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.

The other side of the Vixenita fiasco

Well, it's been probably a month or more since the whole thing went down, and I've tried to be polite and not talk about it. In doing so, I've allowed myself(and others) to be alienated, and cut down unfairly. It's not something I really want to speak on, but something needs to be said. So, this will be the first and last time I go into any detail about this.

A few months prior, I had attained my first ever FC of Gimme Shelter, and afterwards noticed that with some better pathing and squeezes on older songs, I could reach 11.35m on solo Vocals on XBL. This is noticably different and easier than reaching 11.35m on SH because of the Blitzkrieg Bop Glitch. For those unaware, there is a glitch on a solo Vocal play of Blitzkrieg Bop allowing you to obtain much more than 8k on the final phrase of the song. A theoretical max score for the song is probably about 138,000, but a score over 1,000,000 has been achieved via this glitch. A more common glitch score is somewhere around 145-155k. I personally have a score just under 145k.

This problem screwed up the XBL Vocal leaderboards tremendously, and once HoboBobulus(sp?) got a score of almost 300k, it was agreed that going for better scores on the glitch was off-limits. A trend was started on SH to delete all personal high scores for it and put in a score of 138,000. That way, people who wanted to could still compete over squeezes fairly without worrying about the glitch.

So, I reached 11.35m on XBL. Then, some time after, a couple of my good friends on SH set the bar by reaching 11.35m on SH. Everyone's padding from Glitch Bop is different, some took a larger hit from it than others. I was short roughly 7k points(145,000 - 138,000).

So, moving ahead in time, I was very bored one weekend and no one was around, so I figured, what the heck, as much as I hate squeezing, I'll try to pick up that 7k. It was tiring, frustrating, difficult and took me literally the entire weekend(about 15 gaming hours of nothing but squeezing) from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. But, in the end, I got enough to put me just over(11,350,019 to be exact) and was excited. My voice was nearly shot, but it felt great. I updated my scores on SH for the first time in about 4 months that night(my old score was something like 11.29m, not even close to where I actually was, but I didn't care enough to update it, not very interested in that sort of competition). My friends weren't online all night, so I had to wait until the next morning to show them my accomplishment.

I wake up, pull up SH to admire my shiny 11.35m and what do I find? Vixenita has somehow gained a few thousand points overnight and landed just over me by 6 points and 25 over the cutoff. Curious and surprised, I checked XBL to see if her score on there had changed since the past weekend when it didn't move at all. Nope, still the same. I also noticed that she hadn't even been on XBL for days and was out of town on the weekend in question.

Now for the math portion of this post. Her XBL score for Blitz Bop was over 150k, meaning that at the very least, her XBL career score was getting a 12k padding(150k as opposed to 138k on SH). Doing some simple math, I took her 11,354,xxx score on XBL subtracted the 12k...down to 11,342,xxx. So, to be at 11,350,000 on SH, she was short about 8,000 points. This raised an eyebrow to say the least. Yes, you can play solo tour offline, but even if the individual song scores won't show up on XBL, your career score gets updated even with the offline scores. Through this incident and for weeks afterwards that career score still didn't move. So, the only possible explanation was Score Duel scores. It's not remotely realistic though, and will be explained later.

So, I went and asked a mod for help. After some discussion, I was directed to a senior mod. We spoke for a while, and he heard me out while I explained why this seemed extremely bogus. He agreed to look into it. Unbeknownst to me, another player had also seen her scores and also went to the mods(albeit a different mod). The mods looked things over, discussed amongst themselves and the end result was a ban. She appealed her ban and without proof for her scores, lost.

And that's when things started getting ridiculous. She blamed me - as well as a few others - for 'getting her banned' and told it to whoever would listen to her. Eventually the story became that we somehow tricked the mods into banning her because I couldn't stand to see her in front of me. It's beyond ridiculous, and something needs to be said.


Points of Interest

Point 1: The idea that I couldn't stand to see her in front of me and used that as a reason to lie to the mods to get her banned.

I didn't update my scores on SH for 4 months, meaning that she and a bunch of other people who hadn't even FC'd all 57 songs were ahead of me. Did I care? No. All I really care about is FC's(see a lot of my DLC scores). The only reason I updated the scores at all was to show my friends that I had indeed reached 11.35 on SH. I had every belief that she would see me ahead of her for the first time since February and overtake me, and honestly I didn't care at all. I got what I wanted. I figured she would move ahead of me legitimately since she's clearly good enough to do so, but that it would take the course of the week. I had absolutely no intention of trying to move back ahead of her. So, this makes no sense at all.

What's ironic when you stop and think about it, she was ahead me for 4 months, and couldn't handle someone thinking I was better than her at vocal squeezing for 1 night. So, instead of just taking the time to move back ahead of me legitimately, she boosted her scores and got herself banned. The sad part is that she could have easily passed me. I've never contended that I'm better than she is. She's at least good as I am at squeezing and Vocals in general, but probably better. If she had just gone about improving her scores the right way, she'd still be on SH today, with a career score over mine.

Point 2: "She didn't have proof for her SD scores, so she was banned."

