in New
York; I think in publishing. Dave (drummer #1) lives
in Vermont, and Mike (drummer #2) is still an active
drummer, doing sessions and tours.
smp17: How were the set
lists selected for the games? Any personal favorites,
or songs on Harmonix's wish list for future games?
Greg LoPiccolo: Song selection
is the most fun aspect of all the games we've done.
We always try to go for a mix of different genres and
eras, but then we get a chance to root for our personal
favorites. I was relentless about getting BOC's Godzilla
into GH1, and finally everyone gave in and agreed. Woohoo!
dan: Hi Greg. Nice to
see you online. I was wondering as a graphic deisgner,
video produer animator etc- what is the best way to
break into the market. I have been doing alot of corporate
work (in fact contacted Harmonix for potential work)
but not sure if my work was considered. I do quite a
bit of work- even some in gaming. However, I am looking
to get a jumpstart in the market. I have run my own
design agency for over 10 years. What is your recommendation?
Greg LoPiccolo: I don't
have a simple answer. Most of my insight is pretty obvious
stuff, I think:
Greg LoPiccolo: 1. Have
an awesome reel or portfolio, filled with relevant stuff.
Greg LoPiccolo: 2. Be
resourceful and relentless. If your stuff is good and
you are easy to work with, you can't lose. Sooner or
later the law of averages kicks in and you get your
toe in the door. Once you do, then it's just a question
of doing consistently good work. Does this help at all?
Really, I firmly believe that it is all about the work.
zeb: Greg, with the success
of the GH/RB series, does Harmonix approach music publishers/labels
for songs to include, or do they approach your team,
asking for inclusion?
Greg LoPiccolo: Some of
both. We have stuff we know we want, so reach out to
certain acts, but we now get approached by a lot of
artists as well.
Chuckster: Greg, just
a quick thank you for producing some fantastic music
with Tribe back in the day.
Greg LoPiccolo: Thanks!
It freaks me out a little bit that people still remember
our band. It seems like such a long time ago.
DDogg: Greg, when did
you first realize that you had musical talent? What
made you pursue it as a career, then switch to the gaming
Greg LoPiccolo: I never
realized that I had musical talent. I just wanted to
write songs and play them. I couldn't tell if they were
any good, so I tried not to worry about it. The shift
to games was pure chance. I got an opportunity to write
some game scores through a friend in the industry, and
one thing led to another. It was n't a conscious choice
at all; it just sort of happened.
jesse: Hi Greg -- quick
story: one night, after a 6-hour marathon session of
Amplitude in which I couldn't beat Slipknot on expert,
I threw the PS2 controller, it hit a cement block, and
broke. I then took a hammer to it to make sure it stayed
broken. Question: What is the best story you've heard
of someone getting frustrated with one of your games
and breaking something?
Greg LoPiccolo: Awesome!
That story fills me with a warm glow of accomplishment.
We had a great report (with pictures!) from a guy who
was playing GH, jumped up on his glass coffee table
with his best rock move, shattered it and cut his leg
us pretty bad, finished the song, and had his friends
take him to the emergency room. Now that's committment!
so when are we going to hear about a Tribe reunion?
Greg LoPiccolo: I am sorry,
but it is very unlikely. We treasure our Tribe memories,
but we've all moved on to other stuff.
dvsguy: Greg: What advice
would you give to someone just out of college with a
degree in new Media looking for their first job in the
computer game industry?
Greg LoPiccolo: IMO, the
most bulletproof method for breaking in is: make games.
Find other people, band together and make indy games.
Developers are always looking for talent, game dev tools
are available, and if you can demonstrate that you can
actually make a game that is fun, someone will hire
you. However, it is a ridiculous amount of work :(
eric: love both of your
products you have put out. any chance in the future
of offering expansion packs for 360 available via download?
Greg LoPiccolo: Not sure
I understand the question. We put out new songs for
download every week for Rock Band. Are you thinking
of something else?
maxjive: Is it concievable
for a Rock Band to make a compiling program that would
allow us to convert our own bands songs into playable
Rock Band tracks?
Greg LoPiccolo: It is
conceivable, and would be awesome. We continue to talk
about this possibility. I can't commit to such a thing
at this point, but would love to tackle it if we could
find a way
eric: What is your Rating
on Jordan on expert?
Greg LoPiccolo: Stinky.
I'm not a super-wizard GH or RB player by any stretch.
I'm good enough to have fun, but that is about it.
someone_musicbiz: Hi Greg,
I work in the music industry now for a major label.
Things are scary on this side. You work on a side of
the industry that many of envy since it's growing and
not whithering on the vine. Can you give some insight
into your idea of the future of the industry?
Greg LoPiccolo: I don't
have the space to really do this question justice. It's
pretty clear that music gaming is here to stay, and
we at Harmonix believe that it is going to be an increasingly
important outlet for artists to expose their music to
a new audience. Most of the labels and publishers we
work with seem to get this now.
ak: and do the bands get
any performance/publishing royalties?
