PLAYING THE LAME PRESENTS: “The Real Battle of the Bands.”

“The Real Battle of the Bands”
“An Open Letter to Everyone Associated With Group Music Games”

Here be profanity. That’s all the warning you get.

Generally speaking, I think competition is a good thing, and I think rhythm games are neato, so I’m all for the idea of multiple companies competing for my gaming dollar with the creation of multiple rhythm game franchises. It’s not rocket science: build a better mousetrap drum kit, and the world will beat a path to your door. If you offer a better product, more people will want it. Simple.

That said, each and every single person associated with the boom of the “full band” music game at this point, from Harmonix to Neversoft to EA to Activision to Konami to everyone who’s even tangentially associated to this entire prick-waving contest needs to be smacked good and hard until they stop being stupid and start actually trying to pretend they’re interested in convincing other people to part with their money. It’s rather confusing to take in the present landscape of the rhythm game and note that all of the logical players have taken their positions, and absolutely none of them seem to have any idea what the bloody hell they’re doing.

Not that I have any better of an idea, you understand, but I DO have some suggestions. Not that any of the appropriate parties will be reading this anyway, but it’s not like I’m writing these columns to entertain anyone but myself, so let’s get to it.

First, to Activision and (more directly) Neversoft: JEALOUS MUCH?

By now a significant amount of you have either read the various interviews with the Neversoft staff regarding the newly announced Guitar Hero 4 and all of the nifty stuff that it’s going to have and do, or you’ve read someone else’s opinion of said interviews about said miracle product and its Holy Grail-esque drum kit, and I’m imagining that many of you have taken away the same three impressions that I did:

1.) the guys at Neversoft have tiny, tiny dicks,
2.) Red Octane is never going to make any Xbox 360 or PS3 DDR pads, but
3.) they are, however, going to expect us to shell out $200 for Guitar Hero 4.

The first part should be pretty obvious: sit down and read an interview with the guys working on GH4 and you’ll notice a running trend where any time they talk about Rock Band, they’re generally incapable of saying ANYTHING nice about it, at all, ever. Now, I understand that in the business world you MUST have the largest penis in order to survive in the pecking order but COME ON NOW. Would it kill you guys to maybe acknowledge that if it weren’t for Harmonix you WOULDN’T HAVE A FUCKING GUITAR HERO FRANCHISE TO BEGIN WITH? Would it be so hard to admit that Harmonix maybe set the template for Karaoke console video games with Karaoke Revolution? Would it be so hard to give them credit for building the franchise you’re running, considering that the only reason you’re working on it in the first place is because Activison bought out Red Octane?

I mean, I’m not saying verbally fellate them every chance you get, but for fuck’s sake, Battle Mode sucked a fat one (and despite your delusional claims of its popularity to the contrary, it’s pretty much reviled universally as a mandatory part of gameplay) and we don’t see Harmonix telling everyone how much you boned up the franchise, do we?

Also, making fun of someone because their drum kit is loud is a really petty argument from a bunch of guys who make a noisy, annoying guitar, so do us all a favor and get fucked in the ear with a power drill you hypocritical prats.

Bottom line: no one wants to give their money to a bunch of ignorant pricks with tiny penises. No one cares how large your business cock is, you’re a bunch of assholes and you need to shut the hell up.

The second one is largely something that probably only concerns me and Alex Williams, but now that Red Octane is pretty much developing Guitar Hero merch 24/7, you notice that the Ignition Pads still don’t have PS3 or 360 versions? Being as how that’s the only reason I had any respect for Red Octane BEFORE Guitar Hero came out, it’s kind of sad that they’re pretty much ignoring that part of their business in favor of making more GH gear… though, on the other hand, I don’t even think the US PS3 has a DDR game yet and I guess it’s hard to crap on someone for wanting to make money, but even so, that sucks.

