OH MY GOD. I FINALLY BEAT FREEBIRD ON EXPERT…
There is nausea. Happy nausea that comes from a body that is finally unwinding after seeing the failure screen a million buzillion times. The kind of nausea that says “you will pay for this in the morning.” The kind of nausea that says “Congratulations, can we die now?” My hand feels like it’s going to strangle me in my sleep for what I made it do to achieve this, but finally, OH THANK THE GODS, FINALLY… That song is actually done…
I have my battle-axe. Today, I sleep the sleep of the just. And the terminally, stupidly stubborn.
And it is time to say goodbye to my Gibson SG. I feel like someone just shot my dog. I don’t know, maybe the thing was already on its last legs, and ready to die, but stubbornly holding on for my sake. Immediately after finishing Freebird I tried playing with it again… and my whammy bar no longer works. I can still move it, but it no longer gathers star power or distorts the note. The timing is eerie. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was sheer will power and loyalty that kept the thing going, and now, it’s task done, it finally allowed itself to die.
It was a good guitar. I will miss it…
One Of Those Quiet Days
Not much happening except the completion of an article, start of a small script for a short comic strip, and some hope for the Blu-Ray format that Warner Brothers might defect, which, if it were to occur, would pretty much end the format war. Oh and Guitar Hero III is suffering from a large number of defective guitar reports. Karma against Activision for attempting to kill the Soul of Rock continues and I’m shamefully enjoying it.
The Petty Fanboy Post
I admit it. I know I shouldn’t be enjoying this or taking any satisfaction from it, but I am. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is proving to be not as polished an affair as previous versions. There’s a little voice in my head that is gleefully whooping with joy over the fact that this proves that greed, avarice and an almost total disregard or interest in what you’re doing except for the money, is still no substitute for a genuine love of the art. The skaters that are Neversoft have unleashed their game on the masses and so far the results have not been equal to past efforts.
This is not to say that the game won’t make millions. It will. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will likely be the best-selling game this Christmas when you combine it over all the platforms of PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. But it won’t be as good as it could have been.
The game officially went on sale today, actually. Since then, people have been playing it, and obviously the gaming websites and magazines have had it even longer, and the results are finally starting to come in. The game is good, that’s not because of the new additions, that’s DESPITE them. Essentially, the only thing that keeps Guitar Hero III being fun is all the essential mechanics that were created by Harmonix anyway. All the new stuff retro-fitted onto it have been the negatives in most criticisms.
From a marketing perspective, there’s the little problem of bundles. It would seem that Activision failed to inform the public at large that in addition to the new wireless guitar that was going on sale (which they marketed the hell out of), there would also be bundles packing in the old guitar (which they hadn’t mentioned at all). This can definitely be blamed on the ignorance of people in too much of a hurry to check their purchase, but stores are now experiencing some returns as a result of people thinking they bought the new guitar (believing it to be the ONLY bundle) only to come home and realize this was the same guitar they already had lying around the house. Good job there, Activision…
An additional problem that falls under marketing is the use of advertising. I don’t actually have a problem with this myself, as I think it adds to the flavor of a game in certain ways. When used appropriately. Previous Guitar Hero games have actually had their authenticity enhanced through the presence of actual brand names in the manufacturing of music equipment like DW drums and VHT amplifiers. This makes sense to me. Unfortunately, Activision–perhaps in an attempt to be competitive with their rival–took this to Electronic Arts levels with this latest game, and players can now find themselves performing on a stage courtesy of… Pontiac. And if your playing stinks, then maybe it’s time to freshen it up with a manly smellin’ custom guitar brought to you by Axe Body Spray, so that your axe can also have the Axe Effect. This is about as subtle as Fight Night Round III where the game would boldly announce, “This round has been brought to you by BURGER KING!”
Over on the actual mechanical end of things… Well, the songlist is the songlist. This is strictly a matter of personal taste and can’t be argued. I actually like the songlist a lot. Tons of good stuff here. But one of the biggest mechanical problems seems to be an actual problem of mechanics. It would seem that there are problems with the new guitar that is being released for the game. This is not a big deal for PS2 owners that already have a controller. And it is not a big deal for Xbox 360 owners, who also will likely have an existing guitar. However, for Wii and PS3 owners, this is a VERY big deal. They have no choice but to buy these new, defective guitars simply because they don’t have “legacy controllers” from previous versions to fall back on.
