Wednesday, November 5, 2008

GH:WT Vocals, Thoughts and Impressions

I've seen some good back and forth between fellow Vocalists on ScoreHero regarding this. I tried very hard to be as objective and fair as I could be in my weighing in of this new Vocal product. It's been almost a whole year since Rock Band graced our lives, so a lot of us have become so familiar and biased toward Rock Band that objectivity isn't an easy task. At the end of the day though, this court and its honorable Judge, CEO, President of Operations and MFIC finds in favor of the Vocal plantiff, Rock Band. Guitar Hero: World Tour is hereby sentenced to 12 months in a correctional facility. May God have mercy on its soul. /gavel

Let's give credit where credit is due to some innovations that WT has brought us though. Push-button activation is something so simple and yet so powerful. I can't say enough good things about it. A true and deserving Vocal practice mode is also worth mentioning(Are you listening, HMX?).

I think a case could also be made for the ambitious things that Neversoft tried to do with the Vocals in this game, even if they weren't fully realized. The freeform sections introduced, as odd and brokenly powerful as they may be, are an interesting idea in theory. Nearly equivelant to a drum fill, the singer is supposed to create his or her own melody in line with the tune and beat of the song. Sounds great, right? It isn't. The words esoteric and misappropriated come to mind. If you sing the right notes and hold a tone in the right way, you can do well with them, too well, actually. A well-timed SP release with a maxed out multiplier over one such section can dwarf the score of the entire song. Also, not all freeform sections react the same way. I've gotten to a x8 multiplier repeatedly on some songs, and struggled to hit x3 on others regardless of length. The freeform sections seem like an interesting idea but the execution is awful.

I'll mention the hand-raising sections very briefly. If you say any noise at all in that section for any length of time you get a fixed amount of SP. This is probably what freeform sections should have been.

Talkies are an interesting beast. If you see red on a Vocal highway, that means if you say or sing anything over those, you get them. Talkies become more of a challenge in how long you can hold your breath out than anything else. Still, they are effortless, and require no special manipulation of sound or sensitivity. So, I think Talkies are somewhat of a push.

The scoring system is awful; it really is. I'm not sure what Neversoft had in mind, but with note snapping and a ridiculously punishing accuracy system, this is probably the biggest turnoff among Rock Band Vocalists. While I appreciate the difficulty in light of Rock Band 2's 'no one gets left behind approach' to Vocals, it's too much. Yes, the score at the end is a measure of accuracy, not a combo percentage, but something about seeing a score in the low-to-mid 90's for a song I nailed is just bad. I really hope that the next Vocal iteration in either franchise falls somewhere in the middle of the difficulty levels we have thusfar.

There are some other small gripes, like having the color of the ball's path turn to blue when under SP. According to Crayola, there are 8 basic colors. Pick a different one so we can see what the hell we're doing. The SP usage for Vocalists seems odd too. My multiplayer experience in WT so far has shown me that a Vocalist should virtually never activate SP. This is mainly because when a Vocalist activates, we stop picking up SP each phrase. It serves the band better to just keep firing up those bulbs every phrase and let them use it. So, we get push-button activation just in time to leave our controllers behind. =/

I'm not saying that the Vocal experience in and of itself is awful in WT. There's a lot of fun songs to be played and enjoyed if you let the score be what it is and just have fun with it. If you're even remotely interested in scoring, solo or otherwise, you're going to have a tough time with this game though. My humble opinion: this game is only as bad as how seriously you take it, but it's not all bad.

Marathon After-thoughts

Well, it's been a while since I added anything meaningful here and a couple weeks since the marathon. I really wanted to take some time afterward to do other things and stay busy so that I could reflect on what the marathon was and wasn't with a good level of clarity.

I may have been a little disappointed with the turnout during and maybe shortly after it was over. I felt like what we(Duce1621 and myself) accomplished should have been recognized more than what it ultimately was. After some time, that feeling all but totally went away. The people who were there did a lot to spur us on and help us out and I'm thankful for their support. Still, we know within ourselves what we did and how hard it was to press on and finish.

