Sunday, June 28, 2009

Would you play this game?

Among many others, one thing that sets the Xbox 360 apart from other home entertainment consoles today is the Achievement system. For years past, we've been able to brag about our accomplishments in video games, but there really hasn't been any way to consistently prove this. Computers have screen recorders, but none are very reliable. You can record gaming footage from a console, but there's no way to prove you did it, as opposed to having downloaded that video from the Internet. With the Xbox 360, you have individual profiles; when you use it, you first sign into your profile (or use it as a guest), and your profile keeps all of your information separate from everybody else's, much like an account in Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. Your profile has an avatar, improved upon but nonetheless based on the Mii on the Nintendo Wii, a 3D character of your own creation, which can be made to look sorta like you, or it can be something entirely different. Then you have your gamer picture, a square icon which predates the avatar, but is still used to represent you in a smaller capacity. After that, you have your gamer score.

Traditionally, and though there are exceptions, retail Xbox 360 games come with 1,000 gamerscore that you can "unlock" by doing certain things in the game. This 1,000 gamerscore can be divided up into 1-99 Achievements, set accomplishments which net a predetermined score. Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) games come with 200 gamerscore and must have 12 achievements, no more, no less. Exceptions include a couple huge games which have 1,200 gamerscore, and the expansions to the Rock Band franchise (e.g. AC/DC Track Pack, Track Pack 2, Classic Rock Track Pack) only come with 200/12 as though they were XBLA titles. How a game gives gamerscore depends entirely upon what the developer of the game wanted to do with the feature. Most games will give you a substantial award for completing the main objective. Many will give awards for completing important milestones in the game. Most award you for winning online matches. Some give you tiny awards for losing, as a sort of consolation prize. Many award you for finding secrets or by doing something creatively. For example, in the beginning of Half-Life 2 (from the game The Orange Box), you have no weapons, and you're being escorted through security checkpoints. A black stormtrooper guy knocks a soda can off the rim of a trashcan and tells you to pick it up, and throw it away. This is part of the tutorial. However, if, instead of throwing it in the trashcan, you throw it at HIM, well, he comes after you with a cattle prod. If you can get around him and away from him, you get 5 points for "Defiance". Later, in the course of normal game events, you're given the character's trademark crowbar from the first Half-Life, and you receive an award for this landmark.

Achievements and their associated gamerscore awards have become a point of pride for many Xbox owners. My account currently has 2405. My wife's is around 1800, and her brother has close to 12,500. But that's chump change; some people have 25,000 or more. A quick Google search lead me to a YouTube video showing a gamerscore of 237,355, but it's implied that this was obtained through an exploit in the system. On a given day of Xbox Live gaming, you're likely to see scores in the 40,000 to 50,000 range from time to time, but those are rare. Gamers in the 20,000 range are more common. What my brother-in-law does to get his, besides actually being very good at the games he plays, is, he has that membership at Blockbuster where, for $22 a month, he can rent as many games as he wants for as long as he wants, but he can only have one out at a time. Like us, he owns Rock Band and a handful of other games he plays just for fun, but he gets new games, and he beats them, not for all 1,000 points they're worth, but just to the end of the main story. He has 55-60 games on his profile (it keeps track of every game you play, as well). So that would be 50,000 gamerscore if he'd gotten all 1,000 from each. So it got me wondering: Would Xbox 360 gamers play a game which could take gamerscore as well as give it? This got me thinking, and I came up with an idea:

An auto insurance company and a car company team up to make a realistic driving game focusing on safety. While this game would seem boring, they'd map an entire state (New York or maybe California) and you'd be able to drive anywhere. The game itself could give you missions to drive people around, kind of like a tame Grand Theft Auto. The game's initial appeal would be that a total of 2,500 gamerscore could be obtained by unlocking all 99 of its achievements. However, there's a catch - there are a total of 99 "red" achievements which total NEGATIVE 5,000 gamerscore. Speed through a small town 10 miles per hour and get docked 10 points. The game could feature local trouble, you'd have a chance of getting a ticket and your insurance rate going up, creating an additional challenge to overcome within the game. You wouldn't get docked 10 points the next time you went 10 over, because the achievement was already unlocked, the penalty already imposed, but you could still be punished in-game if you were caught. However, maybe you go 15 over, you get docked 25 points. And so on until every green (normal) and red achievement were unlocked.

