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Media Consumption: RedOctane's John Tam (Guitar Hero)

For this week’s Media Consumption, a column that looks at the media diets of our favorite industry personalities, we spoke to John Tam, executive producer for RedOctane’s Guitar Hero series, on his favor
For this week’s Media Consumption, a column that looks at the media and art diets of our favourite industry personalities, we spoke to John Tam, executive producer for RedOctane’s Guitar Hero series. Following the immense success and cult-like popularity of the first game, it came as no surprise to hear that RedOctane, now owned by Activision, would be releasing a sequel, which will be hitting stores in early November. “We obviously are very excited for a big launch for Guitar Hero II,” says Tam. “It was something that was missing when we were more like the ‘indie publisher’ label we somehow got. Having another year to work on it has produced amazing results - we are all very proud of the way it shaped up and anticipate hitting the right chord with our most ardent fans.” “In regards to upcoming plans,” he continues. “The only thing we've announced thus far has been the 360 version of Guitar Hero II [which is due out sometime in 2007]. RedOctane is like a multi-burner stove and we like to believe that we've got a few pots on there at once. We'll let you all know when something's ready be served.” We caught up with Tam via email to check out the directions his media tastes have been pushing him lately. Sounds: "As my formative years were in the 80's, this makes me a sucker for 80's Brit invasion and R&B. I grew up feeling like I fell in between two strong musical influences. One was the 80's electronica movement with Depeche Mode, New Order, Oingo Boingo, Erasure, etc. On the other hand I also listened to stuff like Boyz II Men. It also makes me an odd fit for Guitar Hero. I think for Guitar Hero, I've learned what will play really well but I've left it with the two committees at RedOctane and Harmonix to determine the exact songs that go on the disk. I know rock from its stronghold on our culture, but it's not the genre that I gravitated to first, this is why I took myself out of the loop directly. I trust our process and only step in when it gets too heated. I lean on others and believe that song selection needs to come from a select committee instead of one individual. We have plenty of huge rock fans that are more familiar with every single song from all of the right artists we need in the game. They introduce me to the music that just fits. In our house, the RAWK is actually my wife’s and for this project I've dug deep into her CD collection. She's the actual musician. I was late to the party for rock, but I am loving it these days. What's exciting me is that many young artists are taking influences from classic bands. I'm loving Wolfmother. I love the sound even though many say that they are too much like Zep. They are very guitar driven so I love that. I also see a wave of 80's keyboard driven music making a comeback. Blasphemy, I know..." Moving Pictures: "Movies have been tough for me to get out to with infant twins. I think that I last saw Superman Returns...enjoyed, that would have to be V for Vendetta. For me Superman Returns re-writes too much of the mythology I'm familiar with. There have been some alternative stories but this one I did not like. Singer putting the Cyclops actor [from X-Men] in there sucked for me. It just broke the DC/Marvel rift. V For Vendetta just was well directed. It felt like a comic book and Superman didn't as much. I also wasn't familiar with V For Vendetta so the story seemed fresh and new to me. I'm a huge fantasy fan so I've really enjoyed the adaptations of Tolkien and Lewis. [The Chronicles of] Narnia and the Lord of the Ringstrilogy were just awesome." Words: "As a kid at heart, I have loved the Harry Potter series - like all good kid stories, it's just fun. I think that the stories are empowering for the inner child in all of us. Harry's growth into a punky adolescent boy is very believable now. I can't wait for the next book. I also grew up on Lewis and Tolkien. Everything fantasy now is derivative. When these books were written they were so strong, original and deep that they set the tone for all other fantasy books following. I read all of the Tolkien books when I was like 11 or 12. I developed an increased vocabulary just because of them. I haven't gotten much time to read actual books lately." Games: "I went through big waves. I started in console games for platformers and adventure games. I had to play 8-bit at a friend’s house so I was never very good; I ended up always at the local liquor store till my meagre funds wore out. In college, I was a Street Fighter Major for a while and this transitioned over to the SNES so we had to get one. I even made my own joysticks, soldering arcade controls to a SNES PCB mounted in a wood box. Little did I know that this would eventually lead to Guitar Hero guitars some day. SNES also introduced me to great 16 bit games like Super Mario World, Zelda, Mario Kart, Star Fox. Castlevania IV, Donkey Kong Country, Earthworm Jim…I can go on and on. I still have our collection as part of my huge video game collection that I keep. I was big into 16-bit Japanese RPG's; Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger were favorites, as well as the N64 Zelda games. Later, I went into a multiplayer faze - everything from Bomberman to Quake. In the last handful of years, I've been into music and rhythm games. I've played every single beatmatching and rhythm game released since working for RedOctane, but the game I loved the most prior to coming here was Samba De Amigo. For me this game feels like you are playing that instrument. You hear it coming from the shakers and it matches the rest of the game. This is what makes it awesome. Now I'm big into portables. I love the pick up and play nature of DS and PSP games that can occupy you for short bursts. Loco Roco was the last title that I very much enjoyed. I have Ultimate Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins but am scared at taking on its difficulty. Animal Crossing was very fun. I shared a house with my wife and we played it till it was paid off. I also loved Nintendogs, Advance Wars DS, Brain Age, Castlevania DS, Mario Kart and so on. There are really too many to list. I'm totally looking forward to Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Developers have gotten pretty creative with this platform."

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