Monday, November 24, 2008

Nickelback vs. Guitar Hero (and Rock Band)

I've heard bits and pieces of this story over the weekend, but when I tried to look it up at work, I kept getting the "naughty site" warning from the company net nanny, which I expect from MTV and gaming site/blog Kotaku, which I wouldn't try anyway (though one day I might, you never know what those net censorship tools block and what they don't), but it seemed like every site which was hosting the story about Nickelback blasting Guitar Hero, no matter how obscure, was blocked. Except one blog which had a partial quote. When I get home, I'll try to find the actual site that first posted the story (done!). (I guess it wasn't newsworthy enough for someone like Associated Press, Reuters, New York Times, etc., "safe" news sites that are not blocked.)

Censorship cynicism aside (hey, I'm happy they let me on the Net at all), apparently, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback has gone on record, perhaps after numerous requests from the band's fans to license their songs for one music game or other, and has said something to the effect of, that there aren't as many good, solid rock bands coming out this year or last year, as, say, a few years ago, or maybe the last decade. And he's placing the blame solely at the feet of the Guitar Hero games, and by extension the more innovative Rock Band, which adds the ability to sing and play drums, as well as bass guitar (Guitar Hero was only lead guitar and rhythm guitar, although the new Guitar Hero World Tour adds drums and vocals and drops rhythm guitar as well). He's effectively saying people need to stop playing musician-simulating games and learn to play real instruments.

Following this announcement, I'm seeing a lot of the "cool" kids saying that Nickelback is neither good nor solid to start with and have no room to talk. By "cool" with quotes, I mean a bunch of hypocritical (and most likely virginal) losers who follow the Billboard Top 100 (or however many) charts and popular music news and tabloids with the passion of any Hannah Montana fan, but for the purpose of going online and pretending to hate whatever ranks high on the charts, yet they can't stop talking about it. Something that isn't popular or doesn't chart, they pretend to love (more accurately, they take up for), but as soon as that band or movie or whatever becomes popular, they flip on it. The same people who thought Nickelback were great until they hit it big, and now "hate" them. They seem to believe that anyone who has attained a certain degree of popularity is completely devoid of talent, as if anybody could do what the most popular artists or filmmakers do, but these people were "chosen" as opposed to earning their way. (Some of this is valid... Hannah Montana might not be anyone if her dad wasn't the "Achy Breaky Heart guy" (Billy Ray Cyrus) and Eragon most likely would never have gotten published (the word "plagiarism" would have come up once or twice) had the kid's parents or aunt or uncle or whomever had not run a publishing company and had not been in bed with a movie studio... but these are the exceptions, not the rule.)

Yeah, I like Nickelback. They make songs that sound good to me. It could be rightly said that I don't ask for a lot in music. A song has to sound good, and it's got to move me a little. "Photograph" takes me back to my younger days (precisely the point of the song). "Animals"... interesting story there, it actually makes me think of WWE personalities Edge and Lita, back in 2006 when the former was perhaps at his best (that I've seen - only been watching since late '05). They were heels (villains) but they pulled it off well, it was very cool, the song came out around that time and it just seemed to me they should have used it as their entrance theme, but they never did. The connection stayed with me, and when I hear the song, I think of them... I guess you could say if you have a friend or friends in love and they adopt a song (or have a song often dedicated to them) you grow attached to it. By the same token, my wife and I adopted "Far Away" as our song. Not for the reasons given in the video, but we attributed a more literal meaning to it: that we lived far away from one another and kept having to leave to go home, and when I finally moved in with her, that was the end of the goodbyes. It might not make sense to someone else, but it makes perfect sense to both of us. And "Someday", even though it shares its basic rhythm with another Nickelback song, reminds me not of that other song, but the Twilight Zone-inspired video, where the guy thinks his girlfriend is breaking up with him, she's ignoring him, so he follows her around. There are clues as to what's really going on, but they're easy to miss if you get caught up in the drama. She gets in a car and drives away, and he's chasing her... Eventually the car's hit by a semi, she's killed instantly... and she emerges from the wreckage, finds the boyfriend, and they embrace. We then see a newspaper in a newsstand about how he was killed the day before. So she wasn't leaving him, she was trying to move on - and they're reunited in death. It's a good story (for being told in under 4 minutes) and the song reminds me of it every time. I don't give two shits about how popular they are or aren't, and I'll still love these songs long after the band is inevitably forgotten by most.

