Renowned Classics: Amplitude

August 9th, 2010 -


Before there was Rock Band, there was Guitar Hero. Before there was Guitar Hero, there was Amplitude. And before there was Amplitude, Konami ruled the music games… wait. Yes, Konami was first to the party, but all they brought was chips and dip. Harmonix brought the beer which landed them a one night stand with Guitar Hero; the hottest lady at the party. Boosting their High School popularity through the roof.

And this is how it went down…

By now just about anyone who has touched a video game, or even heard of video games, is aware of music games. Most of these people know the now house hold names “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band”. Which has even spawned PC vs Mac like rivalry. However, the biggest detail that’s missed in the “Guitar Hero vs Rock Band” arguments is that they are effectively the same game. How you ask? Well, that’s easy; they were both created by Harmonix. Now that I’ve spent the last 2 paragraphs blowing your mind and confusing you, let’s start from the beginning and figure out why Amplitude is so important to today’s music games.

Harmonix started with a game called Frequency (Rather then try to explain each game, I’m going to post youtube videos to help me through this).

Let me put into perspective what your seeing right now. As the notes come down, you press the corresponding buttons to activate the sound of each note, which you should be familiar with. However, you can play all the instruments with one controller by tapping left and right to switch tracks. When you play a “phrase” or a sequence of notes, that track turns on. The goal is to keep all the tracks turned on, as they keep turning off over time.

Essentially, this game was more or less the foundation for Amplitude. Frequency was met with mediocre  success, so Harmonix took the same formula and adapted a more pop culture friendly paint job on it, as well as expanding on game modes and features.

Enter Amplitude, its almost exactly like Frequency, but more refined. This time it offered more diverse selection of music from much more popular artists like P!nk, Weezer, Slipknot, and Run DMC. Your Freq (or Avatar) went from a bouncing 2D sticker to a fully 3D modeled Avatar that would rock out on each instrument that you played. The visual cues took a much more happy and bright color scheme that felt a lot more inviting. Let’s have a look at the difference.

Amplitude was met with a much more successful fan fare, but still lacked being considered a “hit”. At this point in time, it seemed like music games were doomed to be a 3rd rate video game genre. Konami had success with arcades in Japan, Harmonix had a semi popular home console game, and thats where the story ends… or does it?

Enter Guitar Hero: someone at Activison and or Red Octane had a genius idea of using Fischer Price like guitars like Konami, but pairing them with a game like Amplitude that had a soundtrack from one of those “now thats what I call” commercials; you know the ones I’m talking about. The guy comes out with a deep voice telling you this is the greatest compilation CD ever, and it consists of every popular song from the last few years. Yeah, that one. However, in order for this idea to work, they needed a source code that could run it. Something that was solid and easy to adapt to this formula. Finally, here is our missing link. Guitar Hero’s source would be built by the same team that just did Frequency and Amplitude: Harmonix.

So Konami arcades + Amplitudes gameplay + Red Octans guitars + Activisions marketing =



Harmonix would go on to write the code for Guitar Hero 1,2, and Rock the 80’s, until parting ways with Activision over a disagreement on the future of these games. Activison had patents for Drum Hero, Bass Hero, Vocal Hero and so forth. Harmonix believed that you should be able to play them all in the same game. Thanks to a partnership with EA and MTV games, we got that game (Rock Band), which again changed the way we play music games. The ability to play all the instruments in one game is a standard for music games now, and it’s an idea that started with Amplitude. This progression has come full circle with games like Rock Band Unplugged on the PSP and Lego Rock Band for the DS, which both use the same track switching philosophy that Amplitude pioneered.

So in conclusion, where would we be today if Harmonix gave up on Frequency? Would music games have ever taken off like they have? It’s hard to say, but based on the popularity of the genre at the time, my bet would be not nearly as much as they have now. With that said, if you consider music games to be your favorite genre game genre, find yourself a copy of Amplitude and school yourself with the roots of your genre.

No comments yet

Name (required)