The first and most serious problem seems to be the new construction of the controller. As a new feature for “added convenience” Red Octane has made these new guitars so that the neck can actually snap off from the base for easier storage. Unfortunately for some guitars, this has resulted in some cheap coating or adhesive that’s been applied to the joints where these two points meet, and this has actually interfered with the connection, making it impossible for the controller to be correctly read by the console. Some workarounds for this by desperate gamers have been to take an exacto knife and carefully scrape away at the contact points of the circuits to clean them up and make the proper connection as intended. Except of course that this kind of action voids your warranty, so you’re at risk if you take this course. Others have been having problems with the wireless system reading correctly with their console and there are already angry horror stories on the forums about some people on THEIR THIRD EXCHANGE OF THE DAY with still no luck on getting a functioning controller.
The other problem seems to be one of the buttons. Some people have reported that there seems to be a problem with the green button on the new guitar, in that it doesn’t always seem to know that it’s been pressed. There are already howls of rage on the Guitar Hero forum (or at least there were until it got shut down as the complaints mounted minute by minute) as people discovered that they were now failing songs as a result of the game telling them they were not pressing the button when they damn well knew they were.
This is also compounded by a problem with Star Power. The new guitars are a little too sensitive in the “tilt” department, and there have been reports of star power being engaged without actually tilting the guitar to a fully vertical position. It seem that there are plenty of angles at which Star Power Is A Go, and that’s been interfering with the process of playing for some. Another is a surprise defect in the code of the game itself; lag. Every review of the game from a major website has cited that, regardless of version, when Star Power is kicked in, there’s a small chance that the game will actually begin to slow down, as if the sudden application of Star Power was a surprise the game itself wasn’t expecting, which can cause the frame rate to drop, throwing it momentarily out of synch with the sound, and causing whatever streak you had going to break. Again, this isn’t a big deal for people that aren’t serious about the game, for the “score whore” who is concerned getting 5 stars, or just keeping a good multiplier going and capitalizing on the bonus points from a judicious use of Star Power, this is annoying in the extreme.
And then there is the new “boss battle” system and this is the one that is universally getting picked on by everyone. No one seems to like it, particularly at the Hard and Expert levels, because it now takes the skill out of the game,
and puts advancement squarely in the realm of luck. The boss battles are mandatory for advancing through the game, there’s no way to avoid them. The way they work is much like Tetris, or Puzzle Fighter or any other competitive multi-player game you might have played in the past where players are given “weapons” that can be used to interfere with the progress of the other player. In GHIII, this comes in the form of collecting Star Power and having it converted to a special attack that can do everything from bumping the difficulty up to Expert (if you’re not already playing at that level) to initiating a “lefty flip” (that is reversing the order of the buttons so that left handed people can play the guitar “upside down,” to “breaking a string” so that a button will no longer work until the whammy bar has been jiggled enough to cancel out the effect. At Hard and Expert level, many are complaining that the final boss has an unfair advantage in that he gets his special attacks before you do, and if you don’t get just the right combination of special attacks yourself–which is randomly determined–this is practically a guarantee that you will not win and should simply start again. While I know that there will be a certain competitive mindset that relishes this kind of more traditional “game-y, PvP” experience, I think this pretty much runs counter to the original spirit of the game, and it looks like many people are not liking it.
On top of this, there are problems with the network. This is probably more attributable to “labor pains” since it’s the first day the game is out, but people on both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 have been having enormous trouble getting online to play against each other. In both cases, it’s the same thing; people attempt to connect to the network, get a message indicating that the game is attempting to connect to another player to begin the co-op/versus session, and then a few minutes later the connection just times out.
And of course, there is the “new and improved” hammer on/pull off system, which has made these things easier in one sense. Hammer ons and such are easier to to do now that the timing is less precise, but at the same time, there seems to have been an overall loss in precision generally. Apparently Activision has said that this is a matter that is being looked into and there may be a patch to address it on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. I have no idea if this will hold true for the PS2 version and if it does, what, if anything, PS2 owners can do about since they can’t just download a patch to correct the problem.
