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Greatest video-game tragedies of the last decade

 Zeroes from the Aughts
By LASER ORGY  |  January 20, 2010


2. Neversoft pukes all over Guitar Hero franchise, culminating in the Kurt Cobain debacle (2009)


Kurt Cobain forced to perform Coldplay in Guitar Hero

The whole story of the rise and fall of Guitar Hero still just makes us sad. Harmonix, a Cambridge-based independent development house founded by musicians (mucho Phoenix coverage here), set out to create games that would translate the experience of making music for people who weren't musicians. One of the things the came up with was Guitar Hero, which was really fun, and managed to capture the spirit of rock music in a way that felt genuine and in no way pandering. Despite the higher pricetag and the somewhat goofy plastic guitar, it became a sleeper hit, and, unsurprisingly, the rest of the world took notice.

MTV bought Harmonix, but it was gaming giant Activision who purchased Red Octane, the hardware company responsible for the design of the guitar controller and who apparently also held the Guitar Hero copyright. Activision turned development over to Neversoft, who immediately turned the focus of the game away from music and toward cartoonish excess: they ramped up difficulty at the expense of fidelity to the song, they emphasized the sexed-up background characters over the actual note highway, they loaded up with product placement, and they added things like battles that really had nothing to do with re-creating the experience of playing music for a non-musician. (Appropriately, the first Neversoft Guitar Hero remains the franchise's biggest seller). They also started getting the rights to the likenesses of real-life musicians, as though this was Madden or something and people would only want to play if they had some kind of official seal of approval.

This backfired in a huge way, though, when they made Kurt Cobain into a playable avatar in Guitar Hero 5, meaning you could make him sing songs by the likes of Megadeth and Bush. Wasn't this the kind of thing that drove him to suicide in the first place?

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