Tag Archives: rock band

Games Music

How did I miss Mute Math in 2007?

Rock Band has come through again for introducing me to music I might not have otherwise have come across; this week’s DLC included ‘Typical’ by Mute Math:

It’s a great track, and I’m definitely buying it – the drum chart in particular is really interesting, very Reni-like. The video was deservedly nominated for a Grammy, but I totally missed it at the time and I don’t remember hearing it on the radio. They were apparently also responsible for the Transformers movie theme, which I guess is pretty high profile, but I didn’t pay much attention, owing to the fact that the Transformers movie was, IMHO, a total shambles once the actual transformers appeared (although perhaps those with ADHD or a chronic amphetamine habit might have enjoyed the following 90 minutes of fast pans and motion blur).

Good stuff anyway.

Games Music

No Rock Band 3 this year

Via CrispyGamer, Harmonix have confirmed what I pretty much suspected, that there will be no Rock Band 3 in 2009. I’m not surprised, they already have the Beatles game in the making for 2009, and unlike Activision, Harmonix aren’t in the business of spamming the world with as many rushed sequels as they can manage before the general public gets bored.

To be honest, I don’t think there’s much they could do to improve Rock Band 2 anyway, it’s a highly polished game and DLC keeps it fresh (and to be honest, I have so many tracks that we already have almost too much choice when we play – not that it will stop me buying more). The only thing I can think of that I would like them to add is optional recognition of separate cymbal inputs, to be compatible with the Rock Band 2 cymbal add-ons and the Ion Drum Rocker, and maybe an optional hi-hat pedal (both kits have a spare port for this to be added). They could do this via subtle icon changes in the drum charts, like they do for hammer-ons and pull-offs in the guitar tracks. Entirely optional so as not to disadvantage people with RB1 kits, and those that don’t want the extra difficulty. Of course the downside of this is that it would further encourage me to blow money on more plastic instruments. (edit: ok I thought of something crucial – a cowbell attachment!).

It’s not as if they need to make another one commercially either. The music game genre may be falling out of fashion, but that’s mostly because casual consumers are being overloaded with too many titles, plus everyone has less of a need to buy retail copies when good DLC is available – how many people skipped RB2 and GH:WT because RB1 + DLC was enough for them, or even GH3 (if they don’t know any better)?. Activision are only interested in multi-billion dollar, recurring retail franchises, so of course it might worry them, but Harmonix have always been dedicated to the music genre, way before it was a commercial success, and so are not just following the money. Rock Band may not sell as many copies as Guitar Hero, because of the brand recognition and better platform coverage, but it doesn’t need to – Harmonix is a smaller, more focussed business that concentrates on pleasing the more serious fans (I’m pretty keen, but so many people on the internet are incredibly serious), who in turn have rewarded them with enough retail and DLC purchases to keep their business easily hitting expectations – as their recent huge bonuses show. I’m sure that more quality DLC plus the guaranteed sales of the Beatles game this year will be quite enough to keep them happy, even if overall the music game genre shrinks when the general public stop buying yet more Guitar Hero. Activision may drop the genre if it starts bringing in less money, but I seriously doubt Harmonix will, it’s in their genes.

Interesting to see them talk about Led Zeppelin again. Good luck with that ;) As for the keyboard interface – not that bothered about it personally. I think the current 4-instrument set-up is plenty.

Games Music

Kravitz-a-thon

Yay, I can tick another artist off my wish list for Rock Band DLC, since it’s been leaked that during January Lenny Kravitz will finally be appearing. Despite petering out a bit around the ‘Baptism’ album (which I thought was a bit weak and self-indulgent), and something of a bounce back with last year’s ‘It Is Time For A Love Revolution’, his 90’s classics are still the best, and that’s where the upcoming RB tracks are picked from.

‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ was one of the classic tracks I was sad to see exclusive to GH:WT originally, so I’m glad it’ll be DLC on Rock Band now. ‘Mr Cab Driver’ is also an excellent track to have. In the other two slots I would have preferred to see the likes of ‘Rock And Roll Is Dead’, ‘Always On The Run’ , ‘Again’, or the fantastically funky retro ‘It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’, but instead we’ve got ‘Let Love Rule’ (great song, but maybe a little slow – I’ll have to look at the charts when they’re out before deciding) and ‘Freedom Train’ which is one of the few Kravitz tracks I don’t have in my collection, but according to this video features possibly the largest confluence of both big hair and wah-wah guitar in one song, ever.

Good job I got some Microsoft Points for Christmas!

Games Music

Snow Patrol no longer overlooked!

Yay, almost as if they read my last post on the subject, Harmonix have stopped overlooking Snow Patrol! Next week on DLC we’ll get ‘Take Back The City’ from their new album, A Hundred Million Suns.

I’d post a video of it here, except that YouTube says that it’s ‘not available in your country’. You know, that same country the damn thing originated from. Grr, getting really irritated by that message these days. Here’s LastFM’s non-embedded version instead.

Oh, and fellow Brits Deep Purple get a track too, ‘Space Truckin’, which just reminds me of a Dennis Hopper film called ‘Space Truckers’ which I caught the end of on TV one time. Wow, that was bad.

Games Music

Harmonix *really* like Foo Fighters

They seriously do. Next week, while predictably there’s a 3-pack of slightly toe-curling but at least somewhat unusual Christmas numbers (and with no Slade, thankfully), they’ve also lined up 3 more Foo Fighters tracks:

  • This is a Call (from debut album ‘Foo Fighters’, 1995)
  • Times Like These (from ‘One by One’, 2002)
  • DOA (from ‘In Your Honor’, 2003)

I’ve been crying out for DOA for ages, so this is great news. The other 2 are also very solid songs too, so this is a definite buy. The crazy thing is, Rock Band now features 17 songs by Foo Fighters, making them the most prolific band on the tracklist – closely followed by Pixies and The Who with 15 and 14 tracks respectively (obviously all these bands have done full albums for Rock Band). This isn’t a bad thing, I’d happily have FF’s entire tracklist on there (and very empty pockets), but I wonder whether it’s Harmonix’s preference, or just that FF (and handlers) are particularly forthcoming / cooperative etc.

Edit: Ok,  I’m wrong – Red Hot Chili Peppers has 20 tracks and AC/DC has 19!

Games Music

Surely it’s time for more British bands on DLC?

This week’s Rock Band DLC has gone a little bit country, which induces me to grimace at horrible, horrible memories of when Shania Twain and Billy Ray Cyrus were on the radio every other day – thank goodness that particular fad has passed before I was forced to go all Van Gogh on myself. But still, music is personal after all, and if you want to listen to hokey tunes with madatory banjo solos, that’s your business. However, I would still consider this to be a ‘niche’, and as such I feel that Harmonix now owe us some more British band DLC, because surely those who appreciate British rock bands must be more numerous than those who are into country. I hope. Sure we’ve had some like David Bowie, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, The Police, The Stone Roses, and Oasis, but come on, Britain has a rich culture of music that is going massively untapped compared to the number of tracks from North American bands.

I can rattle off a huge list of UK bands that have been cruelly overlooked: Arctic Monkeys, The Bluetones, The Charlatans, Coldplay, Def Leppard, Elbow, Franz Ferdinand (cover in GH1 only), Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, James, Kaiser Chiefs (yes, I know Ruby was in GH3 but that was rubbish), The Kinks, The Kooks, The La’s, Led Zeppelin (unlikely because of master track paranoia), The Libertines, Manic Street Preachers, The Magic Numbers, Morrissey, Nine Black Alps, Ocean Colour Scene, Pink Floyd, Primal Scream, Queen (see below), Razorlight, The Seahorses, Shed Seven, Snow Patrol, StarSailor, Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals, Supergrass, Travis, U2, The Verve, The Zutons – and I’m sure there are loads more.

On both a positive and negative note, I saw that Queen is finally due to make an appearance in Guitar Hero : Metallica – which is both encouraging and perverse. Encouraging that Queen is finally ready to release master tracks in band games, perverse because they have to stow away on a Metallica disk. Queen is a supporting act to Metallica? On whose planet?

I guess it’s because all these decisions are made in the States, where musical taste is somewhat different. For any Americans reading this, how many in the above list had you heard of, and would you be interested in any?

Games Music

GH:WT impressions

Hmm, I really haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately, I seem to be playing catch-up with something or other whenever I’m at the keyboard (due in part, of course, to the fact that I’m at the keyboard less than I used to be).

However, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share my opinion of Guitar Hero : World Tour now I’ve had a chance to play it 4-player at a friend’s place. The simple way to sum this up would be to say that what you’ve heard in most of the reviews seems accurate – that GH:WT is a solid music game, certainly an improvement on GH3, but which is lacking somewhat in places compared to Rock Band, particularly in multiplayer. The full story follows…

The Good

Fixing GH3
One way it improves on GH3 is that the tracks are no longer so obviously overcharted. They are still overcharted, in that you’ll occasionally be asked to play a chord when in fact it’s clear that it’s just a single note that’s being played in the track, and they choose to ‘fill in’ some sections with tracks from other instruments – like playing the synth part on guitar in Livin’ on a Prayer. Whether you like this or not is personal taste, it makes the tracks more ‘interesting’ at the expense of authenticity – I found in GH3 that it broke the immersion somewhat but the situation is not so extreme in GH:WT so while I noticed, and objected in principle, in practice I don’t think it would be a big deal (although I only played up to Hard in this case).