Kroeger does have a point, though, but he's severely misinformed about what these games do and how they do it. About ten years ago, Aerosmith sponsored a computer program that would teach you how to play guitar. It came with a cheap electric guitar that would hook up to a computer, and you'd play Aerosmith songs on it. It would show you how, and would rate your performance. An early Guitar Hero? Not exactly. With this, you were actually playing an actual guitar, with strings. With the Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitar controllers, there are only five buttons. Mastery of a real guitar and a guitar controller both require talent, but the talent is different. The talent required to play the game is more like the talent of typing (fast). It's repetitive, and it does require rhythm, but it's nowhere near the league of playing an actual instrument. The Aerosmith program didn't sell well at all. I would even go so far as to say that Guitar Hero: Aerosmith (the Aerosmith-themed Guitar Hero 3 spinoff) most likely outsold this previous game in its first week or two. If that. So Aerosmith learned their lesson this year. Making a program that teaches fans of a popular music group to play a real instrument is not going to be as popular as a video game which simulates playing music in a fun way based on the same band.

The big difference is talent and musical inclination. I can play video games moderately well. The new Castlevania game on the Nintendo DS wasn't out three weeks when I beat it. I'm not bragging - some beat it in days. I'm nowhere near the best, but I'm no slouch when it comes to finishing a game I really enjoy playing. And I don't enjoy playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band as well as I sometimes let on - I think it's more the concept than the actual execution that I enjoy. I am able to and enjoy playing three songs on bass (the easiest instrument) on Expert (the highest difficulty) on Rock Band (which is easier than Guitar Hero). I'll name 'em, too: "Say it Ain't So" by Weezer, "I Think I'm Paranoid" by Garbage, and "Creep" by Radiohead. Can't do squat with them on lead guitar, on the drums, or singing. So for Chad Kroeger to look at someone like me and say "stop playing music games, get a real bass guitar" - it's kind of ridiculous. (Now, I've always wanted to play a real bass, long before these games, but I'm also well aware that I lack the artistic ability to create original tunes and the discipline to master the instrument.)

However, someone who can play every song or just about every song on Expert and get five stars or (five) gold stars, yes, I think that person should seriously consider learning to play the real instrument if that's something they'd be interested in. Especially drummers, since the drums is the most literal translation from the original work to the game's note track. I mean, you can go out and get the five drums that are emulated (bass/kick drum, snare drum, hi-hat, and whatever the other two are) and you can play the songs by the note track (put on No Fail mode and mute the TV) and play along with it, and you're actually playing the song. You can't do that with the guitar controllers. Wikipedia says there are 12 notes, but I count 13 on their chart. I once heard a radio DJ say a guitar has eleven notes (and it's what you do with them that counts). 11, 12, 13, it makes no matter because a Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller only has five note buttons, so the guitar stuff is simplified by more than half. You take someone who can five-star "Through the Fire and Flames" or "Green Grass and High Tides" and all you have is someone who can play a video game well; the person might even be a savant. But what you don't have is someone who can necessarily pick up a six-stringed guitar and jam out the same songs with the same level of perfection. Furthermore, speed metal band DragonForce's guitarist Herman Li tried to play his own song, "Through the Fire and Flames" on Guitar Hero 3, and failed at 2%. His own song. And only on Hard. Also, progressive rock band Rush got together and tried to play "Tom Sawyer" on Rock Band, and they failed out, though much later in the song (96%). (Me personally, I'd love to see Eddie Van Halen try to play "Hot For Teacher" from Guitar Hero World Tour, on Expert.)