And finally, there is that little matter of over-complicating songs at the higher levels of difficulty simply because Neversoft couldn’t think of any other way to make the songs harder. Most reports agree that the songs at the highest tiers of Hard and Expert are much, MUCH harder than previous games, and that is because the game is asking you to push buttons where there are no notes even being played, and to hit three button chords even though a single note is being played. While no one is going to argue that these will make a song more challenging, you can still make a case for this actually lessening the feel of “playing” the song and merely melting your hands off trying to hit the crazy configurations Neversoft’s team (which was hired for the project, since Neversoft didn’t have any musicians in their company, they had to outsource to “music experts” to generate the note charts for them) dreamed up in order to challenge players.
As a result of the barrage of complaints coming in to the forums for GHIII the forums were actually shut down for a few hours.
There’s a part of me that would like to think that this is simply karma. This is what happens when you take something that began with pure intentions, and try and turn it into a cold, soulless business opportunity with no love for the product, only the profits it can generate.
Of course there’s also a part of me that dearly hopes that Rock Band will not be plagued by these same issues when it finally goes on sale. At this point, while I’m quite happy with the prototype peripherals I’ve gotten a chance to mess with, as GHIII has proven today, there can be quite a bit of variance between carefully constructed prototypes and the final, mass manufactured product. I can only hope that karma works both ways, and if this is the universe trying to punish Neversoft and Activision for trying to kill the spirit of Rock in favor of the lure of Big Money, then that same universe will look kindly on Harmonix for trying to bring the joy of music to the people.
More Rock Band Obsessiveness
Just another Friday, entailing a bit of writing on the novel and starting up more articles for GameAxis, ’cause it’s that time of the month again. Nothing else to talk about except for the fact that Harmonix has now released the full set of songs that will appear on Rock Band. Without further ado, here they are. As usual, anything not in bold denotes a cover, while anything in bold is an original master track.
- Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter”
- Aerosmith “Train Kept a Rollin’”
- The Who “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
- Boston “Foreplay/Long Time”
- Mountain “Mississippi Queen”
- The Police “Next to You”
- David Bowie “Suffragette City”
- Black Sabbath “Paranoid”
- Blue Oyster Cult “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
- The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop”
- Deep Purple “Highway Star”
- KISS “Detroit Rock City”
- Molly Hatchet “Flirtin’ With Disaster”
- The Outlaws “Green Grass & High Tides”
- Sweet “Ballroom Blitz”
- Rush “Tom Sawyer”
- Bon Jovi “Wanted Dead or Alive”
- The Clash “Should I Stay or Should I Go”
- Faith No More “Epic”
- R.E.M. “Orange Crush”
- Iron Maiden “Run to the Hills”
- Foo Fighters “Learn to Fly”
- Metallica “Enter Sandman”
- Nirvana “In Bloom”
- Stone Temple Pilots “Vasoline”
- Weezer “Say It Ain’t So”
- Smashing Pumpkins “Cherub Rock”
- Radiohead “Creep”
- Beastie Boys “Sabotage”
- Hole “Celebrity Skin”
- Garbage “I Think I’m Paranoid”
- Soundgarden “Black Hole Sun”
- The Hives “Main Offender”
- Queens of the Stone Age “Go With the Flow”
- The Strokes “Reptilia”
- Jet “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”
- OK Go “Here It Goes Again”
- Nine Inch Nails “The Hand That Feeds”
- Pixies “Wave of Mutilation”
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps”
- Red Hot Chili Peppers “Dani California”
- Coheed & Cambria “Welcome Home”
- Fallout Boy “Dead on Arrival”
- The Killers “When You Were Young”
- New Pornographers “Electric Version”
That’s a pretty decent ration. Out of 45 songs, only seven are covers.
Here’s the final list for That Other Music Game. Same deal.
