Sunday, December 16, 2007

OK, I finally get it. My life as a drummer.

I could understand the appeal. I even enjoyed watching people (especially non-gamers) play the game. But I just never enjoyed playing Guitar Hero. The gameplay was too boring at the easiest level and seemed disconnected from the actual flow of the music. Higher difficulty levels brought frustration that I knew could only be overcome with dozens of hours of practice. Practice... Not something I intentionally want to do while gaming.

On Friday night I took a few turns on the mic at Rock Band. Yeah, I've done karaoke with friends before after a few drinks and it can be fun. I'm a terrible singer, but I've gotten over that. And now I get to play a fun co-op game with my closest friends who are really into the game.

However, I've said it before that even the "fart in a bag" game can be fun if you add co-op play. What surprised me about Rock Band was that I played again on Saturday night. And this time I took over the drums. I'll admit that while watching (and listening) to others play, the drums seemed pretty lame. The dull thuds on the drum pads sound disconnected from the game's soundtrack and break the immersion of the game -- to the observer. But, to the player the feeling of flow (once you've gotten over the constant failing for the first 15 or so minutes) is incredibly rewarding.

I was hooked. And I even thought I might want to try the single player drummer career mode on my own. I started to wonder what it would be like to ramp up the difficulty and really get into it. I'm thinking about going to a friend's place this afternoon and playing again...

One challenge the game does not overcome (admittedly a tough challenge given 4 player co-op) is game setup UI and flow. Man was it ever hard to set up individual songs especially if there were first time players in the mix. The rowdiness and drinking added some extra difficulty here, but come on -- that's the kind of environment that this game is built for.

It makes me wonder what kind of field research the folks did on this game before launch. Did they actually roll it out at bars with first-time players? I have a feeling if they did they would have come up with a "party" or "social" mode where controls and sessions could be streamlined:

  • Eliminate the complex UI by ditching profiles and band member setup.
  • Have playlists that you can set on the fly (without going back to gameshell).
  • Have a "social" difficulty setting that is more equivalent to the "easy" setting on the original Guitar Hero if one of the players fails twice.
Note that I'm not saying replace band campaigns (these are obviously fun and essential) but make a party-friendly mode that fits with an evening of drinks, newbs, and livin' the rockstar fantasy.

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