So for the past few years you guys have been living it big. Guitar Hero was successful enough to garner a sequel, good for you. This shit was so popular that Guitar Hero got picked up by a much larger company. Then came another sequel… and another… and another. You even made games based on bands, that’s really cool too. You brought awareness to rock music, again, that is also commendable. Harmonix, Boston based creators of Guitar Hero, decided to be cool and came out with Rock Band. Sweet. Some bands even got somewhat famous due to being included in these games. Hell, that itself is the best thing about all of this. But honestly, as a long time gamer and a pseudo-credible musician, this shit really irritates me now and all of this non-sense should really chill out for a bit. Read on and I will explain why, I think these games are bogus.
So the year is 2002. I’m a young male with a license and a passion for King of Fighters. I pack my station wagon’s speakers full of brutal death metal, I believe the band is Devourment. I tear ass to the largest arcade in the area with at least $20 bucks to blow fifty-cents at a time on prime 2D ass kicking. King of Fighters 2002 is out and the line is long and very talented. While waiting my turn to get roflpwnt by some asian guy that speaks not a word of English (or American as the rest of the world puts it), I notice a huge arcade cabinet with two controllers that sort of resemble guitars chained to it. After about an hour of getting my ass handed to me I make my way over to the machine with the guitar-like devices.
The game is called Guitar Freaks. It has a lot of Japanese music blaring through it’s speakers and enough flashing neon to make any normal person instantly die from an epileptic seizure. I pick up a controller, and notice 3 buttons at the top of the headstock. Where one would normally hit the strings of a guitar with a pick, lies a grey plastic triangular bar that goes both up and down. I watch the game’s demo mode and feel confident that I won’t waste $1 in twenty seconds. I was fucking wrong. That game handed me my ass faster than Charlie Chan parked over at KoF 02 with a 53 win streak. I try it again though and I get the hang of it quickly. You hit the strum bar as one would a guitar string at the same time a blip comes down to the strum line. You have to hit the button that matches the color of the blip falling down rapidly. Easy concept and with only 3 buttons, it should be a cakewalk. Long story short… It isn’t. Not at all. I spend about 5 bucks in the game and walk away. Overall I enjoyed my experience though, even being able to get through three songs before it was game over.
On my way out I notice an arcade cabinet of similar design to Guitar Freaks, but with electronic drums in the front. This one is known as Drummania. It is love at first sight and after I watch another asian kid have what looked like very precise involuntary arm spasms (we’re talking a 1000+ note streak here), I sit down and load up my dollar in the coin hopper and give the game a whirl. The same exact campy J-pop is bukkaked all over the song selection menu as Guitar Freaks a few machines down. I do my best to pick an easier mode and start the song. I was elated. I broke the zipper in my jeans and with the busted teeth on it, ripped up the sides of my throbbing two handed “broad”sword (GET IT?!), and nearly passed out. The game whooped an unprecedented amount of ass. I fell in love. A few more dollars gone and I have too much happy j-pop stuck in my head and just enough cash for some pizza, MMMMMM.
A few years go by and I play the crap out of these and other cool rhythm games that you may have never heard of. I hit up a Best Buy and see a display for Guitar Hero. Glancing over the box I realize it is exactly like Guitar Freaks, but with Megadeth and Ozzy in it. I buy it and bring it home. For about a week straight the game saw hours upon hours of play, each day. I even get to the point where I can play “Symphony of Destruction” on hard without looking at the screen at all. I grew tired of it fast though. Way too many boring songs for my liking. So I was excited when Guitar Hero 2 was announced. I went to an awesome local game store for a midnight release party for the game and bought it. It was much better and had way more songs and a lot more metal. I was very happy. But that game too, got stale really fast. I ended up watching people play my copy of the game more than I ever played it.
The game has some sort of weird hold on people that aren’t musicians and it irks me. No one seemed to give a dead moose’s last shit about real instruments anymore. Everyone just cared about how many stars they could get on “Jordan” Expert than actually picking up an instrument. People didn’t care about others being able to actually play the songs they were playing in the game on a real instrument. That, to me, is the most disheartening thing about all of it. The South Park episode “Guitar Queer-o” covered that perfectly, I think.
In light of all this, Rock Band did something right and introduced the drums to the mix. The Drums are the only instrument that can be properly translated into this style of game play with it’s original feel and flavor in tact. Then I saw the pieces of shit they called drums that came with it and I was appalled. They were flimsy and the pedal didn’t seem much more structurally sound than a construction paper replica. I still gave it a shot and overall I could live with the experience. What was kind of disappointing was the fact that in a bunch of songs, they would place kick drum hits that weren’t even there in the song. Those issues aside, drumming in the game is fun enough and seemed to be passable to the point where it was successful.
Naturally Rock Band 2 comes out and more people go ape-shit over it. Guitar hero 3 comes out too. Guitar Hero: Metallica, Beatles, and Van Halen (a game so awesome and requested that it was never released formally and came bundled with another game)… they just keep coming out. The madness will not end. They even have a DJ Hero coming out. WHAT. A. JOKE. Yeah, that’s so original that I keep referring to it as “Beatmania” and “IIDX” (Too-Dee-Eks) purely by accident and not at all because those are DJ games that came out like 10 years ago or anything. That brings me to a point I was easing on into: These games aren’t even original at all. Yeah, sure, something doesn’t have to be original to be cool. I wasn’t the first human being to breath or walk, and I rule harder than most, but I at least don’t have a legion of ignorant fans that have no idea what my roots are.
