Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two games Harmonix needs in the Rock Band family

Last week I wrote about five songs that Harmonix needs to license for Rock Band. One of them was "Through the Fire and Flames" by DragonForce. A day or two after I posted that article, I heard about Activision's forthcoming offering, "Guitar Hero's Greatest Hits" which will combine the best of Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (those two previously only available for PlayStation 2), Guitar Hero II, and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock into one big game. What's more, all of the songs will be master recordings, not cheap covers. (The covers were OK, but the masters are preferrable.) And what's best of all, "Through the Fire and Flames" is confirmed!

Oh yes. We will be getting that.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Rather than simply suggesting more songs, I now write about two expansion sets Harmonix needs to bring to the Rock Band family:

1. Rock Band: Adult Edition
One of the biggest problems with the Rock Band franchise is that, in order to get the coveted T rating which allows kids to buy games without parental permission, they censor songs and a lot of good songs would be impossible to do, because of the censorship. Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness" was completely butchered, and Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Sir Psycho Sexy" was just a mistake. The T rating affords them the ability to use songs with suggestive themes ("Sir Psycho" is about a sex fiend who, among other things, rapes a "lady cop" who pulls him over; "Sickness" is about a guy killing his abusive mother); they just can't use most words. Every now and then they do something cool. On the Rock Band 2 disc, "Man in the Box" substitutes words that are phoenetically similar enough to credit you for singing the original lyrics. "...buried in my shit" becomes "buried in my pit", and "...shove my nose in shit" becomes "...shove my nose in spit". And they let Weezer get by with saying "bitch" (rather, "beotch") in the downloadable song "Troublemaker". Why they don't go the Battlestar Galactica route and replace "fuck" with "frak" (hey, it worked for the Sci-Fi channel on cable) is beyond me.

So they can't taint the main games, but as far as I can tell, nothing at all stops them from making an adult edition of Rock Band. First, redo the songs that were butchered with their original lyrics. Second, include songs that aren't just profane for the sake of being profane, but rather good songs that would never be usable on a T-rated Rock Band title, so that groups of adults who play Rock Band (like me, my wife, her brother, and our friend, and many others) can enjoy some more adult-oriented songs. And since some of these songs have hidden joke songs that can be unlocked near the end (e.g. "Timmy & The Lords of the Underworld" from South Park on the first Rock Band), throw in a few overly profane songs for shits & giggles. That new "Death to All But Metal" by Steel Panther, for example, sounds fun to play on all instruments (especially sing) but it's way too obscene to even consider. Another good "joke song" would be "Three Little Pigs" by Green Jello. Borderline able to go in the T-rated game, it's still kind of harsh. Or how about going all out and doing "Fuck the World" by Insane Clown Posse, just for the line, "Don't bother trying to analyze these rhymes. In this song I say 'fuck' 93 times!" I haven't counted, but I don't doubt him.

The new GTA game on the DS drops two F-bombs in the intro movie alone. I thought I was being so funny modding my DS just to watch a porn clip on a Game Boy, and then Nintendo goes and proves that adult content isn't entirely outside the realm of what they can do with their handhelds. Kind of moots my point, but it was still fun to make. So if the Game Boy can swear, what makes Rock Band so puritan? There's nothing puritan about any rock star's life... unless your band is called Petra... so why not drop the pretense, at least for one game that, sure, kids won't be able to get at, but older players will eat right up, and of course like all the other games, you'd be able to integrate it into your master setlist by exporting the songs to the Xbox hard drive.

2. Rock Band Pro
Rock Band games are fairly balanced across the board. You've got easy games and hard games, and on the disc, it all balances out. While most of the downloadable songs lean toward the easy tiers, Rock Band's hardest songs, namely Yngwie Malmsteen's three, and Rude Mood by Stevie Ray Vaughan, are downloadable. But these games tend to wear out quickly for the best gamers out there. People who can master songs in no time. You see them on YouTube and score-tracking sites like ScoreHero. The top 100 or so scores all have 100%; once they can hit all the notes, they work on gaming the system to score the most points possible (overdrive timing). Even if you can top the high score by just a point or two, it's worth striving for.

My second suggestion, therefore, is to release a collection of the hardest downloadable content, plus some new stuff sidelined under the excuse that it would probably be too hard for most players. Songs that shouldn't be in the game because they'd just be stupidly hard, but a package that would appeal to the best of the best. I like telling people who are good, "You think you're good at Green Grass, but could you hang with Nightwish if Harmonix released some as DLC?" And then I'll put on the live version of "Wishmaster" and blow their minds. The song itself is a beast, but the live version is something else. Absolutely not to be fucked with. Might as well create a new difficulty tier in and call it "You've already failed". And then throw in some speed metal, and thrash, some death metal, in addition to the symphonic metal. And, as Stevie Ray Vaughan's DLC shows, songs don't need to be metal to be hard to play. Now that we have Yngwie Malmsteen, we need some Steve Vai. We need some Joe Satriani. We have blues. How about some jazz? Jazz is easy to make fun of, but try playing it.

The premise would be simple. In Rock Band, you start out as a garage band and end up touring the world, but even as you do so, the quality of the songs you're playing doesn't increase much. Rock Band Pro would put you in the shoes of a gifted musician, and your rise would not be in terms of venues played, but rather more like the respect of other musicians.

It seems like Harmonix answered Guitar Hero: Aerosmith with AC/DC: Rock Band Track Pack. Are they really answering Guitar Hero: Metallica with The Beatles: Rock Band? Sure, the Beatles are a good band, but will any of their songs offer a challenge? How about Nightwish: Rock Band Pro?

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