Living the Dream: Rock Band

I'm a huge fan of the Guitar Hero series. After reading the first reviews in November 2005, I rushed out to get one of the few available copies at my local Best Buy. It was an obscure title at the time-- I had no idea it was even being released until I read the initial reviews, and I'm a fan of the rhythm genre. Guitar Hero is now such a massive success that everyone reading this has probably at least heard of it. It achieved pop culture critical mass, which is the ultimate and final level of success for any video game. It's what every game aspires to, and precious few achieve.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I’ve had Rock Band pre-ordered basically since it was announced, so I was more than a little annoyed to find out they’re delaying the release in Canada until late December.

If I thought there was much chance of any stores near the border just having copies lying around it’d be road trip time, but that seems pretty unlikely.

@Lee: I see how games like Rock Band might cheapen music, but it also provides access to people who wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to rock out. How long until we have music games that give people real 5-string (MIDI) guitars as game peripherals?

The next step beyond helping users kick ass? Helping users get laid. JWZ’s thoughts on “social software”:

“How will this software get my users laid” should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).

“Social software” is about making it easy for people to do other things that make them happy: meeting, communicating, and hooking up.

Do not substitute the real life experience of actually learning how to play a musical instrument with a silly game.

Look what happened to me!

BTW…playing this game will not get you laid!

To use my favorite quote, which is almost uncannily accurate in this case: “It took me ten [twelve] years to become an overnight success!”


In a way, I agree with you. I can actually play the guitar. I never found Guitar Hero particularly engaging. There’s no reason to do the color by numbers version if you can do the real thing.

Of course each guitar I own cost several times what guitar hero costs. The time I’ve spent practicing dwarfs the amount of time a Guitar Hero player invests to become proficient in that game.

I think that is the essence of video games and maybe the whole entertainment industry. It’s a simulation that tries to maximize the reward of the activity and minimize the drudgery. A taste of being in a rock band plus a few hours invested in is preferable to the much greater reward but lots of hard work for the real thing. So much hard work that most people who start out with plans of being in a rock band never get to the reward part. Those who play “Rock Band” are almost guaranteed to get it.

The last quote in the article is telling. You’re enabling the player to “kick ass”; make them feel good about themselves. That’s the way to have a successful game. I myself prefer competitive games where somebody wins and somebody loses, but that is certainly not the predominant design philosphy. Nor it seems, what most people want.


I cheapen music by importing MIDI files into Propellerhead Reason (a software syntesizer and audio mixing suite). Then I assign the MIDI tracks to sampled instruments. This can sound pretty good if you assign the right instruments. But I prefer to butcher the music by choosing odd instruments or abrasive synthesizer sounds. Then I put my creation up on YouTube for music lovers to hate on.

I don’t think it cheapens music at all. There are three types of players.

  1. The average guy. He’s never played a musical instrument, and he barely even has a sense of rhythm. This game shows him rhythm and some of the basics of music and even a tiny ounce of basic guitar technique (pull-offs, hammer-ons) if he gets far enough in the game. Maybe this will even lead to him learning more about music.

  2. Musicians. This encompasses me and one of my very good friends. I think we’re the only two people on the planet who don’t play with our damn thumbs. He strums it like a guitar, and I pluck it like a bass. Naturally, he’s better than me because there are a lot of parts that plucking just won’t match. We both love the game and we have a ton of fun playing it together. Sure we could just play the songs in real life, but that doesn’t provide points to compete and cools songs that we’ve never even heard of. It also allows us to play with our other friends who don’t know how to play anything.

  3. Musical purists. These are people who stick their nose up at the game because they feel like it’s below them. My roommate is like this, mainly because he’s very good at guitar and terrible at Guitar Hero. My only advice to these users is to loosen up and have some fun. This game in no way is going to make anyone appreciate music LESS. It’s certainly doing a lot more for the music industry than American Idol, so what is there to lose by playing it with your friends at a party?

I never understood the complaints about Guitar Hero not teaching “real” guitar…

However, the drums in Rock Band do, in fact, teach drumming:

You can take a person that’s playing on the expert levels in Rock Band on the drums and put them on a real drum set, and they can play the drums. And I watched this happen with a QA staff of 25-30 people. Maybe 2 or 3 of those had experience of being drummers, but they’ve been playing the game for months now, and what we’ve got is 30 drummers in the QA department who are pounding away in the Hard and Expert settings. These people have learned the fundamentals of drums, and this isn’t abstracting fundamentals — you can put these people on a drum set and they have some basic skills now. As a payoff for playing a video game, that’s incredible! Rock Band is going to be out there training this wave of new young drummers, and that’s a really exciting aspect of the project for us.