If you really went for all achievements, you'd have 99 green ones and 99 red ones, and you'd have 2500 gamerscore less than when you played the game. But, having accomplished this, would you really consider yourself worse off? In other words, is it the number of the score, or is it the sum of the accomplishments of playing and completing the games?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jollys' Mix 2009, Disc 2

I actually finished up this mix a couple weeks ago, but I've been so busy listening to it lately that I never quite got the chance to write about it. As usual with the mixes, we have a mix of songs from the musical puzzle games Rock Band and Guitar Hero, songs from sports events, and songs on the radio, as well as a good genre mix: we have rap, we have metal (some really heavy stuff, too), glam, a cover of an 80s classic, and college rock.

Click the name of any song to view the video on YouTube. I tried to get the "official" video wherever possible, not one uploaded by "just anybody" so none of these should get taken down for copyright violations, since the copyright owners put them up. If I couldn't get the "official" video I just went with whatever I could get.

1. Let it Rock (Kevin Rudolf, Lil Wayne)
This was used this January by the WWE for this year's Royal Rumble, based around that big match where 30 guys try to toss one another over the ropes, last one standing gets a championship match at WrestleMania a few months later. (This year, the Rumble was more entertaining than Mania, but never mind that.) This song's fun to listen to, sort of a cross between rock and rap with dance elements. It sets the stage for the rest of the album. From the earliest "beta" of the album, with just five songs, it was always the first track.

2. Magnetic Baby (Semi Precious Weapons)
This glam-rock song is hard to listen to at first, but it's really good. This is one of the 20 free songs that comes via a code with Rock Band 2, and it's fun as hell to sing and play on bass. Yes, that's a dude singing, if you were curious, though I can see (hear) how it's hard to tell. I went from putting this song on the mix (and it was one of the original five as well) as a joke, figuring I'd drop it by the final build, but it grew on me and I had to keep it. I'm also more apt to pick it on Rock Band. Watch it played on Rock Band 2; bass is the left track.

3. I'm Gone, I'm Going (Lesley Roy)
Another of the "20 free" Rock Band 2 songs, and more of a surprise. Think Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, but heavier. There isn't enough chick rock in Rock Band, and this one is worth paying for (not that I'm complaining that I got it for free).

4. Lifeline (Papa Roach)
I love putting Papa Roach songs on these mixes. Their songs are just consistently good. Seems like there's two kinds of Papa Roach songs. There's the hard-hitting ones like "Last Resort" and "...To Be Loved", and then there's these solid, semi-inspirational songs like this and "Scars". I never thought I'd like another of their songs as much as "Scars", but this one's pretty damn good. And with "Last Resort" and one other (drawing a blank here), it's part of a 3-pack on Rock Band. (It's not "Time is Running Out"; that's been up there, was released before.)

5. Life is Beautiful (Sixx:A.M.)
My favorite song on the mix and current favorite song, period. It's from the album "The Heroin Diaries" based on Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx's beating his addiction to heroin. I got the album after hearing this song, expecting it to be like this song. It's not, this song is pretty unique to the album, but it's a great album nonetheless. I remember getting this song. We had just bought a $50 Xbox Live card and had a party, and we were passing the controller around the room, letting people pick songs, whether they were playing the game or not. We just wanted to get a lot of variety. Somebody picked this, said it was a good song. I didn't notice it for the longest time, then we just started playing it. (When you have 332 songs, it's easy for a couple to get lost in the shuffle.) It's not an easy song to play on bass, harder to sing, but I'm fine just listening to it. Good stuff.

