Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ice Cream: It's What's for Breakfast

It's 11:10 a.m. I'm eating ice cream. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Wearing shorts and my dress socks from work. And Eli 4.4 and Gloria are out having lunch, so the house is quiet.

Hate me if you must.

Here's #17 in the List of Amazing Things I've Noticed About Guitar Hero: the difference between precision and speed. In the early levels, the game is about speed. The note combinations (in retrospect) aren't complicated, but as a new player you have to train your brain to respond to the notes on the screen. You don't need to be efficient at all--sheer speed will get you through. And while Medium level is considerably more difficult than Easy, it's still all about speed.

That works for a while on Hard level. I've completed twenty-two of thirty songs. There comes a point, though, where some of the songs have notes coming so blindingly fast that speed is no longer enough. It sounds like a Zen Rock parable to say that the notes are coming so fast that speed is certain to fail, but it's true. At some point on Hard, you realize that you have to take apart your style and learn the advanced techniques of hammer-ons and pull-offs, which basically allow you to play multiple notes with the same strum and with less finger movement. You play faster by playing slower. It's only through becoming more precise with your style that it's possible to continue.

Now there are quite a few brilliant aspects to that in terms of game design, but what I like is that I'm already so into the game that I don't mind working to improve my style, even if it temporarily means that I move sideways instead of forward. If I'd had to master those moves right off the bat, I might have been discouraged. Now, though, those techniques are a way to get to Expert level, not a way to begin the game.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this game is the progression. Your progression. I'll play songs on Hard and sometimes get frustrated that I'm not playing better--then I'll go back to Medium and play something like Bark at the Moon (which seems insanely difficult when you first play it) and it will feel like I'm playing in slow motion. So even when you're momentarily stopped by a song, dropping back to a lower difficulty lets you clearly see how much you've progressed.

Like I've said several times the last few weeks, this game is the most fun of any game I've ever played. Is it worth buying a used PS2 just to play this one game? Absolutely.

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