Tag Archives: guitar hero

Puma, Gitaroo!

Let me fill you in on a little secret: I hate listening to the radio.  I am honestly surprised that in our world of super accessible music, public radio has not died out as a media form.  Outside of tuning in to NPR or a sports broadcast, I see no reason to waste your time listening to the same 15 minutes of overplayed crap interspersed between a barrage of obnoxious commercials and humorless DJs.  It is due to my disdain of the radio that I have grown to rely on the magic of mix tapes to fill the silence.

GitarooFlyingOOver the course of my life, I have made over 51 different CD mixes, all of which I have retained in some format.  These discs of joy now serve as a catalog of my eclectic taste as it evolved from “music my parents enjoy” to “rebellious punk banter” to “heavy metal anger” to “whatever noise appeals to my aging ears.”  Along the way, I have discovered that Nick Hornby was right; there is an exact science to the ebb and flow of a mix.  One cannot just throw songs together on a compact disc and call it a day.  The same delicate method should be applied when crafting the soundtrack to a rhythm game.

GuitarHeroSetlistThe common path of a rhythm game is to allow the player to unlock increasingly difficult bundles of songs as he/she completes a previous tier to satisfaction.  In video game circles, this is a tried and true method of game progression.  A player should not feel overwhelmed by the options, and the game difficulty should rise as the player’s skill increases over time.  But the rhythm game is a special creature, a wonderful mix of music and game that should stand somewhere between the two media; a hybrid of forms with all of the joy and none of the fluff.

Since many of the newer rhythm games rely on previously released music for the soundtrack, it is difficult to establish the proper “mix tape flow” while offering the player enough content to remain engaged in the fantasy of being a rock/dance star.  Older rhythm games often miss the flow by trying to fit the music around a story, or by limiting the soundtrack to one musical genre.  But one strange little game came along in 2001 that managed to present an interesting plot with a solid soundtrack that makes for a great mix tape.

GitarooManGuitar?Gitaroo Man tells the story of U-1, a young boy who despite his best efforts to impress the opposite sex, is constantly berated by his peers and barely even noticed by his dream girl.  The boy’s luck dramatically changes when he discovers that not only can his dog speak, his canine companion is actually a robot who is housing the Last Gitaroo, a musical artifact from a distant planet.  The boy and his dog travel to the Planet Gitaroo and use the power of music to liberate the planet’s citizens from an evil tyrant.  Within this very odd coming-of-age story lies the recipe for a perfect mix.  Click along with the tracks and observe:

1st Track: Start off with some kind of an intro; a bit of a heads-up as to what sort of commitment the listener is getting into.  A movie quote or piece of dialogue often works well.

2nd Track: Time to tap into the nostalgia fountain.  Classic rock is great here – a catchy riff with memorable lyrics with which to sing along.  This song should ease the listener into the mix.

3rd Track: Upbeat and fast paced music to get the blood pumping.  A fun and odd song with high tempo, maybe some J-Pop or Euro-Techno; the sort of music to which one can exercise.

4th Track: Hmm, might have gone too far with the last track, time to scale things back a bit.  Drop some funky jazz on the listener.  A song with soul to calm the nerves.

5th Track: By now, they should be hooked, so toss in a throw-away song.  Maybe some experimental house music or electronic reggae to mix things up.  Chances are the listener will skip this track, so don’t agonize over the selection.

6th Track: The listener may be craving something deeper, more profound, so here comes the ballad.  A wistful song, with the sort of vague emotion and ambiguous meaning that could be applied to any transitional period of life.  Probably full of acoustic guitar.

7th Track: This should be the apex of the mix.  A powerhouse song with a beat that will infect the listener’s every movement with a slight rhythm until he/she has no choice but to dance their heart out.

8th Track: Keep the dial on eleven as you drop in with a heavy metal powerhouse.  Something over the top and filled with complexity that the listener will be left in awe of the raw talent on display.

9th Track: This may be the most difficult selection of the entire mix.  You need to somehow tie together all of the emotion the listener has experienced, but present something new at the same time.  Maybe a more empowered song from an earlier artist, to provide familiarity with a twist.

10th Track: The second to last song needs to be very intense; a sort of crescendo to the entire mix.  Rapid guitar solos, rolling lyrics, maybe even overwhelming notes should be the focus of this track.

11th Track: The final track can be handled in two fashions.  You can play a very wistful and emotive song to leave the listener in a contemplative mood.  These sorts of songs are very dependent on the mood of the listener; end on a dour note and he/she may never want to hear the mix again.  But if you close with a light-hearted tune, the kind of song that would be ideal at the end of a movie from the 90s, the listener will leave on a positive note, wanting to return to the mix for more joy in the future.

Now you know the secret recipe to creating the perfect mix tape.  Go forth and spread the good news: you no longer have to suffer under the tyranny of public radio.  Gitaroo Man has once again saved the day!

(Many thanks to Youtube user BeanyOne for these excellent Gitaroo Man videos.)

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Playing to the Couch

The nights were cold in the November of 2006.  Despite a crisp wind in the air, students made their way from all over to crowd into a little basement apartment on the dark side of campus.  The news had spread by word of mouth: good company, cheap drinks, and a free concert where all the classics would be played.  Not a bad deal for a poor college kid.

As they filtered in and warmed up with watered down cocktails, the students noticed something odd: the guitarist was not on stage with the rest of the band.  He was casually standing with the crowd, beer in hand and axe slung over his shoulder.  Even as the drummer counted in for the first song, the guitarist made no moves for the stage.  He simply chugged the rest of his brew, adjusted his instrument, and began to play side-by-side with the crowd.

It was unlike anything they had ever seen before: a concert where the crowd was part of the act.  The setlist was entirely request-based, random party-goers could sing with the band, and the guitar was passed around for everyone to have a chance at stardom.  While this scenario sounds like some sort of surreal concert experience, I am merely describing what could be one of a hundred different nights playing Guitar Hero at my apartment in college.

ddrscreenBefore the plastic guitars hit the scene, most exposure to rhythm games came in the form of Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution.  While these games sold well within niche markets, they lacked universal appeal for two main reasons.  First, both game series appealed to limited musical markets.  There was plenty of pop music, both American and Japanese, but that is about all the Revolutions had to offer.  The second reason is the core gameplay is based on singing or dancing in front of a group.  For players who are not blessed with a hefty mix of natural talent and coordination, performing well in these games may take weeks of practice, and even more time is required to feel comfortable playing in front of a crowd. 

gh-johnnynapalmGuitar Hero hit a larger market by providing an easy-to-pick-up gameplay mechanic.  This rock-star simulator did not test players on their natural singing abilities, or ask them to master the coordination of stepping on arrows along with fast-paced beats.  Guitar Hero merely asked people to include a piece of plastic as they naturally played air guitar to their favorite rock songs.  Making a guitar-shaped controller was also a brilliant move.  The tactile satisfaction of holding a guitar while strumming away at “More Than A Feeling,” dramatically throwing the neck of the instrument skyward to gain bonus points through a complex solo; the entire experience of playing Guitar Hero would be lost if the player had to translate their movements to a traditional controller.

gh3-judynailsDevelopers at Harmonix took another step to ensure widespread appeal by dipping their cup into the deep, Eldritch well that is Rock Music.  The setlist for Guitar Hero was an excellent mix of heavy metal monsters (“Bark at the Moon”), classic rock icons (“Smoke on the Water”), and even some more recently released popular songs (“Take Me Out”).  For fans of that ole’ rock and roll music, there was plenty to offer.  As the series continued into its fourth and fifth iterations, other instruments were added to the arsenal, and download content expanded the musical options exponentially.

Unfortunately, like so many rock stars before it, Guitar Hero grew too massive, and collapsed under the weight of its success (and rampant drug use).  Soon, every home had a set of plastic instruments to play with, so there was no need to buy a new little guitar or drum kit with each game release.  As motion sensor controllers offered games like Dance Central and Just Dance to the market (without clunky instruments to clutter apartments), people began to ignore the once great Guitar Hero, and the series which filled every home (and college dorm room) with music faded to black.

Picture1 004Despite so many people moving on from Guitar Hero’s rock offerings to the house-music style of Dance Central, I will never forget this fantastic game series and the happy memories it provided.  Besides being one of the very first games that Laura and I played together, Guitar Hero transformed my apartment in college from a den of nerd stylings into a hall of rock.  After all, not everyone wants to come over and spend their Friday night playing video games; but everyone does want to come over and be a rock star.  Especially if drinks are free.