The point I'm getting at is that, A) playing real musical instruments is MUCH harder than playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, and B) real musicians are not necessarily good at Guitar Hero or Rock Band, despite being able to do the more difficult task. Therefore it's given that C) Guitar Hero and Rock Band experts should not be expected to necessarily do well on real instruments. It's simple logic. Not that I would attribute solid logic to a musician; usually artistic ability and creativity do not go hand in hand with arithmetic skills and logical comprehension - two sides of the brain and all. So, long story short, Chad Kroeger has no idea what he's talking about. He might be on the right track (thinking that there aren't enough good bands coming out) but he's barking up the wrong tree. out of Missouri reports that, "Microsoft revealed this month that "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" have sold about 45 million song downloads to gamers." (1) Those song downloads cost $2 apiece. So that's $90 million dollars brought in by these games. And on top of that every purchaser has spent at least $60 on each game they have. And that's just for the disc. We paid $90 for Guitar Hero 3 because it came with the guitar. We paid $179 for Rock Band, which included a guitar, a drum set (and sticks), and a microphone. We paid $189 for Rock Band 2, with the same stuff as Rock Band 1 but more durable, plus the guitar and drum set are now wireless. OUCH! But we haven't spent nearly that on CDs. Matter of fact, we haven't bought hardly any CDs over the last year or two. Sure, we get them here and there, but not like we used to.

As they come, Guitar Hero and Rock Band games pull you in with just a few songs on the track list on the back (which is itself incomplete) that you like from hearing on the radio or CD or whatever, and you think that song would be good fun to play in the game. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But as you play (most likely you have to go through the game's Tour mode to unlock the song(s) you want) you realize that songs you wouldn't have paid attention to (like me with the Weezer, Garbage, and Radiohead tracks) are actually really fun to play. Maybe you come to like the song, but maybe not, but you enjoy playing it. The game could almost guarantee to expand your musical horizons. To that end, we recently hosted a Rock Band party. We had about 2500 Microsoft points left (enough for 15 songs, anyway) and what we did, we passed the controller around the room and let everybody pick a song. Nobody was criticized for their choices really, although everyone had something to say about every song that was previewed, and in the end, the songs that were chosen weren't all songs I'd have chosen or Jen would have chosen, but we added a level of diversity to our setlist we wouldn't have gotten choosing on our own.

It's a shame, though, that we won't be getting any Nickelback DLC (downloaded content, such as songs for Rock Band). We'd buy their songs if they came out, especially the ones we like. We've bought nearly 60 songs so far. I try not to think about how much money we've put into playing Rock Band (I haven't gotten into what we paid for the TV, the Xbox 360, or the home theater system), but we are most certainly supporting the music industry (as well as the electronics and gaming industries) and it's a shame Nickelback sees that as a threat rather than an opportunity.

Sources for the Nickelback/Guitar Hero story, if anyone's doubting for whatever reason:

MTV ... Kotaku ... G4

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Guitar Hero World Tour: First Look

As a longtime fan of the Rock Band platform (well, the year it's been out - and yes, this is a platform, not a game series, as it's branded and sold) I approached World Tour, or GHWT, with a bit of both skepticism and wonder. Skepticism, because Rock Band had taken the basic idea of Guitar Hero and taken it to a whole new level. Wonder, because the track list is completely amazing. The Doors, Steve Miller Band, The Eagles, Korn, Jimi Hendrix, Tool, and others - bands not seen anywhere on Rock Band. For the average gamer, it's pretty much a win-win situation. You can buy both games (GHWT and Rock Band 2) and they'll both work on just about any drum set, microphone, and guitars you hook up to your console; provided, of course, that they're rated for that console. However, from the business-minded perspective, however, one wants one to prevail over the other and all the music on one platform - if the music can't be available on both/all platforms, of course.

