So You Wanna Be a Rock n Roll Star

About a month ago, I wrote a post about Guitar Hero III. The main gist was that as a big-time previous fan of the series, I was thoroughly unimpressed with the the changes that have been made to the game, which are quite misogynist, exploitative of women and completely insensitive to the fact that the game has a female audience. To my great surprise, the post became a big hit (and troll target) and was linked to in all kinds of forums and blogs that would normally never give me a second glance. This was also to my slight dismay, because I didn’t spend much time on that post, and frankly, I don’t think that it’s very good. Anyway, lesson learned.

The point is that I now feel compelled if not required to say a few words about Rock Band.

Amanda has already written a more comprehensive review than I’m going to get into. And in any case, I only have a PS2, so I don’t own the game yet. My brother does, though, and since we live very close to each other I’ve already spent a good deal of time playing his (and plan to continue today).

In short, it fucking rocks. The game play is great, particularly in multi-player mode. It really does feel like you’re in your own little rock band. The guitar parts seem easier, but the timing is somewhat different than on Guitar Hero, which means that I’m currently having some difficulty with riffs in Rock Band that I would normally be able to cream without any trouble. I imagine that it’s just a matter of time before I get that down, though. Drums are tough for people like me who have no rhythm, but they’re also a hell of a lot of fun. And I’m not gonna lie: I love singing.

For someone like me, who has always had a strong desire to be in a band but has no actual musical talent, it’s about as good as it gets.

As for the feminist question, the problems with Guitar Hero III mostly don’t exist in Rock Band. You get to create your own character, which is great and a lot of fun. That includes choosing among many skin tones, several face shapes and tons and tons of hairstyles. The weight option is slightly annoying, because no matter how big or small you make the character’s bodies, the body proportions stay almost exactly the same. For the female characters, that means hourglass figure. But I can live with that, because it’s the same for the male characters — you can choose between skinny but buff or body builder. It sucks, but I have to say that if we’re going to give people body issues, I do appreciate that for once it’s not only women who get to have them. The female characters don’t prance around stage like vapid sex kittens; you get to choose whether you want your character’s attitude to be “rock,” “punk,” “metal,” or “goth.” They also give you a million clothes choices — some skimpy, most not, and it goes both ways with the male and female options. And you can apply makeup to both male and female characters.

The game is still male-centric. When you play in solo mode, it seems to automatically grant you all male band mates. And of course, most of the songs are by male bands (but so is most mainstream rock music, which is what they have included). But they do seem to have put in equal time creating both male and female character options and making sure that those options are highly comparable. Oh, and I haven’t seen any half-naked dancers on stage, yet.

That’s pretty much all I’m going to say before I open it up for discussion because, hell, its Thanksgiving, I’ve got food to eat and a band to rock.

But who out there is a Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band fan? And for those of you who are, I know that you’ve thought of this question before: what would be your ultimate dream Guitar Hero/Rock Band songs?

For me, with Guitar Hero, it would be While My Guitar Gently Weeps. As for Rock Band, I’m going to have to go with Hotel California and Where the Streets Have No Name. Not very original, perhaps, but I’m not really a trendy music person, and in any case, don’t lie: sometimes the corniest songs are the most fun to play.

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22 comments for “So You Wanna Be a Rock n Roll Star

  1. November 22, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    I haven’t played either game and won’t have a deep analysis or anything, but I did want to say that I find criticism of avatar choices really interesting. I’ve seen them done for all kinds of games and gaming communities, and it never fails to surprise me that avatar choices still remain relatively limited. Is there a real reason why they remain so limited in scope (programming, memory, something else) or is it a failure of the production team?

  2. AndersH
    November 22, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I definitely would want some Sleater-Kinney in there. As well as some Swedish bands that naturally can’t be included in the big release.
    Erase Errata has some awesome songs too.
    Note that I’m not a musician, so I really have no clue how musically complex the above bands are.

  3. November 22, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    It would be insanely hard, but “Marquee Moon” by Television has a solo that’s just perfect for Guitar Hero.

  4. November 22, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    Henry Jenkins of MIT blogs quite a bit about gender and video games.. some recent posts on gender and fan culture might be of interest.

  5. November 22, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Avatar choices are among the most costly things to add to a game, because the main avatar usually has the widest range of animations, sound effects, etc. associated with it. For a game like Guitar Hero, the things avatars do are relatively limited and “canned” because players don’t have direct control over the animations you’re seeing on screen. For Rock Band, I’m sure the new avatar customization was a major part of the development cost — perhaps the biggest part, since they already had the other systems from Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution, and Drummania provided a good reference for drumming.

    For other games, where avatars run around, jump up and down, talk to people, can wield different weapons, etc… well, there’s a reason why you see so many games where there’s just one fixed avatar that you can’t change: Samus, Link, Mario, Joanna Dark, etc. Focusing on one avatar allows for a lot more depth and personality.

    Right now, except for the major titles (like Rock Band, Oblivion, or Star Wars Galaxies) most game productions don’t have the deep pockets needed to create a fully customizable avatar system where the skeleton and musculature and hair and clothes of a 3D avatar are all changeable and will move around naturally in a thousand different combinations and configurations. As you can imagine, the more different possibilities there are, the more a system has to handle, either through brute force (a whoooole lot of animation frames) or through a complex dynamic animation system (where more possibilities mean more places something can go wrong, and more debugging).

    Most games I’ve worked on have only had one avatar for this reason, or avatars that work in a very simple “paper doll” fashion where choices you make aren’t really reflected in animation. I can’t imagine having the luxury of being able to represent, for instance, a bunch of different body types that aren’t just scaled or slightly cosmetically different, but that actually move differently, carry their weight differently, etc. It would be such an incredible treat, so much so that I’d be worried about the rug being pulled out from underneath the feature for being too excessive.