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Feel the Rhythm

magfestarcadeTo start the new year on a strong video game note, Chip and I attended our first MAGfest (Music and Games Festival) together last weekend. Apart from an excellent lineup of musical acts and entertaining panels, this convention boasts an impressive arcade set up. Nearly every kind of title you can imagine was available. From vintage arcade cabinets to pinball machines to numerous fighting games, all were free to play. Instead of overwhelming ourselves, darting back and forth between childhood favorites (most of which we could easily download from the Xbox Live Arcade), we decided to focus our attention on the pile of rhythm games we wouldn’t be able to play at home.

magfesttaikoUpon returning from MAGFest, we had a number of discussions about simulated dancing/drumming/guitar…ing, which inspired us to spend this month exploring the rhythm genre. One reason we chose to examine this particular genre here on GIMMGP is because these titles are by far and wide the easiest way to introduce a non-gamer to the world of video games. Rhythm games often feature intuitive controls and encourage group participation. Most people won’t play these types of games for nearly as long (or at all) if there isn’t anyone else around to share in the experience. It’s an awesome genre of gateway games that anyone can enjoy.

Many of the games we will be covering are more common in arcade culture than at-home gaming, but we’ll look at some rhythm games available for mobile devices and consoles as well. So to get us started, here are a few suggestions worth checking out.

The Arcade
Arcade culture isn’t as prevalent in Western society as it used to be, but it is definitely still around. For example, Dave & Buster’s has about 55 locations across the US. Most of the locations I’ve been to offer many of the games we are going to cover. While this option can become a little pricey, it’s still provides a great experience: rhythm games and alcohol, dancing and drinking. It’s like going to a club, but better because everyone is actually having fun.
Recommendations: Dance Dance Revolution, Pump It Up

Mobile Devices
Between the iPhone and the 3DS, we have managed to acquire an impressive array of mobile rhythm games. If your girlfriend is looking for a way to share in your hobby, point her in this direction. These games are normally short and easy to learn. Be warned: if she doesn’t like them, it probably means she doesn’t like fun, so you shouldn’t be dating her anyways.
Recommendations: Reflect Beat (iPhone), Rhythm Heaven (DS)

If you don’t have an arcade nearby or you aren’t looking to interact with the outside world, there are certainly options still available. Rhythm games for home consoles normally fall into three categories, based on their input devices:

Instrument Controllers: These games generally require use of accessories based on real-life instruments to play the game properly. Most likely you already own these items, or you know someone who isn’t playing theirs anymore that you can borrow.
Recommendations: Rock Band, Guitar Hero

Motion Controls: These games are played with existing motion-sensing hardware [Wii] or with peripherals that can be used with other games [Kinect, Playstation Move(haha j/k, no one uses the Move)]
Recommendations: Dance Central (Xbox + Kinect), Just Dance (Wii)

Traditional Controllers: Some of GIMMGP’s personal favorites are from back in the days before these new fangled gidgets and gadgets hit the market. These games were great fun and many are available for cheap download, check them out.
Recommendations: Parappa the Rapper, Bust-a-Groove

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In Loving Memory: A PAX Story

After using every form of transportation to get back home (except Space Shuttle), Laura and I have returned from another successful Penny Arcade Expo!  With us, we have brought back many pictures, memories, and of course, swag.  We will share each of these in several posts through the upcoming week.  Today, I want to tell you, the faithful reader, about our first PAXEast experience, and about an amazing friend who we will never forget.

The year was 2010, and by some miracle, the wonderful people at Penny Arcade decided to put on an exposition on the East Coast.  Needless to say, Laura and I were ecstatic.  We were both fans of Penny Arcade, and Laura had never been to a “nerd convention” before, so there was much rejoicing (yay).  I asked several of my friends if they were interested, but so many of them had already made plans for the end of March that only two could attend the convention with us: Forsythia and Chris.  And so it was that our good friend Chris would accompany us on a weekend of unbridled video game madness.  Chris was a huge gaming fan, and he was always willing to travel anywhere to spend time with his friends, so he was naturally prepared for the occasion.  But about a month before PAX, Chris caught a rough bout of mononucleosis, and he was sick for weeks.  Things were bleak, and it seemed that he would have to miss the expo.