The third one, on the other hand, is pretty much apparent from the design of the GH4 drums and the “secret feature” in the new GH controller (I would’ve guessed rumble or force feedback, but since those already have patents on them, I’m going to guess they’re either adding a foot pedal or some way to light the thing up when you’re doing well) that are set to launch with the game. The cryptic hints of a loss of gameplay functionality stand beside the “old controllers will be compatible” as a simple but obvious implication: you are going to want to buy new guitars. Now, by using a combination of my minimal knowledge of economics and my wonderful ability to use hyperbole and fatuous statements to make assumptions, I’m making a fairly simple deduction here: Rock Band, for PS3 and 360, cost $170 for the game, a mic, a guitar, and a drum kit, all of which are wired, and according to EBGames as of May 2008, still does. Let’s draw a few conclusions.

1.) The Wireless GH3 controller costs $10 more ($70) than the Wired GH2 controller ($60) when compared for the 360.
2.) Logitech doesn’t seem to make a wireless microphone in equivalent style at this point, but the standard stick mic costs between $20-30, and most other microphone manufacturers are charging a good bit more for their wireless mics than that.
3.) As the wireless guitar and the wireless mics cost more than their corded cousins, it’s logical to assume the drum kit will also fetch a larger than $70 fee that the Rock Band drums cost.

Now, at this point, the wireless RB controller costs $70, so let’s do the math and say it would cost $60 for the wired guitar. Quick, what’s 60 plus 70 plus 30 plus 60? $220, $50 less than Rock Band costs.

The point of this little bit of stupid hypothetical math? Unless wireless prices come down a whole hell of a lot in the next year or Activision is willing to eat the difference, they’re going to be asking you to fork over $200 for their proprietary equipment, IE about $50 less than the products would cost individually. Technically, $270 if you want two guitars, and $340 if you want the three guitars needed to record tracks with four people (since you can’t record vocals). Which is, of course, assuming they don’t just smile and say “We want to offer people the option to acquire what parts they feel they need most” and just sell everything individually, so HELLO spending twice what Steel Battalion cost to, essentially, play one video game, something everyone bitched and moaned about doing when Steel Battalion came out in the first place.

That’s a whole lot of cash for people who were happy buying GH3 because it was cheaper than RB, no?

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I don’t CARE if recording vocals and uploading them to the internet “takes up too much bandwidth”. My “band” has a vocalist, as, I’m sure, do a lot of other people’s bands; if we can’t record our vocals to our tracks, what in the hell is the point for people like us? And I’m certain that copyright issues and profanity are a large concern to you, but hey, you’re asking me to shell out a significant amount of cash for another proprietary plastic band kit; if I can’t record vocals for uploaded tracks, there’s no point to making songs unless everyone loves instrumental tracks (and since our drummer and vocalist are not very good guitarists, this becomes a problem for the odd man out). I’m even willing to meet you halfway here: let me RECORD vocals for my tracks on my OWN system, and I’ll be happy; otherwise, get bent.

Oh, and one last thing: continuing to call your franchise “Guitar Hero” when you’ve expanded it to include heavy emphasis on drums (and some vocal work) smacks of being unable to let go of the success of the people you’re slagging. I mean, come on: “Rock Hero”. Simple, gets the point across, keeps the “Hero” in the title to keep the brand name attached to the product, AND IT TOOK ME FIVE FUCKING SECONDS TO COME UP WITH.

I mean, come on now. You can promise us facial morphing and custom guitars and Dream Theatre all you want, but unless Gloomchen decides she wants a next-gen system after all you’re not going to convince anyone who thought Rock Band was too much money to spend MORE money on your gear, and you’re going to have a hard sell to someone who spent their $170 on a cumbersome set of drums already.

Sod off.

Now, second, to Harmonix and EA and MTV: WHY DON’T YOU WANT MY MONEY?