Another way is that you can now quickplay at any difficulty level without having beaten the career mode in multiplayer at that difficulty. I shouldn’t even need to list that as a feature improvement, but GH3 was supremely dumb in its co-op structuring, so it’s a plus that they realised that and changed it.

Track List
The track list is also good; on an entirely subjective level I’d say it’s on par with RB1/2 and the previous Guitar Heros, in terms of the proportion of songs I like. I particularly like the inclusion of 4 REM songs (1 in the set list, 3 as DLC which hasn’t appeared for Rock Band yet).

The Not So Good

4-player Interface
The user interface in 4-player is frankly a bit of a disaster. They’ve chosen to stay with the ‘Rock Meter’ to represent your progress, which works fine in single player and probably even 2-player co-op (since it worked ok in Guitar Hero 2 & 3), but with 4 players it just doesn’t work. It’s tucked up in the top-left corner, which is really hard to look at quickly when you’re playing. If the choice of position wasn’t bad enough, it’s also really hard to decipher quickly – the status of each player is represented with a miniscule bar and a tiny icon which you have to squint to figure out which one you are. Star power is shared, and the ‘lights’ mechanism is similarly much harder to judge at a quick glance, so most of the time you’re just using it blind. The currently multiplier for the entire band is stuffed in there too, along with the score, and the result is a cramped and pretty unusable interface in practice. It also took me a while to figure out where the individual player multiplier was – it’s actually squeezed up the side of the fretboard , again tiny and very difficult to see easily. In practice then, when playing in a full band you pretty much feel starved of any information about how you and your band are doing, how much star power you have, etc, because looking for it is too difficult mid-song.

Individual Interfaces
The visuals also feel a bit amateurish. I’m not talking about the characters & sets – whether you like the comic-book look is personal preference (I’m not that keen, personally), and in practice you don’t really see that when playing anyway. I mean the ‘play area’, the fretboards, the vocals section etc. When crammed into a 4-player set up the round ‘blobs’ feel less precise than the rectangular ‘gems’ than Rock Band switched to, and the visual feedback when you hit or miss the notes seems less obvious. The transition to/from star power and the feedback when completing star notes also feels a bit ‘weedy’ on a purely superficial level.

I actually didn’t mind the vocal ‘track’ interface – I know some people don’t like it compared to the Rock Band one, but to me it seemed to do the job ok, but it does seem excessively sensitive to small fluctuations. When you pronounce certain words for example, the act of making an ‘F’ or ‘S’ sound seems to throw the pitch measurement off into a crazy ‘wiggle’ which is a little distracting.

The Little Things

Maybe I’m just a sucker for the rock fantasy, but I love how in Rock Band the crowd starts singing along at signature parts of the song if you’re doing well. It’s a nice, totally thematically seamless way of giving you a pat on the back and just feels great. There’s nothing like that in GH:WT as far as I can tell.

The track selection screen is pretty basic, it’s the same approximate structure as Rock Band 1’s (Rock Band 2 improves vastly on it with album art, quick section jumping and per-instrument difficulty reports) but somehow manages to look a little more cluttered. Not a big deal, but lacks polish.

The lack of a tour mode or the album/artist/battle of the band challenges that Rock Band 2 has makes me think that the career mode in GH:WT would be a little less interesting to play too – although I didn’t actually play it, it sounds very much like the old Guitar Heros, which Rock Band has improved on twice already, so I’m not really sure why they didn’t try a little harder here.

The ‘Different’

Star Power
Sharing star power is odd. In some ways it’s a good idea, because it means anyone can save themself using someone else’s cumulative star power. However, it also means that you’re a bit more hesitant to use it, because it’s not ‘yours’. Also to avoid people sapping all the star power, it only appears to use a portion of the star power when you activate it, so I found maximising the use of the star power was difficult because you couldn’t just activate it & forget, you kept having to check back to see if it was worth using it again afterwards. Also, since you can only save yourself and no-one else, the failing person has to use it themselves, and since the interface makes it hard to know when you are failing (and there’s no post-fail saving allowed), I could envisage some unnecessary failing of the entire band happening because of this. On balance, the Rock Band way of individual star power and being able to help (and save) others with it is less problematic, although when we were playing all 4 players picked suitable enough difficulty levels that it wasn’t a problem. I could see if we ‘pushed it’ like we do in Rock Band it might be an issue though.

