This Blog is a 1/10

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With the recent outrage to the Angry Video Game Nerd’s decision to refuse to review Ghostbusters, I felt now was the right time to pose this question. Does current media criticism work? For that matter, does criticism still have an impact?

To quickly explain my stance with the AVGN, I will say that his argument is one I agree with. You vote with your wallet; it’s as simple as that. While that theory makes a lot of logical sense, it doesn’t really translate into a real world outcome.

There are so many games and films I have not purchased that still end up getting sequels and breaking box-office records. I’m not a fan of superhero films, but we’re in the middle of a surge of comic book popularity. I’ve disliked Call of Duty since 2010, but those games are still trucking along.

It seems that regardless of what I say or do, things I don’t like (or that most critics deem to be “bad”) will continue to get made because of their profitability. Hell, most people were complaining about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice before its release, but that managed to break March box-office records. How in the hell?

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Ben is pleasantly surprised.

What I truly miss from reviews is a critical viewpoint. I really miss the discussions of artistic merit, theming, motifs and imagery. Not every film has a deeper motive or subconscious message and not every game is trying to reshape the industry as we know it; I understand that. There are some films and games that set out to do that, though.

Where are the discussions of deeper meanings? Where are the essays and analyses of what they mean to us? I want to see more of a critical look at what the narrative or design represents more so than reading some random bloggers opinion on the experience.

I can’t claim to know the history of criticism, but MovieBob explained in one of his videos that old fashioned critics wrote for their own society. It was an accepted part of life that anybody who could see a stage play would be doing so. If you missed out on an event, you were either poor or an imbecile.

I feel we’ve entered a part of our history where seeing a film or playing a game is almost a universal given. Things drop in price rapidly and films are available for fairly cheap with streaming services, so what is to stop even the poorest of people from experiencing whatever they desire?

What really seems to be a problem is that a lot of big budget, CGI effects driven films have been making boatloads of money in spite of community backlash. How many articles have you read about Hollywood being dead, even if the “culprits” keep making money?

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Why is this a goddamned thing?!

Activision keeps getting thrown in the fire for their annual release schedule, but no one ever thought to not buy their games. Ubisoft pumps out sequels with reckless abandon, but people eat them up without even asking why. Marvel has plans in the works for another eight films in the next two and almost every film outdoes the last.

We need to stop complaining about franchise fatigue and start looking at what each entity does. Instead of blindly praising the movies for their flashy spectacles or giving a pass to games because of cyclical release patterns, we should take a broader look at what each title represents.

We also need to realize that not every film or game is worth spending money on. It doesn’t matter that a team of 300 made a game; if you truly want to see change, you need to stop throwing passive support to the companies responsible for the industry’s current state.

Film might be a lost cause due to overseas markets dominating the box-office. We have a bit more power with the games industry, seeing as how it’s not as gigantic of a global phenomenon. The cost to play a game is considerably larger than a movie ticket or DVD; that will remain a given.

We really just need to cease getting upset over someone not liking something. If you enjoy game, don’t lash out because someone else doesn’t. Talk more about the aspects you enjoyed and what it meant to you. Delve into what the game represents to you. Chat about how the design subtly guides the player or tricks them into a false sense of security.

There is more to a game and film than whether it is “good” or “bad”. Reading over current reviews, you wouldn’t know it. Criticism needs to be shaken up; it hasn’t meant anything in a long time.

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DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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