Thursday, December 01, 2005

Guitar Hero (2)

There was so much to discuss when I wrote about Guitar Hero that I'm going to do the rest of it here. Thanks to DQ readers Glen Haag and Brandon Cackowski-Schnell for contributing lyric suggestions for this column.

The price you paid for your riches and fame
Was it all a strange game?
--The Byrds, So You Want to Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star

This is how I discovered Guitar Hero. I lurk at several gaming forums that have fairly disparate audiences to each other. All three of them had long threads about Guitar Hero, and absolutely everyone was raving about it.

After I got the game and realized how brilliant it was, I made a teaser post in the column about a mystery game I was playing that was more fun than any game I'd ever played. I was flooded with e-mails from people who were playing Guitar Hero. They all knew.

I also got this e-mail from a developer at one of the leading video game companies in the world (this time, he's anonymous):
There were so many people in my department that ordered the two guitar bundle from Red Octane that the game's publisher wrote me an email, wondering why so many were being shipped to our company. I told him that the company's copy was broken out on Monday. We haven't gotten any work done since.

Now every e-mail I get from someone playing Guitar Hero has the word "rock" in it. And every one I send back to them does, too.

And I listen to music again. Nobody who's married and has children has time to listen to music. I make time for it now, though, and in every song I listen to the guitar line is crystal clear. It leaps out at me, and I always wonder what it would feel like to play that song. And if it doesn't have a great guitar line, I change the station.

So you want to be a rock and roll star
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time and learn how to play
--The Byrds, So You Want to be a Rock 'N' Roll Star

Guitar Hero is not a true simulation of playing a real guitar. A real guitar has at least 72 playable frets (buttons) and sometimes as many as 120-132 (thanks to DQ reader Adam Wallock for that information). Playing "guitar" in Guitar Hero has exponentially increased my respect for real guitar players, though. Before, when I watched guys whailing away, it just looked like magic. I had no tangible appreciation for how hard it could actually be. Now I'm playing a five-button pseudo guitar, absolutely playing my ass off, and I know it is nothing compared to the real thing.

It's also part of the genius of the game. Harmonix created an accessible game of an inaccessible skill. That is game design at its most brilliant. Ten minutes of tutorials and you're ready to have a great time. It's challenging--sometimes blisteringly so--but it is always absolutely irresistable.

I've seen a million faces, and I've rocked them all.
--John Bon-Jovi, Wanted Dead or Alive

I used to work with a guy named Steve who played guitar. He had long hair well below his shoulders, and even though he wasn't in a band, he was all about the guitar. He was a phone rep in customer service, and he didn't have a band, and he was thirty, but he was going to be a rock star.

Then he did start a band. And they were pretty damned good actually, because I heard them on open mike night at a club. In Austin, though, there are about three hundred pretty damned good bands, and they could never get gigs.

Six months later, after I left the company, I ran into Steve. He said he'd left the company, too, so I asked him what he was doing now. He held an imaginary guitar and started strumming the strings at violent speed, and he said "Just making music, man. Just making music."

I thought he was an idiot.

And that, in the end, is why Guitar Hero is the greatest game I've ever played. Hey, Steve? I get it now, man.

Rock on.

The price you paid for your riches and fame
Was it all a strange game?
You're a little insane
The money, the fame, the public acclaim
Don't forget what you are
You're a rock 'n' roll star
--The Byrds, So You Want To Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star

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