A note about platforms. When I was a kid, you played music on 12" vinyl disks called records. They had to be placed over a spindle (much how blank CDs come, actually) and onto a rubber turning table, and you had to carefully place this arm with a sensitive head onto a track on the record you could barely see. Doing so, it was easy to damage the head. The grooves in the record spiraled inward, and the head moved inward on its own, following the track. Some albums used two or three records, and both sides were used. Singles came on smaller records called 45s (the bigger ones were called 33s). We didn't ask why, though I'm sure the information's up somewhere. Then they came out with tapes. Quality wasn't as good but they were portable and convenient. And then CDs. Much better quality, just as portable, but less durable. Now we've got Mp3s. Can music get any better? Of course you have lossless filetypes like FLAC, which offer marginally better fidelity, and your 5.1 DVD audio, but what could we possibly do to improve music? We can't - we've reached an impasse. We're as good as we're going to get with listening to music. Oh, sure, one day we could maybe make a holographic environment where you experience a concert in person in your living room, but that's a century or more off. What about today? Today, Mp3s have traditionally been the best way to experience music, and Apple has made a killing selling them with iTunes. Guitar Hero and its predecessors were fun games, but Rock Band was the first viable way to experience music from the musician angle - you can sing (karaoke), play guitar (Guitar Hero), but you can also play bass and drums, and you can have four people doing all of this at once in a virtual band in your living room, and on top of that, they're selling songs - not songs you listen to, but songs you can interact with in the same way. So while these are games with game-like functionality, at the most basic level, they're the new Mp3s. The Rock Band store is the new iTunes. And, granted, while someone who's tone-deaf (like me) will stink at the actual game, that's just one element they're going to have to work on (and I've no doubt they are) to make this medium accessible to all, like Mp3s are.

The Rock Band 2 interface is very simple, largely improved upon from Rock Band 1. I tend not to think of 2 as a sequel to 1, but rather an upgrade. Like going from Windows 2000 to Windows XP, or more appropriately Windows Media Player 9 to WMP 10. While there are new features that make unlocking all the songs a fresh experience from the previous game, the game mechanics are really the same, just polished over. You select an avatar - a character to represent you. There are a couple dozen to choose from - equally men and women, various styles and attitudes represented, from tough to emotional, normal to very weird. It would be rather hard not to find a favorite avatar, and if you really want to, you can make your own, and customize his or her name, hometown (only about half a dozen choices), build, hair, face, eye and hair color, and clothing and accessories, even tattoos. You pick your avatar (and this is where you form your band, if you haven't got one established - those who want to play simply pick up the instrument of their choice and choose an avatar with it), you pick the song (or build a playlist - unlimited entries in RB2, six in GHWT), you pick the difficulty, and you play.

The gameplay is simple. All the vocalist needs to do is sing at the pitch and tone indicated by a line above the words. For the drummer and guitarists, a series of colored notes come down a road towards a stationary "hit bar", and when they pass under it, you do the corresponding action. For the drummer, a red note means you just tap the red drum pad. Two together, both of those pads. An orange line across the road means to hit the kick pedal. For guitarists, when a color comes down (say, green), the player holds the equivalent button on the neck of the guitar, and when the note crosses, they hit the "strum bar" (where you'd play the strings on a real one). Of course, this is much harder than it sounds. For the vocals, the system is very sensitive. If you can't sing, you simply can't do this. You can pass on easy if you know the song, but at harder difficulties, it requires much higher precision. A drummer must focus on three separate rhythms which are constantly changing. The guitarist (lead) must deal with complex riffs, power chords (more than one note at the same time - as many as four of the five), and solos. The bassist must often play the same note in rapid succession to keep the beat with the drummer. While the gameplay is simple in theory, mastery of the concepts is no simple or trivial task.

Consistently good gameplay is rewarded in the form of points - each note is worth so many points. If you do ten in a row, your multiplier goes up - they're worth double points. Another ten, they're worth triple. After thirty, you're at 4x. Bassists, for some reason, can get up to 6x (50 note streak). Additionally, there are white notes which give you a different score: Overdrive. Deploying this doubles your scoring on top of any multiplier you have, and if you're in a band, multiple bandmates in overdrive raises a band multiplier. Two members in overdrive means a 4x score. All four - 8x. So your bassist can have a 6x personal multiplier; your vocalist, guitarist, and drummer 4x each, and the whole band making 8x that. On top of all this, the math nerds at Harmonix have determined what you should be able to get points-wise, and as you rise up through the rankings, you get stars depending on how you rank against what they think you can get at your difficulty level. One star is easy - you will probably fail a song if you don't even rate two or three stars, anyway. It goes up to five stars, six if everyone's on Expert, but there's no sixth star, the five just become gold. At the end of the song, in addition to seeing your final star rating and points, everyone is shown their percentage of notes hit and highest note streak (phrases for vocals).

