Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bad at Games VI - We’re putting the Rock Band back together

Last entry I wrote on “Bad at Games” I talked about Halo and how we quickly became a bit obsessed with the game. We hosted LAN parties, created our own multiplayer variant games, and I continued to demonstrate how rubbish I am at most video games.

Lips video game cover
Sunday night was always Halo night. Friends from work would come to our place, often loaded with an extra XBox to network and we’d shoot the hell out of each other. However, our circle of video gaming friends was growing, and Halo was not everyone’s game of choice.

In the winter of 2008, I was hogging the TV again and I’d put on an episode of GamerTV or something similar that played on the obscure cable channels, and they were demonstrating a game called “Lips”. Possibly one of the worst names for a video game ever, but the wife saw the feature and she was intrigued. It made a change from the usual shooting, and seemed to be a great excuse to jump around the living room, singing along to various songs. The thing that seemed to sell it for her was the idea that you could import your own CDs into the game and sing along to any song you liked.

She put it on her Christmas list that year, and I bought it for her with a pair of motion sensitive microphones.

It was great fun, even if the choice of songs were not exactly our usual choice of music. We tried the import feature, but it seemed like a hastily tagged on extra to the game with very little skill. You could mumble any nonsense at it and it seemed to score – it was only on the songs that had been programmed in on the game disc that required some singing ability. It was either that, or I shouldn’t have tried importing Limp Bizkit.

That was the problem with the game really. Only two players, and the mainstream pop selection of songs. However, the game did have a bit of a blast during one of our Sunday night Halo gatherings, and everyone had a bit of a go. While it wasn’t the hit it could have been, the thing it did do for us was get us over the initial embarrassment of singing in front of a group of friends. We racked up the achievements, went through all the songs, and then Matt suggested the following week that he’d bring around his Rock Band kit and we’d give that a try.

I’d seen clips of Guitar Hero and Rock Band on TV, on similar video game TV shows that introduced us to Lips, and I have to confess I thought they looked pointless. To me it was just timed blocks coming down the screen, press a button, or bang the drum at the right time. What was the fun in that? But I was game, and as promised theGuitar Hero controller, and Rock Band.
following week Matt appeared on the doorstep with microphone, drumkit, guitar and a spare

It seemed to take a while to set up, but eventually the game was ready, the disc fired up,

We were all initially cautious, not having played something like this before except for Matt, so we played on Easy. Even then I was still having difficulty on the guitar (admittedly, I did opt for Enter Sandman for the first track we played), but we got the hang of it, and I was starting to see the appeal.

We swapped instruments and I ended up on drums. Obviously, none of my father’s drumming talent was passed on to me (he used to play in the work’s band when they had dances. I later discovered that he had a number of certificates in piano from a prestigious London music college!) I could drum with my hands, or one hand and one foot, but putting the three together was a bit of a disaster. Luckily, on Easy Rock Band seemed to know this and alternated between the two. I was drumming.

Rockin' in the free world. Charles, Matt, Me and Adam
There’s something about Rock Band that you just don’t get until you play it. Maybe it’s the physical position you’re in – you’re not playing a video game with a controller, the Rock Band controllers are instrument shaped so you feel like you’re actually playing an instrument. The game cheers at you, you feel like you’re in a band, and if someone falters and fails your bandmates can bail you out and help you along.

It’s the difference between playing Risk and playing D&D. Risk is all about defeating your opponent, and sometimes even making false alliances that you quickly betray for an easy victory. D&D is about working together for a common goal. And in Rock Band no one was suffering. Even in Halo when we played as a team you could get picked on or feel like you were letting the side down. Rock Band there were no opponents to badmouth you online. It was about playing gigs, entertaining a virtual crowd, and getting through the songs intact.

The evening flew by, and Matt packed up the kit and headed home. I sat with the wife afterwards and we just looked at each other with massive grins on our faces. She felt it too. The adrenaline of the game, the roar of the crowd, the feeling of making music. We were hooked.

That week I got the credit card out, bought Rock Band 2, the drums, the guitar and microphone. Then visited our local musical instrument supplier and bought a microphone stand, and drum stool.

Months passed, the Sunday evening Halo nights became Rock Band nights. We toured the world, downloaded new songs, and rocked the planet.

Rocking in public for Charity. Me, Adam and Alex
We took it a stage further – the Endless Setlist was challenge in the game to perform every song on the disc in one “concert”. There was also the “Bladder of Steel” achievement for completing the Endless Setlist without breaks or failing. We saw this as a challenge we couldn’t pass up. We’d progressed to a fairly good ability with the game, some of us were playing on Hard-Expert by now, and we figured we’d do the Endless Setlist in a different way – in public.

We’d round out the setlist to 100 songs, and with the help of a particularly cool venue – Fusion, a giant digital gallery that would project the game on screens behind us, we would play in public, without breaks, and raise money for the Brain Tumour Trust. Harmonix, Rock Band’s creators, sent us T-shirts. We were mentioned on Inside XBox. We were in the newspapers. Fame beckoned.

It was exhausting, but awesome. We were rock gods. Nothing could stop us. Or so I thought.

No comments: