Archive for category Video Games

Cheating at The Beatles: Rock Band

My favorite thing about the game is the harmonizing and the way it increases the feeling that you're really in a band, but if you're all about the score (or bereft of friends), feel free to take advantage of these two pieces of information:

  1. The different singers do not have to sing different parts
  2. The multiple scores are based solely on having multiple microphones

In this case, 1 + 2 equals, "If you stick three microphones in front of your face and start wailing, you'll be credited as three singers, including the double and triple bonuses". Kids, you're only cheating yourselves.

Free to a Harmonix Home, Rock Band Idea

Why doesn't Rock Band allow you to create additional cities and venues? Nothing fancy, just the ability to set a city name and country, then create some venues. Venues would just let you select from the existing arenas and clubs1 (the 3D animation tool for user-created venues feels like more of an RB3 thing). It seems like an obvious idea for selling more content: allow for users to download cities from other users or Harmonix, but require them to have x downloaded songs to be able to use the city. Maybe the venue creation could have a recommended genre for what types of songs to choose from a user's collection, but not require specific songs.

Except in one case: if a label wanted to set up a "city" that contained historic venues a group played at on their rise to stardom and require you to buy various tracks to use them, that seems like a really cool way for labels to increase artists' sales in Rock Band (or Guitar Hero). It'd be like a low-cost version of Rock Band: Beatles for any group that cared to take the time/ money to get the venues created.

1. I am, of course, ignoring the legal issues that could arise from letting people create venues with names like "This place in my hometown sucks b@!!s", but it's my post and I'll do so if I want to.

Welcome, Virtual Overlords

Two interesting debuts on ESPN's pre-game show, both about blurring the line between the virtual and the real. The first, projected fantasy stats for players across the league, feels stupid. If experts can't even predict the outcome of games, if injury reports are suspect, how the hell are they going to get individual player stats correct? It's something that feels dumb now and there's no reason it would get better. Sports are a random information generator; they play the games because the outcomes (in general) are impossible to predict.

The second was immediately arresting. Madden has long been part of the media's coverage of the NFL. Until now, it's been used to predict games which, like the fantasy stats idea, doesn't work. In the last few seasons, they've used it to demonstrate in-game scenarios. But now ESPN (with EA SPORTS Virtual Playbook) has pulled individual player models out of the game and put them on the studio's demonstration field, interacting with the hosts.  It's clunky right now. Blowing the players up to life size shows just how little detail is in the hundreds of thousands of polygons game companies brag about. The hosts don't have an equivalent to a teleprompter yet: at times, Tom Jackson was further from the models than he meant to be. He walked around gingerly like he was going to knock something over. Of course, it's impressive how well it went. It must take a lot of preparation to choreograph. Its easy enough for a weatherman to interact with a blank, non-moving surface behind him: just watch the rendered version on the monitor in front. I can't see how to help a host mix with virtual beings seamlessly in three dimensions, but someone will figure it out. When they do, ESPN's got a great advantage over other shows: the ability to bring viewers directly into the eyes of players. Virtual worlds like Second Life always get a ton of attention as they fit nicely with how science fiction films saw people moving into virtual worlds, but it's more interesting to see virtual worlds come into our space.

A Confession

I bought GTA IV, played it for a week and then stopped. Some of it is Rock Band's fault, but mainly the game doesn't do it for me anymore. GTA III was an amazing experience. Vice City was more of the same fun. By San Andreas, it just feels like work: go here, get this, do that, drive around. Even driving around looking for new stuff doesn't thrill me. I bought the most recent copy hoping all the glowing reviews reflected something new. Junot Diaz sums it up for the WSJ:

GTA III was the tipping point: Everything else after was, no matter how awesome, just another better brighter, smoother version of the same . . . What else is the new GTA not? Well, despite all the critical adulation over GTA IV's characters and purported subtlety, this isn't a game that is nuanced or subtle.

If you like the article even just a tiny bit, I heartily recommend Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And it's nice to think of the WSJ copyeditors having to ok the article's language as is.

Holden+ C64 = Love

Rock Band Track Production

Interesting to me for the bits they discovered in well-known songs' master tracks:

Even a seminal punk band like the Clash yielded some surprises. Even wonder why the drums sound so good on “I Fought the Law”? Because there’s two drummers on it (or more likely, drummer Topper Headon recorded his part twice)—something that became clear when Brosius picked the mix apart. Thus, the drum parts you play in Rock band are a composite of those two original drum tracks. The Spanish backup vocals that you’re used to hearing on the middle verse of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” originally ran through the whole song; and the parts are still there on the tapes—You can hear a little more of the Spanish bits on Rock Band than you can on the record


On Sordidness

In the interests of keeping fun levels low, the first thing that happened after I created my Rock Band band was a warning that while I could name the band "Trucker Sex" if I wanted to, it would appear as "ROCKBAND1" or some generic placeholder text. This is to prevent offending the legions of small children who've spent $170 on a game for their $300-500 console. It also suggests a deep disconnect between theory and implementation; who's protecting me from being called any number of inaccurate ethnic and sexist slurs by those kids on X-Box Live? No one, that's who, which is why my headset is still in the packaging a year later.

Is "Trucker Sex" truly offensive? I don't think so. I think it's sordid. It was two words that came together one night (and left each other early the next morning) in a perfect coupling. I like sordid. The Hold Steady1, 2, Raymond Chandler3, James Ellroy, I've got 0 interest in starting each day with tallboys and booger sugar, but I sure as hell like hearing about it. It's every "bad" kid when you were growing up, that feeling of being scared and feeling sad for them at the same time. Didn't even want to be invited to Krylon huffing parties, but it's fun to imagine it. So cram it, failed nanny from Washington state (and cram that tone of "Do you really want to go through with this"; you ought to be praising me for spelling two consecutive words correctly given typical video game message board dross). We're sticking with the name. Heck, the first couple covers (inspired by chico's inspired design exercise) are already in progress.

1. "White wine and some tallboy cans. They powered up and they proceeded to jam, man."

2. "Mary's got a bloody nose from sniffing Margarita mix."

3. "I had been shot so full of dope to keep me quiet that I was having the French fits coming out of it. That accounted for the smoke and the little heads on the ceiling light. The doped whisky was probably part of somebody else's cure."