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Sunshine, lollipops and – Rock Band?

posted on November 3rd, 2007 by christian

I’m not sure what to name the Guitar Hero/Rock Band fan community, as they are far from the only rhythm games in the world, and “western rhythm games” sounds retarded. Let’s just say that in this not-yet-named community, the majority of fans realize and accept that both Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band have strengths and weaknesses. Some players may prefer one over the other, but they also have enough reason to give them both a try, and maybe even a purchase.

Still, while the mass market seems to stand by Guitar Hero and its now titanium strong name brand, there is a contingent of folks who have sworn an oath to Harmonix and Rock Band, citing that a game with more instruments just has to be better (amirite?).

No.

As anyone who has played Guitar Hero knows, whoever doesn’t get to play lead guitar in co-op is often screwed over with a really mundane bassline. Thankfully, there are ways around it – since we’re only dealing with two people, it is very simple to alternate who plays what part. With Rock Band the problem grows larger. Now you have twice as many parts to deal with, and finding a full set list in which everyone is happy all the time is an impossible task. It was easy to guess that there would be some songs in which different instruments might be a little bit bored. Actually, there was no guessing involved – as much as I enjoy Nevermind, I don’t think every song on the album has a rollicking bass and drum part.

Now we have the proof, thanks to this interview at MTV Games. And I quote:

We look for songs that have great interactions between parts and good band moments,” Brosius said. “Or sometimes we find songs that one or two instruments are just great even if the other two aren’t the most interesting – that’s what part of what being in a band is. Sometimes you get to step forward and do your thing, and other times you’re just holding it together while other people in the band do their thing.”

This doesn’t sit well with me at all. Of course not every song is going to face this problem, but I don’t at all buy the idea of sacrificing my fun for the rest of my plastic band, especially when I’m paying more for the game than a PS2. I’m glad Harmonix is bing ambitious, but we play games for fun, plain and simple. If I want the sacrifice that comes from being in a band, I’ll pick up my trumpet again and do some jazz.

This is at least one advantage that Guitar Hero in its current form has. It is fairly simple, so the developers can pick songs that focus exclusively on guitar (and a few bass) parts. I can already see my friends and I shuffling around in Rock Band, and considering only one of us actually wants to grab the mic, there may very well be more arguing than playing.

Conclusion – I’ve been a Harmonix fan since before Guitar Hero even existed, having cut my teeth on Frequency, Amplitude and a bit of Karaoke Revolution. I love the guys and the idea they have for Rock Band. It is clear however that the formula is going to need some fine tuning, and much like the original Guitar Hero, this first entry will help them learn some valuable lessons. That also means that some of the kids in the Harmonix Army need to calm down a bit before running out and buying what may boil down for them into a $160 copy of Guitar Hero. This genre still has some room to grow and plenty of room for competition. The last thing we need is a return to blatant, Bemani style fanboyism in which nothing but the original is acceptable.

8 Comments

  1. GoldenJew said on November 4, 2007:

    Christian, this is a really good point to bring up, and one I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately as well. Personally, I think that your concerns are valid (especially if you consider the $160 price tag of the game), but hopefully will ultimately be not a showstopper.

    While it is true that you have the concerns you speak of affecting the bass/rhythm guitar and the drummer, I do have to agree with MTV’s assertion that sometimes certain instruments have to “suck it up and take one for the team.” I played some drums in college, and the fact of the matter is that rock drums, except for notable drum solo songs, are generally somewhat boring (yes, there are exceptions and plenty of decent songs, let’s not make the comment section a naming contest). Jazz is much more interesting to play. But, let’s face it, people who play Jazz get beat up, whereas rock drummers get laid a lot. The guitar issue will remain– but I think that you can still have guitarists swap off. It’s not really going to affect the people who sing (which tend to be a more limited crowd, I’m definitely never going to touch the microphone for fear of harming my friends aurally), and people who like to play drums are just going to be glad to play with their friends without investing $2k in a drum set.

    MY LIFE FOR HARMONIX. I SHALL MURDER CHRISTIAN AS PROOF OF MY ALLEGIANCE!

  2. Matt said on November 5, 2007:

    I played the demo of Rockband with the drums and microphone, and I had an amazing time with it. I was on vocals for Black Hole Sun, and I immediately fell in love with it. I was having so much fun that I’m now interested in buying those SingStar games. That AMPED! version sounds awesome.

    I will buy Rockband too. While Guitar Hero 3 is a great game, I can’t really justify it in my heart. I have Guitar Hero 2, so I’ve already experienced that kind of game. Rockband brings it to the next level. For me, anyway.

  3. christian said on November 5, 2007:

    The game is going to be different things for different people.

    For me, if I can’t play with my friends often, the $170 price tag is insane. Sure I can play each instrument alone, but I don’t want to. If you can get people together a lot (or over Live), its going to be fantastic. But if you can’t all stick with an instrument, or everyone wants to play the same one, problems will ensue. I’ve been in a real band, and while sacrifice is a part of it, its a bit different when playing a real instrument that has more technique to it, and you only have one shot at a performance.

    I’m not going to “sacrifice” anything in a video game. That’s just absurd.

    All I’m really trying to say is that Rock Band is a massive, massive game, kind of like Steel Battalion. While it will do better than that example, I still don’t see this outselling Guitar Hero, which is cheaper and much easier to pick up and play.

    Why in the world is this hard for people to swallow?

  4. TrueTallus said on November 5, 2007:

    If people can put up with loot sharing in MMO guilds, you’d think there has to be a market for the kind of group mentality backed suffering band members will have to go through in Rock Band. Sometimes the fun isn’t just about immediate gratification, and with the proper marketing and project image or whatever, I think it’s entirely possible to reach out to the sizable segment of the world that would appreciate that kind of cooperation and forgive the frustration that often goes with it. Hopefully the high price tag will help people realize that maybe this isn’t meant to be quite the same thing as 3 player Guitar Hero. It’s supposed to be about the BAND, man!

  5. GoldenJew said on November 5, 2007:

    I also think the question is what are we talking about in terms of “sacrifice.” Is it the mind numbing, grinding horror of MMOs (yeah, I’m biased), or is it a few songs that are mildly uninteresting to play on an instrument, but is canceled out by the “group” experience? I’m also biased because I play constantly with my roommate, and also have several friends I know who are getting the game.

    Without sounding like a douche, I also think that it depends on your mindset when you go into the game. Is it hedonistic pleasure that should be all reward (a phenomena I think that is rapidly exiting video games and being replaced by extreme-ism, especially in online play), or should there be “work”? Are you approaching it like a musician, or a gamer?

    But I think you said it yourself– Rock Band will be different things to different people. The only way to settle this… is Halo 3.

  6. christian said on November 5, 2007:

    the best thing about this debate is that I’ll still have the game by year’s end, provided I can find a job :)

  7. jay said on November 5, 2007:

    This has reminded me I want a band. Anyone play anything and into Swedish melodic death metal?

  8. GoldenJew said on November 5, 2007:

    How about Jewish Heavy Folk Punk? 8 DAYS OF DANCING AND BANGING BITCHES! WOOO CHANNUKAH!

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