6. Young (Hollywood Undead)
Hollywood Undead's debut album is called "Swan Songs", but this is the only song that qualifies. "Undead" is a cool song and "Everywhere I Go" is funny, but "Young" is the only one that is genuinely good. And it was one of the free 20 songs. Fun to sing, really fun to play on bass. A nightmare on guitar, since the guitarist gets stuck with the keyboards as well.

7. Careless Whisper (Seether)
Anyone who has lived through the 1980s probably knows this song, even if not by name, or who did it. I can almost guarantee if you're 25 or older, you've heard it. "I'm never gonna dance again, cuz guilty feet have got no rhythm, though it's easy to pretend, I know you're not a fool. I should have known better than to cheat a friend, and waste the chance that I've been given, so I'm never gonna dance again, the way I danced with you." Sound familiar now? Yeah. That one. Sorry for that reminder. The orignal performer was George Michael, by the way. Seether render a faithful cover that's amazing to hear the first few times, but after the novelty wears off, you may find yourself wishing you were listening to something else. Still, it's worth having on the mix. (And no! It's not on Rock Band! Though RB could use some Seether, but I'd prefer they do "Broken", their song with Amy Lee of Evanescence.)

No official video for this one, so rather, I linked to a live performance that can be viewed in HD. Enjoy!

8. I Don't Care (Fall Out Boy)
It's easy to make fun of Fall Out Boy, but this song's fun to listen to. Another song in Rock Band, boring as hell on bass. Haven't tried singing it yet, though I'd like to soon.

9. Something in Your Mouth (Nickelback)
Yep, he's talking about what you think he is. A little too crude for the quality of the song, but it's fun if you're in the mood. Sometimes I am, sometimes not.

10. Too Drunk (Buckcherry)
Now this is college humor rock done right. Catchy, quotable lyrics (though not in mixed company), a real fun song.

11. Scream (Avenged Sevenfold)
Pretty good hard rock song, supernatural themes, kind of reminds me of Godsmack.

12. Re-Education Through Labor (Rise Against)
Rise Against seem to be the new political-angst metal band, after System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine before them. Fans seem to agree this song is about China, though some say it's about their sweatshops, others say it's about their prisons. Either way, it's good.

13. Two Weeks (All That Remains)
I'll sing this song on Rock Band, but I won't mess with playing it on any instrument. Fast and heavy, but not as much as "This Calling", also in the game (and also fun to sing). Jen's current "favorite song ever", or at least that's the latest she's told me.

14. Dear Lucid, Our Time is Right Now (Evans Blue)
It'll be a while before I run out of Evans Blue songs for these mixes. They fired vocalist Kevin Matisyn, and they kinda blow now, but we got two great albums out of their doomed union. The exact meaning of this song is vague and evades me, but the lyrics sound powerful, and the instruments are. One of the songs I'd kill to play in Rock Band.

15. Becoming the Bull (Atreyu)
If you've heard the name of this metal band before but you can't place it, it's likely you've seen "The Neverending Story" when you were a kid. He's the Indian teenager with the horse. You wouldn't expect a metal band to be named after a character in a kids' movie (ten years from now there'll be a band called "Harry Potter" - mark my words). This song is fun to listen to, though, and heavy enough.

16. Burn You Down (Opiate for the Masses)
The last of the Rock Band songs on the album, this also comes from the free 20. Toss-up between this and "Young" for the best, but like the last five songs, it's heavier. Doesn't really sound like it at first, but the chorus is a beast. Not as easy to sing as I'd like, and the bass is just how you'd expect. Boring during the verses and hard, though not too tricky during the chorus. And here's that bass track, you can see what I mean.

17. Dead Memories (Slipknot)
Ever since Stone Sour, the horrible secret has gotten out that Corey Taylor can actually sing, but in my opinion, Slipknot's only gotten better since. They're not as heavy, not quite as scary as the nine masked men who came out in the late 90s, but they make some good music. Not quite as heavy as "Psychosocial" from the last mix, this one's alright though.

