The power of hair compels you

· by Steve · Read in about 6 min · (1074 Words)

I haven’t been able to get Journey’s ‘Any Way You Want It’ out of my head for 2 days now. That’s one of the more nefarious results of picking up Rock Band 2 this week.

It’s had to fight tooth and nail with Left 4 Dead for play time, especially since it’s another primarily co-op game (and the other major one, Gears 2, has already been relegated to the Xmas list), but we’ve squeezed a few hours in so far.

When it comes down to it Rock Band 2 is of course basically an incremental improvement on Rock Band. That might sound like faint praise, if it weren’t for the fact that Rock Band was, until now, head and shoulders my favourite music game of all time. Despite a few minor niggles, Rock Band 1 was consistently the most played game in our house, with 2-4 player sessions a regular staple of our leisure time over the last 6 months. It’s also been a huge money pit as we sacrificed our credit card on the altar of its voluminous DLC. I’d feel bad about the expense if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s given us so many hours of fun in return.

Experience so far is that Rock Band 2 takes everything that was great about Rock Band 1, fixes the minor things that were wrong with the original (like no longer associating a character with just one instrument, and making the band setup quicker), and adds a bunch of minor improvements. Things I’ve liked so far include the inclusion of drum solos (like guitar solos, but for drums, natch), the inclusion of song-specific drum samples for drum fills, and the challenge mode that generates themed challenges from your combined RB1, RB2 and DLC catalogue. Our library is about 230 songs deep now (which is still a fraction of the ~500 tracks available), so it’s nice to have challenge modes which use that breadth.

There’s some hidden gems in the track list so far, tracks I wouldn’t necessarily have picked out in the list but turned out to be a lot of fun to play. Journey’s Any Way You Want It was one, but also Lump (Presidents of the USA), Pump It Up (Elvis Costello), The Middle (Jimmy Eat World) and Shooting Star (Bad Company). And that’s before we start picking out favourites like Everlong (Foo Fighters) and You Oughtta Know (Alanis Morisette). We were very happy to see Carry on Wayward Son (Kansas) back in again too, after a long absence since Guitar Hero 2. Great stuff.

Alternatives

We considered buying Guitar Hero World Tour in addition to RB2, but in the end it didn’t seem worth it. It would be a cheaper way to get 68 more tracks than DLC by pure numbers (18 tracks are common to GHWT and RB2), but  we’d have to switch games to actually get to them (leaving 230 behind) which erodes that value, as does the almost universal opinion that co-op & tour play isn’t as well implemented in GHWT. In practice, spending the money on 26+ (price varies) DLC tracks we can individually choose, and play in the game of our choice, seemed like a better deal. I do hope they release the REM Accelerate tracks on Rock Band sometime though.

Geeky Drum Kit Talk

Talking about GHWT / RB comparisons, I read something about drum charts that really surprised me recently. I always expected that since GHWT has one extra input, that it would allow the drum charts on GHWT to be technically more accurate. According to some people though, the opposite is actually true, and that’s because of the ‘fixed’ nature of the drum setup versus the ‘floating’ setup in Rock Band. It’s weird, but here’s how the argument goes:

  • In a real rock drum set, the standard minimum set up is usually 1 snare, 3 toms, hi-hat, crash and splash cymbals, and bass drum, with the hi-hat actually being 2 discrete states (open and closed).
  • So to replicate a real rock drum set perfectly, you’d actually need 9 inputs.
  • Rock band has 5 inputs (4 pads, kick pedal). It dynamically maps the 4 pads to drum inputs depending on the song: > * Red is usually snare > * Yellow is usually closed hi-hat, but can be a high tom > * Blue can be either open hi-hat, middle tom, or splash cymbal > * Green is usually crash cymbal, but can be low tom
  • GHWT has 6 inputs (including kick pedal), but they’re all fixed to a given function: > * Red is always snare > * Yellow is always hi-hat, no difference between closed & open > * Blue and Green are toms > * Orange is crash cymbal

So, this means that in songs which only use one state of the hi-hat (usually closed), 2-toms, and no separate splash cymbal, the GHWT kit is the most representative, because it directly maps all of those inputs and they’re in correct positions. However, as soon as you have open/closed hi-hats, GHWT will just map both of them to Yellow, while Rock Band will actually make you play open / closed as separate inputs by dynamically mapping the blue as’open’. Also, when you get tom sequences on all 3 toms, the GHWT kit has to map that to just 2 pads, while Rock Band re-maps the kit so that you use Yellow, Blue, and Green, ie you have to play all 3 toms as in the song. As it happens, lots of rock songs include both of these things, and so in these cases, on harder difficulty modes, the GHWT drumkit has to simplify the chart and remove some inputs, while the Rock Band chart can map all the notes individually with some creative remapping.

I would never have thought of this unless someone had pointed it out to me. So a less authentic looking drumkit can actually feel more authentic to play on harder settings, rather counter-intuitively. It seems like unless you can actually replicate all 9 inputs of a real drumkit, having a more abstract layout is actually more flexible than trying to be more literal. The more abstract setup means positioning isn’t exactly right, but the rhythms and separate states you have to create is closer to the original track.

Rather interesting, if like me you’re into that kind of thing. If you’re not, you won’t care 😉