News from the virtual world:
- DON'T BRING ME DOWN: In one of my favorite "Rock Band" tracks, an amazing facsimile of the '70s glam band Sweet sings, "Everybody wants a piece of the action." That appears to be the motivation behind Gibson Guitar Corp.'s patent infringement lawsuit against Harmonix, MTV Games and Electronic Arts, the developer, publisher and distributor of "Rock Band."
At issue is a 1999 Gibson patent for a device that lets a user "simulate participation in a concert by playing a musical instrument and wearing a head-mounted 3-D display that includes stereo speakers." Harmonix, which also developed "Guitar Hero," says its products "are completely different: among other things they are games, require no headset and use a controller only shaped like a real instrument."
Gibson also filed suit against Wal-Mart, Target and four other retailers, demanding that they stop selling the "Guitar Hero" games. Activision, which now publishes "Guitar Hero," argued that "Gibson waited three years to make its patent allegations, and only did so after it became clear that Activision was not interested in renewing its marketing and support agreement with Gibson." Gibson's brand has been heavily featured in the "Guitar Hero" series.
Before Gibson filed its lawsuits, Activision asked for a federal court declaration that it is not violating Gibson's patent. And most legal analysts agree that Gibson doesn't appear to have much of a case, especially since the guitar maker has been happily cooperating with Activision and Harmonix all these years. Whether or not Gibson and all the defendants head to court, no one's expecting "Guitar Hero" or "Rock Band" to disappear from stores.
- ROAM IF YOU WANT TO: The Gibson litigation didn't stop Activision from announcing the newest version of its blockbuster franchise: "Guitar Hero On Tour" for the Nintendo DS. The portable game will come with the Guitar Grip, a four-button controller that slides into the DS's Game Boy slot, and a pick-shaped stylus. You select notes by pressing the buttons, and strum the guitar strings by sliding the pick across the DS touch screen.
Ubisoft, meanwhile, is expanding its "Imagine" line of DS games for girls with "Imagine Rock Star." It will include drums, guitar, bass and piano, each with a unique control scheme, and will let players customize their characters "in order to become the most stylish rockers." Could your daughter or little sister be the next Courtney Love?
- BETTER SHOP AROUND: The "Rock Band" folks haven't been idle, either. Harmonix and MTV have finally announced a release date for the Wii version: June 22.
For Xbox 360 and PlayStation rockers, Harmonix has released a downloadable software update that adds one major feature: a "music store" that lets you buy new tracks within the game, rather than forcing you to leave the game and hunt them down through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. (Of course, you need to be connected to one of the online services.)
More significantly, Harmonix has raised the game's "fan caps" " which essentially means that easy- and medium-level players can now see more of the clubs and concert halls in the "Band World Tour" mode. Great news for lightweights (like me, OK?) whose fingers cramp up at the thought of tackling "Enter Sandman" on hard.
- WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS: And finally, perhaps the most exciting bit of guitar-game news this week: The head at the music publishing company that owns the John Lennon-Paul McCartney catalog says he'd like to see an all-Beatles edition of "Guitar Hero."
Marty Bandier, chairman and chief executive at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, told The Los Angeles Times, "It's something we have talked about and something I'd like to pursue." It would definitely be more entertaining than listening to "American Idol" contestants butcher the most beloved tunes in the pop canon.
- NEW IN STORES: No music games this week. Instead, we begin with "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII" (PlayStation Portable), another spinoff to Square Enix's most famous franchise. ... Tecmo's "Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword" (DS) and Sega's "Viking: Battle for Asgard" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) battle over who's got the bigger weapon. ... Two smaller publishers go for spooky thrills, with D3's "Dark Sector" (360, PS3) and Ignition's "Obscure: The Aftermath" (Wii). ... Koei's "Opoona" (Wii) could be the cutest role-playing game ever.