Thats not to say there aren’t any good points to the games. Again, the drumming is cool and fun. Oh, I already mentioned that. Ummmmmm… The games have famous musicians in them? Bah, who gives a crap? Oooooh look at me, I’m an angst-ridden junkie from Seattle, I can sing songs by terrible pop bands and do lines off of a moving bus, ooooo la la! Hey Kurt, mind if I borrow that shotgun? I’m just gonna go ahead and take it anyway, I have a feeling you won’t be needing it for a while. Oh and fuck Guitar Hero for trying to put me up against Tom Morello in a guitar battle. Not that I’m afraid that he will out-play me, because he won’t… actually thats why. He sucks. I can recreate all of his “solos” by shoryuken’ing my dong against a detuned guitar with a little reverb and some delay on it. Maybe a tiny bit of flange too. What a tool.
I know a ton of people are going to going to tell me to “an hero” and call me really hurtful names whilst being barely able to spell said insults, but I don’t care and I most likely could fuck up most of those people, so whatever. I’m fucking sick and tired of these games. The Japanese beat you to the punch and did it better, with less buttons too. Their games are a lot more fun to play, even if I can’t read half of the menus. I would rather spend 20 bucks a week to travel to an arcade that has Drummania, and pay to play each time, than buy Rock Band once.
It is also cool that a local Massachusetts based business could create such a popular product and I’m sure the higher-ups at Harmonix and Activision could care less about anything now, but they could cut the shit and stop saturating the game market with these, now stale, lumps of shit. Possibly release like 1 mega-huge game between longer intervals? Maybe make the games have lasting power? I don’t know, but something needs to be done. (don’t bring up the fact that these games are helping sell consoles, I get it and that is also good). Moderation is key, guys.
I know no one is going to give a fuck that I said any of this shit, but as much as I hate these games now, I’m concerned too. Concerned about actual music. Concerned about the people that can’t help being a moron and that has to buy every single game that comes out in the series because they are “collectors”. That also applies to all of the downloadable songs (I am going to get my band on the downloadable songs section, call me a hypocrite all you want, I don’t care). Not to forget all of the peripherals that everyone is making for the games that range from totally amazing to complete welfare garbage. People are acting like this shit is Pokemon, gotta fuckin’ collect ’em all, all while the companies gotta collect all yo’ munnies.
It is a genius idea though. Play into the general public’s lack of musical talent and make them feel like they are a rock star. It is perfect and no-one suspects a damn thing. With the money being blown on full Rock Band set ups, you can almost buy a full Real Band set up. If you are doubting that claim, you are very ignorant about how well sites like Craiglist and Ebay work. Let me break down my semi-professional bass rig set up in a list.
- SX Jazz Bass knock off: $95 from a really nice fellow. Found on Craigslist. The instrument maybe Chinese and have semi-shitty electronics, but it is the best feeling bass I have ever played in over 10 years. No bullshit.
- Peavey 410 TX bass cabinet: $120 used from Daddy’s Junky Music. The cab is a tank and can handle serious power. It is also reliable.
- Randall Switchmaster 150 guitar head: Free for me, I think my bandmate bought it for abour $100 bucks. Its 120 watts of tubed power. It is a guitar amp, but sounds killer… seriously, sounds a lot like The Killers‘ bass tone. Old-school Yes is another good comparison. Bullet-proof head.
That is my set up that I use in all venues small and large. I get told to turn it down a lot too. So my out-of-pocket cost was $215. Total was $315. With the money most people into the Guitar Hero/Rock Band “scene” spend, that is chump change. Just because the instruments are real, doesn’t mean they have to be expensive. Fender, Ibanez, Dean, BC Rich, Epiphone, LTD, First Act, SX, etc all have beginner packages for both bass and acoustic/electric guitar, reasonably priced, and with a lot of quality. Drums can be found for around $100 for everything if you keep an eye out on Craigslist or Ebay or even a yard sale. Be informed and be observant, deals are to be found everywhere, so don’t miss out.
Why be a virtual rock star when you can be a real one? It honestly doesn’t take much more effort to do the real thing (and in the case of the drums, it is exactly the same skills being used). To the companies all around that are leeching off the success of this shit: Give it a little rest please. It’s almost as annoying as all of those sports games that come out every half-second.
Want to know who the real Guitar Heroes are? The people that put their heart and soul into real music. People that work dead-end jobs to support their children but still somehow find the time to teach themselves multiple instruments and play shitty gigs that no-one gives a fuck about. People that no matter what, keep writing music and keep evolving as a musician despite how much attention he/she gets from it. I could give a fuck a less if you can get 1,000,000,000% on Through the Fire and the Flames, because Dragonforce sucks giant hawgs, and because that shit doesn’t matter. If you can write and record every instrument to a simplistic pop song, vocals and all, I will give you more credit than Capital One can give to everyone who turns 18. Seriously.