So, what does Guitar Hero World Tour do, if anything, to improve on this tried and true formula? That's the real reason we're here - not to pat Rock Band and Harmonix on the back for revolutionizing music, but to see what Rock Band's first real competitor brings to the table, and what it's worth. Some would argue the table belonged to Guitar Hero to start with, but even if that's true, Rock Band added three places to what would have basically been a table for one, and in any case, the field is much more even now. Both games offer a game with singing, drumming, two guitarists, and band cooperation. So, how do they measure up?

First things first, we had to watch the intro movie. Rock Band starts with a montage of a band playing atop a moving car, then a semi, and then a bus, falling from the last and miraculously landing on the next, all playing to "Highway Star" by Deep Purple (which is playable in the game). Rock Band 2 steps it up with 2 bands dueling atop 2 cars and playing chicken, to the music of "Hello There" by Cheap Trick, also playable. So I expected something awesome out of GHWT. We get a guy coming out on a rock stage with a flute; he plays and the audience starts to fall asleep, so this guy pages a rock band, and the four members are at different places, and all have a watch or phone or something which blinks with the Guitar Hero "GH" logo when they're supposed to jam. They take over the show and rock everyone's socks off. This video seems to go on about a minute longer than it perhaps has to and lacks the awesomeness the Rock Band videos brought. But don't take my word for it, watch all three, courtesy of YouTube:

Watch the Rock Band 1 intro:

Watch the Rock Band 2 intro:

Watch the Guitar Hero World Tour intro:

But OK, it's just an intro movie. And I'd like to point out that they all look and sound embarrassingly bad compared with my TV and sound system, but you get the idea. Let's get started with the actual game.

For about ten minutes, we all sign in. At first we were just going to jam, but it confronted each one of us with the prompt to sign in. Bad timing. We have the new Xbox Live Experience, and we got it from the leak, so we can't get online. So the logins took twice as long as they usually would. This isn't GHWT's fault, though, it's Microsoft's - releasing faulty operating software early has finally extended to the Xbox. But, we have word it's supposed to unscrew itself on the 19th. So we all sign in. Once each of us signs in, we're prompted with a question asking where we want to save our save data. There's only one choice - the hard drive. So we all go through the motions. I remember this being equally stupid on Rock Band 1, but not so much Rock Band 2. We were all a little unnerved that we had to spend 10-15 minutes getting from the end of the intro video to the setlist. (And, for the record, my wife and I were the only Rock Band faithful there - her brother and his friend started with Guitar Hero 2, when it first came out for the Xbox 360. And then they went on to GH3, not "jumping ship" to Rock Band but rather, following the evolution. They didn't rent GHWT, but rather rented it - used to the RB system, I guess they were wanting to decide whether to buy GHWT so soon after buying RB2.)