In the end, I ended up singing 250 songs over the course of 26 hours with some small breaks here and there. To those who said something like that could NOT be done on Vocals: it really can, and more. If you pace yourself and don't waste your voice foolishly, I really think 40+ hours is possible. I should note that this probably isn't possible for everyone to do. If you're a Vocalist thinking about doing something like this, please, please test yourself beforehand, see a doctor and make sure that your vocal cords can handle something like this. If pushed too far, your vocal cords can and will suffer permanent damage. I would be more than happy to speak with anyone who's thinking of going down this path and relay the steps I took to reach the decision that I could do it and what I did during the marathon to keep things rolling.

There were a few moments where my voice tightened a bit, but with some tea, throat drops and breaks I was able to bring it back to a comfortable level. My low octave control slipped a little at the end, but not enough to derail me in any real way. My throat wasn't really sore at all the next couple days(I actually picked up WT that same day and played it on Vox that night for a little bit).

I ended up with 137 FC's out of the 250 songs played. I consider this a very satisfying number considering I sang almost every song the way I wanted to. I would say of the 113 I didn't FC, more than half were -1's that I could probably FC almost every time out. I very nearly pulled out a Young Man Blues FC at hour 25. Honestly, under RB1's difficulty, I would have been hard pressed to hit 100. It's sort of a statement to the ease of RB2's Vocals, but also the flexibility.

Where the event leads me afterward in terms of what I want to do with Vocals is very unclear. My interest in RB2 Vocals was already down to almost zero before the marathon. I think if the band we're trying to put together can get going there might be something there, but for right now there's just too many other things to do. GH:WT's Vocals are way too strange and poorly put together to be taken seriously by anyone, anywhere. I'm not ruling out participating in a tournament somewhere for it though.

Saying I'm hanging up my mic would be premature. I still love to sing and play but the little competitive spirit that I was born with is not interested in fighting Vocals anywhere. It's been a tremendous ride though, and I would never have imagined just how many friends and people I would have met through a medium like ScoreHero. I certainly wouldn't have found myself in a great community like the PMS/H2O clan. So, I'm happy and content with how things have panned out. A real-life tournament win somewhere would be interesting, but in light of the marathon, I don't feel that I have anything to prove anymore. It's all about kickin' back and having fun now. :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rock Band 250 Song Marathon Schedule Pt. 1

Song Schedule:
Section 1(Opening Block - 18 songs)
1. Two Weeks
2. This Calling
3. Natural Disaster
4. Who's Going Home With You Tonight?
5. This Is It
6. My Own Worst Enemy
7. One Step Closer
8. Junkies For Fame
9. A Jagged Gorgeous Winter
10. Charlene
Skullcrusher Mountain
12. New Wave
13. Conventional Lover
14. Give It All
15. Our Truth
16. Life Is Beautiful
17. Sorrow
18. Afterlife

Section 2(Soft Classic Rock - 9 songs)
19. Eye of the Tiger
20. Any Way You Want It
21. Go Your Own Way
22. Fortunate Son
23. Don't Fear The Reaper
24. Simple Man
25. My Sharona
26. Rock N' Me
27. Spirit in the Sky

Section 3(Classic Alternative - 10 songs)
28. She Sells Sanctuary
29. All the Small Things
30. Feel The Pain
31. Pretend We're Dead
32. Hard to Handle
33. Roam
34. Kids in
35. We Got The Beat
36. Man in the
. Hungry Like The Wolf

Section 4(Pop/Emo - 10 songs)
38. The Middle
39. Dead on Arrival
40. This Ain't a Scene, it's an Arms Race
41. Move Along
42. Dirty Little Secret
43. Crushcrushcrush
44. That's What You Get
45. Attack
46. The Kill
47. One of THOSE Nights

Section 5(Classic Rock - 10 songs)
48. Carry on Wayward Son
49. Round & Round
50. Ramblin' Man
51. Psycho Killer
52. Shooting Star
53. Let There Be Rock
54. Gimme Shelter
55. Flirtin With Disaster
56. Bad To The Bone
57. Tangled Up in Blue