This is actually true, but requires further explanation. For those unfamiliar with high-level Vocal squeezing, in order to get a score better than what you already had originally, you must do the following all in one run:
1. FC the song(duh :p)
2. Use the correct path
3. Time your OD activation almost perfectly each time, activating as late as possible so as to get as much out of each and every activation as possible. This is very difficult to do. If you activate a fraction of a second too early, you end up not squeezing enough. Too late and you miss the window altogether and your run is in the trash.
4. Get perfect back-end squeezes. What this really means is that on the phrase where OD runs out, you want to get as much of the pie filled as possible before it runs out, as that part will count toward the 2x, and when OD is lifted, will return to 1x. This is not easy to do on a lot of songs, as the phrase in question will have a complicated pitch part in the beginning of the phrase. It's very possible to not land on the pitch perfectly while under OD and as a result, your perfect front-end squeeze is wasted.

Now, throw in the idea of landing difficult talkies, short OD windows that may not activate at all, and you can begin to see why it might take you 30 tries to improve a score by 50 pts. All you need to do is watch a top vocalist try and improve his/her high scores via squeezing and you'll quickly see that it takes even them many, many tries to improve. They'll miss windows, get bad squeezes, not FC a song, etc etc. High-level vocal squeezing is TOUGH. So, the idea of landing such high scores on one pass for a total of 8,000 pts is ludicrous. Unless you have a friend that's willing to sit there and let you restart songs like Here It Goes Again and Should I Stay Or Go 35 times, this isn't happening. Solo Tour is the only place to work on that.

But, let's just say that it is possible. Let's just pretend that somehow that large number of squeeze points was obtained through some Score Duels and perfectly landed her 25 points over the milestone and 6 ahead of me the night after I updated my scores for the first time in 4 months. Let's pretend. Did she have proof for this miraculous progression? No. The proof that she swore she had was not to be found, and the reason for the lack of proof changed from 'I left the camera out of town' to 'My Mom deleted the scores'. Not looking very good.

Point 3: She wasn't over 11.35 on the night in question.

Through a mutual friend, I found out that not only was she out of town all weekend, she arrived home late that night and didn't play at all. She apparently noticed my score updated and texted this friend that she would have to get back ahead of me. Now, what this really means is that at THAT time, she was NOT ahead of me(i.e. even if she did have legit SD scores, she wasn't over me). So, where did those excess points come from? Even if she played offline(which could explain why none of her song scores on XBL matched up), her XBL career score would have still gone up. It didn't, as I mentioned before. All in all, from a timeline perspective this makes no sense. If she had her SD scores tallied up and laid out, she would have already discovered that she was ahead of me and would have had no reason to 'get ahead of me'.

Point 4: The mods were lied to.

SH mods take cheating accusations very seriously. They do not simply ban someone because another player accuses them of cheating. Another player and myself brought up our cases separately to the mods. She was then given the opportunity to defend herself by providing proof. Either a picture of her updated XBL career score, or even the pictures of the Score Duel results that she claimed to have would have sufficed. When she could produce neither, the mods deemed it necessary to ban her for reporting false scores.


Does this seem like a lot of writing and work over something trivial? Yes, it does. But, I've been holding all this inside for over a month and frankly, I needed to get it out. Others and myself have been the victim of her lies and the truth needs to be told. The mods did nothing wrong. The people who asked the mods to look into the matter did nothing wrong. You're welcome to believe what you wish, but the facts are all there. The other side needed to be voiced though. It's sad that she tainted something I worked hard to achieve. I reached 11.35m for my own benefit. I don't talk to her, I don't think about her, I don't really care what she does or doesn't do.

On a personal note, I lost a good friend over this and have lost a lot of the will to play on account of how people have treated me afterwards. It's sad and depressing, but it is what it is. My good friends have remained faithful and have been supportive. I thank them for that. This will be the last I write or talk about this issue.

RB Vocals Too Easy?

First, I want to start by saying that yes, I am quite opposed to the lack of a true Vocal practice mode in Rock Band 2. It might seem hypocritical to denounce this and yet at the same time wonder if the Vocal section of Rock Band 2 will lack needed challenge. I'll touch on this later.

As of now, there are probably several dozen players cross-platform that have gotten 100% on everything but Next To You on Expert Vocals(on the main-disc). I've noticed in the weeks and months past that more and more people from other instruments have tried their hand at Vocals, making it the Flavor of the Month. Some have found that with time and practice, they too could reach the level of other top vocalists. The largest hinderance appears to be learning and dealing with the broken talkie parts of Rock Band 1.

So, if the new phoneme-detection system in Rock Band 2 will basically eliminate any challenge for these phrases, it's fair to say that Vocals will become noticeably easier and more accessible. However, even with broken talkies and a useless practice mode, many people still have found success in Vocals. I really believe at this point that if the top Vocalists now listen to the upcoming songs, we will have little trouble in getting 100% on virtually everything almost instantly. So, I have to ask, will Rock Band 2 Vocals be too easy?

I've listened to 73 of the non-bonus songs, and feel that only 5-7 or so will present any moderate challenge. Yes, there are a few difficult songs, but for the most part, the tracks seem to be on par or easier than those of Rock Band 1's main disc songs. That's somewhat concerning.

A fully-functional Practice mode would make a potentially easy Vocal section even easier, but omitting this function isn't the right way to add difficulty. Frankly, the entire section needs a difficulty bump in my opinion. Make Medium become Easy, Hard become Medium, Expert become Hard and then add another level of difficulty to replace Expert now. Is this too much? Perhaps, but I really think most of the top Vocalists would be excited to take on this challenge.

Apparently, HMX is doing some work with the pitch-detection system of Vocals. I can only hope that a window tightening is included.