Have this on pre-order from Amazon and can’t wait. I saw a demo version being played by three teenage kids at Best Buy a couple weekends ago: they were so amped from playing it, they missed their car by about 6 rows in the freezing rain.

It doesn’t cheapen music unless you assume musical forms have been frozen and can never evolve. And music isn’t an end, it’s a means to making life more enjoyable. If you think the guitar play isn’t complicated enough, you might not be looking at the business end of the problem.

Two thoughts:

  1. I play an instrument, but I’m lapsed (cost of instrument disposable income). I enjoy all of Harmonix’s games. Yes, five buttons does not an instrument make. But it captures a good chunk of the feeling. Maybe the kiddie-coaster vs. the barf-o-matic. :slight_smile:

  2. They really need a Wii version.

Cons: cold, hard facts.
Pros: picture of Jimmy Hendrix.
Result: 10 years of loosing before something good happens.

Wow, what a pitch. I’m so inspired by this “success” story, I might just start farting camels.

I’m a semi-professional drummer and developer and I have to say this has to be the best game Ive seen for kids. Most schools across America are cutting there music programs and kids are not getting exposed to enough creative elements. So I think this is the next best thing. At least it will give kids a creative and fun outlet. You never know…we might get the next Beethoven because some kid started on Rock Band. :wink:

I cannot wait for them to come out with the KEYTAR!!!

Well first off - I was joking around (I thought that is what the universal symbol of the smiley face designated). When I speak of having a musical purist side - I speak of the loyalty and focus on the art of music and the creation of art…not turning up my nose at anything. Art is not complicated unless you try to market it as a consumer product. Art is expression - expressing passions, dreams, fears, pleasures - art tries to heighten the experience of being alive - I look for art in all my pursuits: music, visual art, and programming (unfortunately only a small part of software engineering really falls in the realm of art)

As for Rock Band helping to create real drummers - what do you call a non-musician that hangs around with musicians…a drummer. Ok, I am just joking - or am I…this is just a more complicated version of karaoke - a nice cheap thrill and there is nothing wrong with having a few cheap thrills (this is advice I live). My comment was not to look down my nose at anybody - it was to encourage a more in-depth pursuit of the art form. Heck Rock Band is many steps above air guitar.

My point is music - for me - is a spiritual pursuit and it makes me turn my head to the side (like Nipper the Dog in the RCA ads) when I see games like Rock Band…it is kind of hard to represent the spiritual in a game - like “Jesus (or Zarathustra or whatever), The Computer Game” - I am not sure that would work…but the four horsemen would be some cool bosses in the Jesus game. Maybe this is just something new - a new paradigm. A wise man once told me if it does not feel weird, it is not something new.

I don’t mean to take anything away from this game - it looks cool and fun…hanging with your friend and physically experiencing music…maybe that too is art.

Funny… with the state of things, you’d think that more schools should be watching ‘there’ English departments. :wink:

You know what Rock Band needs…MORE COWBELL!!!

Yeah, i gotta have some more cowbell.

A great example of this software design philosophy is with the new Star Wars game currently in production. The team at LucasArts foremost considers the gameplay to be “kicking somebody’s ass with the Force.”

Bruce Dickinson, you put your pants on just like the rest of us - one leg at a time. Except, once your pants are on, you make gold records.

Rock band does have cowbell-- seriously. The vocalist is required to tap (or slap) the mic in time to the music for certain parts, eg, Mississippi Queen. There’s a special notation for this on the singing tabs, even!

Frequency and Amplitude were wonderful games in search of a control scheme. I never really did find a controller that made the game play fluidly for me.

Guitar Hero is more or less the solution to the problem the first two games had. Otherwise, the game more or less looks and plays similarly to the previous two titles.

As for Rock Band, I’ll have to just reserve my judgment on that one, though I certainly understand why it would appeal to many people (and possibly even broaden the appeal beyond Guitar Hero).

Then again, I’d like to be able to plug a real guitar or bass into the PC or PS5 and have the game teach me to play the songs properly on the real thing, but that obviously wouldn’t appeal to the broader audience the 4-button guitar appeals to.