As the time for PAXEast grew closer, Laura and I had resigned ourselves to the idea that Chris would just have to wait until next year for a video game convention.  But by some other miracle, Chris kicked the mono from his system, and he was ready to ride to gaming glory once more!  Well, sort of.  When he and his girlfriend arrived at our apartment the night before our trip to Boston, it was apparent that the disease had left Chris severely weakened, and he looked in no condition to travel.  Laura and I did our best to dissuade him, to tell Chris that he should just rest up and we will all go to PAX next year.  But Chris wouldn’t hear it.  He had spent most of his life dealing with ulcerative colitis, and he wasn’t going to let something like puny ole’ mono keep him away from video games and fun.  So we loaded up into my Cadillac DeVille, and hit the road to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.

After a extremely long and trying car ride (ten bloody hours!), we finally made it to PAX on Friday afternoon, and again, there was much rejoicing (yay).  Thanks to a rooming error, the hotel we were staying at even upgraded us to a suite (for free!), which was perfect after such a exhausting trip.  The view was amazing, and looked out over most of Boston, but we weren’t there to sightsee; we were there to party (and play video games, I suppose).  Laura, Forsythia, and I decided to head down to the concert, while Chris and his girlfriend, Valerie, elected to stay behind so Chris could recooperate from the car ride.  I felt bad leaving him behind when I knew he wanted to come with us, but he insisted that we go ahead and have fun, and assured us that he would join in later.  Chris was an amazing like that; he would never want his friends to miss out on a fun time just because he was sick or tired.

So it was that each of us ventured out into the exhibition halls and witnessed a truly epic convention.  We all had our own fun times and experiences at PAXEast.  Chris made his way down to the gaming booths, and got his fair share of swag, but because of his weakened state, he had to miss out on the concerts, and took frequent breaks to rest up in the hotel room.  We checked in on him while his girlfriend was right there by his side, making sure that he wanted for nothing, but I was so wrapped up in my own stuff that I never really took the time to slow down and hang out with Chris (a major regret).  I always figured that this year was a wash for Chris, but next year he would be well and ready to rock with all of us on the convention floor.

After a full weekend and an equally full car ride home, we safely arrived back at GIMMGP Headquarters.  Laura and I loaded Chris and his girlfriend into their car, and they prepared for the last leg of their trip home.  Before they left, Chris threw a hug on me, and told me that despite being so worn out, he had a great time, and couldn’t wait for next year.  We waved to them as they drove off, and that was the last time I saw my friend Chris.  Just two weeks later, Chris caught a very violent case of viral meningitis.  The doctors said this was due to his body was so weak from the mono, along with his prexisiting conditions.  Laura and I got the call this very day two years ago that Chris had gone to the hospital, and despite dealing with illness his whole life, Chris passed away later that afternoon at the age of 24.

Not a day has gone by that we don’t miss our friend.  Chris was an avid gamer, and I have so many happy memories of being glued to a television set with him by my side.  When I first moved away after college, Chris would visit frequently.  He would make the two-plus hour trip whenever he could and each time he would bring some new game for us to play.  I especially remember the weekend that he brought Guitar Hero: Metallica, and we beat the entire thing in one night.  This was no problem for Chris, as his skills at the guitar controller earned him the nickname, “Robot Hands,”(for example: he easily conquered “Through the Fire and Flames” on expert mode. Booya).  Over one visit, Chris and I even tried out for Jeopardy at a local college.  This was the last time that contestants could try out in person for the game show, so Chris and I did our best, but never received the call (we were robbed, I tell ya!).

I could go on and on about how much I loved playing games with Chris, but when it all boils down, he was such a loyal and caring friend, that it didn’t matter what we were doing.  Despite spending so much of his life dealing with crippling illnesses, Chris didn’t let it turn him into a sour person.  That’s one of the things I admire about him: he never let his colitis, or any other illness define who he was.  He always had a great attitude and normally would joke on himself about it.  It blew my mind that someone who had been through so much would never seem to complain.   Chris would not let his own problems get in the way of helping his friends.  Whatever he could do to make somebody feel better and forget about the little nagging worries that didn’t matter, Chris would do it. He would listen to your problems, let you vent to him, and somehow manage to stay out of lame social drama by offering his best advice: just let it go so we can all play video games and have fun again.

So every year, while we get excited for another Penny Arcade Expo and all the new games and excitement to be had, I remember my great friend Chris, and all the fun we had together.  I miss ya, dude, and I know I will be playing games again with you some day.

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