October 12th, 2008


I'm not a gamer. I'm not even a wannabe gamer.

Got a short-notice invite to a friend's place last week, where after the initial social activity had been dealt with we had a few rounds of Guitar Hero II on his PS3. After an initially promising start, I basically sucked rocks - got booed off the stage on the first attempt and possibly second or subsequent attempts, and when I finally did make it through a song I had something like an 80% hit rate. Given that I play an actual guitar I was pondering why it was that I found this game so tricky, and I think it's a combination of three things:
  1. My sense of timing is a bit slack, which doesn't matter so much when you're playing on your own, but really sucks when you're trying to play this video game;
  2. There's no concept of recovering a bum note or almost getting the right timing, which is particularly galling when the note you missed is a long one and you basically have to stand there like a spare tool waiting for the next note to arrive;
  3. The guitar itself is more like one of those keyboard-worn-as-guitar (keytar?) things so beloved of 80s musicians, in as much as the "notes" you're playing are fret-wide buttons. On the other hand, you do "strum" it, so it winds up being an odd sort of hybrid and I'm not sure my brain quite understood how to deal with it.
I thought it might be interesting to hack a bunch of extra strumming buttons onto one of the guitars so you could effectively finger-pick - useful for fast runs, I suspect. I would also be interested in seeing a more realistic controller; I played around with a fully electronic guitar at some point years ago, which had real strings (slack, heavy nylon) as actuators and used pressure sensors on the fretboard to figure out where you'd put your fingers, and on the whole was pretty much exactly like playing a real guitar - albeit lacking the facility for things like pick scrapes and harmonics.

I also had a few rounds of the original Wipeout, the soundtrack to which I've owned since it came out (I'd never seen the game before this particular evening, though!) and the high point was finishing third in a race, but mainly I was happy with any race in which I didn't finish last.

updated to add: I've been looking for the video clip that was floating around a while back of a guy playing pretty much every instrument in a studio, followed by 30 seconds of him swearing in frustration at either Rock Band or Guitar Hero. While looking for (and failing to find) the clip, I discovered that there's a lot of people out there who really get on a soapbox about how these gamers should, like, go out and buy a real instrument. I'd like to stress that I'm in no way in this camp.