We built this city…
So, we have Rock Band. The purchasing of which was primarily precipitated by my roommate Brian’s winning a PS3 in a holiday raffle1, and us needing games for it.
We’ve been down with Guitar Hero since the first game. Right around the time Guitar Hero II came out I was unemployed for a period of around six months, with a really good severance package (best and worst job I’ve ever had, remind me to talk about it sometime) and unemployment benefits. This was also the post-production period on RvD2. So I had no job to speak of, and when I tired of rotoscoping lightsabers, I turned my attention to Freebird.2
We also had Guitar Hero on the set of the film I shot this summer — not only GH2, but Guitar Hero Encore: Rockin’ the 80s.
Point is, I really played a lot of Guitar Hero this past year. When I played Encore, and when GH3 came out, I started off in “Hard”. Not “Easy” or “Medium.” Admittedly, not “Expert” either, but I’m not familiar with a lot of these songs. And now with Rock Band I find myself doing the same (and playing on “Expert” the songs I do know).
I’m something of a musician. I was in marching band in high school. I played first chair clarinet and I was Drum Major my junior year.3 And I’m a little ashamed to admit that I sight-read the songs in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band series far, far better than I ever sight-read actual sheet music.
There are some annoying bits, I will say. First off, the upgrade to PS3 means wireless controllers for all. Which is, you know, cool in the sense of less clutter, but also means battery life and signal strength and such become an issue.
The drum set is cool and Brian really likes it. Which is good, because I’m going to need a LOT of practice before I can play those worth a tin shit. From what I hear, unlike the guitar, if you can learn the coordination necessary to play the drum “controller”, you’ve basically learned the skills necessary to play a real drum kit. It certainly takes a fair bit of concentration, although it was 2AM and I was starting to really fuck up on the guitar before we tried switching. So maybe when I’m fully awake I won’t have quite so much trouble.
The “Overdrive” (formerly “Star Power”) little gyroscope or whatever fucking device they have that registers the guitar tilting “towards the heavens” is broken, but it turns out that pressing “Select” also activates it. Takes a little getting used to, but the button is right by my pinky as I strum so it’s not a huge problem.
The huge problem is that apparently there’s such a thing as strumming “too hard” on these things. All us Guitar Heros are used to strumming until we hear that solid “click”. If we don’t hear the “click” the note doesn’t register. Well, the new guitars do away with the solid “click”, presumably to cut down on the amount of clicking and clacking you do when you’re SUPPOSED to be rocking out. That’s cool, although I miss the tactile sense that I DEFINITELY hit the note. But something is wrong with our guitar, because if you do more than just SLIGHTLY tweak the strum bar, it registers as two notes and fucks the score and multiplier.
Apparently, along with the tilt-sensor, this is not an uncommon issue with these guitars. We’re getting a presumably “working” one on exchange.
Exchange or no, the little “solo” keys higher up on the neck are fucking pointless. A solo almost invariably will dovetail directly with a previous phrase, so there’s no time to even shoot your hand down there, much less actually LOOK at the guitar to make sure you’re pressing the right goddamn buttons. Also, they have the “benefit” of not needing to be strummed during the solos, but you can just press the right button at the right time.
The problem is, part of being able to play the game really well means I’ve trained myself to press the appropriate button a split-second BEFORE the note arrives, so it is ready for the attendant strum. Well, in high-fret solo mode that just means I fuck up EVERY SINGLE NOTE by a split second for the first half of the solo, and then I start to concentrate really hard and overthink what I’m doing and wind up fucking up the SECOND half, too.
Luckily, it’s perfectly possible to play the solos just like any other part of the song, with the regular frets and strums (presumably for backwards-compatibility with Guitar Hero controllers), so like the “Overdrive” problem, I don’t ultimately really have to deal with it.
The singing part of the game is quite fun and I do pretty well with it, so I’m looking forward to doing that more when we’ve got the whole “band” together. I’ve even done a trial run of singing WHILE doing the guitar. So far I can manage “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Learn to Fly.” But no REAL point in that, ultimately, since the idea is to make it a four-player game and we’ll have four players here for it.
Still, I wanted to see how difficult it was for the real rockers who play and sing. I can only conclude it’s pretty tough, because it’s damn hard in the game.
A quick word about song choice: AWESOME selection in Rock Band (GH3’s song selection left a great deal to be desired for me) and I’m looking forward to the day we unlock “Epic”, among many others.
Last comment: I’ve always wondered how musical performers could play/sing the same song every night on tour for, like, 20 years. Madonna still does “Like a Virgin” in her concerts, I hear. I got a taste of that life our first night with Rock Band. Between all the occasions where the game chooses a “random” song to challenge you on, and the few songs we’d unlocked, we wound up playing “Creep” and “Say it Ain’t So” about a million times each, and I was going kind of nuts.
- “Holiday raffle” is a gross oversimplification of how he won the PS3, but that’s another story and he can get his own blog.↩
- I was over the moon when I heard that they were putting Freebird in GH2. THAT song takes a Guitar Hero.↩
- I would have been Drum Major my senior year, too, but they dissolved the program to put more budget money on our shitty football team. The year I was drum major we took Sweepstakes (basically a Best in Show award) at every competition; the football teams never even made it to local playoffs. I’m pretty bitter about the dissolution of the band — and moreso about the administration’s baldfaced lies that they were doing “everything they could” to keep the program afloat — but at least we went out on top.↩