Section 6(Blood Sugar Sex Magik - 17 songs)
58. The Power of Equality
59. If You Have To Ask
60. Breaking the Girl
61. Funky Monks
62. Suck My Kiss
63. I Could Have Lied
64. Mellowship Slinky in B Major
65. The Righteous & the Wicked
66. Give It Away
67. Blood Sugar Sex Magik
68. Under The Bridge
69. Naked in the Rain
70. Apache Rose Peacock
71. The Greeting Song
72. Mr. Lovely Man
73. Sir Psycho Sexy
74. They're Red Hot

Section 7(Alternative - 11 songs)
75. New Kid In School
76. Everlong
77. Learn To Fly
78. Rock N' Roll Star
79. Wonderwall
80. Reptilia
81. Yomp
82. Dreamin'
83. Buddy Holly
84. Alex Chilton
85. Shake

Section 8(Alternative - 11 songs)
86. Little Sister
87. Time We Had
88. They Say
89. Monsoon
90. Perfekte Welle
91. Brainpower
92. When You Were Young
93. Welcome Home
94. Ten Speed(Of God's Blood and Burial)
95. Rebel Girl
96. Rescue Me

Section 9(Offspring/Classic Alternative - 12 songs)
97. My Iron Lung
98. Creep
99. Sex Type Thing
100. Vasoline
101. Interstate Love Song
102. Black Hole Sun
103. Spoonman
104. Pretty Fly
105. Hammerhead
106. Keep 'em Seperated
107. Gone Away
108. Self Esteem

Section 10(Classic Metal - 12 songs)
110. Ride the Lightning
111. Number of the Beast
112. Ace of Spades '08
113. Peace Sells
114. Sleepwalker
115. Screaming for Vengeance
116. Take(These Chains)
117. Bloodstone
118. You've Got Another Thing Comin'
119. The Hellion/Electric Eye
120. Painkiller

Section 11(Alternative - 16 songs)
121. Countdown To Insanity
122. Supreme Girl
123. Runnin' Wild
124. I'm So Sick
125. Outside
126. Float On
127. Today
128. Zero
129. Siva
130. Cherub Rock
131. Bullets & Guns
132. Message In A Bottle
133. Action
134. Promised Land
135. Mountain Song
136. White Wedding(Ver. 1)

Section 12(Boston/Rush/Motley Crue - 12 songs)
137. More Than A Feeling
138. Peace of Mind
139. Foreplay/Long Time
140. Rock and Roll Band
141. Smokin'
142. Something About You
143. Hitch A Ride
144. Limelight(Original DLC)
145. Tom Sawyer(RB1 Version)
146. Face Down in the Dirt
147. Down at the Whiskey
148. Saints of
Los Angeles

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rock Band 250 Song Marathon Schedule Pt. 2

Section 13(Alternative - 15 songs)
149. Don't Make Me Wait
150. All Over Again
151. She Does
152. A Clean Shot
153. Lazy Eye
154. I Was Wrong
155. Pleasure(Pleasure)
156. Night Lies
157. Rock Rebellion
158. Testify
159. Time Is Running Out
160. Our Truth
161. I Think I'm Paranoid
162. Why Do You Love Me?
163. Shackler's Revenge

Section 14(Modern Metal - 11 songs)
164. Master Exploder
165. Shoulder To The Plow
166. Colony of Birchmen
167. Electric Crown
168. Souls of Black
169. Nightmare
170. Shockwave
171. Down With The Sickness
172. Indestructible
173. Perfect Insanity
174. Inside The Fire

Section 15(Classic Alternative - 11 songs)
175. My Own Worst Enemy
176. Heir Kommt Alex
177. Where'd You Go?
178. Sorrow
179. Nearly Lost You
180. Teenage Riot
181. Kool Thing
182. Drain You
183. Lump
184. Livin' on a Prayer
185. Alive