The setlist... Ah, so many good choices. The biggest problem that faced the early Guitar Hero games and the first Rock Band game was the old chicken and egg problem. The copyright holders of the biggest names in rock were unsure of this new technology. They didn't want to put their bands' names on something that was unproven. Smaller bands and up-and-coming bands, and classic rock acts afraid of being forgotten couldn't wait to get on board, and while I don't want to label anybody, it was these braver people who tested the waters and paved the way for the bigger bands in later games. Whether the best rock band(s) is/are in Rock Band or Guitar Hero, and ultimately which game has the best setlist, depends upon who you like. If you're with me and agree that Led Zeppelin is the greatest popular music act of all time, then the best is yet to come - Led Zeppelin have songs in neither game franchise, as of yet. If you favor The King, keep waiting. Elvis isn't in either of them, either. But if you prefer The Beatles, run out and get Rock Band 2, because they've signed with Harmonix. But don't rule out Guitar Hero - their list of exclusives is pretty impressive. It includes Korn, Steve Miller Band, The Eagles, Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Tool, and others. Harmonix's exclusives include The Beatles and AC/DC. Guitar Hero also has Metallica, but Metallica released three songs as downloadable content and one song on each Rock Band game *before* going over to Guitar Hero. If you like classic rock and you have no intention of paying to download additional songs, I must rule that Guitar Hero: World Tour has the better soundtrack. And I love some good classic rock. Including DLC (downloadable content), Rock Band and Guitar Hero are evenly matched. Most of what I've chosen almost equates our Rock Band setlist to GHWT's. While our 190 songs total on RB is impressive, we don't have Hotel California by The Eagles. We don't have Purple Haze or The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix. We don't have Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd - though we do have Gimme Two Steps and Simple Man. But we don't have Sweet Home Alabama, which is only the best song they've ever recorded. We don't have Band on the Run by Wings. And while we don't have Up Around the Bend by Creedence Clearwater Revival, we do have Fortunate Son - but we had to pay extra to get it - and it's a cover. But the setlist isn't just kind to a classic rock fan like me. Jen and her brother picked Freak on a Leash by Korn, Misery Business by Paramore (only the song that made them - RB only has their second single, Crushcrushcrush, and a B side nobody cares about), The Middle by Jimmy Eat World (also on RB2, oddly enough), and a couple others that are similar to or by artists on RB. Korn aside, when it comes to modern music, I think GHWT and RB are more evenly matched. Throw in DLC, and it goes to RB's favor.

But how about the gameplay? That's what it really hinges on, how well the game plays. It's pretty much the same as Rock Band. The vocals are still on top, and the drummer is still in the middle. However, Star Power (GH's Overdrive) is now shared by all and accessible by all. So if you have a slacker in your band, the rest of you can earn and your slacker can use the star power to save himself. This is important, because while in RB, every band member has three "lives" (after failing the first two times, they can be "saved" by someone else deploying Overdrive), in GHWT, there are no second chances, and there are no individual failures. While everyone's individually rated, if one person goes out, the whole band fails, and that's it. (Also, Star Power no longer runs until it burns out, it has a set limit - it's like 20-30 seconds.)

There are a couple of new features, and they're interesting. First of all, the game has a child's mode. I saw it first at the demo at Walmart, and didn't understand it at first. It's nothing but purple bars across the screen. And they mean "do anything". In beginner mode, as it's called, you can literally play any note you want, as long as you time it with the purple bars. I thought I'd seen the end of them, as the bassist. I was wrong. I'm playing (on Medium), and all of a sudden one comes at me! So I just play it like the note before it, and I "miss". It takes me a dozen such "notes" to learn that a purple bar on bass not on beginner means you strum without holding ANY neck buttons. Who woulda thought of that? Our drummer could never figure out how to deploy Star Power until asking on GameFAQs. Bunch of rude, self-righteous (and mostly underage) pricks who spend more effort telling you to just search than they would just answering your question and being done with you, as if searching helped, but anyway. We found out the drummer must strike the two middle drum pads at the same time to deploy. We never did figure out how to make the singer deploy Star Power. Our fault for not going through Training; the game's fault for not being as helpful as the previous ones (GH2 and GH3, or one of them anyway, would prompt you, in the middle of a song, with a drawing, to tilt the guitar up to deploy star power if you had it built up and weren't using it). For the guitarist (and to a very lesser extent, the bassist) occasionally two or more notes will be connected by a thin purple line. These notes can be hammered on (if you don't know what that means, nevermind). The vocals looked easier, but if you ask Jen about it, you'll get a lot of dirty four-letter words. She was getting 78% on songs she can get 100% on on RB due to the way GHWT tracks the vocals. She was consistently the weakest link in our band when in RB she's up among the best. There was nothing wrong with the game she brought, it really was a difference in the tracking of the tone and pitch. I'll have to look more into this myself, but she said she's asked around and has found people with similar experience and opinion of the GHWT vocals.

