Friday, August 1, 2008
These days even people who profess not to like videogames have become curious. So if you get the chance to introduce someone to gaming, which game do you choose? That’s easy: Guitar Hero – and not only because most people can connect with music. No previous videogaming experience is needed; nor does your student need to find their way around a fiddly-looking controller; they just have to know how to hold a guitar, and whether they’re imagining themselves as John Lennon or Angus Young, it’s a game of pretend everyone’s familiar with. At first it’s all puzzled concentration and apologies, but before long they’ll be asking with increasing confidence for “one more go?”. It’s by far my favourite game to play with new gamers.
Guitar Hero’s not the only music performance game around, though. If hard rock won’t do it, maybe karaoke’s more your thing? Personally, I’m an unfunny version of Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding. But for everyone else there’s a vast range of titles in Sony’s SingStar series for PlayStation 2 and more recently 3, encompassing every genre you can think of, from 80s pop to Bollywood, though not all are available in the US. All you need is the microphone and a few drinks inside you. Check out the website.
Rock Band, by contrast, is a game for serious wannabe musos. It’s not a cheap game (especially in Europe and Australia), but if you’re prepared to shell out for the whole caboodle of microphone, guitar, drumkit, plus the game itself, it’s evidently a blast – and easier than trying to get the real thing together. In fact, far from deterring kids from learning instruments, Guitar Hero and its ilk have led to a boom in music lessons. Full circle then for the original developers, Harmonix, a company founded by and largely staffed by musicians.
Here’s a roundup of a few favourite games in which music takes centre stage (some edited down from The Rough Guide to Videogames).
Guitar Hero II
PS2, Xbox 360; Harmonix Music Systems, RedOctane; 2006
The last main Guitar Hero title developed by Harmonix, it refined the original to near-perfection. Live out your rockstar dreams, gradually working your way up from simple notes and small clubs, to playing bigger gigs and unlocking more songs as your proficiency increases. Guitar Hero III, developed by Neversoft for Activision (who bought RedOctane), is in many ways a step forward with its downloadable tracks and wireless guitar controllers and is even available for the DS, bizarrely (check out the latest TV commercials).
PS2; Harmonix Music Systems; Sony; 2001
Harmonix were also behind this psychedelic dance music game, where you build up songs by the likes of Paul Oakenfold and Orbital through compiling their individual tracks (drums, bass, synth, vocals, etc). It’s all very space-age, as you travel through an angular tunnel of virtual music, with whirling shapes spinning around and the challenge of pressing the right button at the precise time the note hits your “activator” – a precursor to Guitar Hero’s own mechanic. Win that particular track and you can rotate round to another wall of the tunnel, which represents a different track, and so on, until you’ve built up the entire song.
DC, PS2, Xbox 360 via Xbox Live; United Game Artists; Sega, Microsoft; 1999
Though often described as an on-the-rails shooter for its control system – which comprises moving across the screen from left to right and back again, locking onto targets, and firing at them – Rez is more about evolution than destruction. The theme is virtual reality, with your avatar shooting at viruses, firewalls and the like represented by organic forms. At the outset, these are basic, black-and-white wire-frame affairs, but as the rhythm and pace increase, everything starts to glow with colour and pulsating, living detail. The trance soundtrack is built upon with the sound effects of every button press, lock-on and explosion, which, combined with the ever-evolving graphics and the rhythmic pulsing of the vibration in the controller, provides developer Tetsua Mizuguchi’s desired synthesis of sound, vision and touch.
PS3 via PlayStation Network; Queasy Games, Sony; 2007
Winner of a clutch of awards at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, the influence of Rez, Lumines and Geometry Wars is writ large on this excellent indie title, but developer Jonathan Mak got here by rejecting the more complex game he’d been working on and focusing on simplicity. The stripped-down control system combines with an acoustic-guitar soundtrack to approach Mizuguchi’s classics in inducing sensory overload, and the feeling of having ingested an illegal substance. If you’re looking for it in the UK PlayStation Network Store, you’ll find it under “Riff”.