The fine art of button mashing

This could be fun

You know, guys… I don’t have a big problem with game difficulty. I mean, to a reasonable limit, challenges in games are expected and fun. I play Rock Band on Expert difficulty, and while I have a blast and can clear “Souls of Black” with quite a good performance, I don’t expect to gold star it. And that’s alright.

What kinda pisses me off in a music game, though, is when the song is difficult for difficulty’s sake. It’s when I have to give the song my total attention and effort, and when I finish it my fingers are hurting and the experience just plain sucked in the end. Rock Band and Guitar Hero should have difficult songs, yeah, but those songs should at least be FUN to play. “Souls of Black”, “Master Exploder” and “Almost Easy” are difficult, but they kick ass. I sing along, I bang my head and tap my feet to them.

When I bought Guitar Hero 5, the song I looked foward the most to play was definitely “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. I played it and well, it kinda sucked. Now, I can 5-star that song, no problem. But they took a legendary song and… well… the note tracking was lame. Not that fun. And I kept thinking “boy, I bet that if this was done by Harmonix, it would be much better”.

And then I read something over at Versus Clu Clu Land that I found to be very enlightening. Here’s an excerpt:

I talked with a Harmonix staffer about the process, and I was surprised to learn that the most important factor in the process is musicianship. The people responsible for note tracking, she told me, aim to reproduce the way that the song is played on a real guitar to the greatest extent possible within the confines of the guitar controller’s limited repertoire of moves.

Please read that entire post before you continue. It’s very interesting. Yes, I will wait.

Alright, yeah, I had heard about it from other sources, that Harmonix’s staff in mainly composed of musicians. But even if you didn’t know that, you can actually feel it coming through in their games, can’t you? I mean, the note tracking is VERY different from the one you find in Guitar Hero. While Guitar Hero seems to aim at purely the challenge, Harmonix manages to work some kind of magic in their tracking that makes the game invite you to groove and dance along.

And I’m not alone in my perception either! Check this post at Sexy Videogameland:

It got me mulling the whole contentious culture war betweenGuitar Hero and Rock Band. The general opinion, to me, seems to come down to a couple key differences; Guitar Hero is squarely a gamer’s game, geared at challenging and inflating the button-masher’s sense of ego and technical mastery, while Rock Band is a true “band simulator” that’s all about the music, man. Activision, says the general consensus, is a sellout extraordinaire, slapping the once-glorious franchise with cartoony trappings and horrible energy-drink metal, while the eclectic, sophisticated musical tastes of the Harmonix team are well-respected.

Damn, that Leigh girl is right! The difference is in feeling like you’re actually PLAYING the song, that’s where the FUN is! I mean, I know that Youtube is stuffed with videos made by plastic guitar virtuosos where they FC every single song in the games, and I am guessing this crowd wants challenging songs to compete among themselves for the best score, but aren’t they the minority? I really think that Activision and Harmonix should aim at making FUN games, not hard ones.

And here’s a good testing method. Give an average Expert player (one that struggles with, let’s say, “Under my Wheels” by Alice Cooper) a song to play. If he smiles, or dances, or taps his feet while playing it, the note tracking is good. The first time I tried “Deuce” in Rock Band 2, I failed. I’m gonna admit that. But I did the whole classic KISS “move your guitar up and down” dance while failing the song. I was having a blast with it.

“Sultans of Swing” on GH5 was MUCH easier than “Deuce” in RB2, and I didn’t have much fun with it. What a freaking shame, it’s one of my all-time favorite childhood songs. I got so disappointed.

Overall, Harmonix beats Activision hands-down in the note tracking category. Whatever their process is when tracking the notes, it’s working. “Blue Sky” is such a DELICIOUS song to play. I keep coming back to it and I play it every time I play RB2. It’s a note tracking masterpiece.

But “Visions” freaking SUCKS. And I will come back to this particular one later.

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One Response to The fine art of button mashing

  1. […] it also provides some food for thought regarding the difficulty of music simulation games. Remember that old talk about button mashing we had in this blog a long time ago? Well, here’s what the scientists say about challenge and pleasure with the experience: […]

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