Foghat – Slow Ride
Poison – Talk Dirty to Me
Pat Benatar – Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Social Distortion – Story of My Life
Encore: Kiss – Rock and Roll All Nite
Co-op Encore: Beastie Boys – Sabotage
Mountain – Mississippi Queen
Alice Cooper – School’s Out
Cream – Sunshine of Your Life
Heart – Barracuda
Boss: Tom Morello – Guitar Battle
Encore: Rage Against the Machine – Bulls on Parade
Co-op Encore: The Strokes – Reptilia
The Killers – When You Were Young
AFI – Miss Murder
The Who – The Seeker
Priestess – Lay Down
Encore: Rolling Stones – Paint It Black
Co-op Encore: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Suck My Kiss
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK
Sonic Youth – Kool Thing
Weezer – My Name Is Jonas
Encore: Pearl Jam – Evenflow
Co-op Encore: Blue Oyster Cult – Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll
The Dead Kennedy’s – Holiday in Cambodia
Scorpions – Rock You Like a Hurricane
Aerosmith – Same Old Song and Dance
ZZ Top – La Grange
Boss: Slash – Guitar Battle
Encore: Guns N Roses – Welcome to the Jungle
Co-op Encore: Bloc Party – Hellicopter
Santana – Black Magic Woman
Smashing Pumpkins – Cherub Rock
White Zombie – Black Sunshine
Tenacious D – The Metal
Encore: Stevie Ray Vaughn – Pride and Joy
Co-op Encore: Matchbook Romance – Monsters
Slipknot – Before I Forget
Disturbed – Stricken
Queens of the Stone Age – 3′s and 7′s
Muse – Knights of Cydonia
Encore: Living Colour – Cult of Personality
Slayer – Raining Blood
Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover
Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast
Metallica – One
Boss: Lou – Guitar Battle
Encore: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
Now we’re looking at a total of 46 songs, with 20 covers and 26 original master tracks. Also, there’s that weird thing there that says co-op encore. This is where you have to start wondering whether or not Neversoft and Activision were on drugs. Co-op encore appears to be exactly what it sounds like; a song that is only playable with someone else. Bizarrely, however, the game has been shipped with co-op quick play strictly ONLINE. Activision/Neversoft somehow figured no one would want to do this with someone at home, and in the wake of the screaming that followed once this news got out, they’re working on a patch that gamers can download to their console that will allow for offline co-op. So far this only applies to the Xbox 360, there’s no word on whether or not a patch will be available for the PS3, Wii, or even what that state of this is like for the PS2. Well done, Activision, goo
d to see you continue your peerless support of this franchise…
This news has pretty much committed me. Steps are now being taken to ensure Rock Band arrives at the doorstep of the In-Laws.
And just to give That Other Music Game a little coverage, here’s a sample of Hit Me With Your Best shot originally by Pat Benatar, with a… how shall I put this… augmented Judy Nails strumming away.
I Already Typed Up My X ’07 Experience Once
And I don’t feel like typing it again.
So instead, I direct you to this.
Hanger 18, on Expert, as of today. I have once again achieved that state of happiness so intense that violent nausea is a side-effect.
And this bird you cannot CHANGE!!
Rain & Noodles
Saturday was a pleasant, quiet affair with a little shopping trip into downtown so the Wife could stock up on some art related materials. It rained and we walked in it, and I had to remind myself that here, when it rains, it only lasts for an hour or so, and is not a torrential downpour that renders umbrellas useless as the wind blows it in from the side. We ate at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown that had food good enough for even the Wife to approve of. Apparently she was amazed at the quality of the Cantonese food there which, while certainly available in Singapore at similar quality, would not have cost us the $12+ our entire meal totaled up to between the two of us. Then again, she had a good feeling about the place the second she stepped in realized that the service was horrible and smells coming from the kitchen were hideous. This, it would seem, is the sign of quality food in Asia.
Also, I finally managed to get up to 93% on Hanger 18, which, at current progression, means I should actually complete the song sometime after the next American President is sworn in. Or, possibly never, if the potential vortex that is Rock Band sucks me in, never to return to Guitar Hero.
Of Comics & Cowboys
Today ended up being a long but pleasant day.
The afternoon was spent cruising down over to the University of Toronto campus where one of the old and currently under renovation halls was taken over by the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. While we did not achieve everything that we set out to do, it was for the most part a success. Our failures come in the form of completely forgetting that Stuart Immonen (penciller for the utterly hilarious Next Wave: Agents of H.A.T.E.) was there and bringing anything for him to sign. The other failure was missing out on James Jean (cover artist for Fables) who was in the middle of a panel discussion when we showed up, and the other miss was Paul Pope (creator of 100%) who we spectacularly failed to locate.
On the other hand, we managed to meet with Evan Dorkin, who has done completely psychotic Milk & Cheese comic (“When dairy products go bad!”) and got him to not only sign our trade paperback, we came away with a Milk & Cheese fridge magnet. This is, of course, awesome. The other success was meeting Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of local comic sensation Scott Pilgrim, and I finally got to ask him whether he liked moving from Toronto to Nova Scotia, since we were contemplating a Halifax move ourselves last year. It turns out he doesn’t and will probably be leaving the province, so maybe we made the right choice after all in settling down here. I picked up the third book in the Scott Pilgrim series and got him to sign my first. We also ran into the Old Friend who was hanging out with her girlfriend, who, in turn was dating a guy that does a webcomic called Butternut Squash and seduced his lady love with a heart full of love and plastic guitar. The song? Freebird. The level? Medium. I give him credit for trying, but dude, Medium… Come on…
After that, we went to another part of the Annex to attend the Wife’s Friend’s 30th birthday party which had, wait for it… A COWBOY THEME! People were dressed as desperadoes and there was pinata in the shape of a cactus. Being the big Party Animal that I am, I immediately ran from the crowd in the backyard and retreated to the basement, there, to find (what in retrospect should been obvious) that someone had brought Guitar Hero II to the party.
As you may expect, it was all over for me at that point.
I am once again amazed at the continuing hesitation of people to play at Expert. I think I may have also accidentally killed the more innocent, “Hey, let’s just have fun” buzz that the other party-goers were enjoying with GH2. I strapped on the guitar, warmed up with Sweet Child O’ Mine and noted that the buttons were a bit stiffer than my hugely worn out Gibson SG at home, but got into it after a bad start and then after that went through a few favorites like Messenger In A Bottle, Carry on my Wayward Son and Monkeywrench at which point there were a lot of “Holy shit…”s, “What the hell level is he playing?!” and “HOW THE FUCK DID HE DO THAT?!”
Once I was done, fewer people were willing to approach the game, and some folks did attempt Expert, usually getting shut out within 2-4% of the song’s beginning. I told them I wasn’t that good. They told me to shut the hell up. One guy, upon leaving the party, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Dude… YOU are my Guitar Hero.”
As befits the basement, this is where we found the Nerd/Geek contingent and immediately scored Respect Points with whole “She draws comics, he reviews videogames” thing. It is still baffling to me that people would now actually consider this cool, and that so, by extension, are we. Much talk of games, anime, illustration and comics ensued and I think these guys now have a far more heavily distorted and favorable view of our lives than we actually deserve.
Also we finally finished Digital Devil Saga 2, today, but I’ll write more about that properly tomorrow.
New Neighbor, More Writing
It would appear that it will once again become necessary to make the distinction between Downstairs Neighbors and Upstairs Neighbor as we get another tenant moving into the house. This one is a mortal threat to anyone that’s not a geek however, as not only is he a graduate student studying film, he also studies games.
Needless to say, when he accepted an invitation to a cup of coffee, the nerd quotient in the room rose to dangerously high, fission-worthy levels as the conversation turned towards everything from the bolder use of philosophy in recent first person shooters to the merits of full motion videogames such as Night Trap and Sewer Shark in the Sega Genesis era.
And… He has a Playstation 2 with Guitar Hero and a guitar.
The Wife now finds herself in the uncomfortable position of either having to scream at me, “YOU SUUUUUUUUUUCK!” when I screw up Hanger 18 for the umpteenth time, or tromping upstairs, knocking on the door and saying “YOU SUUUUUUUUUCK!” when the Uptairs Neighbor does similar, just directly overhead and muffled by the floorboards.
Or she can simply shout it at the both of us when he brings his plastic toy guitar down, which is pretty much a given at this point.
Tomorrow. Comics! The Toronto Comic Arts Festival begins just a few blocks down south at the University of Toronto campus and we go to prostrate ourselves before our ink fingered gods.
And now, back to writing an article about the Wii making the “hardcore gamer” an endangered species…