Section 16(Stache's Bass Block - 17 songs)
186. Day Late, Dollar Short
187. War Pigs
188. You Oughta' Know
189. Rio
190. Can't Stand Losing You
191. Girl's Not Grey
192. Sprode
193. Ballroom Blitz
194. Dani California
195. Gimme Three Steps
196. Welcome Home
197. The Trees
198. Closer to the Heart
199. Working Man(Original DLC)
200. Hysteria
201. Highway Star
202. Panic Attack

Section 17(Funny Songs - 9 songs)
203. Charlene
204. Livin' on the Corner of Dude and Catastrophe
205. Conventional Lover
206. Cool For Cats
207. New Wave
208. Manu Chao
209. Timmy & the Lords of the Underworld
210. Skullcrusher Mountain
211. Rob The Prez-O-Dent

Section 18(Alternative - 13 songs)
212. A Jagged Gorgeous Winter
213. Hands Down
214. I Get By
215. Junkies For Fame
216. Devour
217. Blood Doll
218. Get Clean
219. Life Is Beautiful
220. Moving To Seattle
221. This Is It
222. Who's Going Home With You Tonight?
223. Natural Disaster
224. One Step Closer

Section 19(Modern Metal - 13 songs)
225. Constant Motion
226. Give It All
227. Chop Suey
228. Toxicity
229. B.Y.O.B.
230. My Curse
231. Critical Acclaim
232. Afterlife
233. Almost Easy
234. Chiron
235. This Calling
236. Two Weeks

Section 20(The Who - 14 songs)
237. Amazing Journey
238. Pinball Wizard
239. Sea and Sand
240. Real Good Looking Boy
241. Eminence Front
242. Leaving Here
243. Who Are You?
244. Summertime Blues
245. Young Man Blues
246. My Generation
247. Baba O' Riley
248. Going Mobile
249. Behind Blue Eyes
250. Won't Get Fooled Again

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rock Band 2 Thoughts

So, Rock Band 2 came out. When I really stop and look at what this game is and isn't, I find that it's a classic tale of "two steps forward, one step backward". There are some new things in this year's version of Rock Band that are exciting and enjoyable, while at the same time there are some things that are either bad additions or bad subtractions. I would say it all evens out to some degree, but is that enough to consider the game a solid sequel?

To me, the two greatest achievements for Rock Band 2 are:
1) DLC and Rock Band 1 songs are transferrable.

This is almost unheard of in terms of how much content Harmonix allowed us to transfer over. Add that to the fact that the process is seamless in its transition. Yes, 3 songs were lost, but for a very small price you will never need your Rock Band disc again. Hats off for this.

2) Band World Tour is online and solo.

Hey, now I can play with friends online and have some sense of purpose! This opens the door to a lot of good things, such as, playing the Endless Setlist with friends online, maintaining full band scores via Rock Central and making custom playlists. It was a feature sorely missing in Rock Band, and it's nice to see that they addressed this. Being able to do this all solo is also a nice touch. Throw in the ability to play your tours online and offline and it all works pretty nicely.

Challenge mode adds replay value, but isn't without its problems. For one, you don't have to do the challenges on any specific difficulty level. This totally cheapens clearing through some of the more difficult instruments. Also, after doing a few of these, I actually think dealing with the pre-determined setlists just to unlock more of them is more monotonous than the 5 song per tier format of before. The fact that it's an attempt at something different is applaudable, as are the custom challenges that appear based on the songs you own. Challenge mode certainly doesn't take anything away from the game, but I'm not convinced it adds all that much either.

The Drum Trainer is a nice addition but feels more like an entertainment section than a training tool. I've had a blast trying to beat my old BPM scores on certain beats and fills. Some of the fills are very fun to play and the trainer can be addicting. Still, I expected a little more in terms of actual 'training'. Since this is their first attempt of it, you have to take it with a grain of salt, but what would be great is a trainer that actually analyzes what you're doing wrong and gives you some options on beats or fills to correct the problem. I'm still very glad that they put this in the game though.

Now to my list of complaints.
1) No Vocal practice mode.
You knew this was coming. I won't elaborate.