Look, okay, I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m going to be stuck with a fucking Freezepop song in every Harmonix game ever; they’re a horrendous band that makes music that sounds like a cat being skinned with a bandsaw, but I understand they’re friends with someone in Harmonix, and I’ve learned to deal. If I could accept it in Frequency, I can do it now. I’ve also learned to accept that without Red Octane making your equipment, peripheral manufacturing is a learning process for you guys; this is the only reason that I didn’t start cursing and screaming when my drum pedal broke (that and the fact that you replaced it for free, even if you screwed up the process). And I KNOW you guys are all huge music dorks and you love your music, probably more than I do. So from one music dork to another, I offer this advice:


You released NINE songs last week; three of them were not in English, and none of those three tracks were by bands that have any sort of name recognition. You released another Oasis Song that isn’t Champagne Supernova, you released a Blur song that isn’t Song 2, a Tokio Hotel song (as if anyone who doesn’t make fun of the vocalist on 4chan cares), and from the one promising band you DID drop a song from, Muse, you picked a song that isn’t as good as most of the rest of their catalogue.


Look, let me let you in on a little secret: most gamers who had $170+ dollars to drop on your game, THEY HAVE JOBS, which means THEY’RE PROBABLY OLDER THAN EIGHTEEN. I’m also willing to bet there are plenty of music nerds out there who, shockingly, don’t care much for emo/power punk music, or if they do, they have certain preferred bands they like. I mean, hey, 30 Seconds to Mars is fine (even if their first record was better, you heard me), Grateful Dead is fine, Judas Priest is fine, but I can’t imagine that anyone wants, for instance, Faith No More songs that aren’t vocalized by Mike Patton. So, hey, here’s a thought: while you’re mining the 90’s for old and obscure tunes, instead of grabbing mediocre Blur and Oasis songs, how about grabbing some Stabbing Westward, or old-school Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Tool, or God Lives Underwater, or Pearl Jam, or another Nirvana song or two, or Jane’s Addiction, or hell, let’s go back farther and grab some work from Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or Fleetwood Mac even. I mean, I like the Blondie tracks as much as the next guy, I really do, but Debbie Harry can only make me part with so much cash. And I know you’ve announced a Nirvana and a Metallica album sometime before I die (hopefully, or so I was told), but COME ON, work with me here. I’m not saying I expect The Birthday Massacre or Poe (although, why not?), but Evanescence, Linkin Park, AFI, Lacuna Coil, HIM and Megadeth all have three things in common: they were popular at one point, they make music with drums, guitars and vocals, and they aren’t in your game.

Look, releasing an album from The Cars is at least something akin to flirting with reality (especially since it’s one of the greatest albums ever, according to Rolling Stone anyway). But releasing a package of Devo songs? Aside from the obvious “Where’s my Duran Duran/Depeche Mode/New Order/etc” questions, what the fuck? What’s next, Men Without Hats? They can re-record “Safety Dance” with drums and guitars, right?

I mean COME ON NOW that’s just silly. Even if I would totally pay money for Safety Dance, that’s not the point.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of DLC, I’m really tired of having my bassist running around in a top hat and a Lolita skirt and my guitarist rocking out in the same stupid fishnet shirt, okay?

Yes, I have characters of different genders. I get bored easily.

Anyway. Look, I’d pay a sufficiently large amount of money for more outfits, I swear, and I bet a lot of other people would too. I don’t need guitars (my chainsaws are enough, thanks), but more clothes, makeup, hair styles, SOMETHING, would be worth whatever you charged for it, and I’d buy it without a complaint.

Please. Work with me here.


And finally, a message to Konami: YOU’RE LATE.

Took you guys long enough, didn’t it? What’s it been now, five, six, eight years? I forgot.

You started all this, you know. You hired Harmonix to make Karaoke Revolution, you released Guitar Freaks and Drum Freaks and Beatmania in Japan, both in arcades and on consoles, and you ported the arcade machines to the states. Hell, you were LINKING machines in the arcades before Rock Band was a twinkle in anyone’s eyes. But that was a long time ago, and now you’re left holding the metaphorical bag as the “newcomer” of the lot.

In other words, you haven’t got a hope in hell.