Greg LoPiccolo: We pay
royalties to whoever owns the publishing rights to the
songs we use, and separate royalties on the recordings
in those cases where we use the original masters. In
some cases, that is the original act (if they held onto
their publishing) and in some cases it is not.
Dan1: What is the status
on a patch for the PS3 to play the Hero guitar on Rock
band? Also, love the game. Knowing the words and the
songs makes me relevent to my kids when their "band"
needs a mic guy!
Greg LoPiccolo: Activision
(GH publisher) has objected to our releasing such a
patch, so it doesn't look like it will happen anytime
soon. However, we'll have Rock Band standalone guitars
in the marketplace pretty soon, which should help.
thisandthat: How has being
bought out by MTV changed your work? You see time after
time small, great companies being bought out and then
turning to crap. You all seem to be doing ok though!
Greg LoPiccolo: Creatively,
they have left us alone to make the games we want to
make, which has been great. Also, they have the clout
and connections to get us in touch with the artists
that we want to feature, so that has been a really good
outcome of the acquisition. Really, we've got no complaints;
it has gone very well.
Buz: Hi Greg - huge Tribe
fan so I was glad to see you were involved with my favorite
games. Congratulations on Rock Band! A bunch of us who
play are former musicians and I gotta say that it's
easier playing the real instruments. What do you think??
Greg LoPiccolo: If you
know the real parts, it can be weird to play the dumbed-down
parts featured in the game, but for most people, I think
the game is easier.
sitar_hero: Anything you
can share with us about what might be next? I never
imagined the amazing leap from the GH series to Rock
Band (particularly the vocal/pitch aspect). Are we anywhere
near getting a game that would adapt to a user's own
music collection, or is that permanently stuck with
Greg LoPiccolo: Unfortunately,
I'm not allowed to talk about stuff that we haven't
announced. I will say that we are working on improvements
that are obviously missing from the current version
of Rock Band, as well as some crazy stuff that no one
will expect, but promises to kick ass.
zeb: I remember reading
an article where Eric talks about listening to the masters
of some of the tracks you guys put into RB/GH. That
must have been an incredible experience - I've always
wished to have a chance to listen that closely to the
tracks. Including Tribe's (hint, hint!).
Greg LoPiccolo: Yes it's
amazing all the little details that you can hear in
the isolated tracks; mistakes, little vocal asides.
It's like a little window into rock history. Total job
Will Led Zeppelin see the light of day any time soon?
Greg LoPiccolo: That is
a tough license to acquire, and that is all I'm gonna
everyone, Greg can only take a couple more questions
r1ggs: Are there any plans
to come out with a 80's Rock Band game for the Xbox
360 like guitar hero rock the 80's for the PS2?
Greg LoPiccolo: Anything
is possible, but most of the specific eras and genres
we plan on covering with downloadable songs, which we
release every week.
dan: Without trying to
seem arrogant, (and I believe I am being very objective
in saying this-- especially because I know the industry
and I have a degree in art and design), I believe my
work is good- I am wondering if perhaps I am not doing
something right/appropriate in terms of my resume and/or
cover letter. Do these items matter a great deal when
companies like Harmonix look at a persons portfolio
of work? What is the best way to make an appointment
with a company like Harmonix?
Greg LoPiccolo: Resume
and cover letters totally matter. We rarely consider
a candidate who can't put together a well-organized
grammatically correct resume and cover letter. One possibility
to remember is that we (or whoever) might not have an
open slot at any given time, or might have just filled
it. Persistence is key.
dino: How abotu releases
for Rock Band on other platforms? IT feels like the
Wii is being overlooked.
Greg LoPiccolo: Stay tuned!
We are psyched about the Wii, and would love to bring
our stuff to the Wii audience.
Russ: Do you see yourself
back making music eventually (once you've retired from
Greg LoPiccolo: For fun:
yes. For a living: no. No one will pay me to make music.
kittymartini: Hi there,
Greg. Thanks for Rock Band, which has taken over my
life and given me the chance to pretend that I am the
drummer I always wanted to be. (Fabulous song selection,
too!) My question to you is this: I saw on the Harmonix
site the job for the QA tester, and truth be told it
would be a dream come true to get paid to play awesome
video games, but does it pay well? (My guess is no,
but I just had to ask.) Thanks! Keep up the good work!
Greg LoPiccolo: It doesn't
pay great, but it is a good avenue into the industry.
We have a number of folks in very senior positions who
started in QA.
-- great questions everyone! There were a lot of questions
Greg just couldn't get to, but thanks for sending them
thanks a lot to Greg for joining today!
Greg LoPiccolo: OK, I'm
out of time. Thanks for your questions, everyone! This