Activating star power manually with the drums was plain weird. Because you have to activate it by hitting 2 pads of your own volition outside the scripted track, rather than with a cymbal crash at the end of a fill like in Rock Band, it’s easy to have your rhythm interrupted or for it to feel out of place. I found I could still do it without dropping a note by concentrating, but it didn’t feel quite as satisfying as an improv fill plus crash cymbal. There are pros and cons – I’ve been frustrated in Rock Band before that I wanted to save someone but a scripted fill section didn’t come along in time, but when it does it feels better than the ad-hoc GH:WT version. A wash maybe.

Difficulty

GH:WT’s difficulty has clearly had plenty of work done on it and it seems much better than GH3. However, it’s been reported before that GH:WT, like its predecessor, errs on the side of making the charting a little more complex, but increasing the ‘hitbox’ (the timing window in which it will accept that you did the right thing), and allowing you to use hammer-ons and pull-offs absolutely anywhere. In contrast, Rock Band’s charting is slightly less complex, but the hitbox is smaller so you have to be a little more accurate, and hammer-ons and pull-offs are only allowed where the song actually performs them. If you play guitar you’ll have seem that tabs typically identify strums and hammer-ons separately, and Rock Band does the same – if you try to hammer-on when the song required a strum, it’s a missed note.

Neither of these is better or worse, it’s just different. I quite like having to be more accurate, I think it means they can raise the difficulty based on having to accurately replicate the song rather than just adding more buttons, but other people like the less strict timing and more complex charts because it gives the impression of guitar hero-hood in a more forgiving way. YMMV.

Conclusion

Based on my experience I would say that for a single player, GH:WT is pretty close to Rock Band 1, since you couldn’t play tour mode in Rock Band 1 alone (so that advantage doesn’t count), and GHWT’s UI problems won’t be so much of an issue in single player – it’s really mostly the little things that I’d miss like crowd participation and the cleaner interface. So probably in single player vs RB1 it would come down to how much you like the track list. In party mode though, it falls behind even Rock Band 1, because the UI really starts to fall apart at scale and there’s no tour mode, just a ladder-based career. Rock Band 2’s challenge modes, very slick track selection view, single-player tour, drum trainer and even more polished UI means it leaves GH:WT a ways behind in all modes. And of course, the 500+ song choice is a definite advantage for the enthusiast.

But, GH:WT is certainly a pretty solid music game and a definite improvement on GH3. I personally wouldn’t buy it, because I play mostly co-op and I think Rock Band does the same game better – I’d prefer to buy more content for that instead. But, taken in isolation rather than compared to Rock Band and particularly in single player mode, it’s an improvement for the series and certainly quite playable, even if it is still a little rough around the edges.

Games Music

Testing out the Rock Band stage kit

This is so funny:

It’s good to know that if you’re a Rock Band nut who has already bought the Ion kit but still have too much money to realistically stuff in your pocket at one time, there’s something highly entertaining you can do with it.

Games Music

Rock Band hits 500 songs a month early

When Harmonix promised at E3 that 500 songs would be in Rock Band by the end of 2008, that seemed an awfully ambitious number. But over the past few months the DLC release schedule has been going nuts, including many full-album releases, such as the very welcome The Colour and the Shape, and the not so welcome (in our house anyway) Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? .

So it seems that 500 songs wasn’t so much of a challenge after all – as of right now, according to rockbandcontent.com, they’re already over 500 and as of next week, with the release of 13 tracks from No Doubt – The Singles 1992-2003, the total number of tracks will rise to 515. That’s pretty damn impressive – and they still have 3 more weeks to go after that before their target deadline.

Obviously since tastes vary, very few people will have actually bought every track, but the huge choice available means even when cherry-picking you can build a seriously big library; we’re up to 234 now and still counting; I expect we’ll probably be at 250 by Christmas. For this kind of game this is definitely the way to go – forget disc releases, or when they do happen, at a minimum they should be seamlessly integrated into a single game experience, like how you can convert the Rock Band 1 & AC/DC tracks into DLC to play in Rock Band 2. I don’t want to mess about switching games, or even just swapping physical media (like the on-the-fly disc swapping in Singstar), I just want to fire up one game and be able to pick from one great big unified list instantly. Now that I have this facility, I just couldn’t accept anything less. It’s exactly why digital music players worked so well, and it’s a perfect fit for a music game too.

And yet somehow there are still bands (‘dinosaur bands’ as Dave Mustaine referred to them) that think getting into downloadable content, whether iTunes or game content, is not for them. Some are paranoid about it, some seem to think they’re ‘above’ it. More fool them.

Some stats at 9th December:

  • 515 tracks available
  • 240 artists
  • 9 full albums
  • Over 28 million tracks purchased

More please. :)

Games Music

The power of hair compels you

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 ;)