    I really want “Heartbeats” by the Knife (or the Jose Gonzalez version) in Rock Band. Would be awesome.

  6. November 22, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    my fav ever, though i cringe when someone slaughters it on guitar hero, is sweet child o mine…

    and i chuckle b/c the original guitar hero has “trogdor” which if you haven’t seen the web site, you wouldn’t get…so it makes me chuckled in a nerd kind of way…

  7. November 22, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    ack! something ate my comment!

  8. T.J. Narom
    November 22, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Some Nightwish songs would rock. Particularly:
    Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean
    Over the Hills and Far Away
    Live to Tell The Tale
    Planet Hell
    Creek Mary’s Blood
    Wish I Had an Angel

  9. November 22, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    I would love to play Three Inches of Blood for GHIII. I love me some metal.

  10. Weetz
    November 22, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    My life would be complete if they had anything by Gossip in Rock Band.

    My boyfriend and I have been playing Rock Band every chance we get. It’s wonderful. We’re having a little get together this weekend and I can’t wait to have four people playing it.

  11. November 22, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Hey Holly, thanks for the information. I can only hope that as graphic animation gets better and better, so will avatar options. I have to say that I love making them — even something as simple as the Wii “Miis” are tons of fun for me. It’s fun making them look like famous people, people you know, etc. I haven’t completely given up on the idea of creating The Beatles with Rock Band, but since I haven’t tried it yet I don’t know if that’s going to be plausible. I think that I’ll come out with something pretty good. After all, the programmers made a Kurt Cobain avatar that is used as one of the default guitarists when you play in solo mode, and he is hilarious spot on (also, a lot of the clothes are modeled off of famous musicians’ personal styles).

    Today, I recreated Judy Nails in all of her former glory. Actually, I think that the animators might have purposely put in the face shape and hairstyle for Judy fans, because it’s really just SO close, and the makers of this game did originally design her. Anyway, she looks really great and I’m thrilled.

    And now you all know that I’m a dork :)

    Brandann, I looked in the moderation queue for your comment but it wasn’t there. It’s possible that it might have ended up in the spam queue, but I don’t have the access to that. Sorry!

  12. Ferox
    November 22, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    My experience with the default backup band members in solo mode has been different — it seems like the backup members are randomly gendered, save the singer (who always matches the actual band’s singer’s gender).

    If you haven’t, by the way, you should check out the bonus songs (which are unlocked most easily by just playing quickly through in solo mode, since Band World Tour is so slow and sporadic in introducing new songs). The ratio of female-to-male lead singers is much higher than in the main songs. I also think the bonus songs are really good — the Freezepop song is a ridiculous amount of fun on all four modes, especially.

  13. November 22, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    You’re right, Ferox — when I played yesterday in solo mode with a randomly chosen avatar, they made me male and all of my band mates male, as well. But today my husband and I were playing, and they gave us a female bassist. I’m guessing that it was just a fluke the first time around?

  14. Roxie
    November 23, 2007 at 1:50 am

    You’ve sold me on this (as has the website). It’s on my amazon wishlist now

  15. Cecily
    November 23, 2007 at 2:31 am

    I play GH2…and at some point in the near future we’re getting this. Just the GameSpy review, let alone the GameSpy monster review, convinced me of that! We’re going to wait until friends are in town for the full effect, I think. I’m going to try vocals, as I’ve never gotten to play any of those karaoke games.

  16. November 23, 2007 at 4:15 am

    I’m not too crazy about this stuff right now. As far as my dream Guitar Hero/Rock Band songs go, I’ll have to go with the 1973 live version of Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin). Others would be You Better Run (Pat Benatar), November Rain (Guns ‘N’ Roses), I Would Die 4 U (Prince & the Revolution), Abacab (Genesis), Brother Where You Bound (Supertramp), 2112 (Rush), Thunderstruck (AC/DC), I Hate Myself for Loving You (Joan Jett), The Bitch is Back (Elton John), Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man (Bob Seger), and Let It Rain (Eric Clapton).

  17. Sycorax
    November 24, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    I’m totally in love with Rock Band, but I’m having the same difficulty with the singing that I’ve seen actual guitarists having when picking up Guitar Hero for the first time: the habits of real-life musicians are a hindrance to gameplay.

  18. November 24, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Oh, and just to be even more nerdy… this would be a great song for Rock Band.

  19. William
    November 25, 2007 at 2:15 am

    Sycorax: I second that. Picking up Karaoke revolution and giving it a whirl in front of my guitarist has to have been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I’d see a note coming and know it was to high so I’d sing a harmony or drop an octave only to have the machine tell me I was wrong. I’m dreading getting invited to my first Rock Band party.

    As for songs I’d love to see, it’d be a kick to see some of the crazy stuff make it onto a release. Maybe Emperor’s “Elegy to Icarus” or Opeth’s “Bleak.”

  20. aren3
    December 2, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Got to play this at a friend’s house over Thanksgiving. It’s tons of fun, especially when your group is pretty much evenly divided between video game geeks and band geeks.
    Since neither of my group’s resident drummers were in residence, I somehow ended up as the drummer after a few turns, which was really difficult for my somewhat rhythm challenged self but still a lot of fun.
    I was slightly annoyed by the small number of songs with female vocalists. I’m a soprano, darnit! A lot of mainstream rock isn’t in my comfortable vocal range at all. Not the game makers’ fault, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me.
    Songs I want to see? Anything by Within Temptation. Maybe “What Have You Done”, “Angels”, or “Heart of Everything.”

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