18. Helden (Apocalyptica with Till Lindemann)
I have no idea what "Helden" means, or anything else Till Lindemann says in this song. It's all in German, so it sounds cool. Well, except "ja", that means "yeah" or "yes". And "Ich" (sounds like "ish"), which means "I" or "me". So I know a couple words in German. But I got no idea what he's saying. I like it, though. Video is real special because it's got translations. So if you want to know what they're talking about, you can find out.

19. What Have You Done? (Within Temptation)
In 2004, after I'd listened to all the Nightwish albums a hundred times apiece, I went looking for similar bands. Within Temptation were the most promising, but their "Mother Earth" album, a theme album about Mother Nature, was a little tacky. Some good stuff, but kinda silly. Then they put out "The Silent Force" which kicked all kinds of ass. The album this song is from (the name of which escapes me at the moment) is kind of a let down, but the chorus of this one is fun. I mentioned Guitar Hero in the first paragraph. Usually I make fun of Guitar Hero, but they got this song as downloadable content, and I was all over it. We hardly ever put GH in, but I killed this on bass. Not so easy to sing, but the singing is broken in GH anyway. Nobody sings good in Guitar Hero. Broken. Does not work.

20. Death to All But Metal (Steel Panther)
Who the hell are Steel Panther? I have no idea, but this song is funny as hell. It sounds like 1980s hair metal - fine by me - and then proceeds to rip on all kinds of music in the most vulgar way possible. Who all gets burned? In order of naming, Goo Goo Dolls, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Papa Roach, blink-182, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, MTV, record companies in general, Britney Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, 50 Cent, and Kanye West. Well, Def Lep and Crue aren't really burned, but they're called metal, and... they really aren't. Maybe a case could be made for Crue, but not Def Lep. If they wanted to talk about 80s metal, they could have said Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, or Motorhead. Funny song, but it actually sounds good - good as in, it would be challenging to play on Rock Band.

And as always, this mix isn't for sale, but feel free to buy or otherwise acquire the songs and compile it yourself. It's great in the car, we've had it in the car for a couple weeks now, and I'm almost ready for a new disc, but it's been entertaining.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

331 songs on Rock Band: Evanescence, Iron Maiden

I'm so used to writing Evanescence as Evanuisance because, well, that's kind of what they are. My Firefox spell checker even recognizes "Evanuisance"; yeah, I got that bitch trained. "Evanescence" is actually a real word, just not commonly used; it basically means the act of evaporation. (Sadly Evanescence didn't evanesce, and now they're in Rock Band. C'est la vie.)

Anyway, we got 3 tracks by Evanuisance: Bring Me to Life (feat. Paul McCoy of 12 Stones), Call Me When You're Sober, and Weight of the World. The latter I don't think is even a single; all I've heard from their new album is "Call Me" (and the radio station goes nonchalantly back to their first album... sure sign the new one sucks) but it sounds fun, so we get it. And they give you a break when you buy the whole pack, so some smart shopping there.

As for Iron Maiden, these guys kicked your grandpa's ass so many years ago and they still rock to this day. However, they do kinda suck live, Bruce Dickinson has mostly lost his voice. Doesn't stop me from getting the live version of "Hallowed Be Thy Name", probably their best song after "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" which is too long for Rock Band anyway. So we've got Hallowed, and the studio versions of "Run to the Hills" (a cover was on Rock Band 1, and did not export with the others, so it'll be nice to have that again) and "Number of the Beast" (a cover we've had as DLC for a while). Rounding out the four is the semi-poppy "Two Minutes to Midnight", which should be fun to sing.

Anyway, "Midnight" is about to finish, and that's the last of 'em, so I'm gonna go get my ass kicked on vocals (I'm up to Hard now) and Jen's gonna get her ass kicked on drums.