I think the best part of the game is actually after each song. You can pull up a detailed stats sheet that shows each band member's performance on each part of the song. Following that, you can see why each band member got paid what they did. You get bonuses for all sorts of things, some stupid stuff, too. Like you get a $10 bonus if you never used star power. You get bonuses for four and five star performances (both if you got five stars). There are so many things that contribute to your pay. Seeing a bandmate getting paid for something you didn't encourages you to try that on the next song. And of course, like with RB, the money goes to customizing your virtual rocker's apparel and accessories. This is superficial offline, but if you're playing online, and you're really proud, you can put all that money into some pretty special stuff and show it off online, and people who know what that stuff costs will recognize it for your accomplishments.

All in all, I really like Guitar Hero: World Tour. It's not as good as Rock Band 2 - which has had the benefit of a prior game and has shown that it's learned from its predecessor's mistakes. GHWT shows none of this. Maybe they saw a couple things that didn't work in RB and avoided them, but there are some real pitfalls in GHWT itself that I think should have been caught in the beta testing phase. This game could be so much better, but it feels like it's relying more on the Guitar Hero name than a solid foundation. I think, as a recommendation, whether you should buy this game depends solely on what you think of the set list. If you're looking at the set list and you're nodding your head, excited by what you see, go ahead and buy it. Especially if you have Rock Band or Rock Band 2 already and the instruments. It's worth $60. It also comes in three bundles I've seen. You can buy it with one guitar, with two guitars, or with the drums. If you have the Rock Band 1 instruments, it might be worth it to buy GHWT with the drums, as the drums are better (and you get 5 instead of 4). But if you have the superior RB2 drums (well, they're better than RB1 drums) stick with those. GHWT will modify the drum track based on what drum set you have plugged in. If the setlist doesn't impress you though, stick with RB. GHWT has some cool features that bring a lot to the world of interactive music, but overall the platform is severely lacking. And while there are a couple DLC tracks for GHWT that are worth having (more or less depending on your taste, but I'd only get 1 or 2), there are a heck of a lot for RB. As I say, we have 190 songs. When we get LIVE back on Wednesday the 19th (stupid Microsoft) we'll get the free 20 Harmonix released a couple weeks ago, and we have enough points to get another 10 or so, so we'll be up to around 230. Two hundred and thirty tracks playable from one game is pretty damn impressive. (Note that this includes 55 of the 58 songs from Rock Band 1, you can export them for use in RB2 for $5. But it's still a lot!)

Thanks to Wikipedia for the encyclopedic links (every link in this blog entry) and YouTube for the videos.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

History in the making

I can't begin to express how happy I was to come into work to see that Barack Obama had led by a landslide. I keep thinking I'm dreaming, but I haven't been working at this place long enough to dream about it (God forbid). I can't say as I'm surprised Obama won the race, but I really thought John McCain had it and I was prepared to support McCain as our next President. I voted against President Bush both times, but after he "won" in 2000, I supported him. After 9/11 and his connections to that event became highlighted, it became hard. I joked about this guy backed by a horrible speechwriter who's got a problem speaking publicly to start with as much as the next guy, but I'd like to say I always respected the President. You kind of have to; he's the President. Bush made it pretty hard with one boneheaded speech after another, one stupid decision after the next, but in the end, over eight years, he still served his country, perhaps to the best of his ability, based on the values he was raised on.

Race was always an underlying aspect of this race, though neither of the candidates touched directly on it. I wasn't aware when it happened, but reportedly Obama ended a speech asking "America, are you ready?" and he later admitted that what he was asking if we were ready for, was to elect our first black President. I missed that. But I've heard McCain say on numerous occasions that a "person like Obama" is "untested" (I suppose, implying that old white men are tested). John McCain can try to claim to not be a racist, and he may not be, exactly, but he had to overcome the horrible odds of running against the possibility of a first black President. Rather, McCain was running against history. Also, I thought it was amazing that when McCain gave his concession speech, there were skinheads in the crowd, but not one black face whatsoever. He might as well have been speaking to a Klan rally. These people were in tears. They were praying. Were they all rich, worried that Obama would redistribute their wealth? Maybe some of them were, but surely not all. John McCain himself was gracious and honorable, pledging his support to his new President.

