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Established with the GuitarFreaks and Guitar Hero franchises, the Note Highway has become the common-standard for the modern rhythm game boom. Game developers Konami created the Note Highway with their 1998 arcade release of GuitarFreaks. Since then, the Note Highway has been used in all Guitar Hero games to date and also in the Rock Band franchise, both developed by Harmonix.
The Note Highway itself is a scrolling bar that starts in the middleground of the screen and moves forward to the player at the bottom of the screen. The notes themselves scroll down the highway on separate paths. These notes are differentiated by different colours, often blue, green, red, yellow and orange are used. When the notes reach the bottom of the screen and hit their respective button, the player must hit that particular "fret" button on their guitar or pad on their drum kit. on their instrutment. The number of coloured depends on the instrutment. In both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises, five coloured buttons are used on their respective guitar controllers. Though, for drums, Guitar Hero uses five pads and a kick pedal where as Rock Band only uses four and a kick pedal.
Singular notes are not the only types of notes used on a Note Highway. One note type often seen is the sustained note. These notes must be held down for a period of time on guitars or hit on rapidly when using drums. Their length is determined by a small line that follows behind the note. For additional points when playing on the guitar, the player can use the whammy bar found on their controller. This distorts the sound and can gain the player extra points as well as Star Power/Overdrive when used on certain notes. Another note type seen (when playing on guitar) are chords. These are two notes of different colours that are side-by-side and must be hit at the same time. Two button chords are often seen but when the difficulty is turned up, three buttons chords appear as well. For more difficult songs, Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs come into play. When a set of this notes appear, all the players has to do is hit the first note sucessfully and then they can tap the rest of the notes without having to strum, However, if a player misses a note then they must hit another Hammer-On/Pull-Off note before they can continue their zero strum guitar playing.
In addition to the pads used on a drum controller, kick pedals also come into play. These "kick notes" are different from the other notes. Instead of appearing a certain colour button on the highway, kick pedal notes are small lines that cross the highway horizontially. When the line reaches the bottom of the highway, the player must then hit the kick pedal on their drum controller. In the Guitar Hero games, this kick pedal note is also used when playing bass and the player encounters "open notes". These are notes that are just strummed and no buttons have to be pressed.