In The Guitar Hero That Never Got Made, People Can’t Even Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll

In The Guitar Hero That Never Got Made, People Can’t Even Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll

Quick question: does anyone remember the plot of Guitar Hero III? Does anyone remember if it had one? You might remember that Slash, Axl Rose and Bret Michaels showed up in the threequel, which was the first game in the franchise after it moved to Activision. But that’s about all that was memorable about Guitar Hero III. Well, except for the lawsuits.

Designer Joe Kowalski used to work at Harmonix. He also had a frikkin’ killer idea for Guitar Hero III.

This weekend, he told an audience at the Babycastles Summit — which brought together creators from the worlds of art and video games at the Museum of Art and Design — about the threequel he wanted to make. When he was at the Boston-based developer, Kowalski and then co-worker Steve Kimura pitched a GHIII that would have featured an actual plot, one that explained a weird bit of dissonance in every guitar-based music game.

He and Kimura always wondered at the idea that players were supposed to be becoming an awesome group of world-famous musicians by essentially being a cover band. That question sparked the idea behind Guitar Hero 3: Rockapocalypse, which would be set in a world where classic rock tunes would be long-lost powerful weapons against evil tyranny. The pitch video above was cobbled together in a weekend and actually had some traction for a while within Harmonix. While Rockapocalypse never happened, it did help Kowalski land at Double Fine where he crafted the awesome Brutal Legend menus.


Kowalski primarily designs graphics like the iconic Guitar Hero and Rock Band logos and user interfaces. (The GIF to the left shows the evolution of the logo.) His talk was titled “Making Things No One Asked For” and the main thrust was that his career was able to take meaningful turns when he did stuff that no one needed when no one was watching, like the Guitar Hero logo that he made in a weekend. The Rockapocalypse pitch video was one of those things, too. No one asked for it, but it’s something that led to a great opportunity at Double Fine and could have been incredibly cool on its own.


  • Ummm, Axel Rose was not in GH3. He gave his permission for them to use a GnR song in it (and sued when he found out Slash was portrayed to be playing it, as that linked article mentions) but he was not in it himself.

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