2) Vocal difficulty and talkies in general.
Again, this was coming. Everything seems to have gotten a difficulty bump up except for Vocals which have been considerably stripped down. Harmonix wanted to make Vocals more accessible, and they have, but the entire disc was FC'd in 24 hours. Pitch detection is just too friendly now, forgiving huge mistakes and still awarding you full points for a phrase. Talkies are mostly fixed, which is great...and bad. The talkies that work are literally so easy that you can say anything and get credit for them. Really this is just pushing the needle to the other extremity and shows very little effort on their part. This extreme is better than the other, but because the difficulty was already not enough, this doesn't help a whole lot. Speaking of little effort, One Way or Another is broken. Nice job on the Quality Control.

3) Awkward subtractions.
One is that now drum fills can't be heard by anyone other than the drummer. This sudden drop in the drum beat every time a fill comes up is just obnoxious. It wasn't broken the first time around and needed no attention. Another is that if a band member leaves, or you wish to add another, you have to quit the session and make a new one. This is a rather large step back.

4) Bad additions.
The music video backgrounds are horrendous. I'll say it once more for good measure, horrendous. The idea is great, but in a game that is so visually dependant, this seizure-enducing craziness is just awful. Hyperspeed, which I used to love in GH2 and GH3 has one mode and it's way too fast. There were times that I knew the charts and still couldn't keep up with the 4 notes on the screen that I could see. The new score tracking system is also puzzling. The quickplay list shows your top score for each song, but doesn't take into account what instrument it was on and how many people were playing. So, unless you want to go to each score individually on Rock Central and keep track of them that way, use ScoreHero and save yourself the frustration. Also, in order to keep your character's career score right, you must play Band Quickplay by yourself. Otherwise your character will only maintain scores through WT and Challenges.

5) Missing features.
Jukebox Mode? Choose a venue? The latter is especially important given the music videos that I spoke of above. Jukebox Mode was something that a lot of people looked forward to. I really liked the idea of being able to make a setlist and just have the game play them while I do work. Now, not.

The best thing going for Rock Band 2 is that it's still Rock Band and the basic formula hasn't changed much. There are some good and bad things about this year's game, but in the end the game is still Rock Band, and that's not a bad thing. The game itself is a 84-song pack for $60, which by DLC cost-standards is a bargain. Still, the game's shortcomings make it feel just that; a large DLC pack.

How I score it:
Gameplay: 7/10 - The core mechanic is still there, but noticable issues detract from the overall experience. A sequel should never take things away from an original, and it happened more than once here.
Graphics: 9/10 - The game looks essentially the same, which is fine. The game runs smoothly with no problems. The music video backgrounds are this side of terrible though.
Audio: 9.5/10 - Songs and instruments sound great for the most part and since this is a sound-driven game, Harmonix didn't disappoint.
Overall: 8.5/10.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Does RB2's Endless Setlist Spell Disaster for Players' Kidneys?

Recently, Harmonix(the makers of Rock Band) confirmed that the ES(Endless Setlist) will make a second appearance in Rock Band 2. For those unfamiliar with it, the ES is a challenge within Band World Tour that involves playing every on-disc song back-to-back until they're all completed. Without pausing or failing on a song, the ES took roughly four and a half hours in the first iteration of Rock Band.

Some will be excited at this announcement, as it is one of the more daunting challenges within Rock Band. The addition of online play for World Tour mode adds a lot of life to this challenge. Now, the socially awkward can forgo the solo method of Vocals + Gtr/Bass/Drums and simply hop online and tackle the ES with a buddy, or 2, or 3.

The challenge this year will be harder, make no mistake. Rock Band 1's ES featured 58 songs. Harmonix - wary of the hype generated by rival Neversoft's touted 80-90 song setlist for Guitar Hero: World Tour - has seen fit to place 84 songs on Rock Band 2's shiny disc. That's a 45% increase from last year. All things being even, a mathematical projection has this year's ES clocking in at around 6 1/2 hours(assuming zero fails or pause breaks).

