- Well, OK, it's not that crazy, but I'm surprised that more people haven't been talking about the fact that Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The '80s is totally Harmonix's contractual obligation game, following the Boston developer's split from original GH publisher RedOctane/Activision.

Really, the absolute minimum has been done to improve Guitar Hero '80s, as Wikipedia notes: "Venues from Guitar Hero II (with the exception of RedOctane Club and Stonehenge, which do not appear) have been redesigned with an 80s influence, and the interface mimics Guitar Hero II's, only with color changes (no "new" graphics were developed as far as the interface)." [Although there is an X-ed out PMRC stenciled on the gravestones in one of the levels - nice Tipper Gore reference, folks!]

In addition, there are zero (no!) bonus tracks and 30 total songs in Guitar Hero '80s, compared to 48 normal and 26 lovingly picked bonus songs in the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero II, often by local Boston-area bands and other cult/niche artists, many of which are actually Harmonix employees.

Of course, everyone reviewing the game has picked up on this general limpness, with mixed reviews complaining about the barebones nature of the release. I think some are thinking that this is Activision's laziness solely. But how easy would it have been to add a modicum of bonus tracks, maybe some '80s-themed axes, and change out the art for the stadiums? Really easy.

And why didn't that happen? Because, I would hazard a guess, Harmonix had already been acquired by MTV, and has been completing Guitar Hero '80s as a final contractual obligation, while simultaneously working on Rock Band. Does the Harmonix/RedOctane contract mention bonus songs or from-scratch venues or GUI? Nope. Why would they help a franchise that they largely created, but whose IP has been assumed by their publisher, who is no longer working with them on the next-gen version?

- So Harmonix did a good-enough job - it's certainly not as 'f*ck-you' as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, an entire double-disc LP of guitar feedback released in 1974 as his final RCA album: "Despite Reed's artistic seriousness, his decision to release Metal Machine Music as a begrudging rejoinder to his contractual obligations with RCA may be confirmed by the final sentence of Reed's liner notes which reads 'My week beats your year.' The sentence would suggest that the time Reed took to produce his recording defeated the commercial demands of his yearly contract." But GH '80s is also not what it could be - and partly on purpose, I reckon.

Now, having said all of this, me and my wife are enjoying playing Guitar Hero '80s for the random cheesed-out songs that we _do_ know. For one, it's nice to see Swiss rawk band Krokus in there (even if it's covering Sweet's distinctly '70s Ballroom Blitz), since it enables me to chant 'K-R-O-K-U-S, Krokus know my home address....' in a Half Man Half Biscuit stylee (it's a lyric from This Leaden Pall.)

But another unspoken lesson from this is - developers, be very careful about who owns your IP (also see Pandemic, THQ, and Destroy All Humans!). In fact, there's been some attempt from Activision recently to insist that RedOctane, whom they bought for $100 million-ish, aren't just useful to them because they signed the deal with Harmonix to own the Guitar Hero IP - they were/are also key to the creative success of the franchise.

Do I believe that? Not really. RedOctane hasn't had a particularly distinguished past before Guitar Hero, launching an early game rental service which had, anecdotally, absolutely terrible customer service, and doing some decent-quality DDR pads before hooking up with, uhh, the subsequently Konami-sued Roxor Games, among others, for some relatively pedestrian work. But who knows? They could have driven the heart of the franchise behind closed doors.

I still think Harmonix is the collective which made Guitar Hero what it is, though, and it must be tremendously frustrating to see your work shunted off in another direction (even if Neversoft are worthy people to take up the baton, in many ways.) Webcomic Penny Arcade is obviously fixated on this battle, as well, and Slipgate Ironworks producer 'Mystyphy' has some v.interesting industry-centric feedback on the matter, too: "As far as ATVI and the GH franchise, they should be afraid of Harmonix, MTV and EA. Typically when you spend over a hundred million dollars for an IP, you should also get the guys that made it. It was a massive business blunder to think that buying the GH name and publisher would be better than getting the developer." [Ah, and game developer Damion Schubert also asks 'Has Guitar Hero Lost Its Way?']

Well, it's probably not a massive blunder yet - the Guitar Hero franchise is still selling hundreds of thousands of its earlier iterations. But it's good to see that the original creators still have a lot of the power, here, due to strong alliances with MTV and Electronic Arts. And Harmonix's purchase price ($175 million) values the IP-less developer ahead of the IP itself. Now that's karma, eh?