Race aside - and, as I've said, the racial issue has always been on the back burner, if that - the issues really buried McCain. First, John McCain sponsored a war nobody really agreed with who wasn't making money on it. Cheney and Haliburton, for example. While I did agree with McCain that we ought to finish what we started, I believe Obama had the right of it, saying, OK we did what we set out to do. We ensured there were no WMDs in Iraq. Dubya got his revenge on Saddam Hussein. So... why are we still over there? Let's instead let the Iraqi people stand on their own, as is their sovereign right, and redouble our efforts to find Bin Laden. I agree with that more than McCain's idea to accept that Bin Laden was never very healthy and is probably dead and focus on Iraq, and possibly Iran.

More so than the war, it was the issues at home which really pushed Obama into the oval office. McCain's slogan was "Country First", but the country he meant wasn't ours, it was Iraq. Iraq first? Well, that doesn't look as good as a slogan. Also, the America that McCain saw was never the America that 80% or more of us Americans actually live in. I really tried to give McCain the benefit of the doubt when it came to the economy. I read news articles and blogs from McCain supporters, trying to find what McCain planned to do for the working class. Never once does he mention it. Furthermore, in an attack ad on Obama, McCain suggests that Obama will pay for his initiatives how? "By raising YOUR taxes", the ad says. Who's going to pay for this? the ad asks. YOU, it answers. Obama turns around and says that he's not going to raise taxes for anyone making $250,000 a year or less. It also comes out later that anyone making under $3 million a year will actually pay less tax under Obama than McCain. So who lives in John McCain's America? I don't. I'm lucky to make $20,000 a year. My wife and I together make under $40,000. To McCain, we're not Americans, we're just something he doesn't want to acknowledge. Well, she didn't vote, but I went out and voted for Obama. Rather, I voted for America, because it's like Obama said in his victory speech. Man or woman, black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Native American, gay or straight, rich or poor, we're all American. That's the America I voted for. Not McCain's America where you have to be rich, white, straight, and probably old as well to be important.

I've been a Trekkie ever since I can remember, and Gene Roddenberry was one of entertainment's first civil rights advocates. His original show, "Star Trek" from the 1960s, featured not only two Russians on the bridge (though one was an alien - I mean Mr. Spock of course) but a black woman as well. This didn't go over well at the time, but over the years, it's been accepted. "The Next Generation" brought even more diversity. "Deep Space Nine" brought us a black captain (in fact, Barack Obama kind of reminds me of Ben Sisko), and "Voyager" put a woman in the captain's chair. I would like to think that Obama won the 2008 election in the fictional Star Trek timeline as well, and that along with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. before him, Obama's presidency led the world to the kind of diversity we see on the shows today (well, reruns now).

And now we take our first step towards the 24th century with our first major decisive victory for civil rights, diversity, and equality here in the 21st century. I hope it's not the biggest I see in my life, and that more change is to come.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The coolest picture on the Internet

A couple weeks ago, I was being a horn dog and Googling under images with SafeSearch set to Off. There's a picture you can find (on your own) with a girl posing with a Guitar Hero guitar - and nothing else - and another one with a girl posing with a Super NES (with Zelda 3 in it for extra points) and the two controllers (again, and nothing else). I was searching for "xbox girl" looking for girls posing with Xbox or Xbox 360 gear. There's actually a market for this - gamers are usually guys (though girl gamers are becoming less uncommon these days, and not just on the Wii and DS) and they're usually nerds, so if a girl poses with some geek stuff, it's a turn-on. I dig it.

So anyway, I'm searching for "xbox girl" up there and found this:

Now is that not the coolest thing you've ever seen? First of all, they've got a chromed-out 360 and matching wireless controller (I've never seen that before) but they're using the 360 as a bed for the baby. Not the best for either of them but it still looks good.