What does this mean for the gamers? In Rock Band 1, if you played the ES locally, either by yourself or with other people in the same room, you could simply hit the pause button whenever you needed to take a break. After playing for 2 or 3 hours, it was nice to be able to stop for a moment, take a bio break, maybe get a drink, stretch your legs, etc. However, if Online World Tour in Rock Band 2 follows the ways of Rock Band 1's Band Quickplay in that no one can pause the action, Rock Band 2's ES may be more of a physical challenge than anticipated.

Your average, healthy person can probably hold it for 6 or 7 hours, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea. Vocalists often drink a lot of fluids while playing. I would have to think that drummers could also use the hydration during a marathon of that length. So, the mind begins to wonder at what steps Harmonix may or may not have taken to deal with this issue.

Certainly, you don't want any band member to be able to pause the game whenever they feel like it. Giving the leader direct control of pause breaks is an option, as is a mandatory button press at the end of each song(thus creating a built-in pause). Another thought is giving each member of the band a certain number of pauses. Clearly, if Harmonix wants to allow stops, there are a number of viable ways to do so.

If they decide to not allow pausing during online ES play, is Harmonix walking into a lawsuit nightmare? Just imagine someone playing and holding it in and suffering kidney damage as a result. It wouldn't take long for the 'Rock Band 2 broke my kidneys' stories to hit newspaper front pages. Mothers would be outraged and would be sure that their precious sons or daughters would not be subjected to a game with so little urinary consideration.

One can only hope that Harmonix has thought this through. Otherwise, it won't be uncommon to see a gamer simply move a TV, gaming system, refridgerator, and internet cable into their bathroom and proudly proclaim, 'Bring it on!'.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Boba Fett Overrated?

After watching the Star Wars movies from beginning to end recently over the past few weeks, I've come to find that I'm not overly impressed with Boba Fett(or the Fett family for that matter). He has a huge fan following for someone who only appeared in the movies for a short time and didn't really accomplish anything impressive in that time.

Sure, he looks cool. The helmet and armor is spiffy and he has a jetpack. His ship is interesting, but in reality it looks sort of like a shoe. Boba Fett is really very similar to Batman. Both have cool looking outfits and vehicles. Both have fancy gadgets that they use to subdue enemies. Both have no real superpowers to speak of. The only main difference is that Boba Fett uses a gun, whereas Batman's advanced methods of combat revolve around kicking and punching people.

Watching Boba Fett hide in his ship and track the rebels to Cloud City was somewhat impressive, but aside from that, what did he really do? He bargained(ever so briefly) with Darth Vader over the bounty on Han Solo, he nodded to Leia when she did the thermal detonator bluff shtick, and he got hit in the jetpack by a blind man and fell into a pit. Is this really the resume of greatness? I think not.

I guess it all starts with his father(I say father, but as we all know, Boba was simply a replica of Jango Fett birthed about 20 years later), Jango Fett. Jango at the very least appeared to have accomplished some things. He had some scars, his own place, his own replica, and apparently someone thought highly enough of him to create an army of millions based on his cloned DNA. If that isn't a self-esteem boost, I don't know what is.

However, Jango also achieved small success on screen. In the sand arena scene, a helmetless Jango is held at saberpoint by Windu. Eventually he tries to hit Windu with a flamethrower, misses, but manages to force Windu down into the arena. Not too shabby considering how powerful Mace Windu was. Jango then put his helmet on and shot up a Jedi that got up on the dias. He did a pretty nice job, then tucked his gun revolver-style into his holster. Very badass.

This wasn't to last though. Jango then waited for Windu to become busy with something else and turned on his trusty jetpack and tried to catch him by surprise. It didn't really work. Windu was able to get himself together and they squared off. Jango looked extremely helpless as Windu charged at him with his purple saber, firing off a couple desperate rounds before losing his head.

That's what you're basing an army of clones on? Folks, I hate to tell you, but this simply isn't good enough. I'm pretty sure the bald guy on Cloud City with the little communication device wrapped around his head would have been a better choice. The Fetts come off as disappointing and I don't really see the fascination.