Now, I’m sure you’re sitting down trying to come up with a way to actually make money off of this Rock Revolution idea, and while promising the ability to record and upload songs isn’t bad (again, sans vocals, though in this case it’s because THE WHOLE GAME IS SANS VOCALS, which at least makes a small amount of sense, kinda-sorta), if you’re expecting people to “care” about your game in the same way, you’ve got a lot of work cut out for you.

Now, you COULD try and line up a killer list of tracks that no one could possibly hope to be without, but Guitar Hero and Rock Band have covered a lot of that ground. With the lack of vocals in the game, you could try and land some more well-known instrumental tracks for the game, but that’s probably not a good long-term solution. You could offer the most comprehensive and in-depth character creator of the lot, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and make the observation that unless one is playing Smackdown Vs. Raw, creating a character isn’t the most important part of the experience.

Well, I’m here to help. Not that anyone at Konami is reading this, but on the off chance someone does, hey, it couldn’t hurt.

Look, first off guys, I know you’re probably looking forward to revenue from plastic instrument replicas as much as anyone, but it might be in your best interests to make your game compatible with one of the two other “bigger” names on the market, if only to facilitate sales of the game itself. I mean, no one wants to own three different sets of instruments; I barely have enough space for one drum set, okay? It doesn’t matter which company you go with, but it would be a good idea to pick one and stick with it.

Now, as far as a musical catalog goes, you could TRY to line up a huge roster of must-have tracks, but honestly, because your game isn’t going to have vocal support, this offers you a surprisingly unique opportunity to provide tracks in languages most folks don’t speak since it won’t matter anyway. So here’s a thought; instead of grabbing ten must-have tracks and filling in the remaining slots with songs no one cares about, how about you fill in those ten slots with the must-have tracks, and instead filling in the rest of the slots with either foreign language songs or, and this would be equally interesting, fully instrumental versions of your more notable theme tracks?

No, don’t dismiss, consider. Dig up some German, Japanese, Hispanic and other acts from around the globe that all rock, fill in twenty spots with those. Then record tracks like “One Night In Neo Kobe”, “Vampire Killer”, “Bloody Tears”, and some tracks from Metal Gear or whatever to fill out the rest of the slots. This simultaneously appeals your product to the hardcore gaming demographic while not alienating the casual market, and it makes your product unique and utterly special and novel. Realistically speaking, at this point you’re competing with two MAJOR franchises here, both of which have strong locks on popular and notable musical acts; even if you manage to lock up a decent amount of “exclusive” content, you’re either going to be repeating some content or drafting other pieces of music no one cares about. Since you’re eliminating the need for vocal tracks in your products (which has the simultaneous benefits of not needing to draft vocalized tracks and not needing to draft tracks vocalized in ENGLISH), there’s no need to focus exclusively on Top 40 tunes, since realistically, you’re not restrained to publishing English vocalized tunes for players; as the game is instruments only, there’s a lot more freedom to the product, and considering that trying to fight two other, more prepared companies for rhythm game dominance is tantamount to public suicide, approaching things from a different angle might perhaps be a better idea.

Again, these are just simple suggestions. Neversoft, Activision, you guys are making millions here, and the opinion of one lowly internet dipshit certainly doesn’t mean much in the face of millions more, though I can certainly say that I’m not going to buy a second drum kit, especially since it’s being released by a group of assholes second only to Sony in pure douchebag behavior. Harmonix, EA, MTV, as a current owner of your product, I’m aware that you’re busy working on a sequel and replacing broken materials, and that’s why I’m not holding my broken drum pedal against you; however, if you’re expecting people to pay cash for downloadable material, you’re going to need to offer things people want to pay for. Singstar launched in the US with 200 downloadable tracks, and European release or no, THAT IS SOMETHING TO BE EMULATED. Konami, NO ONE is going to buy a third set of instruments, and most of us won’t buy yours as our first or second, I don’t care who you line up as musical acts.

Just something to think about. Until next time, I’m Mark B and you’re not.







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