Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Europe In Flames And Other Rock Band Notes

Pricing for the European release of Rock Band was announced today.

In brief, Europe is ablaze.

Here's the skinny (thanks Eurogamer):
Europe, unlike the US, will not get all of the instruments bundled together with the game.

Instead, you will have to fork out for an Instrument Edition at GBP 129.99 / EUR 169 - comprised of the drum kit, guitar and microphone - then buy the game separately for GBP 49.99 / EUR 69.99.

Anyone after the whole lot will be looking at a total of GBP 180 / EUR 240, then. That's rather more than in the US, where you can buy the game and all the instruments for USD 169 - equivalent to around GBP 85 / EUR 107.

WTF? Even the standard "Europe gets totally screwed" pricing model would only have been EUR 169. When did "Europe gets totally screwed + 40%" get started?

I'm baffled. In terms of comparative pricing between territories, that's obscene.

Regardless, I've still got a bunch of additional information that is Rock Band-related. First, Erik Noble sent me a link to an outstanding Rock Band/Buitar Hero site called Fake Plastic Rock. It's full of interesting information, with a wide variety of topics.

Now, on to drum kits.

I developed a nasty case of forearm tenonditis about a month ago, and I'm guessing it was a combination of high yardage in the pool and too much time spent playing on the stock Rock Band drum kit, because the pads are pretty "rockish."

I'd put gum rubber pads on the drums, and I really, really liked how they felt, but I was losing too much sensitivity in terms of controller accuracy, so after I exchanged my drums, I kept the pads off. That was a mistake, at least for my forearms.

So, after poking around in the Rock Band forums, I realized that a combination of two mods--gum rubber and sock (I'm not making this up, I swear)--would probably work really well. I put the gum rubber pads back on, then used rubber bands (which is part of the sock mod) on the pads to reduce the distance between the sensors. So the reduced sensitivity due to the gum rubber is no longer a problem, because the reduced sensor distance makes the controller more sensitive to compensate.

I've had quite a few 400+ note streaks in the last few days, so I'm pleased with the accuracy. Of course, I look like some kind of drunken piano tuner the way I'm always adjusting the rubber bands to make the distance around the drum head as even as possible.

After going through all this crap for a few days, I also spent some time looking in the Rock Band forums to see how much of a hassle it is to get a real kit working with the game. It can be done, but it's definitely not simple, or at least it wouldn't be simple for me. Plus, I have a hard time wanting to go through the hassle when I'm 100% sure there will be licensed kits from drum manufacturers this fall (at the latest) that are turnkey solutions.

I was thinking about how this might work, and I think there are two ways to do it: one is thinking small, and one is thinking big. The small way is for a drum manufacturer to make a specific kit to work with the game, maybe two. Roland is a likely suspect, since two Roland kits are featured at the Rock Band store. One of them, the HD-1 V-Drums Lite, would be perfect--it's compact, and it's a good fit with the game. It's inexpensive in terms of electronic drum kits, but it would be very, very pricey compared to the game (I saw it on sale for $625 today).

For the high-end player, serious player, though, it might be worth it. I tried one out today, and the kit could be played with exponentially less effort than the stock RB kit.

So Roland could use that on the high-end, and put out a $299 kit that was specifically made for Rock Band as well.

That's thinking small.

Let's think big, though. How much would it cost to add Rock Band functionality to ALL the Roland kits? I don't know what Microsoft's licensing fee is for controllers, but let's say that you could add that functionality for $10-$15 a kit. At that point, it would be crazy NOT to add it to every kit that Roland makes. There will be at least a few people who will lose their minds and buy a $2,000 kit just to play Rock Band, especially if the unit's capability as a regular kit isn't compromised.

Here's a good example--me. I went to a drum shop today to look at kits, because I wanted to see how much easier they would physically be to play, and when I tried out the HD-1, I was shocked by how little stress it put on my arms.

Plus, I went to the shop because I've been thinking about drum lessons for a while, and this place seemed very relaxed and low-key, which is what I wanted. So my first drum lesson is at 11:30 on Thursday.

Mostly, I want to make sure I'm fundamentally sound in terms of how I play, but I also just really enjoy playing the drums, and I'd like to learn more about technique. So I'm the perfect candidate for a "starter" electronic kit that I could use both in Rock Band and as a standalone.

By the way, there are two features I'd really like to see in the game, so let me just mention them now. The first would be to sort downloadable content by band. When I'm playing on the solo tour, and I want to play some DLC, it's a huge pain in the ass to sort through DLC without being able to sort by band, because if I want to play one Boston song, I probably want to play several. Maybe there's a way to do this, but if so, I haven't found it yet.

The other feature I'd really like to see would be a "practice workshop." In its simplest version, it wouldn't even be tied to a particular song, just a series of 1/4, 1/8, or 1/16 notes lasting fifteen seconds or so. You'd play these notes, and at the end, you'd get a report telling you how early or late you were on each note.

It would be even better if you could do this for a single section of a song in practice mode. I tend to jump notes in fast sections, and I tend to miss the same notes over and over again in the very same way. At least, I think I do, and the practice workshop feature would help me figure that out. Plus, knowing that you're always late on a note helps you understand where you might need to consider alternate sticking.

This would just be a way to help people get better by giving them more precise feedback. And helping people get better makes them more likely to spend more time playing the game.

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